The Democracy Matters project ran two citizens' assemblies, in Sheffield and Southampton, in autumn 2015. Each assembly comprised around thirty people, who met over two weekends to learn about and deliberate upon options for the reform of local governance and democracy in their areas. The project examined how successfully the citizens' assembly model can be applied in the UK. It also explored two variants of that model: one in which all members are ordinary members of the public, the other in which a minority of members are elected politicians.
The Constitution Unit's Alan Renwick worked with Principal Investigator Matthew Flinders (University of Sheffield) and colleagues from the Universities of Westminster and Southampton and from the Electoral Reform Society to design and deliver the two assemblies and to research the processes that unfolded. This project was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.
Alan Renwick is now working with a similar team on the Citizens' Assembly on Brexit, which builds on many of the insights gained through Democracy Matters.
For full details of the assemblies, see the project website.
The main output from the project was a report: Democracy Matters: Lessons from the 2015 Citizens' Assemblies on English Devolution (March 2016). This outlined how the citizens' assemblies ran, summarised their conclusions, analysed their effectiveness, and considered what lessons could be learned for similar exercises in the future.
Several journal articles reporting on the research results are planned. One is already published:
- 'Citizen Participation and Changing Governance: Cases of Devolution in England'. Policy & Politics 45, no. 2 (April 2017), 251-69. By Brenton Prosser, Alan Renwick, Arianna Giovannini, Mark Sandford, Matthew Flinders, Will Jennings, Graham Smith, Paolo Spada, Gerry Stoker, and Katie Ghose.
- Alan Renwick and Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, discussed the findings in a Constitution Unit seminar in February 2016.
- Alan Renwick summarised some of the core lessons in a blogpost in November 2015.
- Further information is available on the project website.
Related Constitution Unit research
This project links with other Constitution Unit work on deliberative processes of decision-making:
- Citizens' Assembly on Brexit: We are holding a citizens' assembly that will allow citizens to engage in detailed, reflective and informed discussions about what the UK's post-Brexit relations with the European Union should be.
- Designing a Constitutional Convention: Research into the form that a constitutional convention might best take.
- After the Referendum: Options for a Constitutional Convention: Alan Renwick conducted a detailed analysis in 2014 of the various options available for the design of a constitutional convention, leading to a report published by the Constitution Society. The report is available here; it is summarised in "How to Design a Constitutional Convention for the UK", OurKingdom blog, 23 September 2014.