What is the Citizens’ Assembly for Northern Ireland?

The Citizens’ Assembly for Northern Ireland is a civil society initiative designed to demonstrate the potential of deliberative democracy to help break the stalemate on contested policy issues and put citizens from Northern Ireland at the heart of decision-making.

The Citizens’ Assembly met over two residential weekends in the Europa Hotel, Belfast on 26 – 28 October, and 16 – 18 November 2018. Over the two weekends, Citizens’ Assembly members were taken through a facilitated process of learning, dialogue and deliberation.

The members looked at the public’s aspirations for a social care system fit for the future, including the role the health service, communities and individuals need to play. The output from this process is a series of recommendations offering a public mandate for radical reform to bring the social care system into the 21st century, and future-proof it to cope with the needs of the next generations.

Who is behind it?

The development of the Citizens’ Assembly for Northern Ireland is led by Involve and is funded by Building Change Trust, Open Society FoundationsCommunity Foundation for Northern Ireland, and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. Oversight is provided by a voluntary advisory group.


Involve is the UK’s leading public participation charity, on a mission to put people at the heart of decision-making.

We’re a small but passionate team focused on giving people more power over the decisions that affect their lives. We want to build a stronger democracy that works for everyone – that gives people real power to bring about change in their lives, communities and beyond.

Involve was founded in 2003 to “to create a new focus for thinking and action on the links between new forms of public participation and existing democratic institutions”. We demonstrate how citizens can help solve our biggest challenges.

Building Change Trust

In 2008, the Building Change Trust was established by the Big Lottery Fund with a National Lottery grant of £10 million as an investment for community capacity building and promotion of the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector in Northern Ireland.

This will be both invested, and spent, in full by the 31 December 2018. The Trust anticipates a total fund of £12.1 million, depending on investment returns, with approximately £10.5 million available to support the sector. The Trust supports the community and voluntary sector in Northern Ireland through the development, delivery of, and learning from a range or programmes including commissioned work, awards programmes and other interventions.

A key focus of the Trust’s work since 2014 has been supporting the ‘democratic’ role of the VCSE sector – ensuring citizens and communities are able to actively participate in and influence decision-making. To this end, its investments have included research into the sector’s independence and the health of deliberative democracy; a civic activism toolkit and grants programme to allow the sector to experiment with creative methods new to Northern Ireland; the establishment of the Northern Ireland Open Government Network; and the facilitation of a co-design process around deliberative democracy that led to the emergence of the Citizens’ Assembly and Participatory Budgeting Works projects.

Open Society Foundations

The Open Society Foundations work to build vibrant and tolerant societies whose governments are accountable and open to the participation of all people. Working in every part of the world, the Open Society Foundations place a high priority on protecting and improving the lives of people in marginalised communities.

Community Foundation for Northern Ireland

The Community Foundation for Northern Ireland was established in 1979 as the Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust, before changing to its current name in 2002. Throughout its history, the Foundation has been committed to addressing the challenges of peacebuilding, social justice and effective community development.

The organisation works in partnership with communities, encouraging them to be proud of who they are and what they have achieved. With donors, both local and international, the Foundation helps connect them to people and projects who are transforming their communities.

Paul Hamlyn Foundation

Paul Hamlyn Foundation was established by Paul Hamlyn in 1987. Upon his death in 2001, he left most of his estate to the Foundation, creating one of the largest independent grant-making foundations in the UK.

Their mission is to help people overcome disadvantage and lack of opportunity so that they can realise their potential and enjoy fulfilling and creative lives.