NI Citizens' Panel on Democracy - Frequently Asked Questions

Who is organising the Citizens' Panel?

The Citizens' Panel is a joint project between The Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen's University, Belfast and the Institute of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool.

Both Universities are working in partnership with the Initiative for Civic Space to promote participatory democracy and citizen engagement in decision-making in society.

What is the Initiative for Civic Space and what does it do?

The Initiative for Civic Space (ICS) promotes inclusive and respectful dialogue between all citizens irrespective of political opinion or community background. ICS is neutral on the constitutional issue.

We create a space for the voices of people to be heard. We adhere to the principles of inclusivity, respect and the peaceful resolution of our differences based on the promotion of rights for all. We provide opportunities for citizens to influence public debate and policy-making through informed deliberation and decision-making.

Why convene this Panel?

Many people are ‘switched off’ from politics today. This can be for a variety of reasons – lack of interest; cynicism; a sense of powerlessness and inability to influence public debate and policy-making; a feeling that elected politicians and political parties do not represent the views of many people in society.

Yet, when people are given the opportunity, the time and the information to deliberate and decide on issues that affect them, they usually develop sensible and pragmatic solutions.

The Citizens’ Panel will bring together a broadly representative sample of our whole community – including people like you – to deliberate and decide on the type of formal citizen engagement that would best suit the needs of our society.

What will the Panel involve?

The 50 members of the Citizens’ Panel will spend time together learning about the issues, sharing their views and discussing options in facilitated small groups. The Panel will be run by an independent organisation called Involve, which specialises in creating opportunities for people to contribute to decision-making on issues that affect them.

There is absolutely no requirement for you to have any prior knowledge of the topic. All the information you need to take part will be provided in an interactive and easy way. We promise that you won’t have to read a bunch of technical or detailed reports!

Towards the end of the day you will be asked to consider everything you’ve heard, learnt and discussed and work with the other Panel members to vote to decide how citizens can formally influence public and political debate and policy making.

When and where will the Panel be held?

The Panel will meet in Queen’s University, Belfast on Saturday 11 May, from 9:30am – 5pm. You must be able to attend for the entire day.

Who can register their interest in joining the Citizens’ Panel?

To register your interest you must be over 16 years of age and a permanent resident of Northern Ireland living in a household that has received this invitation.

Elected representatives of the Westminster Parliament, the NI Assembly or a local council cannot register their interest.

Will I be identified as a member of the Panel?

The names of the members of the Citizens’ Panel will not be published. We will be taking photos throughout the event and will seek your consent to be included in photos at the beginning of the day. It is entirely up to you whether you give consent, and it will not affect your participation in the Panel. You can also withdraw this consent at any time.

How accessible will the Panel be to people with special needs?

We will make every provision to make the Panel accessible to everyone. The venue will be wheelchair accessible and people selected to be on the Panel will be contacted individually and asked if there are any specific measures that could be taken to support their participation (e.g. the availability of hearing loops or ISL/BSL interpreters, the provision of childcare or respite care for those with a caring responsibility, or specific dietary requirements}. If you wish to discuss your particular needs before registering your interest please contact us on the number below.

How was I selected to receive this invitation?

Your household was one of 5000 households randomly selected from Royal Mail’s address database in NI.

How do I register my interest in joining the Citizens’ Panel?

To register your interest, please visit www.sortitionfoundation.org/rsvp or call Freephone 0800 009 6486 (9am-6pm, Monday-Saturday). The deadline for registering your interest is Monday 15 April.

The Sortition Foundation is an independent, not-for-profit organisation that promotes the use of stratified, random selection in decision-making. Its aim is to ensure that the Citizens’ Panel is broadly representative of the entire NI community.

After I register my interest, what happens next?

Once registration has closed, we will select 50 people at random to join the Citizens’ Panel. This selection will be weighted to make sure that the final Panel is broadly representative of the entire community.

If you are selected we will contact you by phone on Tuesday 16 April, and subsequently by email and/or letter to provide you with further information. We will then be back in touch to let you know more about the Panel, organise travel and accommodation arrangements (if required) and discuss any dietary or accessibility requirements you may have.

What will happen after the Panel?

As part of the Panel, we will record your ideas and recommendations. We will produce a report containing your recommendations on how you think citizens should be more involved in decision-making. The report will be presented to political parties and the two governments, and we will build on your work to encourage further citizen engagement in bringing about a more inclusive and democratic society.