What are Mini-publics?


This Research Note introduces a range of ‘mini-publics’ and outlines key features, how they work, and how they may improve opportunities for citizens to contribute to public deliberation and participatory governance.


The idea of mini-publics was first proposed four decades ago by political scientist Robert Dahl. Inspired by democratic ideals and social science principles, Dahl envisioned an innovative mechanism for involving citizens in dealing with public issues. He called it ‘minipopulus’: an assembly of citizens, demographically representative of the larger population, brought together to learn and deliberate on a topic in order to inform public opinion and decision-making. A growing number of democratic innovations have flourished around the world based on this idea, from Citizens’ Juries, to Planning Cells, Consensus Conferences, Deliberative Polls and Citizens’ Assemblies. Mini-publics have been used to deal with topics ranging from constitutional and electoral reform, to controversial science and technology, and myriad social issues (e.g. health, justice, planning, sectarianism).

The paper includes answers to frequently asked questions about mini-publics. You can also see more examples and resources on the What Works Scotland website.





Everything you ever wanted to know about Citizens’ Juries…

ReportInvolving communities in deliberation: A study of three citizens’ juries on onshore wind farms in Scotland

Executive Summary

Full Report

Interest in deliberative forms of public engagement is growing in Scotland. There have been many studies of deliberative participation across the globe, and in particular mini-publics such as citizens’ juries. But this new report is unique as it provides an unusually detailed account for practitioners, policy workers, decision makers and researchers interested in developing deliberative public forums.The three citizens’ juries were part of ClimateXChange’s research programme, and dealt with the issue of onshore wind farm development in Scotland.

Here is what people have said about the project and the report:

Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment Marco Biagi MSP said: “Involving people and communities in decision-making leads to better results, more responsive services and gives communities the chance to have a say on how ideas are delivered.”

“This exciting project offers valuable lessons which will help our efforts to boost participation in local democracy and improve community engagement.”

Project Manager for ClimateXChange Ragne Low said: “This report provides robust evidence of how we can create processes that will be trusted by communities and balance different views. It also gives very practical advice about organising and facilitating good quality public engagement to support decision making.”

“Participatory forums like citizens’ juries are not an easy option. They need very careful planning and experienced facilitators who make sure that the process is balanced, inclusive and that all voices are heard. What we saw in the juries was real appreciation of getting balanced expert opinion and working through difficult questions together.”

Research Director Dr Oliver Escobar, said: “The research findings are very timely given the appetite for more participation at all levels of society in post-referendum Scotland.”

“To solve the many pressing problems of our time we need new political spaces that bring forth the voices of those seldom heard. Mini-publics like citizens’ juries may provide some of those spaces.”

For more information about the research project and the juries please click HERE.

‘Participation Week’ –Impressive programme hosted by @scotgov’s Directorate for Local Government and Communities

Image courtesy of So Say Scotland, 2013 'Thinking Together Citizens' Assembly' in Glasgow

Image courtesy of democratic innovators So Say Scotland, 2013 ‘Thinking Together Citizens’ Assembly’ in Glasgow

 ‘Creating the world we want to live in’, Podcast with keynote speakers at the launch of Participation Week

Participation Week begins on the 8th of June with a fast moving Launch Event chaired by Sarah Davidson, Director General Communities at Scottish Government: “Participation and Citizen Ownership – The Challenge for Government” will explore the challenges and the benefits of putting people at the centre of the SG’s work.
You will hear from experts and participate in table discussions about how the SG can transform public services in Scotland by involving people in the decisions that affect their lives. Evidence sessions will be led by Andy Williamson, of Democratise, Oliver Escobar of What Works Scotland and Chris Yui of SCVO.

The programme includes 19 events:

Please note that some of the events take place twice, so check the website to see alternative dates.

Course on dialogue, deliberation and facilitation skills

Beltane Public Engagement NetworkMaking Conversations Count

24th and 25th March 2014


This is the 16th time that Wendy Faulkner and I deliver this course for the Beltane Network. The focus is on public engagement practice in research and policy contexts, with particular attention to dialogue, deliberation and facilitation skills.

The course is very hands-on,  using several techniques and providing many opportunities to practice. It’s also a great chance to meet people from various fields, and who are interested in how dialogic communication can make a difference.

We hope you may join us!

‘Thinking Together’: A Citizens Assembly

SSS.Logo reduced

Thursday 28 February 2013, 10am-5pm, Glasgow


The registration for potential participants is now open: http://bit.ly/WMPo3v


Please note that registration does not guarantee a place, as we will be selecting participants in order to reflect Scotland’s demographics.



We are gathering together 192 folk to spend a day in facilitated dialogue. Thinking, in a new way, about the future. Selecting participants to reflect Scotland’s diversity. Discussing our values along with what purpose and vision we feel is important for the Future of Scotland.

People work in groups, thinking together. Facilitators hold the space to make sure everyone has a say. Priorities from our morning session focus our afternoon. We consider how we can create a society where what we care about is brought to life in the way we live, work and play.

Connecting with the lived experience of citizens, harnessing the inherent wisdom of folk. Building on the wealth of work underway. Engaging people in meaningful participation, crafting a future fit to face the challenges of our century.

Inspired and supported by the assembly movement in Iceland, this unique event is coming together in a tight timescale, on minimum resources. We welcome support from people and organisations to make Thinking Together the best possible success on the day.

‘Thinking Together’ A Citizens Assembly hosted by So Say Scotland in partnership with Future of Scotland, SCVO, Church of Scotland, Electoral Reform Society, Academy of Government and others.

Find out more and join So Say Scotland: www.sosayscotland.org

So Say Scotland needs help!

The PPN’s Citizen Participation Network (which I convene) has been one of the pillars of So Say Scotland since its inception. Many of its members are already part of this exciting project that seeks to redefine and practice Scottish democracy as a people’s business (as opposed to a game amongst elites).

We have made much progress over the last few months, support by individuals and organisations is growing, and a range of great opportunities are afoot.

However, we’re a volunteer-driven platform and now we need to find someone to be our dedicated project officer / coordinator / change-maker for the next 3 months leading up to the first ever Scottish Citizens Assembly.

The job will be as challenging as exciting. Personally, I wish I could drop everything else for a few weeks and help make this happen. We hope that someone out there may be able to do so

Please read below (and pass it on!) the call for help by Susan Pettie on behalf of So Say Scotland.

Happy 2013,

Oliver Escobar

So Say Scotland needs help!!


Imagine Scotland as a hub of democratic innovation, a Scotland where everyone has a say.

We need help in making it reality!! We need a very safe pair of hands and we need them quick.

Read all about it HERE.

Who’s willing to work all hours for peanuts on an innovative democracy project?

Starting 7th Jan or as close to, full time until March 31st – with an event on the 28th February.

We are attempting to bring together a range of partners to run a citizens assembly on a wing and a prayer.

Brilliant at organising, project managing, delegating, budgeting and accounting, co-ordinating, cold calling, hustling, charming, and keeping cool under pressure.  Does this sound like someone you know?

At the moment we have raised 10% of our budget and that means pennies for this role. However it is a chance to make history for someone who can cope with next to no income or is coming to this on secondment.

There is an organising committee (staff time in kind) and a project direction team (volunteers) in place, along with offers of in-kind support and good will, we need a star to pull it all together. Do you know them?

Get in touch sosayscotland@gmail.com

Exciting times,

Susan Pettie on behalf of So Say Scotland

Dialogue Techniques for Public Engagement in Healthcare Genetics



27 and 28 November, Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh

This two-day course is sponsored by Gengage (The Scottish Healthcare Genetics Public Engagement Network) and is open to anyone who has a professional or personal interest in facilitating dialogues about healthcare genetics, particularly in a Scottish context.

The course gives practical advice and is provided free-of-charge. Bursaries may be available to cover travel and accommodation costs where these might otherwise prohibit someone from attending.

The course has been developed and is delivered by Wendy Faulkner in collaboration with Heather Rea and Oliver Escobar

More info and registration

Training- Dialogue in Public Engagement at Roslin Institute

Edinburgh Beltane Training Course for Researchers and Staff at the Roslin Institute

Dialogue in Public Engagement

1 day course


Friday 23 March 2012, 10:30 to 17:15

The idea behind this Dialogue course is simply that researchers doing public engagement (PE) sometimes end up ‘talking at’ people rather than engaging in a genuinely two-way conversation. With the best will in the world, the skills and insights needed to ‘think where others are coming from’, to make it safe for people to speak openly, to hear what others have to say, and to plan processes that really can enhance mutual understanding, are sometimes underdeveloped. Dialogue has proved a powerful approach to communication in public engagement, knowledge exchange and others areas. This course gives relevant practical guidance.

This one day programme is intended to develop insights and skills concerning the use of dialogic approaches in public engagement.  This course will address the following topics:

  • What is Dialogue?
  • How might dialogue enhance your PE efforts? What are the obstacles to achieving dialogue?
  • Facilitation skills: inclusion,  impartiality and handling disruptive behaviour
  • Lay-expert divides and ‘multiple realities’ over controversial topics
  • Choosing techniques and designing a dialogic PE process
  • Evaluating dialogue

When and where?

Friday 23 March, 2012

10:30 to 17:15

Venue: room B-006 at the Roslin Institute

Lunch and refreshments will be provided.


Who should attend?

The course is open to all research staff and students and public engagement staff  at the Roslin Institute. It is recommended if you are involved in, or plan to be involved in any form of public engagement activities.

Cost:  Free

But please note there will be a charge of £25 if you are unable to attend and do not notify us 48 hours in advance.


The course has been developed and will be delivered by Wendy Faulkner, in collaboration with Heather Rea and Oliver Escobar, and is being supported by the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement.

Wendy recently retired from the University of Edinburgh where she was latterly involved in a three year project doing and researching public engagement around stem cell research. She has also herself undergone three training courses on dialogic approaches provided by:  Dialogue Matters,  Queen Margaret University  and the International Association of Public Participation (IAP2).

Heather is the deputy director of the Edinburgh Beltane Beacon for Public Engagement.  Formerly a researcher in Knowledge Management in Manufacturing Engineering, Heather has been involved in public engagement with research activities since 2005. She has attended two courses on dialogic approaches: IAP2’s Planning for Public Participation course and a Dialogue course at Queen Margaret University.

Oliver Escobar is doing a PhD on citizen participation and policy making at the University of Edinburgh, where he works for the Public Policy Network. He is a Public Engagement Fellow of Edinburgh Beltane, and a former researcher at the Centre for Dialogue (Queen Margaret University). More info: https://oliversdialogue.wordpress.com

National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement were established as part of the Beacaons for Public Engagement intitiative. They support universities to engage with the public and work with all the beacons to promote best practice in public engagement and provide a single point of contact for the whole higher education sector. They also work strategically with our key national partners to help develop work across the sector.