Petitions and parliament: breaking down barriers to political engagement

A leading academic from the School of Politics and International Studies is advising parliament on how to engage ‘seldom heard’ groups with politics.

Millions of people engage with petitions to make their voices heard in parliaments. However, ‘seldom heard’ groups such as those from low socio-economic backgrounds and ethnic minorities, already less likely to engage with politics, are not using these tools to make their voices heard.

Major Research England-funded project

Addressing Barriers to Political Engagement, a major Research England-funded project was led by Cristina Leston-Bandeira, Professor of Politics at the School of Politics and International Studies, and was co-designed with the Petitions Committees of Senedd Cymru and the UK Parliament.

Because the research was co-designed with the Committees, it was shaped to address key challenges they face in diversifying the pool of people who engage with parliament, and specifically, petition parliament, and making sure that those who do engage with parliament (or who do petition) have an experience that is welcoming. The aims of the research were to widen engagement with parliament beyond the usual suspects (to ensure it is not just those who are already engaged, who engage further).

Professor Leston-Bandeira

The project entailed focus groups and interviews, with people who had never engaged with parliament, with petitioners, with staff from parliament, MPs and representatives of community organisations.

Impact through collaboration

The main output of the project was a report written for the two Committees, one for each Committee (very similar in content but with slight variations to take into account the specificity of each institution).

The Committees will use these reports to amend and enhance their practice. Professor Leston-Bandeira is now undertaking several initiatives to work with the Committees to implement the five recommendations for citizen-focused parliamentary petitions systems. These include:

As part of this, Professor Leston-Bandeira will talk to the Committees in each parliament about the research and present the research at the UK Parliament, for wider services.

Visual summary of the findings

In addition to the reports, Professor Leston-Bandeira has produced a visual summary of the results of her research project ‘Addressing Barriers to Political Engagement’ (funded by Research England) to be disseminated at the UK Parliament and Senedd Cymru. She has also presented the findings at The European Centre for Parliamentary Research and Documentation (ECPRD) and other parliaments, where it has been very well received.

Download the visual summary for free here.

A podcast, 'What happens to Parliamentary Petitions?', featuring Professor Leston-Bandeira, has been released by the UK Parliament as part of their Committee Corridor podcast series. She was also part of a Wales BBC podcast again about petitions and their usefulness, which you can listen to here.