Thousands of Aucklanders will receive an invite today, Thursday July 7, from Watercare to participate in the country’s first trial of a citizens’ assembly for decision making.
Through a stratified random sampling process, 12,000 initial invites – sent by email and post – will eventually be whittled down to 40 participants from those who respond to the invite with an expression of interest. The total make-up of the group will be representative of Auckland’s population.
The assembly will be held over four Saturdays in August and September. Participants will be tasked with discussing options then giving a recommendation to Watercare on what Auckland’s future water source, or sources, should be to supplement metropolitan supply beyond 2040.
Watercare chief customer officer Amanda Singleton says the citizens’ assembly is an important part of Watercare’s pursuit of early engagement with its customers on issues that impact them not only today, but also well into the future.
“Auckland is growing, and our climate is changing and in time we are going to need a new, long-term water source to provide for generations to come. That is why this trial is designed to seek the input of everyday citizens to help us identify the most suitable additional water source beyond 2040. We are specifically looking for the perspectives of those who would not ordinarily have strong views or knowledge about the water system but will be impacted by decisions made about it.
“This approach to customer engagement has the full support of everyone in Watercare, from our Board and executive to our teams responsible for delivering the infrastructure and services to the people of our city.”
The assembly is designed and held in collaboration with Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures at the University of Auckland.
Koi Tū has an interest in exploring how different forms of citizens’ engagement could work to support better policy conversations and evidence-informed debate in New Zealand.
Koi Tū deputy director Dr Anne Bardsley says processes based on deliberative methods, such as citizens’ assemblies, emphasise the importance of talking issues through with access to expertise and evidence. They are designed to sit alongside and compliment traditional structures and methods of consultation.
“We’ve worked together with Watercare to design this assembly based on the feedback we had from initial workshops last year. Each group will have access to experts, compare different views, analyse facts, and reason together.
“The idea is that these exchanges will lead to more balanced, inclusive and well-informed outcomes compared with traditional consultation processes. In the end they are likely to produce better, more considered decisions.”
It’s hoped that learnings from the trial will provide a useful guide for other organisations looking to use a citizens’ assembly to help with making complex decisions.