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Aucklanders Tasked With Recommending City’s Future Water Source In NZ’s First Citizens’ Assembly

A group of 40 people selected by lottery to be representative of Auckland’s population will meet for the first of four full-day workshops today in the country’s first citizens’ assembly for major decision making.

The group will be tasked with learning about and discussing the various options for a future water source or sources to supplement Auckland’s metropolitan supply beyond 2040, before making a consensus recommendation to Watercare’s senior leadership team.

Watercare chief executive Jon Lamonte says the group is a truly representative sample of Aucklanders by age group, ethnicity, gender, home ownership, education and place of residence.

“This is the first time a citizens’ assembly has been held in New Zealand, and I’m really looking forward to hearing what option or options the group wants us to pursue, and their thinking behind it.

“This is a really important decision that will impact all Aucklanders for generations to come. The participants will have access to independent experts, and plenty of time for questions and deliberation before they make their formal recommendation.

“Our commitment to them is that we’ll respond to every recommendation, and would need a very good reason not to go ahead with their consensus recommendations.”

The assembly is designed and held in collaboration with Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures at the University of Auckland. The workshops are held on site at the university.

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.

She says traditional consultation by submission does not reach the diversity that exists in Tāmaki Makaurau or in Aotearoa.

“We know that many citizens do not participate in consultations because of structural inequalities, language or educational barriers, or mistrust in the ‘system’. Opening up democracy to different voices should lead to more balanced, inclusive and well-informed outcomes.

Dr Bardsley says the citizens’ assembly is just one of a range of new innovative approaches the team is exploring at Koi Tū, as they seek to engage citizens in the discussion about the complex issues facing Aotearoa New Zealand.

“These inclusive processes might help us to make better decisions on complex issues where we face numerous trade-offs and uncertainties, and where the decisions have long-term consequences on how our future might play out.”

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