Involve was founded in 2003 to promote and support the use of participatory democracy and deliberative decision-making between and within governments, parliaments, civil society organisations, academics, and the public.
Mission and Purpose
"We want to build a more vibrant democracy, with people at the heart of decision-making."[i]
Members of Involve's small but dynamic team "specialize in, and promote public participation and deliberative democracy, public engagement, governance, facilitation, policymaking, research and much more." Their aim is to involve citizens in public decision making through participatory democracy in a variety of forms. In both the UK and internationally, Involve has worked with numerous governments, parliaments, civil society organisations, academics, and the public. Through these partnerships they make a practical difference by developing resources, offering support, and campaigning for public participation processes by undertaking ongoing rigorous research and policy analysis.
Origins and Development
Involve was founded in 2003 by Richard Wilson to determine how new forms of public participation in government could strengthen democracy in Britain. Involve has offices in Belfast, Edinburgh, and London.
Organizational Structure, Membership, and Funding
As of 2021, Involve boasts 23 staff, 13 associates, and 9 Board members.
Everything we do is driven by our values:
Collaboration – because change comes when broad coalitions of people work towards a common vision;
Equality – because everyone in society has an equal right to be listened to and participate in decisions that affect their lives. No one should be held back by societal divisions or prejudice;
Independence – because we are committed to the integrity and impartiality of participatory and deliberative processes;
Purpose – because participation must have an impact. We reject tokenistic or ineffectual engagement; and,
Quality – because effective participation requires time, attention and commitment.
Involve is classified as a charity and is funded through a variety of grants, awards, and donations; for a detailed list see Who Funds Us.
Specializations, Methods and Tools
Involve has three focus areas:
- Making the case – demonstrating why participation and deliberation are essential features for a healthy modern democracy, and ensuring that those in positions of power and influence understand and support their use in addressing some of the UK’s most intractable issues.
- Embedding change – building the capacity of public servants and practitioners, and developing the body of evidence, principles and standards that support participatory and deliberative practice.
- Pioneering practice – encouraging widespread uptake of participatory and deliberative processes, and promoting continuous learning and innovation to improve democracy and deliver lasting solutions in key policy areas.
Through these specializations, Involve has transformed how leading public bodies and companies engage, including: Shell International, the OECD, Ministry of Justice, the European Commission, the States of Jersey, the Sustainable Development Commission, the BBC and many local and regional governments.
Major Projects and Events
Involve's major projects can be sorted into five categories: (1) Unlocking citizen participation,(2) citizen participation in challenging issues, (3) embedding public engagement in government, (4) public engagement with fewer resources, and (5) promoting good practice.
1-Unlocking Citizen Participation
The goal of unlocking citizen participation is to explore what it is that citizens need in order to actively participate in their own communities. Past projects include Scouting Sunday, Involve and I&DeA Informal Engagement in Health Guidance, and Say&Play, a project meant to improve local government consultation by combining a community fun day with appropriate consultation methods. Currently they are working on Pathways through Participation, a lottery funded project exploring how and why people get involved and stay involved in different forms of participation throughout their lives.
2-Citizen Participation in Challenging Issues
To encourage citizen participation in challenging issues, Involve carries out research and develops new practices exploring how citizens can be engaged in complex technical or political debates to help decide a collaborative solution. Past projects include The European Citizens' Consultation 2009, a 3 stage deliberation event where citizens from all over Europe were assembled to deliberate on the continent's economic and social future. Currently they are working on putting together the Alberta Climate Dialogue, a similar event that will take place in Canada.
3-Embedding Public Engagement in Government
Involve projects with the goal of embedding public engagement in government focus on helping inwardly focused organizations to become more open to citizen involvement. A past success was Engaging With Impact, a joint project between Involve and MASS LBP, a Canadian engagement innovator. The project examined the culture of engagement across Ontario's public health system, culminating in a report identifying indicators than can be used to improve public and patient engagement in the health area. Currently they are working on a project called Armchair Involvement where they conduct desk research, interviews, workshops and field research to identify the types of digital tools that are useful in encouraging patient and public involvement.
4-Public Engagement with Fewer Resources
Public engagement with fewer resources is aimed at discovering techniques to make getting citizens involved more efficient and effective. Involve conducts research to evaluate where public engagement can add value, and how to reduce government costs and make more effective decisions. An ongoing project is the Valuing Public Engagement project, a collaboration with Consumer Focus England to develop an equation for identifying costs and benefits associated with public engagement. They are also currently working on Efficiency Savings Through Engagement, where Involve provides a number of activities such as auditing current engagement activities, delivering a wide array of cost effective training, and building internal capacity through training and mentoring.
5-Promote Good Practice
Involve also promotes good practices for engagement activities in order to encourage others to participate. Their most notable project in this aspect was preparing a guide and providing mentorship for the staff from Multilateral Organisation Performance Assessment Network (MOPAN) by outlining how to design and run effective dialogues with citizens. MOPAN a group of 14 donor nations surveying and assessing multilateral organizations in developing countries.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Involve is an organization that promotes deliberative and participatory forms of democracy and decision-making. They provide a solid and well-researched information base along with the resources and support needed further engagement and to discover the best techniques for more involved change.
Involve Website https://www.involve.org.uk/
Involve on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/involveFDN/