At a glance

Partners: 
Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Westminster
Duration: 
May 2020 onwards
Project Type: 

From the transition out of lockdown to the terms of the economic stimulus, significant decisions will be taken over the coming weeks and months with consequences that will be felt for many years and decades. 

What role can and should the public play in these decisions? How can we ensure that the Covid-19 response and recovery are democratic?

In a joint project, Involve and the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Westminster are exploring these questions. Specifically, we're looking at the role of public participation and deliberation in the:

  • Short-term – for example, in scrutinising the decisions being made concerning the crisis response and determining the transition out of lockdown and other social distancing measures;
  • Medium-term – for example, in shaping the future after Covid-19, including the post-pandemic economic stimulus and social contract;
  • Long-term – for example, in learning the lessons from Covid-19, holding decision-makers to account and taking the necessary decisions to prevent a similar crisis in the future.

Building Back With: A handbook for local government

This handbook is intended to support local authorities to consider how they can build back with their local communities, involving them in the Covid-19 response and recovery. The handbook contains eight chapters, covering the following:

The handbook has been written by Involve in partnership with members of the Deliberative Democracy Practitioners’ Network.

Access the handbook

Think pieces

We are curating a collection of think pieces on participation, democracy and Covid-19. Read the collection so far: 

STUDENT DEMOCRACY IN THE FACE OF COVID-19 - Isobel Walter

"Unrest from students has exposed a gap in government support for universities throughout the pandemic, and a very limited acknowledgement of students’ unique issues."

Read the article

SEEING A FAMILIAR FACE, EVEN IF IT’S BEHIND A MASK - Penny Walker

"The woman behind the mask, arriving for her Covid vaccination, is a near neighbour, as is one of the other volunteers on this shift. At our local vaccine centre, you never know who you might see."

Read the article

NECESSITY IS THE MOTHER OF INVENTION: TAKING CLIMATE ASSEMBLIES ONLINE - Mel Stevens

"The global pandemic has changed every area of our lives – and that means participation too. For those of us organising citizens’ assemblies, Covid-19 challenged our prejudice for face-to-face forms of participation."

Read the article

THE QUEER HOUSE PARTY: SOLIDARITY AND LGBTQ+ COMMUNITY-MAKING IN PANDEMIC TIMES - Francesca Romana Ammaturo and Olimpia Burchiellaro

"LGBTQI+ persons are among the already marginalised groups most disproportionally affected by Covid-19, furthering isolation and lack of support."

Read the article

LOCAL DEMOCRACY IN THE TIME OF COVID - Charlotte Morgan and Simon Kaye

"In times of national or global crisis, the scale of meaningful action is often, paradoxically, local. So it has proven with the UK’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic."

Read the article

PARTICIPATION ON WHOSE TERMS - Javier Sanchez

"What has Covid-19 meant to (me) us, people of refugee and migrant backgrounds, who have been working throughout the pandemic to support, not only our communities, but also the wider community in general?"

Read the article

NO JUSTICE WITHOUT US: RESPECTING LIVED EXPERIENCE OF THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM - Paula Harriott

"The evidence that Covid-19 disproportionately affects certain communities and those long identified as suffering health inequalities comes as no surprise."

Read the article

LEARNING HOW TO LISTEN IN A PANDEMIC - Laura Seebohm

"So much has been written about the pandemic, most of which seems to focus on the plight of the working professional classes. When attention is given to those who face multiple disadvantages in our society, the analysis is too often based on unfounded assumptions."

Read the article

WHAT PEOPLE WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES THINK ABOUT PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT - Grapevine

"📣 The Warwickshire Empowerment Service brings people with disabilities together to speak up and advocate."

Read the article

HOW MUCH OF A CRISIS IS ENOUGH OF A CRISIS TO IGNITE CHANGE? - Paul Braithwaite

"Since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement democratic institutions in Northern Ireland have had the time to find better ways to engage with one another and seek new solutions for our communities."

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COMMUNITY VOICE AND COVID-19 - THE JOURNEY TO FULL PARTICIPATION - Elisabeth Pop

"The emerging post Covid–19 social contract needs to have civic and democratic participation at its heart."

Read the article

DEMOCRACY - A DISH WELL DONE - Frances Foley

"When the COVID-19 crisis hit, Pembroke House, the settlement house where I live, was as unprepared as everyone else."

Read the article

LET'S TALK ABOUT COVID-19 ETHICS - Dave Archard

"2020 ends with the first people in the United Kingdom being given the vaccine that might – just – if rolled out across the whole population spell the beginning of the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is good to be able to hope for such a prospect after an unbelievably difficult and painful year."

Read the article

ORGANISING TO HUMANISE THE GIG ECONOMY - Alex Marshall

"Many industries have suffocated under the grasp of the Covid-19 pandemic. Others, like the delivery sector of the gig economy, have boomed."

Read the article

SAVE THE CHILDREN GLOBAL HANGOUT - Save the Children

"Although the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted everyone to different extents, school children around the world have been one of the most negatively affected groups."

Read the article

ORDINARY & EXTRAORDINARY STORIES: INCLUDING PEOPLE WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES IN POLICY DEVELOPMENT & RESEARCH -  Rhiann McLean and Angela Henderson

"Pre-existing social and health inequalities mean people with learning disabilities are more likely to be impacted by Covid-19 whilst facing more barriers than ever to inclusion in policy development and research."

Read the article

A NATIONAL MOVEMENT TO COUNTER “THE SHRUG” - Peter Macfadyen

"The contributions to this Democratic Response to Covid-19 blog series eloquently press the case for increased participation and deliberation to improve decision making and to hold the government to account."

Read the article

A THOUSAND-YEAR-OLD DARK ROOM CAN BE ILLUMINATED BY A SINGLE LANTERN - Audrey Tang

"Whether the darkness can be broken depends on whether more people are willing to light and pass on lanterns. Infectious diseases originate from the large-scale group living of human beings; ironically, a pandemic not only endangers public health but also destroys the foundation of society – trust."

Read the article

BUILDING BACK INCLUSIVELY - Dayo Eseonu

"A previous blog in this series stated: ‘COVID-19 brings with it different experiences for different parts of the population. It is exacerbating existing inequalities and creating new ones’. This is certainly true for ethnically diverse communities across the UK.​"

Read the article

COOPERATIVE WORKING IN THE FACE OF COVID-19 - Jimmy Nelson

"Bristol’s Essential Trading Co-operative is a leading co-operative business and a pioneer in the organic, vegan, vegetarian and “free from” food wholesale market."

Read the article

COVID-19 RISKS EXACERBATING THE DIGITAL DIVIDE: WE NEED #OPERATIONWIFI - Nick Gardham

"The digital divide has been exacerbated by the pandemic creating digital haves and digital have-nots leaving millions of people disconnected from society — and from the democratic processes that are determining how we live together now and once this is over."

Read the article

BLENDING OLD AND NEW POWER: DEMOCRATIC INNOVATION IN 2020 - Reema Patel

"Democratic innovation in 2020 requires a substantial rethink in light of two critical developments across Western democracies.The first is COVID19, and the second has been the death of George Floyd, and the ascendance of Black Lives Matter. I take each of these in turn to examine their implications."

Read the article

DEAF PEOPLE AND COVID-19: ON HARD-WON RIGHTS AND SHIFTED PRIORITIES - Dr Robert Adam & Dr Annelies Kusters, Heriot-Watt University

"Being whirled back in time? Deaf people have been involved in many battles for communication accessibility, such as direct services in sign languages, and the provision of sign language interpreters in educational settings, healthcare settings, workplaces and on TV."

Read the article

PEOPLE, POWER AND POLITICS IN A TIME OF COVID: REFLECTIONS ON CLIMATE ASSEMBLY UK - Rebecca Willis, Expert Lead for Climate Assembly UK, and author of "Too Hot To Handle? The democratic challenge of climate change"

"We were three quarters of the way through Climate Assembly UK, the national citizens’ assembly on climate change, when coronavirus struck. I was part of the core team running the assembly, and my sadness about the broader tragedies of Covid-19 was mixed with a real sense of disappointment that we couldn’t hold our final weekend of deliberation. This disappointment was expressed by the 108 participants across the UK too."

Read the article

DOES DEMOCRACY NEED A TIME REBELLION? - Roman Krznaric, Author "The Good Ancestor: How to think long-term in a short-term world"

"Democracy has always had a problem with time. No matter how it is organised – with different electoral systems or varying power splits between the executive, legislature and judiciary – it suffers from a fundamental temporal design flaw: the interests of future generations are typically ignored."

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THE PANDEMIC HAS SHOWN US THAT PARENTS HAVE A BIGGER ROLE TO PLAY IN EDUCATION - Kerry-Jane Packman, Parentkind

"Since March 2020, most parents have had no choice but to become more involved than ever before in their child’s learning. Schools were ordered to close in an effort to slow the spread of Covid-19. The pandemic saw many parents juggling careers with simultaneously monitoring their child’s learning from home."

Read the article

BUILDING MORE VIBRANT AND INCLUSIVE DEMOCRACIES: HOW TO MEET THE CHALLENGES OF COVID-19 - Sanjay Pradhan, OGP

"We’re at a critical moment in history, amidst a confluence of five profound crises...And yet, at this same moment in history, the open government movement has a unique opportunity to help tackle these crises.​"

Read the article

THE LONG & THE SHORT OF IT: LOCAL AUTHORITIES RESPONDING TO COVID-19 WITH DELIBERATION & PARTICIPATION - Lizzie Adams, Involve

"This blog explores how local authorities are currently, or planning to in future, use deliberation and participation in their response to Covid-19. There’s a short read and a long read option depending on your time!"

Read the article

THE PERFECT STORM? EMERGING FROM THE CRISIS STRONGER, THROUGH SHARING WHAT WE HAVE - Jez Hall, Shared Future CIC

"Individually, and collectively, many tragedies and crises have been faced since the pandemic struck this country. Most of us yearn for a new beginning. Others fear the storm has not passed. Maybe we’re just in the eye of the hurricane? A moment of false calm, awaiting the next onslaught."

Read the article

USING DELIBERATIVE DEMOCRACY TO BUILD BACK BETTER IN BRISTOL - Councillor Asher Craig, Bristol City Council 

"For far too long the social, racial and economic inequalities that exist in our city have drowned out the voices of the most disadvantaged. There is a very real risk that the economic fallout of Covid will further entrench the inequalities felt throughout Bristol. Engaging with local residents presents an opportunity for these inequalities to be confronted and addressed by the very citizens who experience them."

Read the article

MUTUAL AID: A CATHEDRAL THINKING RESPONSE TO COVID-19 – Hannah Ormston, Carnegie UK Trust

"We have seen, heard, and read a lot about the critical role of mutual aid in the response to Covid-19. In the early stages of lockdown, many new groups appeared, acting as a lifeline between some of the most vulnerable members of society, and those able to offer their support. From sharing food to collecting prescriptions, delivering books or newspapers, these compassionate acts during a time of anxiety and change will be remembered by many who experienced the pandemic."

Read the article

SOME THINGS ARE SO URGENT THAT WE CAN’T AFFORD TO DO THEM QUICKLY – Martin Johnstone, Poverty Truth Network

"There is an inherent contradiction in the title of this blog, but also a deep truth. At times quick decisions need to be made and procrastinating costs lives. Other times our immediate, short term responses – natural though they may be – do not serve us well in the longer term. We will doubtless have experienced both during the COVID19 pandemic and we are likely to see both again in our attempts to recover from it."

Read the article

A TIME FOR MORE DEMOCRACY NOT LESS – Graham Smith; Joe Mitchell; Tim Hughes & Lizzie Adams

"As part of the “A democratic response to COVID-19” project, we have been scanning print and social media to get a sense of how arguments for participation and deliberation are resonating in public debates. This is a summary of what we’ve found so far."

Read the article

A DEMOCRATIC RESPONSE TO COVID-19: IS IT POSSIBLE & HOW DO WE GET THERE? – Lizzie Adams

"We held a workshop with our deliberative democracy Practitioners’ Network to explore what a democratic response to Covid-19 should look like."

Read the article

WHY PARTICIPATION AND DELIBERATION ARE VITAL TO THE COVID-19 RESPONSE – Graham Smith & Tim Hughes

"Involve and the Centre for the Study of Democracy have launched a project to understand how participation and deliberation can improve decision making in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. By participation, we mean direct involvement of people in the decisions that affect their lives. By deliberation, we mean opportunities for people to share and test ideas through inclusive and respectful conversations."

Read the article

Get in touch if you would like to contribute.