Citizen engagement in politics and policymaking: Lessons from the UK

Author: Claudia Chwalisz


– Decentralisation has been, and continues to be, an ongoing process. From the devolution of formal powers and institutions at the outset, it is increasingly about creating new opportunities for communities and citizens to play a more direct role in public decision-making. New forms of citizen engagement are seen as an important addition, not a replacement, to representative democracy.

– Citizen engagement has been most successful when seen as part of a holistic approach to government and democratic reform. Rather than one legislative measure or one consultation on an ad hoc basis, it is about a medium- to long-term approach to decentralisation and democratic participation.

– Offline and online engagement are complementary. While new online tools allow governments to bypass the limitations of time and space, the need for in-person meetings will never disappear. This is especially true when it comes to issues or decisions that require people to have empathy and build trust.

– The case studies outlined in this report cover a number of actors and how they fit together: national government; regional government; local government; non-governmental organisations (NGOs); academic institutions and less formal community groups. They cover formal pieces of legislation, the impact of bottom-up civil society campaigns on shaping government action, the interaction between government, NGOs and civil society, and the relationship between government and participatory practitioners to build the evidence base of ‘what works.’

– The case studies include:

• Tings: Deliberative engagement of citizens in decision-making

• Participatory budgeting

• Community Empowerment Act (Scotland)

• What Works Network

• Living Labs • “Act as if you own the place” campaign: Scotland

• Scottish Independent Commission on Parliamentary Reform

• The Democratic Society: Supporting neighbourhood engagement in an English town

• Local Government Association: Engaging citizens in devolution

• People’s Plan for Manchester

• Participation Cymru

• Irish Constitutional Convention

• Long-form deliberative processes: Canada and Australia

• Melbourne People’s Panel