Customer story: Bristol City Council, UK

Citizens' Panel Process
'screenshot of 'Bristol City Council, UK
'screenshot of 'Bristol City Council, UK

An independent spirit

Bristol, the most populous city in South West England, is a vibrant, diverse and innovative place. The grand old buildings and proud maritime history make it a characterful place to live. From the longest chain of independent shops in Europe to its own community currency, Bristol is proud to be a city like no other; even the houses are colourful.

Bristol City Council have found various ways to involve their citizenry in creative democratic exercises. They started one of the country's earliest citizens’ panels, and recently set up their first citizens’ assembly; both are hosted on the Citizen Space platform.

Panels and assemblies

Citizens’ panels and citizens’ assemblies are two forms of participatory democracy. Both are based on the principles of a randomly selected, demographically representative sample of citizens sharing their views, in order to get a balanced and informed response to an issue.

This kind of approach helps to ensure engagement with those who are often unheard and under-represented in decision making. Where assemblies and panels differ is in the joint deliberation of an issue in a citizen’s assembly, while in panels the members are asked to individually share their views.

Bristol’s citizens’ panel is an online group of nearly 1,400 Bristolians who contribute their views around four times a year on a wide range of issues, plus an annual survey to let the council know how to improve services and make the city a better place to live. The panel enables the council to engage with the public outside of formal consultations and to gather opinions that reflect the views of different communities. Anyone can apply to join the citizen’s panel via a sign-up page on Citizen Space, and results from surveys – going back more than 10 years – are all hosted on a dedicated section of the council’s consultation hub.

Bristol’s citizens’ assembly, by contrast, began and ended within a few weeks. 60 citizens met online over four weekends, to discuss how the city can recover from Covid-19. Participants were split into groups to consider three topics: climate change; transport; and health.

Following presentations and discussions, the assembly made 17 recommendations underpinned by 82 actions. Citizen Space’s configurable hub hosted a citizens’ assembly home page plus a section for each of the three topics, enabling participants to bookmark the page for return visits. Now the exercise has completed the site remains for anyone to view the video presentations and recommendations report, along with information about next steps.

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It makes sense for Bristol to host different methods of public engagement all on one platform, and it’s convenient for admins to build, publish, manage and analyse in one place. Using Citizen Space as a central hub for all democratic activity adds visibility and accountability to the democratic process, allowing Bristolians to stay informed about how their views are being taken into account.

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