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Holding new conversations

Earlier this year 43 citizens in Blaenau Gwent took part in the first Climate Assembly in Wales. The recommendations from this Assembly are framing the response that Public Service Board partners and housing associations are making to tackle the climate crisis.

Our experience in Blaenau Gwent is that it is possible to bring a demographically representative selection of people together with experts to consider accurate and balanced evidence.

Why is this important? This way of working nurtures curiosity, learning, dialogue and finding areas of consensus. It is in such stark contrast to the way tough issues, like climate change, can get talked about.

I worry that our climate change work is vulnerable to angry, noisy, bitter culture warriors who find it easy to tap into fear, ignorance and feelings of powerlessness. We just need to look at how well-meaning plans to reduce car use at a local level can create bitterness and division in communities.  We have got to make sure this doesn’t happen as we shape our decarbonisation plans.

Our taste of the Climate Assembly experience shows that new conversations can highlight where climate action can cut through with high levels of community support. Surely the more you practice these forms of deliberative democracy the better you get at doing it. Like muscles, the more you use them, the stronger you get.

So a couple of practical suggestions on how to make it easier for more of this deliberative democracy to happen:

  • Let’s create a modest fund to connect councils and civil society groups with resources – money and expertise  – to hold their own citizens and climate assemblies. This could help with sortition, facilitation and paying assembly members. Key organisations to shape this fund could include  – Cynnal Cymru and the Electoral Reform Society who were so important in making the Blaenau Gwent Citizens Assembly happen. And the amazing Sortition Foundation and Involve
  • Let’s establish a community of practice to get better at doing this work by involving those with experience who have already dipped their toes in the water and those who want to dive in.

Steve Cranston is foundational economy lead at United Welsh

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