Policy Network's major two-year project on 'Understanding the Populist Signal' came to an end this year with the publication of The Populist Signal. 

The book is about the turbulent political scene unfolding in Britain and across western Europe. It focuses on why large swathes of voters feel that politics does not work, how this fuels support for insurgent parties and actors, and it investigates the power of democratic innovations.

Drawing on new survey data in the UK, as well as interviews and case studies, the book shows that people are concerned with the process of politics, not merely its performance, and that they have a genuine desire for greater political participation in the decision-making process. These new forms of political engagement should not feel like a threat to formal systems of government, but as much-needed additions that enrich democracy.

Listen back to the launch event in June:

Key findings:

Most people in the UK feel completely ignored by the political class.

And most people in the UK believe the system of governing Britain is in need of improvement.

If given the opportunity, original UK polling suggests that most people would be willing to participate in randomly selected citizens' assemblies at both the local and national levels.

Most people would also participate in a citizen-led constitutional convention.

'Populism can be seen as a corrective for democracy if we view it as a warning signal to parties and politicians to revisit their approaches to governance and political representation.'
- Claudia Chwalisz, The Populist Signal

Democratic innovation

The Populist Signal explores 10 case studies of democratic innovation around the world.

Examples include:

- The Melbourne People's panel, where 43 randomly selected citizens presented the City council with a 10 year, $4bn plan for Melbourne

- The Flemish minister of culture's citizens' cabinet, which advised him on his upcoming legislation before he presented it to parliament

- The G1000 local citizens' assemblies in the Netherlands, which bring randomly selected members of the community together to deliberate on collective solutions to the challenges being faced

- The Grandview-Woodlands citizens' assembly on town planning in Vancouver, Canada

As part of this project, Policy Network published a series of articles on democratic innovation and renewal

The series features Jay Weatherill, Sven Gatz, Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, David Farrell, Will Jennings, Gerry Stoker, Joke Quintens and many more.

Key quotes:


This year Policy Network also published a translated extract from David Van Reybrouck's book Against Elections.

Representative democracy is in crisis. Low voter turnout, abstention, falling party membership, and the phenomenal rise of populist parties – these are the symptoms of Democratic Fatigue Syndrome. Considering democratic innovation from classical Athens to present day, it becomes apparent that our democratic institutions haven't been updated since the late 18th century. How to renew the centralised, hierarchical party system to reflect the horizontal power relationships of the hyper-connected, interactive society of the 21st century? A bi-representative system, combining elections with the democratic principle of sortition, or drawing of lots, could steer democracy into smoother waters.