Survey launched to map public engagement with parliaments from around the world

Hands, World, Map

Practitioners who work on matters directly relevant to the theme of public engagement and parliament are invited to take part in a new survey to create an accessible global map of public engagement practice.

The survey is part of a project titled ‘Mapping public engagement in parliaments across the world’ which is designed to help us understand how different parliaments engage with their citizens.

The project has been developed as a Parliamentary Academic Fellowship through the UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), together with the International Parliament Engagement Network (IPEN).


Coordinating the survey is Dr Laura Sudulich, a Parliamentary Academic Fellow based at the University of Essex. Laura said:

“The aim of this project is to show how parliaments engage with their citizens across the world, through the creation of a map which will be hosted on the IPEN website.

“The survey is specifically aimed at officials who work for parliaments, the Civil Service, and those working for third sector organisations that help parliaments deliver public engagement activities.

“The survey asks a range of questions to determine the wide-ranging approaches parliaments use with regard to public engagement. The rich information gathered through the survey will be collated to create summaries which will be accessed via an interactive map by each country’s parliament or legislature.”

Map of the world

Cristina Leston-Bandeira, Professor of Politics at the University of Leeds and Chair of IPEN, said:

“Following the success of the global map of parliamentary mechanisms for accessing academic research, we are excited to be embarking on this new project with the UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST).

“This new map will enable us to celebrate the multiple ways parliaments from across the world engage with the public.

“To make this possible, we need the input and insights of the dedicated staff who plan and deliver public engagement initiatives and activities within their own parliaments.

“If you work directly to deliver public engagement activities for parliaments then we invite you to contribute to the map by giving some of your time to complete the survey.”

Take part in the survey

The ‘Mapping public engagement in parliaments across the world’ survey will run from July 2024, with a view to creating the map by the spring of 2025.

Find out about the survey and how to contribute to the global map of public engagement in parliaments.

Images

1. Image by stokpic from Pixabay.
2. Photo by Leeloo The First. Source: Pexels.
3. Screenshot of global map of parliamentary mechanisms for accessing academic research (developed by Dr Vicky Ward and Professor Mark Monaghan for a POST Fellowship and hosted on IPEN website).

Select Committee pilots on participatory democracy at the UK Parliament

Engagement event held by Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in Belfast

In this blog post, Chris Shaw (Clerk of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the UK House of Commons) explores three pilot projects on participatory democracy carried out by Select Committees in the UK House of Commons and discusses the ways in which deliberative engagement can enhance committee scrutiny activities.

Introduction

Committees in the UK House of Commons recently completed trials of public engagement events to test the value of participation by citizens in their work. All three pilot projects produced some really positive feedback and data on the potential for deliberative methods to make a valuable contribution to the scrutiny of policy in Parliament.

Background

For several years, select committees in the House of Commons (which do scrutiny rather than legislation) have been developing an appetite for public engagement in their work, whether it be through visits, round tables, or online surveys and forums.

These have added depth and colour to the traditional, more formal, processes of examining written submissions and holding public hearings. They have also sponsored more ambitious deliberative exercises: citizens’ assemblies on health and social care in 2018 and on climate change (the path to net zero) in 2020.

Speech bubbles on window

The pilots

In 2023, three select committees took advantage of offers from established providers (Involve and IDEA, Ohio State University) to run deliberative events in support of forthcoming committee inquiries.

• The Justice Committee held a deliberative engagement exercise to support its inquiry into public opinion and understanding of sentencing. This comprised 25 people, broadly representative of the population, who met for three half-days.

• The Home Affairs Committee held an online town hall event, for 1,300 people, in support of its inquiry into policing priorities. It was attended by committee members and a Police and Crime Commissioner.

• The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee held an online town hall event, for 270 people, in support of its inquiry into the effectiveness of the institutions of the Belfast / Good Friday Agreement. It was attended by committee members from different political parties. It complemented this with an in-person engagement event in Belfast.

In each case, participants completed surveys about their views before and after the engagement event or, in the case of the Justice Committee, were asked about the extent to which their participation had changed their views.

Rationale

Understanding public attitudes – and the reasons behind them – was crucial to all three inquiries. The committees were keen to reach out beyond the interest groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) – who regularly submit evidence to inquiries – to converse with a representative sample of the population, most of whom would not ordinarily stop and consider policy challenges which may be complex, but nonetheless affect them directly.

In the case of the Northern Ireland Affairs and the Justice committees, they wanted to secure quantitative and qualitative data to supplement written evidence and also, in Northern Ireland, in-person community engagement. The Home Affairs Committee wanted to use a method which would allow ordinary people to consider the pros and cons of prioritising different areas of policing over others.

The Chair of each Committee participated in order to demonstrate political buy-in and, in the case of the Home Affairs Committee, an elected Police and Crime Commissioner led the online discussion by setting out some of the difficult decisions about prioritisation that he faced every day.

Listening in to the discussions, I was struck by the quality of the questions asked by the public and the consensual way in which the participating politicians engaged with the process and participants. This may have come as a shock to those whose engagement with politics was limited to catching occasional glimpses of Prime Minister’s Questions.

Online meeting showing laptop and mug

Results and impact

All three committees involved in the pilots found these deliberative activities very useful to their work. Two of them went on to make recommendations in their reports for further use of deliberative methods by the Government for policy making.

So what was the added value that these exercises provided?

In part, they served to provide reinforcement – additional validation – to the messages from known contributors with established views. But at times they also provided new insights directly from the public.

For example, the Justice Committee dialogue revealed strong support for an additional, new priority to be used for sentencing: the need to provide justice for the victims of crime. The Committee’s report recommended that the Ministry of Justice should conduct “regular, structured, deliberative engagement exercises with members of the public as part of policy development process” and that the Sentencing Council too should consider taking a similar approach in revising its Sentencing Guidelines.

In response to the report, the Government agreed that “public opinion absolutely plays a pivotal role in shaping sentencing policy” and the Sentencing Council agreed to “consider” whether structured deliberative engagement exercises like this one may benefit its ongoing work on encouraging a greater range of responses to public consultations. So, a positive, if non-committal response, which reflects the absence of a fully developed Government view on the use of deliberative methods in policy making.

Northern Ireland Affairs Committee public engagement event held in Belfast

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee’s online town hall and in-person engagement event produced several insights that probably would not have surfaced through the normal processes of gathering information. There was overwhelming enthusiasm for a strong voice being given in the design of any new political institutions to those not identifying with one of the two main communities.

The Committee found “clear, compelling evidence that much of the public are more open to change than the political class”. For example, the requirement for cross community support for any changes was identified as a barrier to reform which should be addressed. The non-partisan and informed nature of the deliberative approach was evidently very influential on the Committee: it concluded that “Citizens’ assemblies have the potential to empower people to find solutions and reach across deep divides in a way which politicians—except perhaps in the case of events leading up to Good Friday 1998—rarely can”.

It recommended that the Government establishes a Northern Ireland Citizens’ Assembly to consider institutional reform and to feed into a wider review. Since the Committee reported, the Northern Ireland Executive has been re-established and the Government has indicated that public engagement is a matter for the Executive.

Participants in the process were certainly enthused: some 95% of them said that deliberative events were valuable for democracy and should be a more regular part of the political process.

Engagement event held by Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in Belfast

Finally, the Home Affairs Committee town hall on policy provided a useful and unique insight into how the public viewed the difficulties involved in balancing competing priorities in an environment of constrained resources. The summary of the views provided after the discussion indicated a strong consensus around some issues (for example, improved vetting of and training for police officers; ethnic minorities being treated worse by police) and less consensus on others (support for victims of crime).

The impact and value of the dialogue was demonstrated by the fact that 80% of participants said that they had changed their views as a result of their engagement in the town hall. This was supported by the evaluation data which indicated a substantial increase in the participants’ trust in the committees as a result of their involvement, although the increase in respect of Parliament as a whole was marginal.

The impact on MPs is perhaps harder to discern. Anecdotal evidence suggests that they valued the opportunity for more in-depth discussion with the public. The strength of feeling amongst participants in the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee town hall on the failings of the current political arrangements and the willingness to think across community lines may have been a surprise to some MPs more used to engaging with people on a party political basis.

What next?

Looking ahead, these pilots have proved to committee MPs and to participants that deliberative engagement can add to the depth and breadth of committee scrutiny activities. They contribute to an ever-increasing portfolio of public engagement activities being undertaken by committees.

The challenge is now to further establish these types of activities in the toolbox of scrutiny that committees have at their disposal and, in the new Parliament, to increase trust in them amongst public, politicians and government alike.

About the author

Chris Shaw is Clerk of the Foreign Affairs Committee at the House of Commons, UK Parliament, and was the lead official on the establishment of Climate Assembly UK. Chris is a member of the International Parliament Engagement Network (IPEN) Executive Team.

Images

1, 4 & 5: Public engagement event held by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in Belfast. Credit: UK Parliament/Tyler Allicock.
2: Speech bubbles on window. Image courtesy of Involve.
3: Online meeting. Image courtesy of Involve.

Article published: 19 March 2024

IPEN membership grows to over 400

Since its inception in 2020, membership of the International Parliament Engagement Network (IPEN) has continued to grow, with new members joining us from different parts of the world on an ongoing basis.

We’re delighted to announce that we now have over 400 members in the network. The reach of our membership now covers over 70 countries and six continents.

Cristina Leston-Bandeira, Professor of Politics at the University of Leeds and Chair of IPEN, said:

“We never quite envisaged that our membership would expand this much. We’re delighted to have members recently joining us from such diverse countries as Australia, Ghana and Madagascar.

“The sharing of different experiences, knowledge and challenges from all corners of the world is what makes the IPEN community so rich.”

Infographic about IPEN having over 400 members from over 70 countries and six continents

The International Parliament Engagement Network brings together academics, parliamentary officials and third sector representatives from across the world, to promote collaboration and encourage knowledge sharing around parliaments and public engagement.

IPEN connects its members through the sharing of research and reports, facilitating introductions, discussions and exchanges via MS Teams and hosting professional development seminars online. Being a part of a unique global network brings a range of benefits to IPEN’s 400+ members and, amongst other things, has initiated collaboration between officials from different parliaments and enhancement of engagement practices thanks to evidence-based research.

We asked our members to tell us (in just one sentence) the most important thing that being a part of IPEN has brought to their work or research.

Caroline Wallis is Education Lead at the New Zealand Parliament. Caroline has been a member of IPEN since 2021 and became the newest member of the Executive Board earlier this year. Caroline said:

“I think being a part of IPEN has opened my eyes to the depth and breadth of research based practice there is for parliamentary public engagement.

“It has helped me think about what is important to consider for initiatives, and gives me inspiration for future work.”

Other lovely feedback from our IPEN members indicates the range of benefits to being a part of our global network:

“It’s so hard to restrict this to one sentence, but I think being a member of IPEN has broadened my horizons in that it has enabled me to not only connect with people who work in and study other parliaments across the world, but I’m also able to listen and read first-hand about activities and operations from those parliaments. And that is something I cherish.”

“Becoming part of a rich network of nice people with interesting questions and helpful answers and getting a so much broader scope of parliamentary issues and practices all over the world. Big thank you to the team for facilitating this!”

“For me it is a gateway to facilitate further international engagements with parliamentary people who have similar experiences and a rich bounty of knowledge, expertise and assistance to share.”

IPEN cartoon image showing top of the world and four people

“IPEN to me is a community of experience and professional experts who have really revolutionised various sectors of our society through idea and knowledge exchange, and in addressing the most critical issues facing leadership and Sustainable Development Goals. IPEN has been a professional learning space, value base network community and policy development springboard for me.”

“I am sorry, one sentence can’t be enough to write about the meaning and benefit of IPEN vision and mission in our world society today. Keep up the good work because the impact is an history [sic].”

“IPEN has been a pure joy since I joined. The webinars and data available on here are very crucial to my work.”

“My sentence is ‘I agree with all of the above’! Honestly – this is such an amazing space and I only wish I was able to spend more time here and my aim for 2024 is to do so! Thanks Cristina Leston Bandeira and team for your creation and curation of this space.”

“As a recent member, I’ve found IPEN provides an opportunity to learn from and network with others who value public participation in parliamentary practice and democracy generally, as well as offering a space to discover good practices around the world.”

We would like to offer a huge thanks to all of our members for being a part of our ever-growing network and for their many contributions – not only within the network itself, but more significantly in promoting and practicing parliamentary public engagement in their work and research across the globe.

Find out more about IPEN membership.

Article published: 19 March 2024

Embedding deliberative democracy in a participatory parliament

A new blog by IPEN member Ailsa Burn-Murdoch (Senior Researcher at the Scottish Parliament Information Centre, SPICe) summarises the recent milestones the Scottish Parliament have passed in embedding deliberative democracy in scrutiny.
 
After a year and a half of fact finding and commissioning a full citizens’ panel to explore public participation in the Scottish Parliament, the Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee published its final report and recommendations on 12 September 2023.
 
The blog post focuses on the Committee’s aspirations for institutionalising deliberative democracy, the first steps being taken in exploring and realising that, and key risks in the coming years.

Scottish Parliament Chamber Floor; Exterior view of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. Photos courtesy of the Scottish Parliament.

Alisa Burn-Murdoch said:
 
“The Scottish Parliament has had an internal unit dedicated to supporting citizen participation for several years, and it delivered its first Citizens’ Panels in 2019. The publication of this report, and its unanimous support from the wider membership of the Scottish Parliament, marks a significant step in institutionalising deliberative practice.

“The Parliament will be piloting two more people’s panels, in 2024 and 2025, including one supporting post-legislative scrutiny. The hope is that by the end of the current Parliamentary session, in 2026, the Committee will be able to recommend a practice, governance and accountability framework for the use of deliberative methods that will help the institution to grow and strengthen the role of citizens in its work in future sessions.”
 
Embedding Deliberative Democracy in a Participatory Parliament was published on 6 November on the Scottish Parliament website.

Find out more about SPICe.

Images

Scottish Parliament Chamber Floor; Exterior view of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. Photos courtesy of the Scottish Parliament.

Article published: 29 November 2023

Digital parliament: concepts and practices 

Photo of Cristiane Brum and Isabele Mitozo

Parlamento digital: conceitos e práticas (Digital Parliaments: Theory and Practice) is a new e-book published by Editora Universidade de Brasília (EDU) which features chapters written by members of the International Parliament Engagement Network (IPEN)

Organized by leading researchers in the field of legislative studies in Brazil — including IPEN members Cristiane Brum Bernardes (Chamber of Deputies, Brazil) and Isabele Mitozo (Federal University of Minas Gerais) — the volume brings a set of texts that covers the digitization of parliaments from different perspectives. 

Any analysis of the institutional and political scenario of the 21st century needs to take into account that the use of the internet by political actors is a growing reality in most countries. With regard to Parliament, the central institution of representative democracies as we know them, the perspectives and trends follow the same direction.  

Representatives, institutional actors, citizens and civil society organizations are engaged in the use of different platforms, with a specific interest in influencing political decisions, in a process that studies call ‘Digital Democracy’.

In the last two decades, the acceleration of the processes of digitization of the political sphere around the world, especially with the entry of political actors and institutions into the social media environment, has created new complexities for the relationship between legislative houses and citizens. 

This is one of the focuses of the publication, which thematizes different aspects of the digitization processes in the representative institutional environment. 

Cristiane Brum Bernardes and Isabele Mitozo have written and contributed to chapters on ‘The crowdlaw experience in Brazil: Online collaborative drafting of laws in the Chamber of Deputies’ and ‘Digital Innovations for Parliaments: Research and Practice’. 

Isabele Mitozo is Assistant Professor at the Federal University of Minas Gerais. She takes the promotion of democratic values, as transparency and public engagement, in Parliaments as the focus of her research. Isabele said: 

“In a context of high discredit in political institutions, it is important that parliaments, one of the institutions with the least credibility among citizens, understand how to use digital tools to reinforce democratic values and try to reconnect with the public, which is extensively discussed in the book.

“In the first chapter, we present a brief history of the digitization of parliaments, how this panorama has added new concepts to the literature and established a new area of studies on digital innovations for parliaments. This highlight is important for the understanding of the purposes and characteristics that should be implied to the initiatives developed into the Houses.”

Cristiane Brum Bernardes works at the National Observatory of Women in Politics (ONMP) and as a professor at the Master in Legislatures at the Centre for Education and Training (CEFOR), both functions of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies. Her research and professional practice focus on political identities and communicative performances, specifically of women politicians through social media and institutional spaces. Regarding the experiences of crowdlaw, Cristiane said:

“The potentials of crowdlaw systems are already widely known, but it is also necessary to discuss their limitations, such as the design and format of online platforms, the management of participation in these tools, and the uneven and incomplete implementation of these intentions.”

The book also includes a chapter on ‘E-Petitions to Parliament’ by Cristina Leston-Bandeira, Professor of Politics at the University of Leeds and Chair of IPEN. Cristina’s research is themed around the relationship between parliament and citizens, particularly public and digital engagement, and in recent years much of her work has been focused on petitions. Cristina said: 

“E-petitions have become very popular in the 21st century, following a general decline in paper petitions in the 20th century. The electronic format of petitions enables an amplification of its potential in reach and, when parliaments have well integrated processes, they can lead to effective pathways for citizens to shape policy.”

It is important that parliaments, one of the institutions with the least credibility among citizens, understand how to use digital tools to reinforce democratic values and try to reconnect with the public.

Isabele Mitozo

The book concludes with ‘An Agenda for Research, Reflection and Practical Applications in Digital Parliament’ from all four editors which presents an overview on the current state of digitization in parliaments, the problems and advances in the initiatives presented in the chapters, and the new possibilities showed by the Covid-19 pandemic adaptations in Parliaments.

Ultimately, all these initiatives have become opportunities to reinforce democratic values and improve digital governance in Parliaments and Legislatures, even if most of them still need a real connection with the legislative process.

Parlamento digital: conceitos e práticas (edited by Cristiane Brum Bernardes, Isabele Mitozo, Sérgio Braga and Sivaldo Pereira da Silva) was published by Editora Universidade de Brasília (EDU) on 3 October 2023. 

The e-book can be found here via open access. Please note that the book is only available in Portuguese. 

More information

Cristiane Brum Bernardes is a Professor and researcher of the Master’s in Legislatures at the Centre for Education and Training (CEFOR) of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies. With a PhD in Political Science, she works at the National Observatory of Women in Politics (ONMP) from the Chamber. She is also a member of the National Institute of Science and Technology in Digital Democracy (INCT-DD), the Global Research Network on Parliaments and People (SOAS, University of London) and the International Parliament Engagement Network (IPEN).

Isabele B. Mitozo is an Assistant Professor in the Political Science Department/Faculty of Philosophy and Human Sciences of the Federal University of Minas Gerais (Brazil), and coordinates the Research Group on Democracy, Communication and Digital Engagement. Her research agenda focuses on digital innovations for promoting transparency and public engagement in parliaments and legislatures.

Cristina Leston-Bandeira is Chair of IPEN and a Professor of Politics in the School of Politics and International Studies at the University of Leeds. She has conducted research on Parliaments for nearly 30 years. Her research focuses on the relationship between Parliament and citizens, particularly public and digital engagement. Hear Cristina talk about e-petitions in a recent UK House of Commons Committee Corridor podcast.

Article published: 24 October 2023

Regional Education Outreach at the Parliament of South Australia: Strategies and Learnings

Map of Australia with South Australia highlighted

As part of our ongoing ‘spotlight on public engagement practice’ series, this month we highlight initiatives featured in a paper by IPEN member and Community Education Officer Natalie Badcock (formerly Young), published in the Australasian Parliamentary Review.

In the paper, Natalie explores the successes and learnings of the Regional Education Strategy of the Parliament of South Australia, reflecting on how parliamentary education can be made more accessible.

Launched in 2021, the Parliament’s travelling regional education program is targeted at electorates with the lowest school visitation data within a given period. The program includes a focus on the key principles underpinning parliamentary systems in Australia, a demonstration of the passage of the bill and interactive activities relating to how students can participate in ‘active’ citizenship.

Special equipment was procured for the program in an effort to bring the Parliament to life outside of the physical building, including six metre by four metre floor mats of the House of Assembly, Legislative Council and steps of Parliament House. The equipment also included a replica Mace and Black Rod, wigs, robes, ballot boxes, bells and debate scripts.

Civics in the City is a regional and remote financial assistance program launched by Parliament in 2022, whereby five schools were selected to receive money to support travel and accommodation costs to Adelaide, and to visit Parliament House during their city stay.

Natalie’s paper explores the successes and learnings of these two initiatives, and concludes that feedback and interest in them provides strong justification for building and enhancing regional programs.

Regional Education Outreach at the Parliament of South Australia: Strategies and Learnings by Natalie Young (Badcock) was published via open access in the Australasian Parliamentary Review (Spring/Summer 2022 Vol 37 No 2).

IPEN members can also hear Natalie speaking about Australia’s education outreach work in a recording of a Public Engagement Hub seminar which took place in November 2022 (available in IPEN’s MS Teams space). The seminar – Reaching out to remote communities – also included speakers from Serbia and South Africa.

Article published: 23 October 2023

LSE blog by Temitayo Odeyemi sets out ways to address public engagement challenges

Nigeria's National Assembly

An article by IPEN member Temitayo Odeyemi (School of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds) about legislative public engagement in Nigeria was published in the LSE blog earlier this month. 

In the blog post, Temitayo sets out how “Nigerian legislators are often aloof and inaccessible” which creates “an environment where citizens don’t understand what they do”. This, says Odeyemi, leads to people having “unrealistic expectations of them which in turn is damaging trust in the democratic process”. 

Temitayo outlines three specific actions for Nigeria’s legislatures to undertake to meet their public engagement challenges: 

  • Meaningful information dissemination and communication  
  • Build capacity for public education initiatives 
  • Listen to the public through consultation and petitions 

He then brings this all together by urging the legislatures to move things forward and says: 

“A starting point is the need to develop public engagement strategies which build on their respective legislative agenda. These should draw connections between different roles and allocate needful resources to support meaningful ongoing relationships with the public.” 

The article ends with Odeyemi stressing the importance of tapping into existing resources, giving examples of legislative public engagement strategies, insights from support networks and the Global Parliamentary Report as useful examples. 

You can read Temitayo’s article — Nigerian legislatures need to repair their poor relationship with the people — on the LSE blog (dated 11 October 2023). 

The blog post is based on the paper Turning public engagement into standard practice: Institutionalisation in the work of the South African Parliament which was published in The Journal for Legislative Studies on 9 April 2023.

The article can be found here via open access and was featured in the June 2023 edition of the IPEN newsletter

Image

Nigeria’s National Assembly. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Article published: 23 October 2023

Call for speakers for IPEN Showcase

Drawing of lightbulb and speech bubbles on a blue background

Have you got an example of public engagement practice you’re involved with that you’d like to share with other IPEN members?

Are you developing any exciting new projects connected to public engagement with parliaments?

Are you involved with any new research on the topic?

Or are you looking to link up with others to find solutions to problems you face in creating meaningful engagement strategies for your parliament?

IPEN Showcase is a chance for International Parliament Engagement Network members to come together to share what they are doing, get feedback, develop ideas and meet others doing similar things. 

We’d like to invite IPEN members to take part in this first of a new series of online events aimed at sharing work or research in under five minutes!

More details about how to take part can be found in our IPEN MS Teams space or contact Fiona Blair at f.blair@leeds.ac.uk.

This online event is open to all members of the International Parliament Engagement Network.

Find out more about the network.

Article published: 10 October 2023

Cristina Leston-Bandeira features in Committee Corridor podcast on parliamentary petitions

Petitions Committee sign on a wooden door

Committee Corridor is a pilot podcast series from the House of Commons select committees, which aims to open a door into the world of scrutiny through the lens of some of the UK’s most pressing concerns.

Hosted by select committee chairs, each episode features an insight interview with a leading figure combined with updates from MPs on the work of their different select committees across Parliament.

In July, Cristina Leston-Bandeira (Chair of the International Parliament Engagement Network and Professor of Politics at the University of Leeds) took part in a UK Parliament Committee Corridor podcast exploring what happens to parliamentary petitions.

Around a quarter of the UK’s adult population have signed a petition to Parliament, as a way to alert Members of Parliament to concerns that matter to them and try to make their voices heard.

Since launching eight years ago, more than 30,000 petitions have been created on the UK Parliament e-petitions site, attracting more than 110 million signatures. 350 of them have been debated by MPs.

“Around a quarter of the UK’s adult population have signed a petition to Parliament.”

UK Parliament website

Hosted by Catherine McKinnell MP (then Chair of the Petitions Committee in the House of Commons), the podcast looked at how the process works and how petitions can make a difference.

Discussing their experience of petitioning were campaigner Andy Airey, one of the 3 Dads Walking who petitioned the UK Parliament to make suicide prevention a compulsory part of the school curriculum, and Nick Fletcher MP, the Member of the Petitions Committee who opened the debate on Andy’s petition in the House of Commons.

The podcast explores Andy Airey’s experiences of petitioning and the wider area of campaigning to affect change. Describing themselves as ‘accidental campaigners’, 3 Dads Walking – Andy, Mike Palmer and Tim Owen – came together to raise awareness of suicide prevention and of Papyrus (a charity dedicated to the prevention of suicide and promotion of mental health and wellbeing in young people).

Andy describes how they set up their petition, having been advised that it would be a useful tool to raise awareness, and talks of the activities they undertook as part of their campaign to get the message out to engage others with the issue. He highlights the challenges of needing to get at least 10,000 signatures to get a response from government and 100,000 for it to be considered for debate.

Nick Fletcher MP further discusses how petitions can raise awareness of serious issues and how they can be used as a springboard for further work. He outlines how the UK Parliament debated the petition in March 2023 and the outcome, which included a review of the Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE) curriculum.

Professor Cristina Leston-Bandeira works on how parliaments engage the public, particularly through petitions. In the podcast, she sets out why petitions are important and how the UK compares to other countries and legislatures.

Leston-Bandeira says of the importance of petitions:

“Petitions are one of the easiest ways to get involved in politics. So, even just that should show why petitions are so important for our societies as a way of people bringing in issues, things that they really care about.

“It doesn’t take a lot of effort and they’re easy to collect, to go round and get your friends and people you know.

“Another reason is that it becomes a key channel to bring issues to Parliament that MPs may not be aware of. MPs often have a very good close relationship with their constituents – they’ll have issues brought to them, but they don’t necessarily get that overall picture of how much is it affecting constituents at the national level.

“It’s what we often refer to as the fire alarm function of petitions to bring those matters to Parliament. A really good example of that was a petition that we had on maternity care during lockdown. This petition was asking for an extension of maternity leave in light of the circumstances created by covid-19, but it led to a much wider inquiry by the Committee.

“Through a series of public engagement initiatives, a number of unpredicted consequences from the rapidly arranged regulations to deal with covid-19 were unveiled. These meant that, for instance, it was easier for a new father to go down to the pub than to accompany their partner to hospital when their baby was born. The actions from the Committee would eventually lead the government to amend their regulations in the second lockdown wave.

“Petitions are also a way of the citizens shaping the parliamentary agenda and bringing issues outside of party politics that citizens care about to Parliament.”

“If the people do not understand the process, they can’t necessarily be involved and put on the pressure at the right moments.”

Cristina Leston-Bandeira

Cristina outlines four key challenges for people looking to use a parliamentary petition to bring about change, based on her research:

“One of the challenges is what I would refer to as democracy literacy, in that a lot of people do not necessarily understand how Parliament works or the parliamentary processes associated with petitions. If the people do not understand the process, they can’t necessarily be involved and put on the pressure at the right moments.

“Another challenge is IT literacy or digital poverty.

“And then there’s a process of making your petition matter – achieving high thresholds of signatures is not necessarily that easy. People need campaigning skills that they may not necessarily have, so to get noticed amidst the thousands and thousands of other petitions is actually quite difficult.

“I would say the final challenge is about generating the campaign around the petition. I often say the petition itself is just a hook: the petition itself doesn’t make a change. It’s what you do with the petition, how you campaign with it.

“And that’s why the process associated with the petition is so important. But again, it’s a challenge for someone who’s not necessarily used to doing campaigning.”

After highlighting some of the many frustrations that citizens have with the petitions process, Cristina wraps up the podcast with some suggestions for how to improve things – specifically around strengthening the understanding about petitioning and the processes involved, and better integration with other parliamentary business.

Listen to the full podcast on the House of Commons website.

About Cristina Leston-Bandeira

Cristina Leston-Bandeira is Chair of the International Parliament Engagement Network (IPEN) and a Professor of Politics in the School of Politics and International Studies at the University of Leeds. She has conducted research on Parliaments for nearly 30 years. Her research focuses on the relationship between Parliament and citizens, particularly public and digital engagement.

Images

Courtesy of Cristina Leston-Bandeira

Article published 27 September 2023

The development of public engagement as a core institutional role for parliaments

Group of people

A research paper co-authored by International Parliament Engagement Network members Cristina Leston-Bandeira (University of Leeds, UK) and Sven T. Siefken (Federal University of Applied Administrative Sciences, Germany) has been published in The Journal of Legislative Studies.

Public engagement has become a noticeable activity for parliaments across the world. However, there is a lack of understanding of its role despite considerable developments in scholarly work on public engagement in the sciences and on deliberative and participatory democracy by social scientists. 

The development of public engagement as a core institutional role for parliaments provides an overall contextual understanding of the role of public engagement performed by parliaments today. It draws from the authors’ extensive research in this area, as well as from their practice working closely with practitioners.

The article provides a framework to understand the significance of parliamentary public engagement and to evaluate its effectiveness. It explains how parliamentary public engagement has emerged because of a representational shift in who is doing the representing in parliament and in what is represented, following key societal changes.

Leston-Bandeira and Siefken define parliamentary public engagement, showing the importance of differentiating between the activity, its effects and broader democratic ideals. They identify information and education as the types of engagement activity most developed by parliaments, with much still to do in consultation and participation activities. 

Engaging the public in political decision-making is a key prerequisite for modern democratic governance – and parliaments are in a unique position to carry out this important task. 

Cristina Leston-Bandeira and Sven T. Siefken

The authors conclude the article with a discussion of seven key challenges in developing and implementing effective institutional parliamentary public engagement practices.

Cristina Leston-Bandeira said:

“We wrote this article because public engagement is often talked about, but meaning very different things to different people.

“We thought it was important to unpack the concept of public engagement, to show that it refers to different types of activities, but also to differentiate between the activity and its potential effect.

“We also thought it was important to reflect about why public engagement has become such an important part of 21st century politics; and consequently why it matters so much for parliaments around the world.”

The development of public engagement as a core institutional role for parliaments by Cristina Leston-Bandeira and Sven T. Siefken was published via open access in The Journal of Legislative Studies on 18 July 2023.

About the authors

Cristina Leston-Bandeira is Chair of IPEN and a Professor of Politics in the School of Politics and International Studies at the University of Leeds. She has conducted research on Parliaments for nearly 30 years. Her research focuses on the relationship between Parliament and citizens, particularly public and digital engagement.

Sven T. Siefken is a political scientist, political advisor and management consultant. He is Professor of Political Science at the German Federal University of Applied Administrative Sciences and Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Parliamentary Research (IParl) in Berlin, Germany. His current work investigates coalition politics, parliamentary committees, parliaments in the pandemic and the future of democratic representation. 

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Article published: 27 September 2023