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.


New processes for political participation should actively seek to change current inequalities. Democratic innovations aim to bring decision making closer to people, to enable more effective solutions, informed and shaped by those affected. However, evidence[11] shows that those facing the greatest inequalities in our society also face the greatest barriers to participating and having their voices heard. Participatory and deliberative democracy, in the context of ingrained, systemic inequalities, is likely to reproduce these inequalities by only empowering those who face the least barriers - unless a proactive equality and human rights based approach is taken from the outset, with leadership from those representing marginalised community voices.

The progression of equality and improvements in understanding human rights should be a natural by-product of public participation. To enable this, delivery methods should include space for participants to learn about the realities of systemic inequalities, how these present across policy formation and how these can be challenged to help create a fairer Scotland.

Equality and inclusivity needs to be at the heart of what we do. Unless we design and deliver participation to meaningfully include those furthest away from Government, with leadership from those representing marginalised communities, we will never hear the most marginalised voices and will not take decisions that meet the fullest range of needs. It is hoped that all parts of the system will see the benefits and work towards this. This will include recognition that communities need resources and support to challenge the system when it is not working and to initiate participatory processes which focus on the needs of marginalised communities.

Next steps

The recommendations in this report represent the next steps for Scotland as participatory processes are incorporated into our democratic system. The recommendations have been guided by current national commitments, and learning and expertise from a wide range of sources. They aim to put into practice the ambition to put equality, inclusion and human rights at the heart of our approach to public policy, to the benefit of everyone in Scotland.

In summary, to institutionalise participatory and deliberative democracy, we need:

Empowering approaches that are intersectional and embed equalities and human rights from the start, favour co-design and co-production where possible, and use deliberative processes

Standards, principles and guidelines to guide our approaches and methods

Skills, knowledge and capacity across the system to enable high quality participation, make it visible to the wider public and involving of the public

Leadership and networks to drive and uphold innovation, standards and principles, and make connections between government and civil society

Accountability mechanisms through all parts of the system, equipped to value and respond to what people have saidEqualities, intersectionality and power dynamics

The purpose of deliberative democratic processes is to bring decision making closer to people and create decisions which are more likely to be evidence based and fit for purpose. These efforts do not exist in isolation from the realities of how systemic inequalities present themselves in society. If a proactive equalities and human rights approach is not taken then it is likely well-intentioned participatory processes will replicate the very same systemic inequalities.

Effective democracy hinges on the equality of each person's voice and their ability to influence through the democratic process. Our current democracy and any efforts to embed participation within it, are marred by ingrained inequalities across our society in Scotland. Barriers and inequalities are faced by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities, women, disabled people, LGBT+ communities, carers and care experienced, those living in poverty and those who experience the intersecting inequalities of being in a number of these groups.

Each time a public policy decision is taken without the involvement and expertise of those living with ingrained inequalities, not only do we miss an opportunity to create solutions that might more effectively address these inequalities - we risk reinforcing the inequalities through our own processes and outcomes.

It is critical that there is policy coherence across Government. The Scottish Government has committed to delivering a Human Rights Based Approach[12] to the "day to day business of government" across all policy areas, and the delivery of all participatory methods should be no different. This, along with the National Standards for Community Engagement[13] must not be ignored in how participatory methods, including Citizen's Assemblies, are designed and delivered.

There is no local or national decision making whether on climate justice, housing, transport or taxation that does not disproportionately influence the lives of already marginalised groups, specifically. Given this disproportionate impact, minoritised voices should be amplified and invested in across participatory work - one measure to counter systemic inequality is to over-represent from these communities across relevant deliberative processes. To assist in embedding equalities, it is imperative that the most appropriate participatory processes are used - in some cases this will be Citizens' Assemblies. However, Citizens' Assemblies should not be the default delivery of participation when other processes are more effective in providing the necessary space for minoritised voices, for example lived experience panels[14].

The delivery of any participatory method must consider the environment created and the abilities of those involved (in particular the quality of the facilitators) to challenge discrimination and inequality when needed whilst ensuring the process remains inclusive and open to all.

To competently deliver the vision the Scottish Government has for institutionalisation of deliberative democracy, these equalities and human rights considerations must be at the core of any strategy. To support the success of this, working collaboratively within and outside of Scottish Government will be key. It is also vital that relevant participatory and deliberation skills and competencies are a requirement for any staff allocated to this area of work, and that there is regular outreach to equalities expertise from across the third sector.



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