Democratising the economy: inclusive voice

26 March 2021

By Asheem Singh, Alexa Clay and Riley Thorold

5 minute read

Democratising the economy: inclusive voice

If we want to resolve the challenges of our time, councils and communities must experiment with innovative, authentic and legitimate forms of engagement. This blog explains how that can be done and why the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) is partnering with the Inclusive Growth Network (IGN) to do more of it.

Four principles that connect civic engagement and inclusive growth

We are fascinated by bottom-up models of economic development at the RSA. We have explored the benefits of public participation in major RSA projects, such as our Citizens’ Economic Council, our Forum of Ethical AI and the Innovation in Democracy Programme, through which we have led citizens and commissioning bodies through complex deliberations on topics ranging from town centre regeneration and economic democracy to AI decision making.

Looking globally, the RSA’s work in Chicago, Pittsburgh, and New Zealand has continually reaffirmed the power of inclusive, community-driven growth models as a mechanism for place-based social justice. Over time we’ve consolidated a growing body of research on the instrumental relationship between civic engagement and inclusive growth, which yields the following insights.

  1. Public engagement can surface evidence and insight that was previously unapparent to decision makers. This can result in better policy decisions and superior social, economic and environmental outcomes
  2. Public engagement can create a mandate for politicians, helping them to make difficult decisions with legitimacy and confidence
  3. Political participation has shown to build trust, confidence, tolerance, social capital and public spirit in citizens, which results in more resilient and inclusive communities. Improved ‘social infrastructure’ primes the ground for more impactful inclusive growth interventions.
  4. Well-designed civic engagement processes enable high-quality information, long-term strategy and constructive collaboration to take center stage, free from distorting influences.

RSA x IGN

The RSA is a partner of the IGN and we have recently started facilitating a learning journey on ‘inclusive voice’ methods and strategies. Outlined below are some questions we believe require deeper discussion, troubleshooting and learning through our collaboration:

  1. The business case for inclusive voice: why and when deliberative/participatory methodologies are being employed and what the underlying rationale and drivers are for embedding such approaches. How does this differ across perspectives and communities? Why is ‘inclusive voice’ particularly pertinent in an age of Covid-19 recovery?
  2. The ethics of deliberative and participatory processes: how to manage a community process authentically and understand the elements of an inclusive growth policy that lends itself to diverse community co-design. How can engagement with ‘hard-to-reach’ groups result in informed policy, as well as broad-based representation and legitimacy?
  3. Types of approaches and a taxonomy of engagement options: demystifying different community-driven approaches and their underlying purpose, from citizen assemblies and participatory budgeting to light touch advisory groups and structural attempts at stakeholder governance. What approaches are appropriate at different spatial scales in different types of locality to create a robust mandate for progressive courses of action?
  4. The role of citizen agency in delivering an inclusive recovery: crises can lead to more authoritarian and top-down policy-making or technocratic “governance by committee”, when they in fact demand more agile policy-making that supports real time feedback loops between governing authorities and communities. How can participatory approaches support an inclusive recovery that accounts for the range of lived experience within and between communities during crisis?
  5. Governance models and coalition structures for inclusive growth: bringing attention to the long-standing civic infrastructure, community-led coalitions and light-touch processes through which inclusive growth can be operationalised. What are the right containers for stewarding this work in a systemic way?

If inclusive growth is premised on the genuine distribution of power, underpinned by a sincere commitment to amplifying citizen voice, then it can animate a fairer, more resilient recovery. We’re excited to be working with the IGN to take this project forward.

The RSA wish to thank Coda Societies and Of By For as thought partners who have informed their approach to thinking about these issues.