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Follow-Up to Climate Assemblies

@ Jemima Stubbs / (UK Peoples Plan for Nature)
The follow-up process is a critical element of climate assemblies. It must not be an afterthought. The time and energy that citizens invest alongside the resources and effort from the commissioning authority and organisers needs to be matched by a carefully structured follow-up process.
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Why is this an issue?  

What is the point of running an assembly if commissioners have not carefully considered how they and relevant stakeholders will respond to the recommendations? Too often the recommendations produced by climate assemblies get lost in the political system. The follow-up process is a critical element of climate assemblies. It must not be an afterthought. The time and energy that citizens invest alongside the resources and effort from the commissioning authority and organisers needs to be matched by a carefully structured follow-up process. This does not necessarily mean that all recommendations will be accepted – but does at minimum require that they have been given due consideration. How best to design that follow-up process? What structures, processes and responsibilities need to be put in place?

What have we learned from previous assemblies?

It is not surprising that little systematic attention is given to the follow-up process for climate assemblies as they are too often organised on tight deadlines and assembly commissioning, design and implementation can be a complicated process. It is also fair to say that engaging citizens is generally more fun than organising the bureaucratic procedures to follow-up the assembly!

Unfortunately, this means that most commissioners of climate assemblies are not well prepared to receive the recommendations. This no doubt has a material effect on the limited translation of assembly proposals into the policy making process. KNOCA is aware of at least one situation where the first time a civil servant heard about the assembly was when its recommendations landed on their desk. They were not well disposed to respond positively.

Those assemblies that have put time and resources into follow-up have typically started developing their plans before the assembly convenes.

Key political actors make a public commitment to respond to the recommendations within a stated timescale before the assembly starts its work.  

Civil servants responsible for coordinating the government response are identified early so that they can follow the assembly process and be aware of the type of recommendations that will emerge. The closer these civil servants are to the centre of political power, the more effective they can be in ensuring the assembly recommendations are given due consideration by policy teams.  

Effort is put into raising awareness amongst civil servants and stakeholders who work in the areas that may be affected by the assembly recommendations.

Ireland has a well-established process for dealing with the recommendations of its many national citizens’ assemblies. The climate change report of Ireland’s Citizens’ Assembly 2016-18 was received by parliament which established a Joint Parliamentary Committee to consider the recommendations. The Joint Committee’s report was submitted to government alongside the report from the Citizens’ Assembly. The government’s response was coordinated by the Cabinet Secretary. The Citizens Assembly on Biodiversity Loss is following the same process.

The recommendations of Luxembourg’s Climate Citizens’ Assembly were received by the Prime Minister and the response of the government coordinated by his Chief of Staff. The status of recommendations is regularly updated on a publicly accessible Excel sheet.

The Climate Change Act placed a responsibility on the government to respond within 6 months to the report of Scotland’s Climate Assembly. The Sponsorship Team in the Climate Change Division was given responsibility to coordinate the government response from the start of the process. The Secretariat and Governance bodies (stakeholder and expert groups) remained in place to promote the assembly report amongst politicians, public officials and stakeholders and to support assembly members who were active in meeting with politicians and public officials and reconvened after 6 months to review the government’s response. Stakeholders were invited to sign Scotland’s Civic Charter on Climate to support the assembly’s call for action.  

The climate assembly in the German city of Erlangen was integrated with a stakeholder engagement process to ensure buy-in from key stakeholders that can affect change. The assembly and the stakeholders exchanged ideas, before the assembly produced a final report. Stakeholders have been invited to sign a city declaration committing to work towards the agreed goals.

What gets in the way of effective follow-up?

  • Electoral politics. Ensuring consistent support once the assembly has finished its work is critical. Otherwise, civil servants do not have the licence to respond. This can be difficult when politicians have competing demands on their time.  In Austria, the assembly was not fully supported by all government coalition partners and so only an administrative response was possible which mapped recommendations onto current government action.
  • Administrative politics. Administrations are organisations with their own conflicts and power dynamics. It is hard to shift established practices and working patterns. Where assemblies are sponsored by one or two ministers and their departments, it can be difficult to persuade other parts of the administration to take the recommendations seriously.  
  • Policy cycles. Where assemblies are not well-timed, they can miss policy windows – opportunities to affect policy change. Scotland’s Climate Assembly was delayed because of the Covid pandemic and so missed the climate policy development cycle and the dedicated funds for action.  
  • Budget cycles. Budgetary support for the follow-up process can get caught up in battles over financing. Again, in Scotland, the follow-up process halted abruptly at the end of a financial year as resources were allocated elsewhere.
  • Staff turnover. The civil servants who support the organisation and lead the response to an assembly are often highly committed individuals. But once an assembly has finished their work, they are often moved to other responsibilities.
  • Stakeholder responsibilities. While commissioners can organise their own internal response to the assembly report, it is harder to ensure that follow-up happens where stakeholders are the target of particular recommendations. The Erlangen model and Scotland’s Civic Charter on Climate offers ways of tying stakeholders into a joint follow-up process.


Climate assemblies should not be run where commissioners are not committed to follow-up.

Dedicate time to designing the follow-up process. Ensure that responsibilities, structures processes and timelines for follow-up within the commissioning public authority are explicitly laid out before the assembly starts its work.

Time the assembly with relevant policy development cycles in mind.

Establish public reporting on follow-up to take place in both the short (3-6 months) and longer term (1-2 years) since policy development and implementation takes time.

Ensure a dedicated team to coordinate follow-up is in place before the assembly starts its work (so that they can follow and understand the process). The team should be led by an official with significant standing across the administration – preferably from the leader’s office – and made up of both policy and process specialists. Increased ownership is achieved if membership is drawn from a range of policy areas that have competencies relevant to the assembly remit.

Ensure the necessary political support and resources so that other policy teams across the administration take the recommendations seriously in their work. Recognise that some parts of the administration will be resistant to giving due consideration to recommendations. Political support will be necessary to ensure responsiveness.

Organise awareness raising across the public administration before and during the assembly process so that policy teams know that recommendations may be coming their way and so can be prepared.

Develop a reporting system so that policy teams across the administration can regularly update progress and the coordinating team and those monitoring the process can follow developments.

Policy teams should map recommendations against their existing policies and commitments and identify how recommendations can be integrated and where recommendations clash with existing policies. Elected politicians should provide clear and public justifications where recommendations are to be modified or abandoned as part of the regular reporting of progress.

Keep the civil servants involved in organising the assembly and the advisory board and evidence group in place after the Assembly has reported to help disseminate the recommendations and support assembly members.

Members of the Assembly need to be given support and resources to advocate for their recommendations. Capacity building training should be provided to enable engagement with politicians and policy officials after their report has been published.

Consider an additional Assembly weekend 6 to 12 months after its report has been published so that the Assembly can review government action.

Consider establishing an independent Accountability Board to review progress over time, drawn from, for example, the advisory and evidence groups that supported the Assembly and members of the Assembly.

Work with stakeholders responsible for delivering on recommendations to develop their own follow-up processes, including public reporting. Ensuring that stakeholders likely to be impacted are involved from the beginning of the assembly (for example, as members of the advisory board) can increase buy-in to the process and its recommendations. Consider establishing a civic charter to support the assembly’s call for action.

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