Today, we are launching a Summary of Participant Evaluations of the Citizens’ Assembly for Northern Ireland at the Belfast Imagine Festival Democracy Day. The report summarises the evaluations from the citizens who took part in the citizens’ assembly based on their responses to a survey conducted at the beginning and end of each of the two weekends.
Participants were asked for their views about the issue of social care for the elderly and views about the process, including the extent to which they thought different aspects of the Citizens’ Assembly were well executed, at points throughout the citizens’ assembly weekends.
On participants views about social care, the evaluation found:
a. Citizens became much more knowledgeable about the issue of social care, particularly over the first weekend;
b. The issue was perceived to be very important before, during and after the process, despite a widespread perception that political parties are not giving it enough attention;
c. There was a high degree of stability in participants’ attitudes to general aspects of social care throughout both weekends, suggesting that presentations and small-group discussions reinforced, rather than changed, existing views on key principles.
On the process of taking part in the citizens’ assembly, the evaluation found:
a. Nearly all participants agreed that the presentations were useful and that they covered a wide range of perspectives;
b. The quality of the discussion was perceived to be high, but some members were perceived to dominate the discussions;
c. Across both weekends, all members agreed that they were given plenty of opportunities to speak;
d. Facilitation was overwhelmingly perceived to be fair and impartial;
e. Discussions were marked by a sense of mutual respect, a sense that participants were willing to change their minds (and many did), a sense that participants justified their positions, and a sense that fellow members genuinely cared about the common good;
f. After the final weekend, 99% of participants said they felt encouraged to participate in future initiatives like the Citizens’ Assembly, while 97% agreed that they should be used more often to inform politicians in decision-making.
We’re grateful to Jamie Pow and John Garry at Queens’ University Belfast for analysing the participant surveys and producing the evaluation report.