Political scientists and Electoral Reform Society win Democratic Innovation Award at ‘Oscars of Westminster’

Leading academics and the Electoral Reform Society picked up the Democratic Innovation Award for their Democracy Matters Citizens’ Assembly project at tonight’s (29 November) Political Studies Association (PSA)’s Annual Awards in Westminster.

Now in its 15th year, the PSA Awards pays tribute to those that have made outstanding contributions to the study and conduct of politics in the past year. The Citizens’ Assembly project achieved both, by bringing together an alliance of university researchers and civil society organisations to pilot new ways of promoting informed public engagement around the English devolution agenda.

The PSA judging panel who selected the award praised “the innovative and deliberative ways in which the Democracy Matters project and their pilot Citizens’ Assemblies in Sheffield and Southampton engaged with citizens and their potential for shaping future democratic reforms and the devolution of power at local and regional levels.”

Democracy Matters aimed to address the gap that has emerged between the public, on the one hand, and politicians, political processes and political institutions, on the other. The project brought together politicians, regional leaders and the public to debate the government’s proposals for English devolution at a local level. Between October and November 2015, two pilot assemblies were run in Sheffield (Assembly North) and Southampton (Assembly South) to ask how new regional powers can be established in a form that is supported by the people who live locally.

The pilot assemblies compared and contrasted different assembly design types and revealed how to ‘do’ politics differently and the long-term benefits of such an approach in an era that appears defined by anti-politics.

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: "This prize means a great deal - especially to those who believe involving citizens in political processes is central to building a healthy democracy. At a time of growing disillusionment in mainstream politics, it's vital that politicians at all levels recognise the need to close the democratic gap and give voters a real say over their communities.” 

Will Jennings, Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at the University of Southampton, said: “The citizens’ assemblies in Southampton and Sheffield challenged the myth that people are disengaged from politics. When citizens are given the chance to assess a range of positions and possibilities they do it with gusto – people are more than capable of grappling with complex questions about the way we are governed.”

This marks an important contribution to the conversation about politics and democracy in this country. We have shown there is a real potential for a new way of doing things.”

The team consisted of Katie Ghose (Electoral Reform Society), Matt Flinders (University of Sheffield), Will Jennings (University of Southampton), Edward Molloy (Electoral Reform Society), Brenton Prosser (University of Sheffield), Alan Renwick (University College London), Graham Smith (University of Westminster), Paulo Spada (University of Southampton) and Gerry Stoker (University of Southampton).

Katie Ghose added: "Democracy Matters was a truly collaborative and innovative effort between universities and the Electoral Reform Society, and offers a framework for promoting positive, evidence-based change in our democracy. It's an honour to receive this award on behalf of all the academics and individuals who organised it - but more importantly, for the local citizens who put in so much of their time and energy to deliberate about devolution.”  

As an ESRC-funded ‘rapid response’ project, Democracy Matters demonstrates the capacity of the social sciences to undertake rigorous, risky and high-impact research in an agile and highly responsive manner.

On receiving the award, Katie Ghose said: "At a time of huge constitutional upheaval, involving citizens is not only desirable – it’s essential. The EU referendum was the start, not the end, of public involvement in constitutional issues, and it’s time to put words about ‘building a democracy that works for everyone’ into action.”

The master of ceremonies on the evening was Jon Snow (Channel 4 News), and the award was presented by the First Minister for Wales, Carwyn Jones. Other winners include Grayson Perry (Contribution to the Arts and Culture), Michael Ignatieff (International Recognition Award), Gordon Brown (Lifetime Achievement in Politics) and Ruth Davidson (Best Use of Social Media).


The full list of winners:

Parliamentarian of the Year

Baroness Smith of Basildon

Politician of the Year

Sadiq Khan

Broadcaster of the Year

Laura Kuenssberg

Best Use of Evidence - Politician

Lord Stern of Brentford

Enlightening the Public

The Iraq Inquiry

Lifetime Achievement in Politics

Gordon Brown

Best Use of Social Media

Ruth Davidson

Campaigners of the Year

Margaret Aspinall and Professor Phil Scraton

International Recognition Award

Professor Michael Ignatieff

Journalist of the Year

Rachel Sylvester

Contribution to the Arts and Culture

Grayson Perry

Democratic Innovation

Democracy Matters Citizens’ Assembly Project

Innovation in Teaching Politics

Dr Matthew Wyman

Political Studies Communicator

Professor Anand Menon

W. J. M. Mackenzie Book Prize

Professor Christopher Hood and Dr Ruth Dixon

Sir Isaiah Berlin Prize for Lifetime Contribution to Political Studies

Professor Anne Phillips

PSA Student Short Video Competition

Christleton High School, Chester


Notes to editors

  • The 15th Annual PSA Awards was held at Church House, Westminster, London on 29 November 2016 to celebrate noteworthy academics, journalists, politicians, political campaigners and policy-makers who have made significant contributions to the conduct and study of politics.
  • The master of ceremonies on the evening was Jon Snow (Channel 4 News).
  • This year’s Awards Jury included Robert Barrington (Executive Director, Transparency International), Stephen Khan (Editor, The Conversation) Marjorie Wallace (CEO, SANE) and Professor Matthew Flinders (Chair, PSA).
  • Photos from the event will be available from Wednesday 30 November via the PSA Flickr account.
  • The Awards ceremony will be broadcast by BBC Parliament and available to view on BBC iPlayer after the event.
  • Follow social media coverage of the awards at @PolStudiesAssoc and #PSAAwards.
  • Please contact Stefanie Mair, Communications and Media Relations at the PSA with any other media enquiries: stefanie.mair@psa.ac.uk // 07938 128242
  • The Political Studies Association has been working since 1950 to develop and promote the study of politics. It is the leading UK Association in its field, with an international membership including academics in political science and current affairs, theorists and practitioners, policy-makers, researchers and students.