Problems and Purpose:
Confidence in the democratic systems of the United Kingdom is low, especially in the post-Brexit, Covid-19 pandemic era . This dialogue was created to allow citizens to communicate their expectations for how they believe the democratic process and systems should work. By providing a forum for discussion, issues with the current system can be identified and hopefully addressed to create a more effective democratic system.
Background History and Context:
Several recent events have brought about the need for a discussion on democracy in the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom European Union membership referendum vote held in the United Kingdom to determine whether the UK would continue to be a part of the European Union was a very controversial issue and divided much of the UK citizenry even after the vote and decision to leave the European Union. The referendum exposed a variety of opinions surrounding governmental structures, the balance of power among those structures, and the importance of citizen participation . The Covid-19 pandemic and decisions made during that time also highlighted questions surrounding balance of power between parliament and the government . Organizers chose to use a participatory political process due to the fact that public opinion is an important factor in all democratic processes, yet citizens do not often consider the processes themselves . The organizers also wanted to create a space for dialogue so that citizens can learn and inform their own opinions on those processes. Their hope is to use dialogue to provide information for leaders and the public to help make the democratic processes more effective. This is not the first time a citizens’ assembly has been used in the United Kingdom. Recent examples include the Croydon Citizens' Assembly on Climate Change , the Kingston Borough Citizens’ Assembly on Air Quality , the Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland , The Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit , and the Climate Assembly UK . The Republic of Ireland, while not a part of the UK, has had historical success with citizens’ assemblies and The Citizens’ Assembly on Democracy in the UK lead referred to their success as a hopeful indicator of success for this assembly .
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities:
The organizing entities are the University College London’s Constitution Unit (https://participedia.net/organization/5165), Involve (https://participedia.net/organization/220) and the Sortition Foundation (https://participedia.net/organization/6583) . The University College London’s Constitution Unit conducts independent research on institutional reform and constitutional change. Involve is a United Kingdom based participation charity focused on involving citizens in democratic processes. The Sortition Foundation, a UK organization that focuses on selection of participants for deliberative events, recruited participants. The citizens’ assembly is a part of a larger research project in the United Kingdom, Democracy in the UK after Brexit, which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council of UK Research and Innovation, a public organization funded by the UK government. [6,8]
Participant Recruitment and Selection:
Participant recruitment was conducted by the Sortition Foundation . Potential participants were randomly selected via address. Those who responded, were selected to ensure that the 75 participants were representative of the United Kingdom voting population across a variety of factors including age, race, geographic region, etc. . Participants will receive a thank you gift for participating .
Methods and Tools Used:
The method of this participatory event is a citizens’ assembly (https://participedia.net/method/4232). A citizens’ assembly is when a group of citizens is selected at random to learn about and discuss a particular topic relevant to their community before reaching conclusions about the topic. This assembly is taking place over six weekends from September 18 to December 12, 2021 . The assembly engages the participants in an online deliberation over all six weekends (https://participedia.net/method/4258). Three of the weekends have already occurred. Sessions consist of expert presentations to inform the participants about the issues, a question and answer session to allow participants to ask the experts questions, and a discussion among the participants about the topic of the weekend session . The expert presentations and the question and answer sessions were used to ensure that all participants were accurately informed and adequately knowledgeable about the topics. The discussion sessions were used to allow participants to process and discuss the presentations, concepts, and ideas as well as formulate ideas about how democracy in the UK should look. Facilitation of expert presentations and assembly discussions was provided by professional facilitators from the UK charity, Involve .
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation:
All aspects of this citizens’ assembly occurred online. The expert presentations have and will continue to cover a particular topic each weekend. During the first weekend, the experts presented on what ‘good’ democracy looks like . Some presenters gave strictly informational presentations while others advocated for a particular view of democracy. During the second weekend, experts discussed various forms of democracy, and potential limitations on the government . During the third, and most recent weekend, experts presented on the current United Kingdom democratic process, the current roles of government and parliament in the UK, and the balance of power between those existing structures . Topics of discussions for the future weekend sessions will be updated on the website after each weekend has passed. Video of expert presentations can be found online . Questions and answer sessions were held every weekend after each expert presentation. Participants engaged in dialogue about the topics discussed. This was and continues to be the primary activity of the weekend sessions. The order of expert presentations and participant discussions was mixed throughout the weekends but allowed ample time for discussion of the topics among the participants . Official records of these discussions were not kept. This process is designed to produce a recommendation on democracy in the United Kingdom; however, as it is at the halfway point of the overall assembly, no recommendation has been made yet. Current plans are to communicate the conclusions and recommendations to the general public and policy makers in the United Kingdom .
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects:
Members formulated recommendations relating to the Citizens’ Assembly’s core question: How should democracy in the UK work? the analysis of the citizens’ assembly will be combined with two surveys as part of the larger project, Democracy in the UK after Brexit, and organizers will present it to policy makers and make it available to the public with the hope it will provide resources for policy makers and the public alike on the topic of UK democracy .
Analysis and Lessons Learned:
The Citizens’ Assembly on Democracy in the UK was the first UK-wide deliberative exercise in challenging UK citizens to think about democracy in the UK. The Assembly produced eight general resolutions and 51 detailed recommendations about aspects of the democratic system. During the Assembly, Assembly members were interested in ensuring that their recommendations would influence debates about the operation of democracy in all parts of the UK.
 Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland. (2020). Participedia. https://participedia.net/case/5997
 Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit. (2017, September 10). Participedia. https://participedia.net/case/5166
 Climate Assembly UK. (2021). Climate Assembly UK. https://www.climateassembly.uk/index.html
 Croydon Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change. (2020). Participedia. https://participedia.net/case/6104
 Kingston Borough Citizens’ Assembly on Air Quality. (2019). Participedia. https://participedia.net/case/6076
 The Constitution Unit. (2021, September 21). Launching the Citizens’ Assembly on Democracy in the UK. The Constitution Unit Blog. https://constitution-unit.com/2021/09/17/launching-the-citizens-assembly-on-democracy-in-the-uk/
 University College London. (2021, September 17). Citizens’ assembly launched on attitudes to democracy. UCL News. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/2021/sep/citizens-assembly-launched-attitudes-democracy
 University College London Constitution Unit. (2021, October 25). Citizens’ Assembly on Democracy in the UK. The Constitution Unit. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/constitution-unit/research/deliberative-democracy/democracy-uk-after-brexit/citizens-assembly-democracy-uk
The Constitution Unit: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/constitution-unit/
Sortition Foundation: https://www.sortitionfoundation.org/
The first version of this case entry was written by Mary Larkin Furlow, a Master of Public Service candidate at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, and then edited. The views expressed in the entry are those of the authors, editors, or cited sources, and are not necessarily those of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.