Standing Citizens' Assembly established in Newham

Newham Council have established a standing citizens' assembly to discuss issues important to the people of Newham and to allow for participatory democracy to be built in to council processes. So far they have run two events, the first in July 2021 and the second in January and February 2022. They are currently gearing up for the third event which will be happening in September 2022.

This report is for the first of these events which was held in July 2021. The assembly's first subject was "Greening the Borough" and asked the question: "How can we make Newham a place where people lead healthier and happier lives?"

Sortition Foundation was tasked with recruiting 50 assembly members. Below we briefly describe the details of this recruitment process; the process followed our standard two-stage sortition template in conformity with the OECD's good practice principles for deliberative processes for public decision making.

Stage 1

We randomly selected 10,000 addresses from across Newham (200 addresses for every one of the needed 50 panel members). Each of these addresses received a letter in the post inviting residents to sign up as potential members of the citizens' assembly. We have noticed in past jobs that people who live in more deprived areas tend to be less likely to respond to invitations of this kind, hence the random selection was weighted as follows: 80% of the addresses were chosen from the whole area; 20% of the addresses were chosen specifically from more deprived areas. We use the governments indices of multiple deprivation data to work out which addresses fall into more deprived areas.

Residents received this letter:

As you can see, all participants received £330 as a way of acknowledging the considerable time and energy they are giving to the event. Paying people to take part in these events is really important as it opens up the event to people who may otherwise not be able to to afford to give up their time. Childcare, tech support and other accessibility support is also offered so that there are no barriers to taking part. 

Registrations remained open for 6 weeks and we had 461 people sign up to participate in the assembly. 

Stage 2

As part of the sign-up procedure, all potential participants were required to share some basic information about themselves. We asked them to share their address, their date of birth, their gender, their ethnicity, whether or not they saw themselves as having a disability and their occupation. 

We also used the addresses that people gave us to create geographical categories which represented the different neighbourhoods within Newham so that the group would be representative across the borough.

We then used this information as input into a "sortition algorithm"; this is a process of randomly selecting our 50 participants from the pool of 461 people who registered an interest in such a way that we have a representative sample (so, for instance, the age profile of participants is broadly similar to the age profile of the population as a whole). The algorithm that we use is the fairest possible.

As an example, details of the selection process for the Newham Citizens' Assembly are summarised using the following pie charts, with further information following.

The way to understand these pie charts is as follows:

  • Column 1 (Target): These pie charts give information about the population as a whole, using various publicly available statistics (for instance via the ONS).
  • Column 2 (Respondents): These pie charts summarise the information that was provided to us by the people who signed up as potential participants. There is some skewing in statistics here compared with our target: for instance, people aged 65+ responded a bit less than their proportion in the UK population. 
  • Column 3 (Original Selected): These pie charts show the information about the original selection made by the algorithm. Notice that the pie charts in this column are very similar to the target charts in the first column.
  • Column 4 (Confirmed Selected):These pie charts summarise information about the people who were finally confirmed to participate in the assembly. As part of our recruitment process all of these people were contacted by telephone to confirm that they were still willing and able to participate, and we used the sortition algorithm to replace anyone who dropped out with others who shared similar characteristics. Sometimes these pie charts differ a little to the original selected column as it's not always possible to replace people with an exact demographic match. But in this case you can see that we were able to maintain the demographic profile of the overall group really well. 

A note about the gender pie charts is important: you will see that 4% of respondents had a gender identity other than "male" or "female". Since there are no good population statistics available for people who identify in this way in the UK, our target pie chart only has values for "male" and "female". To ensure that this 4% of respondents were treated fairly we randomly assigned a gender "male" or "female" to these respondents before entering them into the algorithm. This ensured that they had equal chance of being selected. On this occasion, our random selection did not result in any of these 4% being selected hence, as you can see, the selected jury members all identified as male or female. We very much regard this method of operating as a stop-gap measure -- our hope is that after the results of the 2021 UK census have been released, then we will have good access to statistics about how UK residents identify their gender and we can use this information directly in our random selection.

What happened next?

These 50 people went on to make up the participants for first event in Newham's Citizen's Assembly. Newham council have begun working on the reccommendations they put forward, and have also successfully completed their second assembly.

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