Local government

How can councils engage residents to tackle local issues?

Innovation in Democracy
The Democratic Society, mySociety & the RSA
January 2019 to March 2020

The Innovation in Democracy Programme – established by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government (MHCLG) – supported three local authorities to involve residents in local decision-making through piloting citizens’ assemblies.

Citizens' assemblies are one method of public participation that has received a lot of interest over the past 18 months. A citizens' assembly brings together people from all walks of life – selected randomly, but to be demographically representative – to consider a public issue in depth over multiple days and meetings. The assembly members hear evidence, question witnesses and deliberate with one another, before reaching recommendations on what they think should be done. Find out more about citizens' assemblies and other methods of public engagement in our methods library.

Three local authorities were selected to take part in the programme: Dudley Metropolitan Borough CouncilGreater Cambridge Partnership; 1  and Test Valley Borough Council.

Involve led a team of support partners – including the Democratic Society, mySociety and the RSA – to support each of the local authorities to design, run and report on their citizens' assembly. The three citizens' assemblies took place in Autumn 2019.

This video introduces the programme and follows the story of three participants in the three citizens' assemblies.

The programme produced a range of resources for local authorities running citizens' assemblies, including a handbook, which can be found at the bottom of this page.

Background to the programme

The Innovation in Democracy Programme was announced during summer 2018 as part of the UK Government's Civil Society Strategy:

  • 1Cambridgeshire County Council, Cambridge City Council, South Cambridgeshire District Council

The government will launch the Innovation in Democracy programme to pilot participatory democracy approaches, whereby people are empowered to deliberate and participate in the decisions that affect their communities. The government will work with local authorities to trial face-to-face deliberation (such as Citizens’ Juries) complemented by online civic tech tools to increase broad engagement and transparency.

Civil Society Strategy: building a future that works for everyon

The programme was jointly established by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). Its aims were to:

  • Increase the capability of local people to have a greater say over decisions that affect their communities and their everyday lives;
  • Encourage new relationships and build trust between citizens and local authorities;
  • Strengthen local civil society by encouraging participation in local institutions.

Many people feel disempowered and disengaged from politics. This programme is an opportunity to get people involved in the decisions that affect their daily life.

Miriam Levin, Head of Community Action and Giving, DCMS

Involve, the Democratic Society, mySociety and the RSA were commissioned to provide the local authorities with support to:

  • Design, run and report on their citizens' assembly;
  • Develop a digital strategy to extend the reach, transparency, and accountability of the process; and,
  • Collect and share their learning within and beyond their local authorities.

The citizens' assemblies

Following an expression of interest process, three local authorities were selected to join the programme: 1

The council staff that led each citizens' assembly have written a case study of their experience. 

Download the case studies as a PDF below. Please get in touch if you require them in a different format.


Programme Handbook: How to run a citizens' assembly

As a team of support partners, Involve, The Democratic Society, the RSA and mySociety have written a handbook based on our experiences delivering the IiDP. It is aimed primarily at local authority officers or councillors who want to run a citizens’ assembly in their local area, but we hope it will be useful to any authority or institution which is considering using a citizens’ assembly to actively involve people in tough or complex policy questions.

Download a copy of the handbook as a PDF below. Please get in touch if you require the handbook in a different format.


Peer Learning

Innovations in Local Democracy Conference

We ran a two-day conference on innovations in local democracy as part of the Innovation in Democracy Programme, in partnership with Public Square which is supported by Luminate

The conference shared lessons from Public Square and the Innovation in Democracy Programme. Both of these programmes focus on supporting local councils to use participatory and deliberative democracy, including citizens’ assemblies, to involve residents in decisions that affect their lives. 

Through speakers, unconference sessions and facilitated discussions we shared what worked well, what the challenges have been, and discussed next steps in this field. We also highlighted other exciting projects from around the UK and international experts about their cutting edge exemplars from across the world.

All of the conference materials are available here. This includes slides, videos and notes from the many lively discussions. 

The Peer Learning Network

The programme also established a Peer Learning Network amongst participating councils and wider local authorities across the UK. Find out more about the network and how to get involved here.

Other Resources

Here is a selection of resources that have been produced in support of the Innovation in Democracy Programme (IiDP).

  • 1More information on each of these citizens' assemblies can be found via the links
IiDP Briefing for Local AuthoritiesDepartment for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport and Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local GovernmentDownload
IiDP Frequently Asked Questions Document DemSoc, RSA, mySociety & Involve Download
Digital Tools for Citizens' AssembliesmySocietyDownload 
Citizens' Assembly Websites: Practical GuidancemySocietyDownload 
How to tell the story of a Citizens' AssemblyRSA, DemSocDownload
Final Report: Dudley People's PanelDemSocDownload
Final Report: Greater Cambridge Citizens' Assembly on Congestion, Air Quality and Public TransportInvolveDownload
Final Report: Romsey Citizens' Assembly Final ReportDemSocDownload
Innovations in Local Democracy Conference MaterialsConference Speakers & Facilitators - thanks to the RSA for compiling these resourcesDownload

Process Plans & Invitation Letters

Here are some examples of the process plans used for the delivery of the citizens' assemblies and the invitation letters sent out to potential participants. 

Dudley People's Panel and Romsey Citizens' Assembly Process PlansDemocratic Society with support from Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council; Test Valley Borough Council; Advisory Panels for both processes & InvolveDownload
Greater Cambridge Citizens' Assembly Invitation LetterInvolve; GCP & Sortition FoundationDownload
Dudley People's Panel Invitation LetterDemocratic Society; Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council & Sortition Foundation Download
Romsey Citizens' Assembly Invitation LetterDemocratic Society; Test Valley Borough Council & Sortition Foundation Download