Designing for Democracy?

Posted on April 12th, 2016 by Matt Flinders

The University of Sheffield leads major research and public engagement initiative ‘Designing for Democracy’ (#D4D) on the multi-billion restoration and renewal programme for the Palace of Westminster.

The state of Parliament: looming crisis or designing for democracy?

The Palace of Westminster, home to the UK Parliament, is quite literally falling down. With no major restoration or renewal having taken place since 1950, a half century of neglect has left parts of the building crumbling, and the Grade 1 listed building (part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site) facing what independent consultants described as a ‘looming crisis’. The demise of the fabric of the building dovetails with broader concerns about a ‘democratic crisis’ in response to increasing evidence of rising levels of political disengagement and democratic inequality in the UK and beyond.

It is in exactly this context that the Crick Centre’s ‘Designing for Democracy will adopt an inter-disciplinary and solution focused approach to the restoration and renewal process in order to ensure that the multi-billion pound public investment in the building realizes its potential in terms of delivering a parliament that is fit for the twenty-first century.

Working with a broad consortium of academics, community groups, think tanks, journalists, broadcasters, designers and practitioners this project aims to undertake evidence-based research with which to cultivate a national conversation about the options that the restoration and renewal process offers for revitalizing democracy in the United Kingdom.

Professor Matthew Flinders, Programme Director, stated,

‘The plans for the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster create a ‘window of opportunity’ for thinking about how we ‘do’ politics in the United Kingdom. Increasing evidence points to the existence of a growing gap between the governors and the governed. Reform of some kind is unavoidable and the aim of this research and public engagement project is support the decision-makers in terms of providing the very best research about ‘what works’ while also ensuring that the public have the opportunity to feed their thoughts and opinions into the process” 

The programme is led by Professor Matthew Flinders (Founding Director of the Sir Bernard Crick Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics at the University of Sheffield) and six research staff:

  • Prof. Ralph Negrine, Professor of Political Communication
  • Dr Leanne-Marie McCarthy-Cotter, Research Fellow
  • Dr Brenton Prosser, Senior Research Fellow
  • James Weinberg, Research Assistant
  • Marc Geddes, Research Assistant
  • Alexandra Meakin, Research Assistant

The project’s Executive Board members include:

  • Professor Sarah Childs (University of Bristol)
  • Professor Cristina Leston-Bandeira (University of Leeds)
  • Professor Alexandra Kelso (University of Southampton)
  • Dr Paul Seaward (History of Parliament Trust)

The project is also supported by a wide-ranging and inter-disciplinary Advisory Board. Members include:

  • Geoff Mulgan (Nesta)
  • Professor Rosie Campbell (Birkbeck)
  • Professor Shirin M Rai (University of Warwick)
  • Professor Cathy Gormley-Heenan (Ulster University)
  • Professor Emma Crewe (SOAS, author of The House of Commons: An Anthropology of MPs at Work)
  • Professor Iain McLean (Oxford University and Vice-President for Public Policy, British Academy)
  • Professor Philip Manow (University of Bremen, Germany)
  • Associate Professor Anika Gauja (University of Sydney, Australia)
  • Dr Ruth Fox (Hansard Society)
  • Dr Ashley Weinberg (author of The Psychology of Politicians)
  • Dr Richard Kwiatkowski (Cranfield University)
  • Dr Peter Bull (University of York)
  • Dr Sarbjit Singh Johal ( Massey University, New Zealand)
  • Dame Jane Roberts (Open University)
  • Oonagh Gay (former Head of the Parliament and Constitution Centre, House of Commons Library)
  • Joe Twyman (YouGov)
  • Oliver Sidorczuk (Bite the Ballot)
  • Katie Ghose (Electoral Reform Society)
  • Simon Burall (Involve)
  • Katy Ashton (People’s History Museum)
  • Matteo Bergamini (Shout Out UK)
  • Claudia Chwalisz (Policy Network)
  • Caroline McFarland (Co:Vi)
  • Tim Hames (British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association)
  • Katie Martin (Political communications consultant)
  • Julian Baggini (Philosopher, author and broadcaster)
  • Alex Prior (University of Leeds)
  • Rt. Hon. Professor Lord Blunkett (University of Sheffield)

This inter-disciplinary project will draw on strong architectural and design expertise on the Advisory Board, including from:

  • Professor Jeremy Till (University of the Arts, London)
  • Professor Andrew Dainty (Loughborough University)
  • Dr Richard Simmons (Bartlett School of Planning, UCL)
  • Dr Henrik Schoenefeldt (University of Kent)
  • Dr Tatjana Schneider (University of Sheffield)
  • Malcolm Fraser (award-winning architect)
  • Naomi Turner (design consultant)

More information: Designing for Democracy Project 


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