Constructive Conversations: Annual Report 2022/23

People's Plan for Nature Assembly Members deep in conversation

This year concluded one of the most politically turbulent years in already unstable times.

Global instability has become the norm. This year, inflation concerns returned to many countries for the first time in decades. Russia and Ukraine remained locked in conflict. Democratic norms, such as a peaceful transfer of power and judicial independence, are being threatened in democracies across the world.

Against this backdrop, life in the UK was also politically turbulent. Accusations of holding parties in lockdown led to the downfall of Boris Johnson, and his successor Liz Truss lasted just forty-five days – the shortest tenure of any UK prime minister in history. And on the social and economic front, the cost of living crisis made life more difficult for many this year. Life has been harder materially, given increases in cost of food, housing and childcare, but also mentally, with reports of increased anxiety and worsening mental health.

Our collective ability to carve out a better way to navigate the big global uncertainties, and shape societies that work for everyone, depends on better democracy. Each year the need to make more effective choices as a society feels more urgent, but most people feel they don’t have enough say in the decisions they care about, don’t trust others to make decisions on their behalf, and are concerned that major policy issues are not being tackled with the best interests of all at heart.

At Involve, we understand that having the right conversations with the right people, and listening in the right way, is a crucial step. It’s the first step towards building a society that thrives, a society that manages instability, includes everyone, and enables long-term decision making in the face of uncertainty.

This year’s annual report highlights the different kinds of conversations which have been designed and activated by Involve across the UK, as we work towards this aim. Now in its nineteenth year, the organisation has used its considerable expertise to convene spaces and help create conversations that build a better experience of democracy for everyone.

In this report you will see examples of formal deliberative Citizens’ Assemblies, Juries and Panels which Involve has conducted. You’ll also read about innovative ways of speaking with groups whose voices are often less heard, and new ways to blend training, mentoring, capacity building and public engagement, to embed the practice of these new conversations in our politics and government.

The conversations we have conducted have led to real change. The work has helped the public inform better decisions for our future, find common ground across divides, and empowered people from all walks of life.We see this in some of our products. This year, Involve has created: a plan for the people, by the people about the future of nature; public-led proposals for our future in a technologically advancing world; direction for the Scottish government on ensuring fair levels of income; and recommendations for how those impacted by homelessness can determine their housing future.

We also see the ripple effects in the longer term work of building the capacity of significant institutions to adopt a more participatory way of doing things. For example, our training, facilitating and support in Camden has helped the council embody a deliberative approach to a number of different decisions. The council has acted as a leader in taking forward deliberation in London, with other local authorities following in their footsteps. And at a UK-wide level, we have helped build the capacity of Parliament to increasingly work with the public when scrutinising the Government. Several select committees have started to use public deliberation in their inquiries this year, with further plans for 2023/24.

And finally, we see this in the role we play in the wider democracy sector – we understand that getting better at including people in decisions that affect their lives is only one part of what our democracy needs to look like to tackle the big challenges of the 21st century. We also need a better way to elect politicians, more transparent and accountable institutions, and greater protection of civil liberties. That is why we’ve continued to host The Democracy Network, and have helped it go from strength to strength in its second year. Together, we are building the democracy we need. The journey to a participatory society takes time – but will be achieved, one conversation at a time.

We look forward next year to carrying on our work with you, and everyone who shares our mission, to build the democracy we need to support us through turbulent times.