Workshop: Inclusive Voice

How can we embed participatory democracy beyond single experiments?

1 March 2021

4 minute read

Key Learning

From Projects to Permanence - how can we embed participatory democracy beyond single experiments?

  • Providing a stakeholder map of key senior decisionmakers across the locality will enable citizens to have a clear picture of how decisions are made, who is involved in making them and where change may be possible at the local decision making level.
  • Stakeholder mapping can be complimented by a process of coalition building between stakeholders who might have competing agendas. Following a three-stage process: (i)establishing a shared vision, (ii)establishing a shared language, (iii)establishing shared metrics - can help to create shared accountability and, ideally, shared commitment to participatory change.
  • Role-inversion methods can challenge the ideological, organisational and sectoral barriers between stakeholders and powerholders. i.e. inverting the citizens’ jury model, so a representative group of local stakeholders consider evidence and experience provided by local residents/service users before collectively scrutinising the siloes that may prevent a holistic response.

How can we better enable participation by underrepresented groups?

  • Trust is essential to enabling participation: The NHS have used local community champions to increase access to underrepresented groups and build trust. This also requires a process of capacity and confidence-building for people or groups who may not be comfortable in ‘formal’ participatory spaces. ‘Bringing participation to people’ instead of asking them to enter formal spaces is another promising approach.
  • In addressing this challenge, it can help to start by simply asking questions and gathering information from constituents: Why do certain groups not get involved? What are the primary barriers to participation?
  • There are examples of authorities creating separate panels (sometimes called ‘enclave deliberation’) for different groups: For instance, Greater Manchester has created citizens’ panels for LGBTQ+, BAME, disability and other groups. It might be easier to create confidence and trust in these settings and the outputs can be fed into wider engagement processes (as happened prior to the Romsey Citizens’ Assembly).
  • Consultation doesn't always have to come from the local authority: It can also come from a range of other voluntary spaces. Sometimes the council can simply be the space that enables and catalyses, rather than leads, the dialogue.

How can we secure internal and external stakeholder support for ambitious participation processes?

  • It helps to use moments of change to foster participation: For instance, the Covid crisis opened the chance to reach more people in several councils and combined authorities.
  • Politicians can be crucial allies in bringing other stakeholders on board: They can also focus on political comms/advocacy, while others focus on designing and delivering the process, creating a mutually supportive division of roles.
  • It is also critical to find allies outside of the council, in partner organisations and other community groups: This can be through formal pre-existing partnerships (i.e. Bristol’s One City Approach), through stakeholder workshops, or through a process advisory group.
  • Diversifying leadership (through programmes like Bristol’s Stepping Up initiative): This can produce a managerial team with more experience of working with diverse groups and using different non-traditional methods of engagement.