The Public Engagement Observatory reports on the findings of a collaborative experiment on public engagement with home energy decarbonisation.

Through a series of collaborative experiments with partner organisations, the Public Engagement Observatory is actively exploring how new approaches to mapping diverse forms of public engagement across systems can make a difference in practice to energy and climate-related decisions, innovations and new forms of participation.

This briefing reports on one such experiment that explored how the Observatory’s approach might contribute to new democratic innovations. Members of the Observatory team collaborated with partners from the Climate Citizens project at Lancaster University, the Climate Change Committee, and Shared Future, who were undertaking a citizens’ panel on home energy decarbonisation.

The collaborative experiment is one of the first attempts to explore how emerging approaches to mapping public engagement can shape democratic innovations in practice. In addition, it involved exploring new ways of considering the quality of public participation processes like citizens’ panels and citizens’ assemblies. This included asking how these discrete forms of participation are situated in wider systems of public engagement, focusing on questions of exclusion in addition to the usual emphasis on inclusion in evaluations of participation, and adopting a more formative, reflexive and anticipatory approach to evaluation.

Key findings

Overall, the citizens’ panel was found to perform well against standard deliberative criteria whereas more reflexive qualities of participation introduced in the experiment proved more challenging for the organisers to address.

The experiment demonstrated that approaches to mapping public engagement can play important roles in shaping, enhancing, and situating democratic innovations. For example, an Observatory mapping prompted the organisers to reflect on the exclusions of the citizens’ panel which led to a new way of reporting on deliberative processes, as well as novel transformations in process design, in the selection of expert speakers, and in evaluation.

This Observatory experiment has shown how evaluations of participation can benefit from being more collaborative, formative, reflexive, and anticipatory. A further recommendation is the need to be more open about the exclusions that occur in public engagement processes. It was found that opening up to diverse forms of participation and uncertainties about publics does not necessarily lessen the strength and credibility of participatory processes and in many ways can make them more robust.

Join the Observatory webinar (today), 2-3pm, Thursday 16 November. Register to attend here.