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Josie Warden, Research Assistant in the Economy, Enterprise and Manufacturing team at the RSA blogs about the potential for its Economic Inclusion Roadshows to engage with those facing economic exclusion.  This blog was originally posted on the RSA website.

The Roadshow is a series of half-day workshops across the country engaging people who have a higher likelihood of facing economic exclusion in their lives. This includes people from disadvantaged areas, those in insecure employment, disabled people, young people and children, and people from black and ethnic minority (BAME) backgrounds. The workshops will create space for deliberative discussion, and draw upon diverse views to shape the future of a citizens’ economy.

It might not have been the result that surprised you on the morning of 24 June so much as the realisation that, whichever side of the fence you sat on, approximately half of the country were on the other side, and you probably didn’t see it coming. The dire quality of debate which surrounded the EU referendum barely scratched the surface of complex and important perspectives, and demonstrated clearly that, as a nation, we are neither very good at listening to each other nor at appreciating how things look from another point of view.

We need to listen better.

Our politicians may be heralding the dawn of a country that works for everyone, but they certainly aren’t hearing from everyone as they set about making it. Now is indeed a time to do things differently and, as the RSA’s Inclusive Growth Commission points out, doing things differently is about being inclusive. It cannot be only about hearing those who shout loudest.

Deliberative processes are about listening to others in order to be heard and understood yourself in turn. Inclusion, plurality of perspective and empathy are core to good deliberative processes, and good outcomes for the communities involved.

For the Citizens’ Economic Council we recognise that this means listening to the way our economy is experienced by different people within our communities, and by different communities within our country. Facilitating this wider dialogue is therefore built into the very design of our Citizens’ Economic Council programme itself. The programme’s core strands of council deliberations, outreach ‘Inclusion Roadshow’ workshops, open submissions for policy and online economics toolkit are have been created to enable a wide range of the public to get involved in the programme and help shape its outcomes.

About the Inclusion Roadshow

The Citizens’ Economic Council itself will be made up of a diverse sample of the population selected to reflect the diversity of the UK. But with 50-60 people on the Council and a population of over 76 million we are aware that there are important perspectives that we need to bring before the Council itself, and to engage with across the country.

To address this we are running a number of workshops across the UK to bring different voices to the debate, particularly those of people who may find it harder to be involved in the council because of its structure, the time commitment involved, or are from harder to reach groups.

We’re taking two different approaches to these workshops:

Place based experiences

The RSA’s City Growth Commission and now the follow on Inclusive Growth Commission demonstrates how important it is that all areas of the country are involved in, and benefit from, economic development.

Brexit highlighted just how different our experiences of the economy are depending on where in the country we live. Whilst the council itself will draw people from across the country, we wanted to find out more about the experiences of living in areas facing particular economic challenges:

  • Starting in Port Talbot, Wales, we’ll be deliberating with residents and exploring their experiences of the local and national economy, particularly in light of the impact of deindustrialisation.
  • We’ll also be running similar workshops in Clacton-on-Sea, one of England’s most deprived seaside coastal areas, in inner city Birmingham, as well as in Glasgow, Scotland as part of this work.

Personal experiences

We recognise that many of us have privileges and power in our day-to-day lives that we often take for granted – and which other groups and individuals do not have. Very often, who we are and how we identify affects how we experience the economy.

We’re working closely with organisations who represent people all over the country in order to hear about a wide range of individuals’ experiences:

  • In Oldham we’ll be hearing from Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi women about their experiences of the economy in everyday life. This workshop will be run in partnership with inclusive innovation organisation Doing Social and local organisation Coppice Neighbourhood Group who work closely with the community and who will support with translation.
  • We’re engaging with Unison’s care workers panel to hear about their experience of low-paid and insecure work, and to understand more about the way our economy currently values care work.
  • GCSE and A-level students from London will have the opportunity to share their ideas about the future of the city’s economy with Fiona Twycross, Chair of the London Assembly’s Economy Committee. We’re being supported by The Access Project and UK Youth to convene GCSE and A-level students, from schools with higher than average percentage of students on free school meals for this event.
  • We’ll be introducing the Citizens’ Economic Council to Year 8 students at RSA Academy in Tipton, and finding out how they understand and feel the effects of the economy.
  • To explore disabled people’s day to day experiences of the economy we will be working with Disability Action in Islington and FRSA Tamsin Curno to hold a forum theatre workshop. This is part of a wider programme they are running using forum theatre as a way to understand and challenge the experiences of being disabled in the UK today.

Next Steps

The experiences and stories gathered from each workshop will help to inform and shape the deliberations of the Citizens’ Economic Council; and participants on the Economic Inclusion Roadshow will be offered the opportunity to participate in the Citizens’ Economic Council itself.

The Citizens’ Economic Council is setting out to increase the ability of all citizens to influence policy debate. However, there is already an imbalance of opportunity and disadvantage that many people face in being able to have their say about the economy – whether that’s because of who they are, where they live, or the socio-economic exclusions they face, so in the pursuit of this aim it is vital that we hear these different perspectives. We look forward to engaging beyond those voices that are often the loudest; to use deliberation as a means for everyone to engage in shaping the future of our economy.

Follow the Citizens’ Economic Council and get involved in the conversation on Twitter @citizenseconomy

Find out more about the Citizens’ Economic Council

Playing fast and loose with economic forecasts and statistics has eroded public trust and created a democratic deficit, according to the RSA, which has launched a new programme to tackle the UK’s broken economic debate.

The RSA Citizens’ Economic Council (CEC) will give a diverse group of 50-60 people, the ability to be able to engage with economic policy and confidently express their views. It will directly address widespread disillusionment with the UK’s economic debate, exemplified by the EU referendum campaign – which marked a new low in the abuse of economics in political debate – and the lack of transparency and honesty in the way that economic issues are presented to the public.

The programme aims to improve economic literacy, given recent research showing only one in five felt well informed about the EU referendum and most people lacked confidence in understanding how the economy works. The RSA believes this economic literacy gap causes a democratic deficit due to the huge influence economic policy has on every area of citizens’ lives.

Activities include the world’s first deliberative engagement process focused on a national economy; an online economics course open to all; and an economic inclusion roadshow targeting hard to reach communities.

Over the next eighteen months, the CEC will explore economic theories and consider their implications, debate what our shared goals and priorities for the economy should be, and will rigorously assess new economic policies for their ability to deliver on these goals.

Describing the role of the CEC, Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the RSA said “‘The EU referendum demonstrates that policy makers need to broaden the agenda on engaging the public. We believe that a more deliberative and discursive model, through the RSA’s Citizens’ Economic Council, is a timely intervention to illustrate how this could be achieved”.

Barrow Cadbury Trust is supporting this work along with the Friends Provident Foundation.


The RSA launches the Citizens’ Economics Council, supported by Barrow Cadbury Trust and Friends Provident Foundation, on Wednesday 29 June.  In this blog, which was first published on the RSA website, Anthony Painter, Director of the Action and Research Centre at the RSA, discusses the implications of the referendum result for democracy and refers to the predictions of the 2013 Policy Network publication ‘Democratic stress, the populist signal and extremist threat’ which was also supported by Barrow Cadbury Trust. Sign up to attend the launch event. 

The EU referendum is now done and the UK has voted to leave the EU. It was anything but a glorious advert for British democracy.

On one hand, we had a campaign that was willing and determined to set people against one another by their ethnicity, their class, and whether they were ‘experts’ or ‘elites’. The other campaign, when it wasn’t in melodrama mode, deployed the modern organisational technology of political narrowcasting. In so doing, it ignored a huge part of the country, on the basis of its probability of supporting its campaign. As a consequence, whole areas – including many traditional Labour areas in the north crucial to the outcome – heard only the discordant voice of Faragism.

Much has been made about the fact that this referendum was a choice about the types of values that our country epitomises. The referendum was indeed that but more besides. It was also a choice about the type of democracy we want to be. There are deeper democratic and social forces at play – how they are resolved will be one of the critical decisions we as a society make in the coming years.

For many decades now trust in representative democracy has been in decline. Interestingly, many of the advocates of leave framed their argument in terms of defending parliamentary democracy. But it was no such thing. Representative liberal democracy relies not only on the consent of people but on a set of institutional arrangements that can meet their needs and protect their rights – from independent legal institutions to international cooperation. ‘Take back control’ ultimately rejects this web of relationships in favour of some general ‘will of the people’. But how is this ‘will’ formed?

The answer is by substituting individual instincts and emotion for expertise, representation and institutional structures that put a break on populist impulses – if only to force us to pause for thought. Not only in politics but in education, health, business, local governance, and policing too, we are ever more willing to put our personal judgement ahead of ‘experts’ or ‘so-called experts’ as they have come to be known. The experts failed to convince their fellow countrymen and if their post-Brexit prophecies do not come to pass then the schism will become deeper.

Scrutiny and a degree of scepticism is not in itself a bad thing of course – the high-trust society had major drawbacks as Hillsborough, the increasing share of national wealth taken by the top, figures of trust preying on children, and the scandal of Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust all show. Healthy scepticism is just that – healthy. Too often, however, we are replacing scrutiny and scepticism with a trust in our own instinct and cynicism. It is ‘me the people’ rather than ‘we the people’.

So the legitimacy of hierarchy is threatened but then replaced with a notion of democracy centred around populist individualism – whether it’s ‘take back control’ or ‘make America great again’. The foolish aspect of the decision to hold this referendum was the notion that it would resolve anything. Instead, it has released the forces of populist individualism. Far from being a political alternative, populism is actually an alternative form of democracy. The aim is not simply to replace parties and powers within representative democracy, it seeks to replace representative democracy itself. These forces may be difficult to contain now. Labour is seen to have deserted whole swathes of its traditional support; Conservatives are seen as vacillating and untrustworthy. The mainstream is brittle.

This was all predictable. In a paper on populism, extremism and democracy back in 2013, I wrote of the referendum pledge:

“As a strategy to minimise the space for the UK’s populist radical right party (UKIP), David Cameron’s EU referendum pledge is likely to be a misguided one. It may split away a portion of his party, threaten his own leadership, give profile to a populist party that he cannot or will not match, boost the brand image of UKIP in the eurosceptic media, and fail to address the real underlying anxieties of voters who are attracted to UKIP. It is a considerable opportunity for UKIP as they are given the spotlight in a way they have not been able to secure in their entire history.”

This feels like a scenario that is closer to the current reality than a ‘lancing of the boil’ that the Prime Minister was hoping for. The same paper recommended a process of ‘contact democracy’ where the political mainstream engaged in a process of democratic engagement in a discursive rather than campaigning fashion. A discursive democracy is a very different approach to individualist populism and tired, narrowcasting, hierarchical representative democracy. Discursive democracy breaks down the barriers between experts and the people, the governing and the governed, policy and politics. In other words, it flattens democratic engagement and eschews false divides, opening out and making democracy more solidaristic as a consequence.

Next week, the RSA will launch the Citizens’ Economic Council which is in an experiment in discursive, solidaristic, contact democracy. Essentially, a demographically diverse group of 50 – 60 citizens selected using stratified random sampling methodology will, over the course of a year, deliberate on the big economic questions of the time and make their own recommendations for future economic priorities – including the fundamental objectives on which economic policy is based. Economists have had a tough ride of late – justifiably some might argue – but this opens up the black box of economic thinking to the laity. We are intrigued to see the outcome.

This is but one experiment and others have been successfully run previously as tracked by Claudia Chwalisz in The Populist Signal. An unstated conviction at the heart of this experiment has to be that if representative democracy is to face continuing pressures then there has to be an alternative that is not akin to the referendum campaign we have just endured.

Democracy is hard; it requires work. Representative democracy was a hard won battle. The historian E.P.Thompson has described the two centuries-long making of the English working class. World War II contributed an accelerated politicisation. An exclusively class-centric politics doesn’t feel right for these more plural times. Class is important but just one component of political consciousness. However, we can’t just allow democracy to be a battle between an untrusted ‘elite’ and an impulsive political discourse. Democracy works best when it challenges all of us to think, discuss, and reflect. That’s where models such as the Citizens’ Economic Council come in.

There’s lots of unfinished business post-referendum: the presence in our midst of far-right violent extremism, how we can find the right relationship with the post-Eurozone/post-crash EU from which we intend to depart, and the future of political parties that are split in quite fundamental ways. But we desperately need to take time to understand the democratic mess that we have created. In reality, democratic forms co-exist. We might want to reflect on how we can bring people into the process of making better informed decisions about the national future. That means a bigger role for people in our democracy.

Sign up here for the launch of the RSA Citizens Economic Council

Tony Greenham, the author of this blog, is Director of Economic, Enterprise and Manufacturing at the RSA.  This blog was originally posted on the RSA website.  

Brexit has marked a new low in the abuse of economics in political debate. From politicians playing fast and loose with statistics to policymakers peddling opinions as ‘facts’ we are not just confused; we are disillusioned. More than ever, we need to explore new ways to engage the public in meaningful debate about the economy.

In politics, the economy matters. Ever since Bill Clinton’s campaign chief coined the phrase ‘The economy, stupid’, politicians have been ever more keen to assert their economic competence.

No surprise that the Brexit camps have chosen to fight much of their battles on the grounds of the economy. But in doing so they have managed to generate much heat whilst putting us further in the dark.

Only one in five of us feel well informed about the referendum, and perhaps even more damaging we simply do not trust our senior political figures to tell the truth about the EU. Even the Bank of England’s reputation has been diminished, with only 35% trusting Governor Mark Carney against 38% saying they did not.

In a scathing 83 page report on the Brexit debate, the Treasury Selected Committee concluded that the “arms race of ever more lurid claims and counter-claims” on the economy was impoverishing political debate.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the use of the ridiculous phrase ‘economically illiterate’ levelled against political opponents. Mastering a huge and diverse academic discipline, with at least nine different schools of thought, can hardly be equated with the ability to read. More importantly, who says you have to be a trained economist to have a valid view on the economy?

Economists generally behave better than politicians, but still project confusing and conflicting certainty. While Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal studies argues that economists are almost unanimous in their view that Brexit would shrink the economy, former senior IMF economist Ashoka Mody attacks this apparent consensus as crossing the line into groupthink. In reality, economic predictions depend heavily on the assumptions made by their authors but these are rarely discussed or made transparent to the reader.

So when you hear a statement such as:

“Leaving the EU will make every household £4300 worse off”

You should interpret it as follows:

“To be honest we cannot tell what will happen in the future, but we have tried really hard to have a good guess. To make this guess we have made some assumptions that you may or may not agree with, and you should know that if we made different assumptions we might get a completely different result. We have also relied on some theories about the way the economy works that are contestable, and if you applied different theories you might also get different results. Good luck with all of that.”

You can see the appeal of the former.

At least Paul Johnson, a speaker at our forthcoming launch event for the Citizens Economic Council, injects a rare moment of humility into the debate when he recognises that ultimately this is a political decision. A smaller economy might be a trade-off some people are willing to make for more sovereignty and, as an economist, he says “I can’t tell you how to trade these things off, how to make this choice.”

In other words, if Brexit is the question, economics cannot give you the answer.

So what?

You might reasonably wish a plague on everyone’s economic statistics and just ignore arguments about the economy.

We claim the opposite. We should aim to demystify economics, make economic debate more meaningful and accessible, and find ways to engage more people in active deliberations on economic decisions.

And this is an urgent task. The need for greater democratic engagement on economic issues has become more pressing over time for at least three reasons:

1. Erosion of public trust

Recent economic crises – banking, sovereign debt, Eurozone, scandals about tax havens, corporate asset stripping and persistent poverty even in rich nations, have damaged public trust in economic and political institutions. Doing better economic policy to citizens might help, but how about doing economic policy better with citizens.

2. The rise of pluralism in economics

Apparent economic stability during the period of the Great Moderation was taken as proof of the validity of a package of policies to liberalise markets, trade and finance, reduce taxation and increase labour market flexibility while controlling inflation. These ‘unquestionable’ policies were themselves supported by an equally strong orthodoxy within academic economics.

However, the crisis challenged the idea of a singular, certain and infallible body of economic theory and many have now called for a more pluralistic approach to economic research and policymaking. Recognising this lack of certainty in economic theory magnifies the importance of being open and transparent about the methods and assumptions that have been used to make economic policy choices.

3. Coping with rapid economic transformation in the 21st Century

Even where economic theory and evidence is well established, the future is highly uncertain.

Disruptive new technologies such as genomics, data analytics, robotics and artificial intelligence may change the world of work and the nature of production and consumption in dramatic ways. Degradation of eco-systems and climate change may create increasingly severe and unpredictable impacts. A growing population may see rising migration resulting from conflict, climate change and the search for a better life.

To maintain social stability and allow communities to flourish in the face of such uncertainty and rapid change will require broad based support for economic decision making that has no guarantee of successful results. It will also arguably require more creative and innovative ideas about how to successfully organise and manage market economies.

The key to achieving this is to explore how deliberation and participatory methods can help bring clarity to our collective economic goals, generate better policies to achieve them, and bring more cohesion to our societal choices about the economy.

Too often we feel disempowered to express strong views about how to run the economy because we are not economists.  But if we define economics in its broadest sense it is about how society allocates its collective resources to fulfil our needs and aspirations.

Surely everyone can have a legitimate view about that. What we lack are good processes for negotiating the sometimes difficult trade-offs involved – or in politician-speak the ‘hard choices’.

Well it does not seem that the referendum is providing a good process for this, so we will be exploring through the Citizens Economic Council, and a series of coming blog posts, how we can create better processes for economic debate and decision-making.

It is time for everyone to be an economist.

Book your free ticket for the launch event of the Citizens Economic Council on Wednesday 29 June from 6pm.