Publications Evidence vs Democracy: How ‘mini-publics’ can traverse the gap between citizens, experts, and evidence

Evidence vs Democracy: How ‘mini-publics’ can traverse the gap between citizens, experts, and evidence

Published January 2019

Democracy and evidence are not happy bedfellows. Evidence is slow, uncertain, and jargon-heavy. It deals in shades of grey. Politicians deal in black and white. They need to be decisive, get off the fence, and sell their ideas to the public and interest groups.

Traversing these two worlds is not easy. The usual modus operandi of modern politics is for experts to side-step the public: go directly to politicians and bureaucrats, by sitting on expert scientific committees, writing dense policy briefings, or seconding themselves inside government.

But that elitist and technocratic approach will not wash. The people want more. They will not put up with being ‘in chains’ between elections.

This report sets out the case for how mini-publics can help democracy connect with evidence.

Mini-publics offer an alternative democratic platform to connect the public with evidence. Citizens are given the space and time to think. They do this by meeting in small groups, randomly chosen, and have the chance to interrogate experts in the field in question.

But, we argue there are two major challenges that mini-publics must confront: firstly, they need to move out of small niche political science circles and enter the mainstream. Secondly, they need to get smarter in their use of experts and evidence.

The report is based on a literature review and eight case studies. It draws out key lessons on how mini-publics can address these challenges and have real impact on policy.

Authors

Jonathan Breckon, Director at the Alliance for Useful Evidence at Nesta

Anna Hopkins, Researcher at the Alliance for Useful Evidence

Ben Rickey, Project Manager at Agence nouvelle des solidarités actives.

 

This report is based on a literature review that assesses the relationship between evidence provision in mini-publics and the subsequent effects on social policy and practice. The review was commissioned by the Alliance for Useful Evidence at Nesta and was produced by Stephen Elstub, Ian Johnson, Ruth Puttick and Matthew Wilkinson from Newcastle University.