Investigating Perceptions of Devon Net Zero Citizen’s Assembly Process

Rapid and extensive action on climate change is necessary to prevent hazardous outcomes for societies and communities across the world (IPCC, 2018). More than 290 councils across the UK have declared a Climate Emergency, including Devon County Council in February 2019 (ClimateEmergencyUK 2020)[1]. Citizens’ Assemblies, as well as other deliberative public engagement processes like Citizens Juries, are increasingly being seen as useful methods for facilitating public input into discussions about how to tackle this emergency.

For example, these processes can help road test public responses to different types of policies and can also allow citizens to generate new policy priorities. While the Devon County Council has committed to holding a Citizens’ Assembly, under the auspices of the Devon Climate Emergency Response Group (a county-wide network of public, private and civil society organisations), there is a lack of knowledge and understanding about how to take this agenda forward in ways that are considered legitimate, acceptable, inclusive and fair. Our project will involve a targeted, multi-stakeholder analysis of the value of public deliberation on climate change. Findings will be co-created in partnership with Devon County Council and the Devon Climate Emergency Response Group.

Our approach will provide evidence about how a variety of stakeholders and members of the public view the citizens assembly process, including perceptions about its purpose, operational aspects and potential strengths and weaknesses. The research will generate insights that can be taken into account by local stakeholders, notably Devon Climate Emergency Response Group (DCERG) when undertaking the Citizens’ Assembly itself. In particular, the research will seek to generate insights about communicating with the public, about aspirations and concerns, and about maximising the credibility, impact and perceived legitimacy of the Assembly in the eyes of the public and key stakeholders.  The research will also contribute to broader debates in climate change science and policy about the nature and scope of public participation within these debates.

We’re using a mixed methods qualitative research approach that has focused on interviewing key stakeholders who are part of the Devon Climate Emergency process- including members of the overarching response group and the independent taskforce. Added to this we ran a survey with public stakeholders who provided evidence to the carbon plan public consultation in 2019.

The project is funded by Economic and Social Research Council Impact Acceleration Account (IAA) Funding and Devon County Council (Jan-Dec 2020)

Project Team:

Dr Rebecca Sandover (Project Research Fellow, University of Exeter, Geography)

Professor Patrick Devine-Wright (Project Principal Investigator, University of Exeter, Geography)

Dr Alice Moseley (Project Co-Investigator, University of Exeter Dept of Politics)

Mr Doug Eltham (Climate Change Lead, Devon County Council)


Multi-sector Stakeholders discussing options for change at The Exeter Food Poverty Summit November 2018


Project Advisory Board:

Professor Rebecca Willis, Professor in Practice -Lancaster University

Professor Graham Smith, Professor of Politics -University of Westminster

Professor John Barry, Professor of Green Political Economy -Queen’s University, Belfast

Professor Dr. Petra Schweizer-Ries, Professor of Sustainability – Bochum University of Applied Sciences

Professor Peta Ashworth, Chair in Sustainable Energy Futures- The University of Queensland

Professor David Farrell, Professor of Politics -University College Dublin

 Project Partners:

 DCERGOn 22nd May 2019 public, private and voluntary organisations from across Devon came together to form the Devon Climate Emergency Response Group, to declare a climate and ecological emergency and to endorse the principles of the Devon Climate Declaration. This recognises that we are aware of the significant implications of climate change for Devon’s communities and commits the signatories to work together on developing a Devon Carbon Plan, which is being developed by the Net-Zero Task Force. Emily Reed (Climate Emergency Project Manager, Devon County Council) is our contact for the research project and is managing the wider DCE process.


Devon Climate Emergency Map


For more information on Citizens’ Assemblies in the UK see: Involve UK’s public participation charity who are leading the delivery of the Climate Assembly UK

and Climate Assembly UK the Parliamentary Select Committees’ public deliberation process which has been exploring in 2020 how the UK can reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

[1] https://www.climateemergency.uk/blog/list-of-councils/