By Sarah Allan
Director of Climate Programmes
Climate assemblies are increasingly being used across the world to help decide how we tackle the climate crisis. As they have become more common, so has interest in their impact. However very few studies have looked at the long-term impact of taking part on assembly members themselves.
As one of the leads for Climate Assembly UK, my attention was therefore caught when assembly members began to talk about changes they had made in their own lives. These ranged from buying an electric car, to running for office for the first time, to setting-up a climate-friendly business. But were these the exception, or had lots of assembly members made similar changes.
We teamed up with Stephen Elstub and Jayne Carrick from Newcastle University to find out, sending assembly members two additional research surveys - one in April 2021 roughly a year after the end of the assembly events, and the second in September 2022 two years after the launch of the assembly’s final report.
The survey results suggest that taking part in Climate Assembly UK had a big impact on both the climate views and actions of assembly members, and possibly their political attitudes and actions. They also suggest that this impact took place for assembly members regardless of their backgrounds or previous perspectives on climate change.
Five of the results that I personally found most striking were:
First, it shows that taking part in a climate assembly has a lasting impact for many of those involved. In an era where there is concern about misinformation and lack of political engagement, this matters. Processes like climate assemblies provide one way to build a democracy where more people have a stake in the decisions we all take about our future.
Second, it reinforces arguments that climate assemblies and similar processes can play an important role in tackling the climate crisis. Given the lasting shift in participants’ perspectives, proliferation of these processes could see a clearer consensus on a robust, practical way forward emerge. An interesting, connected question is ‘how small can you go’ whilststill providing a powerful experience for participants? For example, could a mini-deliberative process that people could do with their friends and family at home have a significant impact on people’s climate attitudes and actions, as well as giving people an experience of what deliberation feels like and why it would be a good idea to use it more? There is a research project here, that could also have implications for issues beyond climate change.
Next, these results should inform a growing body of work on best practice for climate assemblies. More evaluations of assemblies need to look at whether there are impacts on assembly members beyond the end of assembly processes and, if yes, what they are. . If the findings for Climate Assembly UK members are replicated elsewhere then that raises questions about the desirability and feasibility of growing and deepening that impact, through how assemblies are designed, followed-up or both.
And finally, for this post at least, the information, support and opportunities offered to assembly members during and after assemblies are important. Involve’s to-do list for this year includes scoping plans and reaching out to potential partners about the possibility of creating a network for former participants in the UK. There are also smaller scale questions about what it is desirable and feasible to offer assembly members around individual climate assembly processes.
My colleagues and I are very interested to hear what others are looking at and working on in these spaces. Do get in touch if you would like to talk.
In the meantime, you might also be interested in the work of:
 73% of assembly members responded to one or both of the surveys and gave permission for the Newcastle University team to use their results. Analysis shows that the small number of differences between these assembly members’ backgrounds and attitudes, and those of the assembly members who filled out our research surveys during the assembly, do not explain the findings reported in this post and the report it covers.