We want to build a more vibrant democracy, with people at the heart of decision-making.
We need to make important choices as a society. But politics often doesn't work as it should. Decision-makers struggle to get things done. People are frustrated the system isn’t working for them. And everyone is left feeling divided, distrustful and powerless.
But things can be different. We have a vision of a vibrant democracy, with people at the heart of decision-making.
What's the problem?
People are frustrated that politics is not working for them. And in many ways, it’s not.
Our current political system concentrates power in the hands of a very few people and leaves many feeling powerless. This spans from big societal changes to very local issues, from the impacts of globalisation to the way people encounter public services. Far too often, people feel like collateral in decisions taken far away from them.
Our political system currently provides very weak connections between decision-makers and the public. It relies heavily on elections to understand the “will of the people” and transmit their policy preferences into action. In practice, elections provide very poor information about public preferences. A person’s vote is often interpreted and used by those in power for their own ends, with politicians making claims to be enacting the “public will”.
In between elections, there are limited attempts made to truly understand what people want and why they want it. Opinion polls and focus groups are the main methods deployed, but they rely on top-of-the-head responses and crucially do not get people to make the trade-offs necessary in decision-making or hand over any real power. This can be equally frustrating for politicians, who feel under a constant deluge of competing opinions without any way to cut through to understand where there is and isn’t common ground, and why.
Our political system provides very weak mechanisms for bridging between different interests and developing a political consensus. It encourages us to look for disagreement, dismiss out-of-hand alternative points of view and adopt a winner-takes-it-all mentality to democracy. One consequence of this is important decisions about the future of our country lack even a basic level of political consensus. Many issues are put into the “too difficult box” due to fear of political and public backlash. This is not a recipe for building a strong, cohesive and prosperous society or securing economic, social and political justice.
Much closer to home, the public services that people access often feel unresponsive to their needs. In doing “to” people rather than “with” them, these services fail to benefit from their lived experience and the assets people can bring to tackle problems affecting them.
While many of these issues have been building pressure below the surface for decades, they have reached a tipping point in the past couple of years. Our democracy has become defined by disillusionment, polarisation and disconnection, and dominated by a toxic and symbiotic mix of elitism and populism.
We demonstrate how things can be different.
What's the solution?
Things can be different. We have a vision of vibrant democracy, with people at the heart of decision-making.
We believe that decision-making in the UK needs to be more:
Open - so that people can understand, influence and hold decision-makers to account for the actions and inactions of their governments;
Participatory - so that people have the freedom, support and opportunity to shape their communities and influence the decisions that affect their lives; and,
Deliberative - so that people can exchange and acknowledge different perspectives, understand conflict and find common ground, and build a shared vision for society.
There are a huge number of democratic innovations - from citizens’ assemblies to crowdlaw, citizens’ initiatives to co-production - that put people at the heart of decision-making by modelling these values.
Embedding these values at the heart of our democracy would mean that:
People can shape the decisions that affect their lives
From citizens juries to online crowdsourcing, there are a huge number of ways that people can be involved in the decisions that affect them, their families and their communities. A democracy with openness, participation and deliberation at its heart would use these tools to ensure that decisions are rooted in the views and values of the public. It would ensure that public services are responsive to people’s needs and make the most of what they can offer. It would ensure that political power is more evenly distributed throughout society, with everyone able to affect change regardless of their circumstances.
We need to shift power to people on the issues that affect their lives.
The public and decision-makers are better connected
Participatory and deliberative democracy is a powerful counterpart to representative democracy - they do not replace it. Most citizens respect the role of decision-makers and most decision-makers want a better relationship with citizens. A democracy with openness, participation and deliberation at its heart would enable constructive and ongoing dialogue between the public and decision-makers. It would ensure that the public understands the constraints of decision-makers and the trade-offs that must be made. And it would ensure that decision-makers understand people’s views and values, and how they would approach the difficult decisions that must be made.
We need continuous engagement between the public and decision-makers to tackle issues
We can find solutions to complex and challenging issues
People can cope with complex and challenging issues if they are trusted. In fact, involving the public is often the best – and only – way to overcome political stalemate and solve the most controversial and challenging topics. A democracy with openness, participation and deliberation at its heart would enable us to negotiate our differences, make difficult decisions and trade-offs and organise collective action to address the complex challenges that we face.
We need to make use of people’s ingenuity and pragmatism to solve the biggest challenges that face us
Society is less divided and polarised
Dialogue is essential for bridging divides between communities and building a strong, cohesive and prosperous society. When people come face-to-face and are given the opportunity to work together on a shared task, they build understanding and trust and often find they agree on many more things than they disagree. A democracy with openness, participation and deliberation at its heart would enable us to understand different perspectives, negotiate our differences and build a shared vision for society.
We need to create opportunities for people to find common ground with people not like them