Connecting to Parliament: Creating authentic engagement between citizens and their elected representatives
Adele Webb, Nardine Alnemr, Selen Ercan, John Dryzek, Michael Neblo, Hans Asenbaum
The world is rapidly changing. Parliaments have a vital role to play in not only recognising new challenges but enabling citizens to connect with and participate in policy-making processes that will impact their lives now and into the future. In amongst the gloomy picture for democracy worldwide, where citizen disengagement is pervasive and palpable, there are glimmers of hope. Instances of parliaments and legislatures finding new ways to augment traditional institutions of representation – exploring innovations in democracy to meaningfully engage with citizens between elections.
Connecting to Parliament (C2P) is one of the CDDGG’s flagship initiatives, which aims to involve more Australians in the processes of parliament, by making democracy more deliberative.
The project involves a series of deliberative engagements, including online deliberative town halls, which link a representative sample of constituents with their elected official in productive town hall conversations about the issues that are subject to parliamentary debate in Australia.
Through these deliberative processes, parliamentarians gain the opportunity to deepen their understanding of their constituency’s diverse voices, considerations and concerns. Participants make connections with formal decision-makers and have the opportunity for their voice to be heard outside of elections. At the same time, the project provides the opportunity to expand our knowledge about the potential benefits and uses of deliberative democracy.
The project builds on the insights gained from the successful Connecting to Congress project led by Professor Michael Neblo and his team at the Institute for Democratic Engagement and Accountability, Ohio State University. Connecting to Parliament replicates this work by designing and analyzing a series of deliberative forums with citizens and elected representatives. Through administering a range of Deliberative Town Halls (in-person, hybrid, and online) C2C aims to identify the modes of deliberative engagement that produce the greatest gains in engagement and increase positive aspects of civic behavior among diverse populations of citizens.
Town Hall on Mitochondrial Donation
In September 2020, Connecting to Parliament held two Deliberative Town Halls with Member of Parliament Andrew Leigh. These events focused on Mitochondrial Donation, a medical procedure – illegal at the time – that was set to undergo a conscience vote in Parliament. As a “conscience vote,” a relatively rare (occurring roughly once per term) type of vote where MP’s do not have to vote along party lines, Leigh MP was free to vote entirely at his discretion.
Greeted with this unique opportunity, Andrew Leigh MP partnered with the Connecting to Parliament project to engage in a deliberative democracy exercise with his electorate. In two town hall meetings, one online and one face-to-face, a series of constituents from Leigh’s electorate of Fenner were randomly selected to weigh the issues surrounding mitochondrial donation. Prior to these events, Member of Parliament Leigh agreed that his vote would be guided by the conclusions of these Deliberative Town Halls.
Overwhelmingly, participants in both town halls believed that Mitochondrial Donation should be made legal in Australia. In a statement on the Mitochondrial Donation Law Reform Bill in late 2021, Leigh MP said that: “the overwhelming sentiment among those who attended the forum was to support mitochondrial donation, and I will be voting in favour of this bill.” The majority of the House of Representatives, including Leigh MP, voted in favor of the Bill on December 1, 2021. The Bill passed in the Senate on March 30, 2022; mitochondrial donation became legal in Australia starting October 2, 2022. More information on the Bill may be found here at the Parliament of Australia website.
Town Hall on Young People and Australian Politics
In August 2021, Connecting to Parliament held a Deliberative Town Hall with Member of Parliament Alicia Payne on the issue of increasing youth participation in politics. The focus of young people was chosen as there is an increasing generational gap between those in power and the nation’s youth; today, the average age of an Australian MP is 52. As the decisions these lawmakers make will have lasting effects for decades, including young people more in the political process will give them greater agency over those who make the decisions that will affect their futures.
Partner With Us
Connecting to Parliament is a collaborative process that seeks to establish innovative and substantive conversations between constituents and public officials on important policy issues.
By working with our team, elected officials will:
Co-design the goals for deliberative town halls
Participate in 60–90-minute non-partisan, unscripted, third-party facilitated conversations with constituents
Learn about informed public interests while opening new channels of communication to a broadly representative sample of the local population
Work with academic institutions focused on the public good, which means that our processes are designed to be cost-effective
Garner qualitative and quantitative information from participants on their experiences attending townhalls as well as their opinions about specific policy issues.
For more information, contact Adele Webb at email@example.com