Institutionalising Participatory and Deliberative Democracy Working Group: report

Recommends how the Scottish Government's ambition for change can be delivered to make Scotland’s democracy more participative and inclusive, and proposes next steps as it incorporates processes for participatory and deliberative democracy into the democratic system.

What is participatory and deliberative democracy and why do we need it?

How do we define participatory and deliberative democracy?

These definitions are ones that this Working Group has found most useful and relevant to describe the types of participatory and deliberative democracy that this report is interested in[1]. They are not definitive - there are a number of perspectives on some of these - and should be understood as a starting point that can be reflected on and adapted if needed, provided the Principles, Values and Standards recommended by this Working Group are maintained.

Citizens' Assembly: A large-scale type of mini-public that usually brings together members of the public: around 100-150 people at national level, around 40-50 people at local level. These people are randomly selected to be representative of the broader population with respect to key demographics (e.g. age, gender, geographical location) and sometimes attitudes. A Citizens' Assembly often lasts for several months or more. It is a form of deliberative democracy (see below).

Mini-Public: 'carefully designed forums where a randomly selected representative subset of the wider population come together to engage in open, inclusive, informed, and consequential discussions on one or more issues' (Curato et al. 2019: 3).

Citizens' Jury: A small scale type of mini-public that usually brings together 12-25 members of the public, selected to be diverse with respect to key demographics and sometimes attitudes, for 2-5 days.

Deliberative Democracy: 'processes through which people can engage in open, respectful and informed discussion and debate with their peers on a given issue' (Electoral Reform Society, 2019: 1). Deliberative democracy:

  • encourages people to reach a consensus view and make collective decisions, and is characterised by equal participation with the aim of changing preferences (Elstub 206: 303)
  • includes 'communication that… [supports] reflection upon preferences in a non-coercive fashion (Dryzek 2000: 2)
  • is 'an inclusive approach to decision-making in which participants justify what they want with reasons and listen to each others' justifications respectfully and with an open mind' (Elstub et al. 2021: 14).

Democratic Innovation: 'Reimagining and deepening citizen opportunities for part participation, deliberation and influence' (Elstub & Escobar, 2019: 11). 'Democratic innovations are processes or institutions that are new to a policy issue, policy role, or level of governance, and developed to reimagine and deepen the role of citizens in governance processes by increasing opportunities for participation, deliberation and influence' (Elstub & Escobar, 2019: 11).

Institutionalisation: 'The process by which organisations and procedures acquire value and stability' (Huntington 1968: 12). In this instance the embedding of principles and practices of participatory and deliberative democracy into existing governance structures in such a way that they become a norm.

Participatory Democracy: allows for direct action with members of the public having some element of decision making: 'direct participation of citizens in the regulation of key institutions of society, including the spheres of work and the community' (Held 1996: 379).

Political Participation: 'citizens' activities affecting politics' (Hooghe et al. 2014: 351).

Random Selection: Representatives appointed randomly through lottery where everyone has the same chance of getting selected (Curato et al. 2019: 36).

Why do we say 'citizens'?

The term 'Citizens' Assembly' has become the international norm for describing a large-scale type of mini-public - we use the term 'Citizens' Assembly' because it is well established and understood. However, Scotland does not make citizenship a criteria for eligibility to participate in a Citizens' Assembly or any of its participatory or democratic deliberation. In fact, we are keen to involve people who do not have citizenship status, and who may be refugees or asylum seekers - these are important perspectives that are often unheard.

What are the benefits of participatory and deliberative democracy?

Routine and inclusive use of participatory methods and deliberative democracy will provide opportunities for diverse and often unheard groups to be involved in decision-making and shaping policy. This will enhance policy making by creating a set of relationships and processes that lead to improved outcomes, meet a wider range of needs, and reduce the 'cost of failure'[2].

This has a range of further benefits, including:

People and communities

  • Policy and delivery can be informed by a rich and diverse range of evidence and perspectives, producing better policy that is bolder, more ambitious, and meets a fuller range of needs across individuals and communities
  • People and communities engaged in these processes can develop active citizenship, democratic awareness, and an increased sense of belonging and connectedness - this can have personal development benefits, including increased confidence, self-esteem, competencies, skills and knowledge
  • Trust in institutions can be (re-)built, demonstrating that decisions are made with openness and transparency
  • Polarisation can be reduced, building consensus and channelling conflict into solution building


  • Government can provide a positive and proactive response to public desire for having greater involvement in decision making
  • Ministers and elected members can be better supported to take difficult decisions, leading to more credible policy outcomes and reducing the cost of failure
  • Scotland can demonstrate itself to be an international leader on deliberative and participatory democratic approaches
  • Commitments in the Programme for Government and Covid Recovery Strategy can be more effectively delivered
  • Skills, experience and culture can be developed which equip Scottish Government and Scotland for current and future democratic governance and policy challenges
  • A system can be built which evolves and adapts over time, incorporating learning from previous work into new processes and embracing innovation

Children and young people

Participation with children and young people can have specific benefits:

  • Recognises that children and young people are rights holders, and contributes to the realisation of children's rights
    • Involving children and young people ensures the Scottish Government is meeting commitments to uphold children's rights as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Participation is one of UNICEF's seven principles of a child rights-based approach which states that "each child is heard in matters affecting them and participates in the lives of their family, community and wider society".
  • Acknowledges the impact of policy decisions on children and young people, as recognised by the Children's Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment[3] tool
  • Taking into account the needs and concerns of children and young people, and giving children and young people a greater say in decision which affect their lives, can result in improvement and increased effectiveness of services and policy relevant to children and young people
  • Supports the development of active citizenship, democratic awareness and skills in children and young people, which they will carry through life
  • Increases a sense of belonging and connectedness, improving intergenerational relationships and perceptions of children and young people
  • Offers new opportunities for children and young peoples' personal development, including Increased confidence, self-esteem, competencies, skills and knowledge



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