21 November, 2022

Residents of Northern Ireland consider new energy infrastructure

On Friday 18 November we transferred the details of 25 Antrim residents to the organisers of the SONI Mid Antrim Upgrade - Citizen Sounding Board. These 25 people will meet together in Ballymena in the first weekend of December to consider the question

How should we choose the best route for new electricity infrastructure through Mid-Antrim?

Specifically, the purpose of the Sounding Board is to hear views on the final route for new electricity infrastructure that is to be built in the area. Input from the Sounding Board will help SONI (the electrical grid operator) and local stakeholder groups to better understand the priorities, concerns and interests of the local area as they make recommendations for the final route.

Sortition Foundation was tasked with recruiting these 25 assembly members. We worked with Involve and SONI to achieve this. 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 5000 addresses from an area near Ballymena (200 addresses for every one of the needed Sounding Board members). Each of these addresses received a letter in the post inviting residents to sign up as potential members of the Sounding Board. 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 of the area; 20% of the addresses were chosen specifically from more deprived areas of the area. A map showing the 5000 addresses is here:

The invitation included the following summary card (as well as a letter and FAQ):


All participants in the Sounding Board will receive £180 in recognition of the considerable time and energy that the process required of them. Invitations were open for 3 weeks and at the end of this time 73 people had signed up as potential Sounding Board members.

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 date of birth, their gender and their ethnicity. We also asked them if they identified as having a disability; we asked them about the level of their highest educational qualification and, finally, about how their national identity. (This last category is particular key when we work in Northern Ireland.)

We then used this information as input into a "sortition algorithm"; this is a process of randomly selecting our 25 assembly members from the pool of 73 potential members in such a way that we have a representative sample (so, for instance, the age profile of Sounding Board members is broadly similar to the age profile of the mid-Antrim population as a whole). Details of the specific algorithm we use, including information about the fairness of the algorithm, can be found here.

Details of the selection process for this 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 [area] population as a whole, using various publicly available statistics (for instance via the ONS). As an example, in the second row, you can see that 34.9% of the population in mid-Antrim is between 45 and 64. 
  • Column 2 (Respondents): These pie charts summarise the information that was provided to us by the 73 people who signed up as potential participants. There is some skewing in statistics here compared with our target: for instance, notice that many more males signed up to be a part of the Sounding Board, as compared to what we might expect from the population. 
  • Column 3 (Original Selected): These pie charts summarise information about the 25 people who were selected to participate in the assembly. Notice that, thanks to our use of a sortition algorithm, the pie charts in this column are very similar to the target charts in the first column. 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 -- in the event that this was not the case, we used the sortition algorithm to replace people who dropped out with others who shared similar characteristics.

We should note that the one demographic which we were unable to match to targets was ethnicity: the profile of respondents was not ethnically diverse enough to allow us to select 25 people with the desired profile of ethnicities.

What happened next?

Update: The December meeting of the Sounding Board has now happened. The Sounding Boards recommendations for the infrastructure route have been passed to SONI who will examine these with a view to finalising the route. There will be another meeting of the Sounding Board in 2023 so that participants will get a chance to review the final route.


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