What do people want to see in political parties today?

A study about UK Political Party Reform
University of Sheffield, ESRC
March 2018 - January 2019

Political parties play a vital role in contemporary democracies, however are often perceived negatively by the public.

Partnering with Dr Kate Dommett and Dr Luke Temple from the University of Sheffield, Involve helped produce the report ‘What People Want to See in Parties Today’ which explores public perspectives on political parties, the underlying reasons for these and identifies what is wanted of them.

Whether in government or opposition, big or small, old or new, parties are almost uniformly described as unrepresentative, corrupt, untrustworthy organisations. For anyone invested in the political system these views are of concern.

What we did

In order to offer more detailed insight into the survey of the public’s views of political parties for the report, Involve conducted three deliberative workshops.  

The workshops were held in Sheffield in January and February 2018. They had different compositions, with one composed of people with no former engagement with political parties, a second group composed of party activists and campaigners, and a final group composed of a 50/50 split of non-engaged people and activists. In total 68 people participated in these groups, with each session being roughly similar in size.

Participants were sat together in tables of 4 to 5 people and led through a set of common tasks. The tasks themselves varied in style. At times participants were asked to write down and then explain their own views to the people at their table. At other times participants at each table were asked to work together on a common task. Workshops also included a briefing from an expert that was designed to provoke discussion about participants’ pre-existing ideas.

What were the outcomes


The workshops produced a range of written and audio material that was analysed using NVivo – a piece of textual analysis software. The researchers identified recurring themes in people’s comments, that produced the seven principles outlined in the ‘What People Want to See in Parties Today’ report (PDF, 350KB).

The seven principles which the public look for in political parties are:

Transparency - people want to understand what goes on, how decisions are made and how to influence them.

Communication - people want to know when something goes wrong and parties to explain and take responsibility.

Reliability - parties do what they say, or clearly explain why they have had to change.

Principles - a clear idea of what they want without being dogmatic.

Inclusivity - a range of different ideas and voices.

Accessibility - a range of ways to engage with parties, with honest and transparent communication about what influence people will have.

Integrity - being honest, ethical and dignified rather than focussing on competition of partisan party politics.

This report finds that whilst some parties have been quick to roll out reforms, they have often failed to first effectively engage with the public to understand what they really want, before deciding their reforms.

This demonstrates the potential benefits for parties and the public of public dialogue as the former can produce better policy, and the latter have their fair say.

Read the report (PDF, 350KB)

Blog Series

To launch of the report, we published a series of blog posts from academics, civil society and politicians from across the political spectrum to provide their reflections on the findings of the research and report.

The Membership Journey - Lord Blunkett

Political parties must be fit for purpose to tackle societies’ persistent race inequalities - Simon Woolley

Dissatisfaction with parties is a reflection of the political system as a whole - Jess Garland

People want to have their cake and eat it - Tim Bale

If you don’t understand the rules of the game, how do you hold players to account? - Alex Runswick

Change in UK political parties’ behaviour is urgently needed - Lucy McTernan

Can we take people at their word? - Dr. Mark Pack

Voters want to be treated as adults - Peter Kellner


Who was involved

Partner and funders: Dr. Kate Dommett and Dr Luke Temple of University of Sheffield, funded by Economic and Social Research Council