Democracy Matters

The Democracy Matters project was comprised of the Electoral Reform Society together with academics from the University of Sheffield, the University of Southampton, the University of London and the University of Westminster.

American Voting Sticker and Board With Words

During the summer of 2015 a major debate emerged across the political spectrum about the idea of holding a citizens’ convention on UK democracy but could the public really play a role in exploring such ‘big’ issues?

With ESRC funding, Professor Matthew Flinders drew upon his previous research into political disengagement and democratic innovation to lead an alliance of scholars, officials and civil society organisations in a project called ‘Democracy Matters’ in order to answer this question.

This worked through a process of co-production to design, implement and assess two large citizens’ assemblies that focused on plans for English regional devolution (Assembly South was based in Southampton and Assembly North in Sheffield). The research designed and tested specific assembly models (specifically ‘pure’ models without politicians as members and ‘hybrid’ assemblies with politicians) and proved that with careful planning and support the public could play a full and positive role in constitutional policy-making and analysis.

These research findings have had a far-reaching impact and continue to inform policy-making agendas. At the local level the research inspired a number of participatory initiatives (e.g. Kirklees Democracy Commission) and at the national level the research shaped the scrutiny of government policy and framed a number of reform recommendations. Examples include the way the research was used and cited by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Devolution, the House of Lords’ Committee on the Constitution’s inquiry into ‘The Union and Devolution', and the House of Commons’ select committee on Communities and Local Government as part of their inquiry into devolution and territorial change. The findings informed House of Commons Library research briefings about ‘best practice’ in public engagement, and a POST note on democratic engagement. Moreover, in 2018 the first ever citizens’ assembly to be formally commissioned by and included within a select committee inquiry was informed by the ‘Democracy Matters’ project.

The impact of the ‘Democracy Matters’ project was recognised when it was awarded the Political Studies Association’s 2016 ‘Democratic Innovation Prize’ and in June 2017 when Professor Flinders was appointed Specialist Advisor to the House of Lords Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement.

The formal project report can be found here.