Democracy Matters: A Constitutional Assembly for the UK- A Comparative Study and Pilot Project

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Politics

Abstract

In the wake of the Scottish referendum on independence the UK is undergoing a rapid period of constitutional reflection and reform. The Smith Commission has set out a raft of new powers for the Scottish Parliament, English devolution has taken the form of a number of bi-lateral 'city deals', and Cabinet Committee on Devolved Powers (chaired by William Hague) has reported on options for change in Westminster. One critical component of this frenetic period of reform has been the absence of any explicit or managed process for civic engagement even though the Prime Minister's statement on the 18 September 2014 emphasized that 'It is also important we have wider civic engagement about how to improve governance in our United Kingdom, including how to empower our great cities. And we will say more about this in the coming days'. The creation of a citizen-led Constitutional Convention has been promoted through a number of letters in the national media, calls from senior figures within academe and the third sector and even a major petition to the Prime Minister. On the 5 Dec. 2015 William Hague responded to this pressure by publishing an open letter to some of the individuals and groups making this research grant application in which he conceded that although the coalition government was focusing on the delivery of devolution in the short-term there would be a need for a broader process of public engagement about the constitutional system as a whole. 'A constitutional convention' Mr Hague acknowledged 'is one way of doing this'. The Labour Party has formally committed itself to launching a Constitutional Convention if it forms the government after the next General Election and the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Green Party have also made this a core element of their plans for the future, making this a genuine cross-party issue.

The issue of holding a Constitutional Convention has therefore shifted from the periphery of constitutional debates in the UK to the very core. The likelihood of a hung parliament after 7 May 2015 and the inter-party deals that will be required to form a coalition plus the existence of unresolved constitutional questions that require resolution makes the establishment of a constitutional convention more likely. The urgency - and therefore rationale - for this application is that a major skills and knowledge gap exists at the centre of government. The Cabinet Office has no specialist knowledge in terms of how to design, manage or implement major public-led democratic innovations. Other countries and regions, by contrast, have undertaken deliberative public consultative exercises - most notably the Netherlands, Iceland, Canada and Republic of Ireland have organized constitutional assemblies. As such, they offer valuable lessons and insights that need to be harnessed within the UK. There is also a major need to take these insights and feed them into pilot projects in the UK to test not only their generalizability across and between countries but also their capacity to be scaled-up from the comparatively smaller scale of previous experiments to a country with 64.1 million people. The need to get these UK-based test cases up and running so that their findings could inform future plans to establish a Citizens Assembly in late 2015 adds an urgency that pushes this application beyond the standard response mode application process with its 26 week decision-making process. This research will run two pilot constitutional assemblies around the theme of decentralisation in the UK. They will address the question of how civic engagement can be delivered, where power should lie across and within the nations of the UK and will be organised as a 'proof of concept' exercise with significant potential to influence the next UK government's decision on how to commission and execute a Constitutional Convention.

Planned Impact

This research will adopt a number of pathways to impact that are based on two principles: (1) the art of translation; and (2) the notion of 'talking to multiple publics in multiple ways'. This project is therefore intended to be an example of engaged scholarship that is both relevant and accessible within and beyond academe. Specific and detailed plans are set out in the 'Pathways to Impact' document (attached) and are set out below:

1. Academic articles and book chapters.
2. A PSA Media 'Breakfast Briefing'
3. Triple-writing to ensure all outputs are 'translated' into forms that are designed for different audiences in terms of length and style.
4. Weekly blogposts using established international outlets such as 'The Conversation' and then cross-posting across the blogs of the advisory panel members and the Partner Network.
5. Regular submissions of evidence to select committees at both the devolved and national levels.
6. A practitioner guidance note that pulls together the insights, lessons and implications of this research for officials charged with organization a post-election National Citizens Convention.
7. The BBC have been part of the build-up conversation to this application and are keen to utilize the project in a variety of ways.

It should also be noted that Matthew Flinders was an award winner in the ESRC's 2013 'Overall Impact Champion' category, he has written and presented award winning programmes for the BBC and he wrote elements of the current ESRC 'Impact Toolkit'. The applicants therefore understand that impact starts at the beginning and not the end of a project and have built a number of impact capacities, notably the Advisory Board but also an impressive and international Partner Network. The impact potential of this project is very much linked to having a practitioner partner as a Co-I on this project - the Electoral Reform Society (who are themselves internationally networked and have offices in Scotland and London). The Crick Centre offers additional impact capacities in the form of a media suite, a number of Artistic Residencies and the recent appointment of a number of Crook Public Service Fellows that will be focusing on devolution and democratic change over the next twelve months in the UK and will therefore offer clear research and impact synergies (specifically Claudia Chwalisz from Policy Network and Sarah Lyall from the New Economics Foundation). The project will also be associated with the Centre for Constitutional Change at the University of Edinburgh and will therefore be able to access their impact capacities (Prof. Michael Keating is on the Advisory Board of this application).

Publications

10 25 50

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Flinders M (2018) Nexus Politics in Democratic Theory

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Flinders M (2016) The Problem with Democracy in Parliamentary Affairs

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Flinders, M (2017) Pedagogy and Micro-Politics in Contemporary Politics

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Flinders, M (2017) What Kind of Democracy is This?

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Flinders, M (2015) Britain Votes 2015

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Flinders, M (2017) Citizen Participation and Changing Governance in Policy & Politics

 
Description What were the most significant achievements from the grant?
a. Two deliberative assemblies were designed and implemented in order to test two distinct types ('pure' and 'hybrid') were designed and delivered to test the utility of long-form deliberative processes vis-a-vis complex constitutional issues.
b. The results of the assemblies were disseminated to policy-makers at the local, regional and national level with clear and demonstrable impacts.
c. The research demonstrated the capacity of the political sciences to respond to pressing matters of social concern and deliver theoretically informed policy-relevant research to a range of audiences within and beyond the UK.

What were the most significant research insights?
a. That long-term deliberative mechanisms do provide an efficient and relatively straightforward way of promoting informed public engagement.
b. When provided with appropriate support structures, the public is more than able to understand and deliberate issues of a complex constitutional nature.
c. Service as a member of a long-term deliberative mechanism appears to have positive effects on the political views and knowledge of participants.
d. The positive impact of establishing long-term deliberative mechanisms tends to outlast the specific timescales of the assembly itself (i.e. social capital is established).
e. Political recruitment of individuals to serve on long-term deliberative mechanisms demands careful consideration and proactive planning.
f. It is possible for academic research to emerge and to some extent dominate a policy space in a positive and provocative manner.


To what extent were the grant objectives met?
All five of the original objectives of this research were achieved. These were (1) to learn from international best practice in terms of both research methods and democratic innovation; (2) to design and deliver two contrasting pilot Citizens' Assemblies to underpin the broader public debate about the need for a national Constitutional Convention; (3) to explore the political legitimacy of recommendations stemming from deliberative assemblies to judge their contribution to democratic decision-making; (4) to underpin future government policy in this area by feeding the results of the project directly into Whitehall, Westminster, Holyrood and Cardiff Bay; and (5) to explore the challenges of both 'co-production' (in a political context) and achieving 'impact' in a manner that can be written-up and fed back into the broad social science community as methodological training and insight.
Exploitation Route How might the findings be taken forward and by whom?
The findings have already been taken forward by a variety of research users. Combined authorities across the country have utilized the research insights when designing their own engagement strategies, follow-on projects have tested the use of on-line platforms to create downloadable citizens assembly kits (i.e. DIY democracy), smaller citizens assemblies were held all over the country in the run up to the Brexit referendum (using the on-line tool), several citizens assemblies have now been commissioned with members of the research team acting as advisors (e.g. the planned Kirklees Council Citizens Assembly). The 'Democracy Matters' project has also stimulated far larger international research projects, such as Claudia Chwalisz's The People's Verdict Report of 2016. The findings of the research could still be taken forward in a number of ways by local authorities, public bodies, parliamentary committees and any large organization that is committed to informed public engagement in the resolution of pressing social or political concerns.
Sectors Government, Democracy and Justice

URL http://citizensassembly.co.uk/
 
Description This research project has attracted a huge amount of media interest. A number of practitioner observers came to view the assemblies in action. Members of the research team have subsequently been invited to give their advice to a range of combined authorities and parliamentary committees. Matthew Flinders was short-listed for the 2018 ESRC 'Overall Impact Champion Prize' with this project being a key element of his portfolio.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Co-author of "Building public engagement: Options for developing select committee outreach", published by the House of Commons Liaison Committee
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
URL http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmselect/cmliaisn/470/47002.htm
 
Description Evidence cited in House of Commons Communities and Local Government Select Committee Report
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
Impact The Committee cited the research into Citizens' Assemblies as part of its justification for recommending that "efforts should be made to engage, consult and communicate with the public at all stages of the [devolution] process". The Government is currently considering this recommendation.
URL http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmselect/cmcomloc/369/369.pdf
 
Description Invited submission to the Science and Technology Committee's inquiry into 'Leaving the EU: Implications and Opportunities for Science and Research Inquiry
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
URL https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/science-and-technology-c...
 
Description Special Adviser to the House of Lords Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
Impact Major review with the government accepting many of the recommendations.
URL https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/lords-select/citizenship-civic-engageme...
 
Description Submission of Evidence to the House of Commons Administration Committee's inquiry into 'Election Planning and Services',
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
URL https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmadmin/588/588.pdf
 
Description Submission to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Reform, Decentralisation and Devolution
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
URL https://www.local.gov.uk/sites/default/files/documents/devolution-and-union-high-637.pdf
 
Description Designing for Democracy- The Restoration and Renewal of the Palace of Westminster
Amount £50,000 (GBP)
Organisation Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2018 
End 09/2019
 
Description The Role of Research in Parliament. 
Organisation Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology [POST]
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Advisory Board Member
Collaborator Contribution Advised on the nature and content of research, methodology and key contacts, plus final report and dissemination.
Impact Major two-volume report - https://www.parliament.uk/documents/post/POST_Role%20of%20Research%20in%20UK%20Parliament%202017.pdf
Start Year 2016
 
Description BBC Radio 4 'Analysis' programme, Special edition 'Parliament - A Building Disaster?' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Analysis is a well-known and long-running BBC Radio 4 programme with a huge international audience. I fed my research into this programme and appeared on it.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b099xz21
 
Description BBC Radio 4 'Analysis' programme, Special edition 'Parliament - A Building Disaster?' on the Restoration and Renewal of the Palace of Westminster, 23 October 2017. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact BBC programme focused on my research on the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b099xz2
 
Description BBC Radio 4 'University Unchallenged', Writer and presenter. Focusing on viewpoint diversity within academe. Broadcast on 12 November 2018. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Massive listening figures and the programne triggered a global debate - as shown by the number of newspapers and magazines that picked up the story.
[Subsequent featured in the 'Feedback' on 16 Nov. 2018. Follow-up coverage in The New Statesman, The Spectator, Chronicle of Higher Education, Spiked, The Guardian, Breitbart News, talkRadio, The Daily Wire, Bloomberg, The Weekly Standard, Open Culture, American Renaissance, Political Forum, News Planet, Reddit, Conservative News, San Francisco Daily Digest, ThinkLab]
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m00013p7
 
Description BBC Radio 4 'Who needs politicians anyway?' Broadcast on 13 February 2019. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Major listening figures and picked-up in a number of international publications.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0002h0k
 
Description Committee on Standards in Public Life, Participation in private seminar on MPs outside interests and public attitudes 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A private scoping seminar on the issue of MPs outside interests and public attitudes. Drawing on previous research looking at public engagement strategies and particularly how the public view and interpret issues.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Invited oral and written evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Invited to give oral evidence to the House of Lords Constitution Committee following their publication of my written evidence on the Citizens' Assemblies.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/constitution-commit...
 
Description Invited submission to the Public Accounts Committee's inquiry into the Restoration and Renewal of the Palace of Westminster, February 2017. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Injection of research into policy making and parliamentary scrutiny
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmpubacc/1005/100502.htm
 
Description Invited submission to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee's inquiry into 'Lessons Learned from the EU Referendum'. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Injection of research findings into policy-making and scrutiny process.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Invited submission to the Science and Technology Committee's inquiry into 'Leaving the EU: Implications and Opportunities for Science and Research Inquiry' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact INJECTION OF RESEARCH INTO POLICY MAKING PROCESS
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/science-and-technology-co...
 
Description Invited submission to the Treasury Committee's inquiry into the Restoration and Renewal of the Palace of Westminster, February 2017. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Injection of research into policy-making and parliamentary scrutiny
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/treasury-committee/inquir...
 
Description Seeds of Change: English Devolution and Central-Local Relations 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Policy blog aimed at local government officials and civil servants.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://inlogov.com
 
Description Special Adviser to the House of Lords Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A major international inquiry taking evidence from all over the world and including 53 evidence sessions with witnesses and three committee visits. As the special adviser I was responsibility for acting as the gateway between the committee and the relevant academic research and specialists. I was also involved in data synthesis and translational activities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/lords-select/citizenship-civic-engagemen...
 
Description Submission of Evidence to House of Commons Treasury Committee 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Submission of evidence about cultivate public engagement through democratic innovations, especially in the context of the restoration and renewal programme.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/treasury-committee/...
 
Description Submission of Research based evidence to House of Lords Committee 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Submission of evidence to the House of Lords Liaison Committee on how to cultivate public engagement.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.parliament.uk/hl-liaison-review-of-committees-inquiry-submission-form
 
Description Submission of evidence to House of Commons Public Accounts Committee 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Submission of evidence about the challenges of cultivating a balanced public conversation about the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster. Drawing upon the use of participatory arts and other democratic innovations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmpubacc/1005/100502.htm
 
Description Submission to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Reform, Decentralisation and Devolution [the Kerslake Report] 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Injection of key research into policy-making process
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.local.gov.uk/documents/10180/6917361/Devolution+and+the+Union+-+a+higher+ambition.pdf/fd9...
 
Description Written and Oral evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution as part of their inquiry into 'The Union and Devolution' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Injection of research findings into parliamentary committee
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016