The Report on the Scottish Parliament, published this week by the Commission on Parliamentary Reform, includes ideas for democratic innovation based on research and evidence from What Works Scotland.
The Report suggests a wide range of reforms to improve the Scottish Parliament’s internal processes and place deliberative quality and public engagement at the heart of the institution.
What Works Scotland co-director Dr Oliver Escobar, Lecturer in Public Policy at the University of Edinburgh, gave evidence to the Commission about new forms of participatory democracy, such as mini-publics.
Ideas about mini-publics are incorporated into the Report in the chapter on Deliberative engagement and democratic innovations, including this recommendation:
“R66: As part of moving towards a more participative approach to scrutiny as envisioned by the CSG, the Committee Engagement Unit should pilot minipublic approaches.”
Recommendation 66, Report on the Scottish Parliament
The Report explains: “…. Mini-publics also provide an opportunity to build capacity in the Parliament by utilising external knowledge and skills. They complement and inform the decision making process but, crucially, do not replace the decision taking responsibility of members. This approach is in keeping with the Parliament’s founding principles. We consider deliberative approaches would be well suited to bill scrutiny or to examining issues where it is important to understand the public’s views on a complex moral or social issue. They could be used as part of an inquiry into an issue where public opinion is divided. The mini public report would demonstrate to the committee what happens when people with different views are invited to deliberate and report their conclusions.”
As well as speaking directly before the Commission, Dr Escobar gave written evidence and also provided a research briefing, co-authored with Dr Stephen Elstub from Newcastle University, on Deliberative innovations: Using ‘mini-publics’ to improve participation and deliberation at the Scottish Parliament.
This participation in the Commission process is part of our range of on-going work focused on participative decision-making, community engagement and governance.
Other examples include:
- What Works Scotland hosted the Edinburgh launch of The People’s Verdict, a new book in which Claudia Chwalisz presents the findings of her study of 50 long-form deliberative processes, where randomly selected citizens have played key roles in decision-making.
- The newDemocracy research and development organisation in Australia has recently published a paper by Dr Escobar and Dr Stephen Elstub: Forms of Mini-Publics: An Introduction to Deliberative Innovations in Democratic Practice.
- Running three citizens’ juries in Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow where citizens were asked to assess the merits of alternative policy proposals to tackle health inequalities as part of the ‘How should we tackle Health Inequalities?’ research project.
- Working with ClimateXChange or run three citizens juries in Coldstream, Helensburgh and Aberfeldy which worked on creating criteria for decision-making for onshore wind farms in Scotland.