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Asher Craig: Deliberative Democracy


Deliberative Democracy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused great disruption to people’s lives and livelihoods. The health and economic impacts have fallen unequally and often hardest on people who already faced disadvantage.

While the lockdown restrictions have presented citizens with major change and disruption, this has also given people new perspectives on what the future could look like. This vision, alongside new resources on hand to drive forward Bristol’s recovery, presents a once in a lifetime chance to propel forward plans to deliver a fairer, healthier and truly sustainable city.

A vital part of the city’s response during lockdown was community-led and community groups and individuals now want to help shape how the city recovers. In January 2020, the council announced its commitment to trial deliberative democracy techniques, bringing together a representative assembly of citizens to try to resolve one or more challenges affecting the city. Those challenges, such as how we tackle the climate emergency, inequality, transport, and lack of affordable housing, remain and are now further impacted by the additional economic and physical challenges caused by COVID-19.

To ensure that the emerging recovery plan to deliver Bristol’s future, both short-term and over the coming years, also reflects the ideas and priorities of citizens and community stakeholders we have launched a deliberative democracy process involving a representative group of Bristol’s to debate and agree citizens’ priorities for post Covid-19 recovery.  By empowering citizens to participate fully in the recovery planning process, this will give the public confidence that their opinions will shape future decision making in the city. The process will be evaluated by June 2021 and lessons learnt will be embedded into the council’s decision-making process by December 2021.

Embedding Citizens’ Priorities.

A consortium of Bristol organisations has applied to the new Climate Action Fund from the Big Lottery Community Fund.  The project is led by Bristol Green Capital Partnership, with 6 community partner organisations (a mix of neighbourhood anchor organisations and organisations working with communities of interest such as people with disabilities, refugees and asylum seekers), Bristol City Council and the Centre for Sustainable Energy.

We are looking forward to hearing the Community Fund make their announcement later in the summer – fingers crossed!

In a nutshell, this approach is to enable and empower local communities, putting local people in the driving seat. So whilst environmental organisations will be a critical part of the project, bringing expertise and previous track records of projects that deliver, the 6 communities will be offered a “menu” of ideas – but they get to choose what gets actioned, which projects get delivered, and what the funds are spent on.  And in order to make these decisions they will be offered training, a suite of evidence and opportunities for exchange with other communities.

Cllr Asher Craig is Deputy Mayor of Bristol City Council. She has spent over 30 years as a community activist, leader, management consultant and now local politician with overall responsibility for communities, equalities and public health across the city. This is the third of three articles about local climate action in Bristol, from an inclusive leadership perspective.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

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