Civic Engagement - 21st Century Town Meeting
21st Century Town Meetings combine the features of a small scale face-to-face discussion with large scale group decision making.

Civic Engagement - 21st Century Town Meeting

02 February 2015

As we continue to profile our civic activism tools, which are all available in our online directory, we look at the impact that 21st Century Town Meetings could have in Northern Ireland.

21st Century Town Meetings combine the features of a small scale face-to-face discussion with large scale group decision making, bringing together large groups of people to discuss the issues that matter most to them.

These discussions can take place on a local, regional or national basis to influence policy decisions.


This process is actually trademarked by AmericaSpeaks, a non-profit organisation reinvigorating American democracy by engaging citizens in the public decision-making which impacts on their lives.

Each meeting brings together between 500 and 5,000 people, with table discussions set up to generate ideas and keypad voting used to determine priorities.

The model is based on six principles:

Diverse representation – to ensure accurate representation of the community

Informed participation – using highly accessible, neutral materials

Facilitated deliberations – to enable high quality dialogue

Shared priorities – as a key output, using keypad polling to prioritise ideas

Link to action – through the close involvement of decision makers

Sustaining citizen engagement – via ongoing support, tools, and opportunities for citizens to act on issues they care about


21st Century Town Meetings were used most prominently by the UK Department of Health during the Your Health, Your Care, Your Say initiative from 2005-2006.

The major listening exercise took in five events across England and had a major influence on the Our health, our care, our say: a new direction for community services White Paper.

Meetings were held in Gateshead, Leicester, London and Plymouth followed by a national citizens' summit in Birmingham. Overall 1,000 citizens came together.

Two of the most notable messages which emerged from these events were that people wanted their local services to fit with their lives not the other way around, and for people's needs to be the most important factor.

To find out more about this Civic Engagement Tool click here.

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