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  • Poor quality of information in EU referendum debate demonstrates need for the new programme and alternative models of public engagement
  • Fifty to sixty citizens to form Economic Council to deliberate on the UK’s economic goals

Playing fast and loose with economic forecasts and statistics has eroded public trust and created a democratic deficit, according to the RSA, which today launches a major new programme to tackle the UK’s broken economic debate.

The RSA Citizens’ Economic Council will give people the tools to engage with economic policy and confidently express their views. It will directly address widespread disillusionment with the UK’s economic debate, exemplified by the EU referendum campaign – which marked a new low in the abuse of economics in political debate - and the lack of transparency and honesty in the way that economic issues are presented to the public.

The programme aims to improve economic literacy, given recent research showing only one in five felt well informed about the EU referendum and most people lack confidence in understanding how the economy works. The RSA believes this economic literacy gap causes a democratic deficit due to the huge influence economic policy has on every area of citizens’ lives.

Activity includes the world’s first deliberative engagement process focussed on a national economy; an online economics course open to all; and an economic inclusion roadshow targeting hard to reach communities.

A diverse group of 50 - 60 citizens, selected independently[1], will form the Citizens’ Economic Council. The citizens will be selected using stratified random sampling on the basis of their demographic characteristics. Over the next eighteen months, the Council will explore economic theories and consider their implications, debate what our shared goals and priorities for the economy should be, and will rigorously assess new economic policies for their ability to deliver on these goals.

The project is supported by the Friends Provident Foundation and by the Barrow Cadbury Trust.

Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the RSA, said:

"The EU referendum demonstrates that policymakers need to broaden the agenda on engaging the public beyond one-off instances of voting, especially on issues as complex as Europe or the economy.

We believe that a more deliberative and discursive model, through the RSA’s Citizens’ Economic Council, is a timely intervention to illustrate how this could be achieved. The Council will promote improved economic awareness and literacy in citizens, rebuild public trust in decision-makers and their institutions, and renew public discourse – directly confronting the disempowerment and disengagement of citizens in the debate about economics by connecting them directly to policymakers and economists."

Paul Johnson, Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and a speaker at the RSA’s launch event for the Citizens’ Economic Council’s launch on Wednesday 29th June said:

"Economics and economic policy matters enormously to all of us whether we like it or not.

The more we all understand it the better democracy we will have and the better policies politicians will enact."

Tony Greenham, RSA Director of Economics, Enterprise and Manufacturing, said

 “Value judgements are so central to economic decisions, we cannot just leave it all to technocrats, and policymaking by soundbite cannot cope with complex 21st century challenges. That’s why we are creating space for measured, informed and respectful conversation between citizens about what we really want the economy to achieve, and how best to get there.”

The Council will test the idea of ‘deliberative democracy’. In contrast to the referendum debate, Council meetings will be structured so that citizens can engage with issues in a thoughtful and informed way that leads to co-creation and co-production of economic policy. After identifying what outcomes they want to see in an economy, citizens will deliberate on themes including work, society, security, home, and challenges of the future for the UK economy. Any member of the public will also be able to submit policy ideas online for shortlisting and for consideration by the Council. Hard to reach communities in particular will be supported to co-create and submit policy ideas to the Council.

An Independent Advisory Group will oversee the Council, providing robust and impartial oversight of the deliberative engagement process and the materials provided to citizen participants.

Beyond the core activities of the Council, the RSA will run economic inclusion workshops which will target hard to reach communities including disabled people, those from ethnic minority groups, those who are LGBT, and those who are experiencing poverty. It will also draw upon materials used during the Council’s deliberations to make this information available to all interested citizens an online course to increase understanding and the capacity of the public to challenge economic policy.

Notes to Editors

  1. The RSA’s Citizens’ Economic Council will aim to publish its final recommendations in the final quarter of 2017.
  1. The full membership of the RSA Citizens Economic Council Independent Advisory Group is:
  • Prof Rosie Campbell (Professor of Politics, Birkbeck University)
  • Prof Graham Smith (Professor of Politics, Westminster Centre for Democracy, University of Westminster)
  • Victoria Waldersee (Rethinking Economics, Project Manager of Ecnmy)
  • Simon Burall (Director, Involve)
  • Prof Steve Schifferes (Professor of Financial Journalism, City University)
  • Diane Warburton ( freelance consultant and former Evaluation Manager, Sciencewise)
  • Prof Andrea Cornwall (University of Sussex, Professor of Anthropology and Development, and Head of Global Studies)
  • Suzannah Lansdell (Dialogue practitioner)
  • Prof Ivor Gaber (Professor of Broadcast Journalism, University of Sussex)
  • Sian Williams (Head of Financial Inclusion, Toynbee Hall)
  1. The RSA aims to enrich society through ideas and action. We believe that all human beings have creative capacities that can be mobilised to deliver a 21st century enlightenment. We work to bring about the conditions for this change, not just amongst our diverse Fellowship, but also in institutions and communities. Our work ranges from the future of our cities and communities, to education, moving towards a more creative economy and the redesign of public services.
  1. For more information please contact RSA Head of Media and Communications Paul Duffy on 020 7451 6893 / 07799 737 970 or

[1] The citizens will be selected using stratified random sampling on the basis of their demographic characteristics.


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