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Citizens' Panel on Active Travel

In conjunction with the University of Bath, we have commissioned an independent Citizens’ Panel on Active Travel.

The role of a Citizens' Panel

A Citizens’ Panel is a method of deliberation where a group of local citizens come together, usually over a number of sessions, to consider issues and options relating to a particular topic.

Panel members do not need to have specialist knowledge of the subject under consideration. They come together to deliberate by:

  • receiving and discussing evidence (such as background information or reports) about the topic
  • receiving information from “witnesses”, and those who hold views on the subject, as well as people with relevant expertise
  • drawing informed conclusions based on the evidence they have heard

Following this process, the Panel makes recommendations for consideration by the commissioning body or bodies.

Our role

Working with the University of Bath, we have commissioned Britain Thinks to recruit and run a Citizens’ Panel to make recommendations to Cabinet members on principles to consider when identifying, designing, and consulting on active and sustainable travel schemes around Bath and North East Somerset, and specifically between Bath’s valley floor and the Claverton Down area, with its university and other employment and education sites.

Why we have commissioned a Citizens’ Panel

As part of our commitment to giving people a bigger say, we wish to try out innovative ideas for citizen engagement, helping create better public services, promoting social cohesion, and fostering a thriving democracy. Our Corporate Strategy contains a commitment to “use new initiatives such as citizens’ juries to involve residents in decision-making”. The document also committed to “facilitate significant improvement to the transport infrastructure and encourage behaviour change to forms of transport other than the private vehicle”.

Bringing these two Corporate Strategy commitments together, Cabinet, as part of its deliberations on Active Travel Schemes, agreed to commission a citizens’ jury (or other suitable process of deep public engagement) to determine the most appropriate, safe, strategic cycle route to improve between the city centre, the University of Bath and the large employment and education sites in Claverton Down.

Panel recruitment and costs

Following a commissioning exercise, Panel recruitment, facilitation, and support is being undertaken by the independent research agency Britain Thinks at a cost of £30,000, half of which will be paid by the University of Bath and half by us. This represents good value for money compared with other forms of public engagement.

The Panel will be made up of 27 residents from across Bath and North East Somerset. They will be people without ingrained views on the topic areas, but those who are willing to listen to different points of view and to each other, and to take on board the evidence to deliberate on the issues. Both we and the University of Bath have deliberately commissioned an experienced independent organisation to recruit and run it and we will have no role in the selection of individual Panel members.

Whilst the panel will be conducted online, we are ensuring that the research is as accessible as possible by providing an alternative form of engagement for those who might struggle to participate in group discussions online (for example, if they have limited access to the internet, or lower levels of confidence in engaging online). This ensures the panel will represent as diverse a group of people as possible.

Accessibility and inclusivity are key considerations for the recruitment and make-up of the panel, ensuring representation from those with long-term health conditions, disabilities, and from ethnic minority groups. Britain Thinks are purposely recruiting the Panel so that it covers a range of views and experiences, but will ensure representation from those who may be more affected by active travel. For example:

  • older people
  • parents with children at home
  • those with disabilities and health conditions, including those that affect mobility

Beyond this, the sample will include:

  • residents from urban, suburban, and rural areas
  • residents who use different modes of travel, including:
    • car
    • public transport
    • walking
    • cycling
  • residents who travel more and less regularly between the valley floor and Claverton Down
  • those who work, study, or have children who study in Claverton Down

Britain Thinks will recruit participants using their network of specialist market research recruiters, who use a combination of the following methods to recruit participants:

  • on-street recruitment
  • door-knocking
  • database recruitment
  • snowballing through their networks, including via social media

All participants will receive a financial incentive to thank them for their time. This will also minimise the risk of some participants facing barriers to participation, for example, parents of young children who may need to arrange paid childcare in order to participate.

Why a Citizens’ Panel includes 27 people

A Citizens’ Panel is not designed to be a “survey”, such as those carried out through market research or opinion polls. Panels of this nature aim to elicit views following information and, above all, deliberation on the topic, which is simply not possible with surveys.

This means that deliberative Panels of this nature can be used to provide a deeper understanding of the reasons people support or oppose different policy options, and the principles that underlie their decisions.

“Unlike attitude surveys, deliberative panels and citizens’ juries seek to elicit informed and considered public opinion on complex or contentious policy options, and they provide a more substantive role for the public in policy-making than traditional consultation. As such, they offer an important complementary source of evidence, along with technical assessments, that can ultimately improve the quality of decision-making.” Prof. Lorraine Whitmarsh, University of Bath, expert on public engagement with climate change.

Britain Thinks affirms that the number of members proposed for this Panel (27) allows for this degree of deliberation, receiving and weighing evidence and discussion of issues, whilst also allowing for a broad representation of different viewpoints and experiences.

How the Panel will work

Once the panel is recruited, members will attend a series of interactive and engaging online sessions over three weeks. We will be using online sessions due to concern that COVID-19 might deter some from attending in-person meetings. Panel members with less confidence using the internet will work individually with researchers instead of joining the online calls.

Britain Thinks will apply their considerable expertise in designing deliberative research methods, and will work with us to create an agenda for the panel that is engaging and tackles the key research challenges, including accessibility and equality considerations.

The agenda will include space for a range of viewpoints to be heard, not only ours. We expect information to be presented in a range of formats including:

  • recorded video statements
  • short written responses

A call for evidence will be issued in due course.

How the Panel will report its findings

Britain Thinks will prepare a report based on the recommendations of the Panel which will be presented to the Cabinet of the council.

We expect that the report will, in addition to responding to the two questions set out above, set out wider findings and discussions of the Panel as they considered these specific questions, particularly as they relate to transport policy and access issues.

The Panel will not have the power to make binding decisions about which, if any, of the proposed active travel schemes are taken forward.

The council’s Cabinet will receive the report and give close consideration to its recommendations. The recommendations and all the submissions gathered will also be made public.