The 2015 Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act requires public bodies in Wales to incorporate public involvement in their decision making. The explicit emphasis on engaging the public reflects the strong views expressed in the national conversation of 2014 that shaped the legislation that “a lack of engagement between the community and the decision makers resulted in frustration”.
The conversation laid bare the disconnect between those making decisions and those living with the consequences. At that time, people said they felt that the decisions affecting their everyday lives were made from the top down, far removed from their local realities. There was a real sense of fatigue and disappointment with the way in which public bodies were engaging citizens (or not).
We’ve moved on since 2014: the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales has prioritised public involvement as a key theme in her efforts to implement the 2015 act, and is already identifying best practice in this area across diverse organisations and using that to craft guidance for public bodies.
But we’ve still got a long way to go before effective public involvement is the norm, rather than the exception. And last month, Public Policy Professor Laura McAllister called for a new approach that goes beyond usual consultation or engagement to take decision making firmly out of the hands of powerful elites and firmly into the hands of ordinary citizens.
The political system is broken, she says, plagued by active apathy and lack of trust or respect. The only way to fix it is to do something radical: “Tinkering around the edges simply won’t hack it in the midst of the current deep democratic crisis.” McAllister suggests we turn to innovations like citizens’ assemblies, panels or juries that can “drive a genuinely more participatory and deliberative politics”.
She is not alone in her thinking. As highlighted this week by FDSD Chair Graham Smith, the call for citizens’ assemblies is growing louder every day, led by a broad range of stakeholders, including the new, dynamic climate change movement, Extinction Rebellion (XR).
With a constant eye on the long term, FDSD supports any approach that can ensure decision makers bring future generations and longer-term thinking into political processes. We are supporting the Office of the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales to strengthen its work in public involvement. And we welcome Professor McAllister’s push for alternative models of representative democracies built on innovative approaches to public involvement.
Peter Davies is a trustee of the FDSD. As Wales’ first Sustainable Futures Commissioner, he played a lead role in the development of the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act. You can follow him on Twitter.
Image: CC-BY 2.0 :: A call to do politics differently / flickr.com