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.

Recommendations: Participation and Democratic Innovations

To deliver high quality participation routinely there is a need for action and change. The Working Group believes there is a need to develop the supporting skills and infrastructure that will ensure successful delivery of participation work, Citizens' Assemblies and other democratic innovations, in the timeline of this Parliament and beyond. Our voice builds on the contributions of numerous reports and current calls from groups before us, including:

  • Covid Recovery Strategy: For a Fairer Future[15]
  • Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) post-Covid 19 Futures Commission: Coming out of Covid-19: Reimagining Scotland[16]
  • Recommendations from the report of Citizens' Assembly of Scotland: Doing Politics Differently[17]
  • Christie Commission on the future delivery of public services[18]
  • COSLA Blueprint for Local Government[19]
  • Electoral Reform Society: Democracy Max: A Vision for Good Scottish Democracy[20]
  • The Jimmy Reid Foundation: Government by the People, the final report on the Commission of Fair Access to Political Influence[21]
  • COSLA Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy - Effective Democracy: Reconnecting with Communities[22]
  • Inclusion Scotland People-Led Policy Panel[23]
  • Scottish Recovery Network - What Makes Engagement Meaningful?[24]

1. Early, Foundational Actions

1.1 Adopt values, principles and standards for institutionalising participatory and deliberative democracy

Seek collective adoption of values, principles and standards for institutionalising participatory and deliberative democracy by Scottish Government, Scottish Parliament, local government and the Open Government steering group by summer 2022 and develop training options to embed these (see supporting document: Values, Principles and Standards for Participation, Democratic Innovations and Citizens' Assemblies).

The recommended values, principles and standards enable participation work to be done effectively, ethically, inclusively and sustainably. They draw on existing comparable work which will keep the Scottish Government in step with other leaders in participation and deliberation. We see this as the beginning of a discussion, to evolve these so they can be adopted by stakeholders across the system.

The Scottish Parliament staff represented on the Working Group see the potential of system wide values, principles and standards in this area and wish to explore this issue further as part of the work of the Citizen Participation & Public Petitions Committee.

1.2 Establish a Unit within Scottish Government with responsibility for Participation, including establishing Citizens' Assembly infrastructure

Scottish Government will need to ensure there is a Unit within government with the skills and expertise to take responsibility for a range aspects of the work outlined in this report. This will include developing foundational processes, trusted governance and guidance, establishing benchmarks and evaluation, and taking forward recommendations of this working group.

Routine delivery of participatory processes requires focused resource and relies on dedicated expertise to be delivered effectively. There is currently no dedicated Scottish Government resource to deliver on the ambitions for participatory and deliberative democracy. There is a lack of specific participation skills within Government, including support, expertise or guidance for policy teams. There is also no infrastructure which could provide sustainable support for participation work. Current support for participation with policy teams is offered ad-hoc, inconsistent and in addition to existing job roles. This is inefficient and far from cost effective.

Without a Unit with skills and expertise to hold and drive the agenda there is a risk of failure to deliver effectively and of institutional learning being lost. A dedicated central Unit should have the capacity, skills and expertise to spread and embed development of participatory and deliberative democracy, drive standards, and offer coaching and support across policy teams. It should include the research work that is essential for continuous learning and monitoring the impact of the full range of democratic innovations, including but beyond evaluating Citizens' Assemblies. This research work will consider the needs of the wider evidence base on democratic innovations, and will include establishing a research route for external researchers to submit proposals or to be commissioned for different elements of research.

1.3 Organise a children and young people's democracy symposium to co-develop a Citizens' Assembly for under 16s

Scottish Government has committed to an Assembly for children and young people under the age of 16 ['CYP']. The creation of an assembly for CYP will need to be carefully co-developed with stakeholders, expert practitioners and CYP themselves. A democracy symposium should be convened in 2022 to shape what a CYP Assembly looks like and how it operates, and to make recommendations about routine inclusion of CYP in wider democratic processes.

Scotland has a wealth of expertise on involving CYP, and there has been a wide variety of work completed on standards and principles for CYP's participation. Despite this strong landscape and wealth of experience, a standalone CYP Assembly has not yet been convened. There are preliminary questions which will need to be answered before an Assembly could be launched:

  • How can we ensure CYP have a role in agenda setting, governance and scrutiny?
  • How do we appropriately include and support CYP from 0-15 years?
  • What would the recruitment process look like for a CYP Assembly?
  • What skills and resources are needed to ensure inclusive and empowering democratic participation of CYP?
  • What should the relationship be between a CYP Assembly and a 16+ Assembly?
  • How do we ensure that CYP are empowered to guide participation processes without overburdening them with tasks?

To live by the established principles of CYP participation we must meaningfully and directly involve CYP in the establishment of new participatory processes, and hear the valuable contributions of Scotland's broad range of CYP practitioners. A symposium will provide appropriate time and support to properly co-create with CYP, with methods and approaches tailored to the ages and stages of the CYP taking part.

1.4 Organise a local government roundtable and work with local government to progress opportunities for participatory and deliberative democracy

A local government roundtable, led by COSLA in early 2022, could explore the broad ambition and principles for participatory and deliberative democracy with leaders and communities. This would also help to inform the delivery of the specific commitment for a Citizens' Assembly on local government funding.

Local government is an integral part of the system, and local government and communities should be more widely involved in the development of participatory and deliberative democracy at local levels. Participatory and deliberative democracy offer important opportunities for local and regional decision making.

2. Current Parliament

2.1 Support upcoming reviews and legislation to embed participation and deliberation across the system

Teams leading upcoming reviews and relevant legislation provide an opportunity to embed deliberative processes in our system and should be modelling the Government's commitment to involving people in the work. These teams should have access to participatory and deliberative expertise, advice and support within Government and from external experts. This can enhance collaborative working between Scottish Government, COSLA, public bodies, communities and the public.

There are a number of government commitments during this Parliament that offer the opportunity to embed inclusive participation. This includes the Local Democracy Bill, which will follow the conclusion of the Local Governance Review; the review of Community Empowerment legislation[25]; and work to embed Human Rights and the rights of the child. These all seek to change the way that public and stakeholder views are understood and engaged with.

These reviews could inform the development of a National Participation Strategy (below) and provide consideration of how community-led and future generations participation is supported.

The newly formed Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee will explore how the Parliament continues to utilise deliberative engagement and encourage others to adopt it.

To effectively fulfil the Scottish Government's commitment to mainstreaming human rights and equalities, upcoming reviews and the development of new legislation should use methods that ensure more inclusive engagement. This engagement should involve perspectives not currently heard during formal written consultation processes, particularly the views of marginalised groups who are often most impacted by the results of this work.

2.2 Initiate the co-creation of a National Participation Strategy

A National Participation Strategy could "set out a vision for how citizens could be engaged in development and delivery of public policy and public services in a way that puts citizens at the centre of decision making"[26].

The Strategy would outline how participation programmes should be person centred whether led by the Scottish Government or others.

This is a recommendation from both this working group and the RSE Post-Covid-19 Futures Commission. This aims to provide broader strategic planning and systemic approaches to changing the way in which people across Scotland are involved in decisions that affect their lives. A strategy of this nature is necessary to deliver the system-change that the Scottish Government has committed to undertaking.

A National Participation Strategy should be developed collaboratively with a wide range of stakeholders. It would provide strategic direction to the implementation of delivery programmes across government, local government, civil society, academia and communities. It would articulate how the system should build capacity and capability to support effective public participation and genuine involvement in decision-making.

Following the establishment of a National Participation Strategy, a set of national participation programmes could be scoped and costed for consideration by Government and other funders.

2.3 Work towards improving training provision, including by establishing Scotland's Participation Academy, in partnership with academia, the public sector, and civil society

Building on existing provision, establish a Participation Academy, in partnership with academia, the public sector and civil society. The opportunity will be scoped by the Participation Unit, working with others, during this parliamentary term.

There is a clear need to build the skills and capabilities of people across both public services and civil society to realise the Scottish Government's ambitions for participatory and deliberative democracy. A Participation Academy that could routinely build the participation skills and capabilities of people in all parts of the system is needed to achieve this.

Investing in an Academy will result in high quality and ethical participation and deliberation becoming routine across public life in Scotland. By establishing a long term focal point and set of resources, like an Academy, expertise, experience and skills can be shared widely enough to achieve system change.

3. Longer term ambition

3.1 Work towards establishing a National Centre for Participation in Scotland

In this Parliament, develop costed proposals for an independent National Centre for Participation, that can be launched in the following Parliamentary term. An ambition for the next Parliamentary term is to then establish the National Centre for Participation in Scotland.

A Centre for Participation will represent the next step in institutionalising participatory and deliberative democracy in Scotland. It will be tasked with supporting effective participation, developing a knowledge base, providing guidance, and maintaining standards across Scotland. It will deliver research and training, drive innovation, and support capacity building. It will host a national community of practice to share good practice and build on insights to promote more participatory governance models. Its research and evaluation function will hold longer term learning from engagement and participation across Scotland.

A Centre for Participation (learning from the EU's recently established centre)[27] could play a leading role in guiding democratic initiatives across the system, driving development and experimentation with new public spaces for participation. It could align with and support the work of a Future Generations commission.

3.2 Consider the proposals of the Citizens' Assembly on the Future of Scotland for new infrastructure associated with the Scottish Parliament

The working group discussed the proposals from the Citizens' Assembly on the Future of Scotland, for a Citizen Chamber or a Citizen Committee to be added to the workings of the Scottish Parliament. It was felt that these would have significant constitutional and resource implications, around which the working group had a number of concerns - and that any initiative would need to be separately commissioned.



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