Newham Permanent Citizen Council

London (United Kingdom)


The London Borough of Newham has been actively engaging its residents through various participatory processes, aiming to establish the Newham Permanent Citizen Council. This council has been established and in motion since 2020. It has been designed to be a platform for residents to have a direct say in local governance, policies, and community initiatives. The participatory process involves inviting diverse voices from the community to participate in decision-making, offering opportunities for citizens to voice their opinions, propose ideas, and contribute to shaping the council’s structure and functions. It aims to foster transparency, inclusivity, and collaboration between local government and the people it serves, ensuring that the council reflects and represents the needs and aspirations of Newham’s residents.

The decision to establish a mechanism akin to the East Belgian model’s first permanent citizens’ councilA permanent citizens’ council is an ongoing, institutionalised body composed of randomly selected citizens to discuss and provide input on various public issues, policies, or proposals. Unlike temporary citizens’ assemblies, which are convened for specific topics, a permanent council serves as a continuous platform for public consultation and participatory democracy. in Europe was made by the Newham City Council with direct support from Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz. When establishing the council, they drew inspiration not only from the East Belgian model, but also looked into the Paris Permanent Citizens’ Council. Before finalising the permanent council, a one-offOne-off processes refer to activities or events that are designed to happen just once, rather than being part of a regular, ongoing series. These can include unique meetings, projects, or initiatives intended to achieve a specific goal or address a particular issue without the intention of repetition. citizens’ assembly was conducted with assistance from the Sortition Foundation. Drawing insights from these models and the pilot program, Newham moved forward to establish its permanent council in 2020.

In London, the engagement with deliberative democracyDeliberative democracy is a form of democracy in which decision-making is based on deliberation rather than mere voting. In this approach, citizens engage in discussions, debates, and dialogue to consider various viewpoints and information before making decisions. It emphasises the importance of reasoned argument, informed participation, and consensus-building in shaping public policy. Deliberative democracy aims to improve the quality and legitimacy of democratic decisions by involving citizens directly in the policymaking process. and citizen participation varies widely across different areas. Some boroughs demonstrate active involvement from elected officials in driving deliberative processes, while others have city officials less inclined to include citizens in decision-making. Although more than 20 citizens’ assembliesA citizens’ assembly is a representative group of citizens chosen to deliberate on specific issues and make recommendations. It reflects the broader population’s demographic diversity and aims to enhance democratic decision-making by incorporating public input. have taken place in various boroughs in recent years, there hasn’t been a citywide assembly in London. However, there’s a noticeable trend in the UK and London towards the development and execution of deliberative democratic processes. Newham has notably been a pioneer in participation within the city, experimenting with a variety of participatory tools and processes before opting to establish a permanent participatory mechanism.

The City Council provides funding for the Permanent Citizens’ Council which entails renewing funding for consecutive citizens’ assemblies as needed. Each time an assembly is convened, the City Council allocates approximately £100,000 for the event. Contractors responsible for organising and facilitating these assemblies are required to apply through a public tender process.

Participants for the initial pool were recruitedRecruitment of participants involves identifying and engaging individuals to take part in activities, studies, or projects. This process is crucial for gathering diverse inputs, ensuring representativeness, and enhancing the validity of outcomes. It typically includes strategies like outreach, advertising, and incentivisation to attract and enroll suitable candidates. through a two-step process. Initially, invitations were sent out, followed by a selection process where promoters chose individuals from those who had registered in the first round, aiming to address any skewing in the sample. Approximately 10,000 letters were sent to randomly chosenRandom selection is a form of sampling where a representative group of research participants is selected from a larger group by chance. addresses sourced from the National Postal Database. About 80% of addresses were randomly selected, while the remaining 20% targeted areas with lower socioeconomic status due to a lower response rate among individuals from those areas. Demographic information such as age, gender, location, and education level was collected from registrants, aiming to ensure broad representation across various categories. The second step aimed to balance these demographics, ensuring diversity across age groups. Despite relatively low participation rates, individuals were asked to commit to a year-long involvement, asking for a significant commitment. Additionally, an information phone line was established to address queries from potential applicants for the permanent council.

Inclusivity efforts encompass outreach to diverse community groups, ethnicities, ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, and various segments of the population through random selection processes. The council’s composition reflects this inclusivity by incorporating representation from diverse neighborhoods and demographics. It offers platforms that empower individuals who might otherwise feel marginalised or be less likely to engage in participatory initiatives.

The continuity of the Permanent Citizens’ Council is maintained through a structured rotation of individual terms. Initially, 50 individuals serve as council members for one year, with half being replaced at the end of the year while the other half continues for an additional year. This system ensures both ongoing participation and a fair rotation of citizens, promoting inclusivity. Local administrators oversee the organisation of the Council’s work, albeit in a less formalised structure compared to councils in places like Paris or East Belgium, where assembly frequencies are formally codified into law. Typically, when decisions require input from the Citizens’ Council, the mayor or City Council tasks local administrative units to organise assemblies involving council members.

The Permanent Citizens’ Council operates in a consultativeConsultation is a process where individuals or groups seek advice, feedback, or expertise from others before making decisions. It’s commonly used in various contexts, including healthcare, law, business, and public policy, to inform actions or policies by considering diverse perspectives and expertise. This collaborative approach aims to enhance decision-making quality and outcomes by incorporating input from relevant stakeholders. role, presenting its outcomes and recommendations to the Mayor and the City Council. Its function is advisory, offering a comprehensive view of local representatives’ perspectives and recommendations on specific topics. However, the Council’s decisions are not bindingNon-binding refers to agreements, decisions, or resolutions that are not legally enforceable or mandatory. While they may express intentions, recommendations, or commitments, they do not have the legal authority to compel action or compliance. Non-binding measures are often used to guide, suggest, or signal preferences without imposing legal obligations. for formal decision-makers or city officials, making its outcomes influential yet not legally enacted by default.

An important lesson learned from the process relates to the Council’s size and representation of specific population sections through assigned quotas. The relatively small size of the assembly and the representation of small social groups via quotas led to challenges when individuals representing these subgroups couldn’t attend due to reasons like illness. In such cases, the absence resulted in a lack of representation for that specific viewpoint, highlighting the need for better contingency plans to ensure broader inclusivity and representation within the Council’s discussions.

Initially, recruiting participants for the Permanent Citizens’ Council, particularly for the citizens’ assembly, was relatively easy due to heightened local interest. However, during subsequent recruitment phases, they faced challenges enrolling pre-selected citizens who had previously shown an interest but declined when offered the opportunity to participate in the Council. It was observed that individuals who had participated in at least one event previously were more likely to continue their involvement compared to those without prior commitments. This indicated that prior participants were more familiar with the process, which potentially reduced their apprehension about continued participation.

In countries where citizens’ assemblies are unfamiliar, there’s often skepticism about their suitability for a particular society or population. However, this skepticism is quickly dispelled when policymakers commit to experimenting with participatory processes like citizens’ assemblies. The core elements of random selection and a well-planned process are crucial. These assemblies aim to engage a broader spectrum of individuals compared to typical political forums, which often attract the disgruntled or overly confident. The randomness of selection ensures a different dynamic, involving a more representative sample. Across various contexts, key factors such as age, gender, geography, and educational background need consideration during the selection process. Response rates may vary significantly, necessitating diverse outreach strategies for comparable engagement levels. The process itself plays a pivotal role in fostering an environment conducive to meaningful deliberationThe deliberation phase is a critical stage in decision-making processes where participants discuss, debate, and reflect on various options or proposals. It involves thorough examination and consideration of all aspects of the issue at hand, aiming to reach a consensus or informed decision. This phase emphasises open dialogue, critical thinking, and collaborative problem-solving. and collective decision-making, often requiring professional moderators to facilitate discussions within smaller groups.

The Newham Permanent Citizen Council, established in 2020 under the initiative of the Newham City Council and Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz, marks a pioneering step towards integrating citizens directly into the local governance framework in a London borough. Drawing inspiration from successful models like the East Belgian and Paris Permanent Citizens’ Councils, Newham sought to create a dynamic platform for its residents to influence local governance, policies, and community initiatives. This council aims to foster a transparent, inclusive, and collaborative relationship between the local government and the community, ensuring decisions reflect the diverse needs and aspirations of Newham’s residents.Funded by the City Council with an allocation of approximately £100,000 per assembly, the Permanent Citizens’ Council’s operations and activities are sustained through public funds. The recruitment of council members involves a meticulous two-step process designed to ensure broad representativeness, including sending invitations to randomly selected addresses and adjusting for demographic skewing to achieve a diverse participant pool. Efforts to ensure inclusivity have led to a council composition that mirrors Newham’s multicultural community, with measures in place to support marginalised or vulnerable groups. The council operates on a rotating basis, with half of the members being replaced annually, allowing for both continuity and fresh perspectives. However, the council’s consultative role means its recommendations, while comprehensive, are not binding on the Mayor or City Council, highlighting a potential area for evolution in the council’s influence on policy making. The experience of the Newham Permanent Citizen Council offers valuable lessons, including the importance of continued engagement and the challenge of maintaining representativeness across all social groups.

Based on an interview conducted with Tom Lord (, Director of Sortition Services at the Sortition Foundation on 23 March 2023.