Alongside the classical participative tools of direct democracy, such as citizens’ petitions and referenda, from the 1990s onwards new innovative forms of citizens’ participation have become common. Assemblies, a participative modality which is widely used by social movements, allow groups of people to gather and discuss issues and proposals of common interest and take consensual decisions. They allow participants, organizations or groups to introduce themselves, share experiences, issues and goals, and define lines of actions and shared initiatives.
The assembly, also called people’s assembly, is an instrument that allows for direct democracy in a specific context, which can refer to social movements, communities, coalitions and other types of gatherings. It is particularly suitable for wide groups of participants. The assembly modality is characterized by being inserted into a collaborative context where participants share the same goals. It is not suitable in contexts characterized by power imbalances and unequal relationships.
The assembly applied to processes of collaborative elaboration of actions and activities, such as the climate camp in the Clim’Act project, presents both pros and cons in relation to the process of discussion and decision as part of the collective work. Although not the best tool to originate new proposals and ideas, it remains a very useful tool for the introduction of each participant, their organizations, activities, interests, the sharing and discussion of various proposals and a collective decision making process.
How to implement it
The figure of the facilitator/moderator is crucial for the good functioning of assemblies. The facilitator must play a ‘neutral’ role and is in charge of:
- Organizing the agenda of the discussion;
- Managing the interventions and guaranteeing an equal distribution of time to speakers;
- Ensuring that the debate does not deviate from the topic and objectives of the discussion and redirecting misleading discussions;
- Accompanying the process of consensual decision;
- Taking notes and elaborating oral and written reports;
- Drawing the conclusions of the assembly.
Development scheme of an assembly (model from OccupyReno)
- Introduction: presentation of the objectives of the assembly and the issues and proposals to be discussed
- Collection of interventions (the list can include additional names during the assembly up to the end of the discussion time)
- Discussion of the first point in the agenda:
- Presentation/clarification of the issue to be discussed
- Validation of collective consensus
In case of not reaching the consensus, the proposal will be modified until reaching a consensus
- Discussion of the second point in the agenda (see point 3, the same applies to all the issues to be discussed)
- Conclusions and housekeeping communications
- How to organize and manage an assembly
- People’s assembly during the COP15 in Copenhagen
- People’s assemblies in revolts and revolutions
- Wikipedia resources
- Example of citizens’ assembly in an institutional context