Comparing Citizens’ Assemblies across the United States

June 27, 2024

In an era of dwindling trust in government, it is imperative to explore new ways to engage citizens in democracy, foster public participation, and restore faith in democratic processes. According to Pew Research Center, people across 24 surveyed countries think their democracies could improve by expanding public participation and civic engagement.

As Hollie Russon Gilman and Sabeel Rahman note in their book, Civic Power: Rebuilding American Democracy in an Era of Crisis, “building such civic power requires two complementary and mutually reinforcing changes to our democratic ecosystem. First, it requires transforming the way we approach organizing constituencies. Second, it requires radical changes to how we structure governing institutions and the process of policymaking.” Citizens’ assemblies are one promising model for building co-governance and civic power.

What Are Citizens’ Assemblies?

Citizens’ assemblies are a promising method for increasing public engagement in government decisions. Its members form a representative cross section of the public who discuss and make recommendations on important issues. Citizens’ assemblies can help address these public priorities that transcend national borders. Citizens’ assemblies deepen public engagement in governmental decision-making. Governments and nonprofit organizations have implemented these assemblies worldwide, particularly in Europe, to amplify community voices and enhance policymaking.

Countries like Ireland and Belgium have successfully integrated citizens’ assemblies into their policymaking frameworks, allowing residents to deliberate on critical issues such as marriage equality and climate change. Ireland, for example, recently put a constitutional amendment on the ballot, which was based on proposals from a recent citizens’ assembly focused on a range of issues regarding gender equality. While the amendment was ultimately watered down and rejected by the voters, citizens’ assemblies remain an important part of the conversation in Ireland as the country grapples with its place in the political process.

By providing a platform for informed discussion and consensus-building, citizens’ assemblies allow elected officials to address polarizing issues and help them better align with community priorities. However, challenges such as high overhead costs and barriers to inclusivity have hindered the widespread adoption of citizens’ assemblies.

In the past year, New America has published numerous pieces highlighting recent citizens’ assemblies. These case studies are geared towards practitioners in movement organizations, government, philanthropy, and academia. Most recently, we conducted three case studies, two in Colorado and one in California, highlighting the creative methods that organizations use to overcome barriers to citizens’ assembly implementation. Each of these models relied on building strong inside and outside relationships with civil society organizations, but varied in how they carried out their deliberations. From utilizing technology to in-person engagement, these citizens’ assemblies were able to achieve consensus-building through their unique methodologies. In this brief, we will explore the similarities and differences of each case study.

There is much debate about what precisely qualifies as a citizens’ assembly, including the exact use of sortition, the length and duration of meetings, the use of in-person and online tools, and the selection process. For example, the RadicalxChange pilot may not be classified as a traditional citizens’ assembly due to its smaller size and shorter form, but we have included it here for its analytical importance.

The three cases are available here:

The Case for Technology

Digital technology played a crucial role in the citizens’ assembly co-run by the city of Petaluma, California, and the organization Healthy Democracy. In April 2022, Petaluma invested $450,000 to implement California’s first municipal citizens’ assembly to recommend a plan for the future of its municipal fairground—a contentious issue in the city for several years. Because of the pandemic, the assembly leaders adopted a hybrid approach, heavily relying on technology to facilitate participation. Healthy Democracy and the city budgeted for appropriate technology to provide equitable access for all participants. This technology had the added benefit of minimizing attrition rates and maximizing engagement throughout the process. Technology helped foster a culture of inclusion and sustained community involvement in the local decision-making processes.

RadicalxChange piloted a civic engagement experiment, or “mini public,” in collaboration with the Office of Climate Preparedness and Disaster Recovery (CPO) in Colorado. RadicalxChange, in partnership with Healthy Democracy and Civic Canopy, began by taking a random selection of 18,000 residential addresses in Colorado, sending letters to them, and then using a randomizing tool called Panelot to draw a lottery from those who volunteered to join. Then, they began the deliberation process. Panelists gathered for three-and-a-half hours online, using deliberation tools like and engaging members in plural voting, which allows participants to rank choices by giving greater weight to certain priorities over others. They asked participants questions such as, “What strikes you as very important for the State of Colorado to consider in its plans on climate preparedness?” The integration of these digital tools not only streamlined the deliberation process but also provided insights into diverse perspectives, ultimately contributing to informed decision-making on climate preparedness strategies.

In 2022, Unify America launched a pilot in Montrose, Colorado, after extensive research to find a municipality of 15,000 to 50,000 residents willing to pioneer deliberative democracy to address pressing community issues. Technology enabled efficient and inclusive deliberations in Montrose, Colorado’s citizens’ assembly pilot. The assembly primarily engaged in online meetings through Zoom and a dedicated web platform to facilitate discussions and share resources. Comprehensive technology support ensured that all participants could access and use computers with webcams. Assembly facilitators provided multimedia briefings, video “lowdowns,” and text summaries to inform delegates and enhance their understanding and engagement. Additionally, an asynchronous question system facilitated delegate queries outside of scheduled meetings. Overall, technology played a vital role in empowering delegates to collaboratively address pressing community issues in Montrose, fostering inclusivity and efficiency in the deliberative process.

Both Unify America and RadicalxChange utilized Panelot to ensure a representative and diverse panel. Panelot, or panel selection by lot, is a tool that helps generate a representative sample to guarantee the assembly represents a fair cross-section of the county’s demographics. Unify America used Panelot to create 1,000 panels of 64 delegates. Unify America carefully crafted each panel to mirror the diversity of Montrose across six demographics: age, race/ethnicity, household income, gender, political party affiliation, and local geography. These representative panels would not have been possible without the use of Panelot.

There are many interesting experiments incorporating digital technology and artificial intelligence (AI) into citizens’ assemblies. DemocracyNext and the MIT Center for Constructive Communication (CCC) hosted a student-focused citizens’ assembly around the rise and use of generative AI in the classroom. They leveraged a tool called Analogia to help people come together over decisions. Fora, another platform created by the CCC, recorded small group conversations.

Importance of Facilitation and In-Person Engagement

While technology improves accessibility and scalability, in-person assemblies allow participants to foster unique connections and build trust. Careful facilitation and tech support ensure full participation. This personalized approach is crucial for creating a meaningful experience for participants and fostering a sense of being heard and valued by the state government. In-person engagement allows participants to foster connection and empathy with one another, contributing to the overall success of the assembly.

In-person engagement played a crucial role in fostering trust among participants in the Montrose assembly. While most deliberations occurred online, the initial in-person meeting gave delegates the chance to foster a sense of community and belonging. Through icebreaker questions and collaborative activities, attendees quickly formed personal connections that laid the foundation for honest dialogue throughout the deliberative process. This in-person bonding experience also enhanced participants’ comfort with discussing diverse perspectives.

Partners on the Ground

In the Montrose case and the RadicalxChange pilot, the presence of trusted local partners was vital for the success of each assembly. While technology facilitated resident outreach, community partners played a crucial role in establishing trust between participants and the organizations. Additionally, these local groups helped define the assembly’s topic. For example, in the RadicalxChange pilot, the organization collaborated with the CPO, who had come up with a specific topic for deliberation. In both cases conducted in Colorado, through the CPO’s office and local groups in Montrose, their familiarity with their respective communities proved invaluable in executing the process effectively. In other words, implementation heavily depends on pre-existing relationships within a community.


Citizens’ assemblies are a powerful tool that bring together a diverse group to deliberate on important issues to increase community engagement and influence government policies. Technological tools such as and Panelot improve accessibility, efficiency, and engagement in citizens’ assemblies, but trust and community built from in-person citizens’ assemblies is hard to replace. Success stories from multiple New America case studies demonstrate the potential of citizens’ assemblies to address pressing issues. Citizens’ assemblies give ordinary people the power to shape policies, which is essential for a thriving democratic society.


Thank you to all the organizations, including Unify America, RadicalxChange in partnership with Healthy Democracy and Civic Canopy, and those who participated in interviews, as well as the dozens of additional leaders across civil society and government who have provided their expertise for this series. This is a living document that we plan to update. Thank you to Mark Schmitt, Sachi Gaonkar, and Rahmin Sarabi for providing feedback. We are also grateful to the diverse group of practitioners working to expand citizens’ assemblies across the United States.

Related Topics
Citizens' Assemblies and Mini Publics Civic Engagement and Organizing