Is citizen engagement the key to successful devolution? - RSA

Is citizen engagement the key to successful devolution?


  • Picture of Tom Harrison
    Tom Harrison
    Assistant Researcher, Public Services and Communities
  • Picture of Reema Patel
    Research Director and Head of Deliberative Engagement, Ipsos
  • Devolution

The party conferences presented the opportunity to bring citizens from a range of different backgrounds together with politicians and decision makers. PwC and Britain Thinks brought together 20-24 participants selected from the local area to reflect its diversity and inspire citizen engagement in the devolution debate. The RSA was grateful to be invite to sit in on this deliberative process.

The juries focused on the issue of local devolution and explored several key questions around the themes of place and identity. What, for example, made people proud to be part of their local community? They also explored and developed their understanding of devolution – what it was, what it aimed to achieve – and learned more about the new proposed regional arrangements from a number of experts on devolution.


The citizen jurors discussed perspectives on how the new Mayor of the region would be more accountable, as well as how to build the legitimacy of this process. What did strong, authentic political leadership look like for them and their place? Citizens were actively engaged on the question of how citizens could play a part in identifying and shaping key priorities for both the region and the future Mayor.

In discussing what they wanted from their future Mayor, their priorities included: the importance of the Mayor being an advocate for their local area, enabling increases in budget, public transport capacity, and standards in the delivery of health and social care. They felt it was important that the Mayor was local and identified with the place itself, as well as consistent, driven and authentic. There was a sense from some of the participants that a Mayor’s perceived independence from any political party would be an asset. Many citizens felt that it would be good to have a political leader that was not being influenced by external pressures or by ‘vested interests’.

Overall, what emerged from the deliberations was citizens’ strong sense of identity and place, as well as their desire for a positive vision for their place and the autonomy to deliver against this. Citizens made clear the tensions they often felt between their own pride in their local community and history of place, and the creation of a new model for the city region.

Birmingham Citizens’ Jury, Conservative Party Conference

Tom Harrison, Interim Project Engagement Manager, Public Services and Communities, was in Birmingham


Pragmatism was the order of the day in Birmingham as the juries grappled with the little-known political entity of the West Midlands Combined Authority that the future West Midlands Metro Mayor will lead.

There was little knowledge on the jurors side when it came to awareness of the main Mayoral candidates, who include the Conservative Party candidate, former Chief Executive of John Lewis, Andy Street and Labour’s Sion Simon MP. This corroborates PwC’s research that 76% of the public want to know more about the Government’s plans for devolution. This lack of awarness can have tangible democratic impact, with the 2016 Police and Crime Commissioner elections turnout as low as 17.4% in Durham, bringing into question the legitimacy of the roles once in office.


In response to question of democratic legitimacy Martin Reeves called for all candidates in the Mayoral race to raise the profile of the office and to change the nature of traditional party contests by focussing on a developing a shared vision with and for local residents, that might be encapsulated by an insurgent twitter hashtag, #BestMidlands.

The jurors challenged Martin Reeves about the investment opportunities that would really come with being a combined authority.  With the Mayor and the new authority, Martin Reeves promised 500,000 new jobs and an unpresented level of private and public investment similar to the size of London 2012 for the area, on top of the £36.5 million the Mayor would control. Which seemed to excite and resonate with citizens in the room.

Tellingly the opportunity of devolution did not appear to resonate when it came to topics such as health and wellbeing, or the role of colleges and universities, which still remain largely fixed to national institutions in the eyes of the public. The issues coming most sharply into view at a local level were housing, transport and apprenticeships, with the need for a holistic overview of planning, control over transport and new and interesting ways to engage with citizens, including a 'Your Mayor' app that could keep citizens informed and engaged digitally with the Metro Mayors activities.

Overall, sophisticated and sober responses from the jurors was matched with a sense that the  ‘political connectivity’  that the RSA believes is necessary for policy change to succeed and for devolution to reinvigorate democracy remains a challenge for city leaders and Mayoral candidates will have to need to take on.

However, both citizen jury events demonstrated that it is possible to bring citizens together in spaces with policymakers and politicians, so that they are able to shape the agenda for richer, deliberative and more upstream conversations between diverse groups about their local areas and the economy.

Follow us as we explore how devolution can inspire inclusive growth @incgrowth and reshape how citizens are involved in policy decision making @citizeneconomy


Download the Inclusive Growth Commission Interim Report

Download the Citizen Economic Council Prospectus 




Be the first to write a comment


Please login to post a comment or reply

Don't have an account? Click here to register.

Related articles

  • Inclusive growth in Scotland

    Jamie Cooke

    Following the seminar held in Edinburgh by the RSA’s Inclusive Growth Commission, Head of RSA Scotland Jamie Cooke reflects on some of the challenges and opportunities the inclusive growth agenda faces in Scotland.