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29th November 2016, 3:28pm
New research to explore public’s role in Parliamentary decision-making
Houses of Parliament A social scientist from the University of Lincoln, UK, will have rare access to Parliament to examine the relationship between the British public and the processes which shape political decision-making.

Dr Catherine Bochel from Lincoln’s School of Social & Political Sciences is one of only five researchers selected for the new House of Commons Academic Fellowship Scheme.

For the next two years, she will make regular visits to Westminster, working alongside Parliamentary staff and politicians to explore how effectively Parliament engages with the public in its decision-making processes.

Her research examines whether the concept of 'procedural justice' – essentially that ‘a fair process’ has been followed – can be used as a framework to examine mechanisms for public engagement with Parliament.

Dr Bochel said: "Parliament is keen to encourage the public to get involved in politics, and people can now do this in a variety of ways. However, it is important that when they come into contact with Parliament their experience of the process is as positive as possible.

“This is for a number of reasons. In a liberal democratic system people may not get everything they ask for, so their treatment by the system and experience of it is very important; in such systems final decisions are made by elected representatives, so the public must be able to see that the decision-making process is fair and transparent.

“Their experience may not only affect how they feel about the individual elements of public engagement with which they have contact, but also wider political and governmental processes. If the processes underpinning participatory initiatives are clearly explained, this may contribute to improved public understanding of Parliament and enhance its work."

The research will begin by scoping the nature and extent of public engagement with Parliament. This will look at two-dimensional forms of engagement, such as giving evidence to select committees and Public Bill Committees, or joining workshops and learning programmes.

The second phase will develop a framework to measure the degree of voice and participation. This will involve observations of how participatory initiatives operate, and interviews with MPs, peers, clerks and other parliamentary officials.

The House of Commons Academic Fellowship Scheme is run by the House of Commons in partnership with the Political Studies Association (PSA) for senior political and social scientists currently researching or wishing to study the work of Parliament.

Fellows have access to the Parliamentary estate and House services, as well as a designated sponsor to help facilitate their research.  Fellows work with the House to build public understanding of Parliament, and inform, evaluate and enhance the House’s work and that of its Members.

Dr Bochel’s study emerged from her previous research on e-petitions, which has helped to shape the government and Parliament e-petitions system, including the introduction of a Petitions Committee and a range of new measures not dependent on signature thresholds.

Through her Fellowship, Dr Bochel hopes to improve processes through which Parliament engages the public in political decision-making, particularly in respect of managing expectations, outcomes and feedback to members of the public who get involved.

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