Since the onset of the pandemic and the beginning of lockdown, practitioners' have been on a learning journey exploring the future of online deliberation. Six months into the pandemic, the practitioners' network met in October to share experiences and learning from online deliberative processes.

The two hour session consisted of five lightning talks by members of the network, sharing their learning and experiences of online processes. Practitioners then divided into breakout rooms for an in-depth discussion about the future of online deliberation.

The session focused on three key questions:

  • What has worked well with online engagement?
  • What are the current challenges and/or barriers to online engagement?
  • What do we need to focus more on for our online practice in the next six months?

Below you can find some key takeaways for each of these questions. For a more detailed overview of the discussions, a link to the full report can be found at the bottom of this page.

Online meeting of Climate Assembly UK

What has worked well?

Practitioners explored areas that have been working well online. Some of the key points raised were:

  • Practitioners noted a significant improvement in the inclusivity of online processes for participants, in particular through tailored onboarding processes.
  • Practitioners explored the positive steps that have been taken to improve overall participant experience in online processes, with the understanding that many of the social elements of in-person processes are much harder to achieve through standard methods.
  • Practitioners emphasised the benefits of online engagement for engaging with speakers, noting the increased interest from speakers, the wider diversity of speakers taking part in processes and the greater ability of practitioners to work with and provide training for speakers.
  • Practitioners shared experiences about the ideal duration of online processes. Whilst there wasn't complete consensus, evening and weekend sessions, time gaps between sessions and the creation of microgroups outside of formal sessions were all explored.

What are the challenges?

Online engagement has not been without its challenges. Some of the key discussions explored:

  • Many practitioners noted the large amount of staff time and resourcing that is needed to prepare and deliver a successful and inclusive online process.
  • Whilst making strides to improve the inclusivity of online processes, practitioners noted that digital exclusion was still an issue for some participants. 
  • Practitioners noted that relationship building between participants, participants and practitioners and practitioners with each other is more difficult online.

What's next?

Practitioners explored the question: 'What do we need to focus more on for our online practice in the next six months?'. Some of the take-aways from this discussion were: 

  • Practitioners noted the need to proactively engage with commissioners to share learning about successful processes.
  • Practitioners discussed the importance of collectively sharing learning to create an evidence base that demonstrates the value of online engagement.
  • Practitioners discussed the importance of continuing to develop new and creative online design, emphasising that online engagement is not a ‘stop gap’ until face-to-face engagement can begin again.

Concluding thoughts

In light of the ongoing pandemic, this kind of community discussion is essential to help build and improve our collective and individual understanding of online deliberation, paving the way for increasingly inclusive and impactful deliberative democracy in the UK. Thank you to all who took part in the practitioners' session and contributed to the discussions shared in this blog.


The full report can be found by following the link below.

Practitioners' Network Session: Pandemic Practice Progress Report PDF