Local Democratic Renewal: How Can Citizens be Involved in Policy and Decision-Making?

Local Democratic Renewal: How Can Citizens be Involved in Policy and Decision-Making?

Henriette Ruhrmann

Citizens are the most familiar with their challenges, hopes, and interests, and bringing policymaking closer to the people has been a democratic goal for over half a century. In particular and over the past fifteen years, efforts at local democratic renewal have given rise to innovative formats to connect people with power, especially at the city level. In advance of our roundtable on Local Democratic Renewal on Thursday, 30th March 2023 at 3 pm BST, IPPO Cities’ Henriette Ruhrmann sets out some of the innovative ways citizens can participate in the decision-making process.

Deliberative and Participatory Democracy

Both deliberative and participatory models for involving citizens in discussing policy questions have developed in recent decades (OECD, 2020) (see Figure 1). In the 1960s, participatory democracy emerged as an ideal for broad and universally open citizen participation. The goal was to create opportunities to involve a broader cross-section of society in policymaking processes. Practically, however, meaningful citizen participation often requires knowledge and skills, as well as the time and opportunity to participate in lengthy policymaking processes.

Figure 1: Key differences between deliberative and participatory democracy (Source: OECD, 2020 

Deliberative democracy addresses this challenge by creating space for in-depth deliberations among a smaller group of citizens selected to be demographically representative of the constituents. Since the 1980s, new formats such as citizen assemblies, panels, or juries have facilitated in-depth discussions among citizens to feed into policymaking (see Figure 2). According to the OECD, a key advantage of deliberative over participatory policymaking is that it facilitates “public judgements” rather than just “public opinions”. 


Figure 2: Properties of representative deliberative models (Source: OECD, 2020)   

Democratic Renewal in Practice

Cities are at the heart of deliberative democratic processes, with over half (52%) of applications of the model taking place at the local level (OECD, 2020). The topics covered in deliberative processes are diverse with urban planning the most frequent focus of deliberative citizen engagement. Innovative approaches which will be discussed at the roundtable include:

Leeds Neighbourhood Planning 

Leeds has established a formal avenue for communities to contribute to the urban planning process under its neighbourhood planning programme. Both parish and town councils, as well as community groups, can apply to submit a neighbourhood plan for a designated area. Community groups are self-organised but must fulfil diversity criteria. For example, they must include “a minimum of 21 people who represent a cross-section of the people who live, work and do business in your area” (Leeds City Council, 2023). Even with representation as the goal, Leeds still struggles to attract neighbourhood planning input from deprived communities. To boost engagement, Leeds is participating in a pilot project funded by the UK Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to simplify and open the neighbourhood planning process (DLUHC, 2022). 

Manchester Equality Panels 

Manchester has formed six citizen panels to mitigate inequality (Greater Manchester Authority, 2023). Each panel considers inequality across race, age, sexual orientation, faith, gender, and disability. The mayor and subject lead selected the panel members based on an open application process. The goal was to create demographically representative panels. Each panel meets multiple times a year, often with additional meetings in working groups. The sustained work in the same panel structure over an extended period allows for learning and in-depth deliberation among the panel members. However, IPPO Cities panellist and Manchester city councillor Luke Raikes warns that poorly executed community power initiatives with high barriers to participation can reinforce power imbalances rather than dismantle them (Raikes, 2022). 

Dutch Participatory Value Evaluation 

To lower the barriers to entry into in-depth deliberation, researchers in the Netherlands have developed a new methodology for larger samples from diverse populations to engage in in-depth policy deliberations—digitally (TU Delft, 2023). In Participatory Value Evaluation (PVE), the online citizen participants sit in the policymakers’ chairs. They face a policy issue, information on budgetary and other restrictions, policy options, and projections for the policy options’ likely effects. With this simplified version of the real trade-offs, citizens can express more nuanced judgements on their preferred policy options. In past experiments, over 10,000 participants have expressed their preferences online.

Crowdsourcing and Co-Creation in European Cities

Codeciding Europe has crowdsourced citizens in five European cities to make policy proposals on air quality. Similarly, the Phoenix Network has engaged citizens in co-creating solutions to face green deal challenges across different EU cities. Kristina Reinsalu of Estonia’s E-Governance Academy will share insights from these and other projects at the session.

Join our panellists live to discuss formats, challenges, and best practices at the IPPO Cities free virtual policy roundtable on “Local Democratic Renewal” on Thursday, March 30, 2023, at 3 PM GMT. You can register here for your free ticket.