Designing for Democracy: July 2016 Newsletter

Posted on July 22nd, 2016 by Matt Flinders

Welcome and update

Since the first D4D newsletter the political landscape has changed dramatically. Brexit; a new Prime Minister and Leader of the House of Commons; and the leadership challenges in the Labour Party have dominated the news agenda and parliamentary time. While the political spotlight may have moved away from the dilapidated state of the Palace of Westminster, the critical challenges facing the building and its infrastructure have not been resolved; and instead only exacerbate with the passage of time.

There have been suggestions that the change of Prime Minister may mean a delay in the refurbishment programme. This is unconfirmed however, and the restoration and renewal team continue to operate as before: in fact recruitment is underway for the critical post of Restoration and Renewal Programme Director (a successor to the retiring Richard Ware). The Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster—the select committee of MPs and Peers considering the restoration and renewal process—is now expected to publish its report in September.

At a time of economic uncertainty following the Brexit vote there may be (understandable) concerns about the cost of refurbishing the Palace, particularly in light of the media response to the expenses scandal, and more recently, the IPSA proposals on MPs’ pay. There is a responsibility, however, to protect our national and global heritage: the October 2012 Pre-Feasibility Report concluded that without urgent significant intervention a major failure of the infrastructure was inevitable. The June 2015 Independent Options Appraisal concurred and warned that the risk of a catastrophic failure continued to increase.

Our Designing for Democracy project aims to support the internal design and decision-making process through the provision of world-class research and advice, while at exactly the same time using this research to cultivate and sustain an informed public conversation across the United Kingdom (and beyond) about the restoration and renewal process. Through Designing for Democracy we have an opportunity not just to resolve the perilous state of the physical building, but to address wider concerns about our democracy, and in this time of anti-politics, to reconnect people with their parliament.

Professor Matthew Flinders Professor Matt Flinders


Designing for Democracy blogs

We have launched our Designing for Democracy blog series. Recent posts include:

  • What are parliamentary buildings trying to say to us? Dr Richard Simmons, Visiting Lecturer at the Bartlett School of Planning, UCL discusses the design of parliamentary buildings and considers the lessons for the Palace of Westminster’s Restoration and Renewal programme.
  • Redesigning Parliament, Matteo Bergamini, Director and Founder of news network Shout Out UK, calls for a Parliament building accessible to all, and built for co-operation, not “gang-style politics.
  • Lessons from Ottawa, Amy Fedeski, Crick Centre Intern, considers what the restoration of Canada’s Parliament Hill tells us about building democracy.
  • Designing a new parliament with women in mind, Jennifer Thomson, PhD candidate at QMU considers how a restored and renewed Palace of Westminster could help address historical underrepresentation of women in Parliament.
  • Thinking inside the box, Crick Centre Philosopher in Residence, Julian Baggini, links Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon and parliamentary design.

Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon. Image via Wikimedia Commons

All Advisory Board members and interested parties are invited to write for the blog. Please contact Dr Leanne-Marie McCarthy-Cotter to discuss your proposed topic:


Relevant reading

News articles

Articles and reports

  • Prof Sarah Childs, The Good Parliament, 20 July 2016: contains several important recommendations to be considered in a new Palace of Westminster.


Key appointments

A number of the parliamentary roles in the Restoration and Renewal process have changed hands in the past month. Key figures listed below:

  • Leader of the House of Commons: The Rt Hon David Lidington MP
  • Shadow Leader of the House of Commons: Paul Flynn MP
  • Scottish National Party Spokesperson (Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader): Pete Wishart MP
  • Leader of the House of Lords: The Rt Hon the Baroness Evans of Bowe Park
  • Shadow Leader of the House of Lords: The Rt Hon the Baroness Smith of Basildon


The Rt Hon David Lidington MP and the Rt Hon Baroness Evans. Images via Janwikifoto and UK Government via Wikimedia Commons


Funding update

We have received fantastic news from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, who will fund a twelve-month post-doctoral position in the Crick Centre as part of the Designing for Democracy programme. This will enable us to put together a major research grant to start in September 2017. We are continuing to develop the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funding application to be submitted once the next steps in the R&R programme are clear. If any member of the advisory board would like to apply for a funding source that they have identified and they would like the D4D programme to support and strengthen that application then please do get in touch.


D4D Research and Engagement planning day

Planning is underway for the Designing for Democracy Research and Public Engagement Planning Day, which will take place on 27 October 2016, 10.30am – 4.30pm at the University of Sheffield. This is a private and invitation-only event and the aim is to have an informal mixture of presentations and discussions with a focus in innovation, impact and public engagement. Participants will include a mixture of academics, designers, architects, public engagement specialists and staff from the Houses of Parliament. The aims for the day are:

  1. explore proposals for theoretically informed but policy relevant academic research projects that will be of direct benefit to the project team leading the restoration and renewal programme;
  2. consider options for partnered public engagement plans that combine to stimulate a positive and balanced ‘national conversation’ about the restoration and renewal programme; and
  3. combine these research and public engagement ideas into an explicit process of co-production with the Houses of Parliament to ensure that potential research-users are able to shape the ‘Designing for Democracy’ project from its inception.

 A full schedule for the day will be sent in September. Please note that while lunch and refreshments will be provided by the Crick Centre, we are unable to cover travel expenses.

The workshop will be followed (at 5.30pm) by the Sir Bernard Crick Annual Lecture 2016, which will be given by the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Rt. Hon. John Bercow MP: all are welcome to attend.



D4D contacts

Executive Board

  • Matthew Flinders (University of Sheffield)
  • Sarah Childs (University of Bristol)
  • Cristina Leston-Bandeira (University of Leeds)
  • Alexandra Kelso (University of Southampton)
  • Ralph Negrine (University of Sheffield)
  • Julie Simon (NESTA)


Palace of Westminster. Image courtesy of DAVID ILIFF via Wikimedia Commons and reproduced under license CC-BY-SA 3.0

Palace of Westminster. Image courtesy of DAVID ILIFF via Wikimedia Commons and reproduced under license CC-BY-SA 3.0