Hendriks, Carolyn and Jennifer Lees-Marshment (201x) ‘Political leaders and public engagement’ Political Studies (2018 DOI: 10.1177/0032321718791370)


To date practical and scholarly work on participatory and deliberative governance has focussed on supply side issues, such as how to engage citizens in public policy. Yet little is known about demand for public engagement, particularly from those authorised to make collective decisions. This article empirically examines how political leaders view and value public input. It draws on 51 in-depth interviews with senior national ministers from the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. The interviews reveal that leaders value public input because it informs their decisions, connects them to everyday people, and ‘tests’ advice from other sources. Their support for participatory governing is, however, qualified; they find formal consultation processes too staged and antagonistic to produce constructive interaction. Instead leaders prefer informal, spontaneous conversations with individual citizens. This hidden world of informal elite-citizen interaction has implications for the design and democratic aspirations of public engagement.


Review comments:

  • The writing is accessible to non-specialist audiences and the findings can travel beyond the deliberative democracy/public engagement scholarly community for it also speaks to the fields of political leadership and public administration.
  • The paper makes a cogent contribution to existing knowledge – both theoretically to democratic theories of elite-citizen deliberation and empirically to the study of elites in comparative contexts.
    It is a really good paper that can help push along debate in this area.
  • This is a compelling paper that harnesses a good idea to a unique and extremely rich data set.
  • The paper makes a number of interesting contributions to normative debates about how to generate public legitimacy in political decision making….This is a rich area for debate and the paper offers fresh insights
  • I think this is a very interesting piece that brings a new spin to ideas around deliberative governance. I am sympathetic to the approach — which takes seriously the views of elites, rather than writes them off as biased or as ‘lies’. And the dataset is very impressive, featuring a load of high-profile politicians. It is well written and draws out the lessons very nicely. Key here is that most of them do not require a Quantum Leap on the part of readers to sit in the Minister’s shoes – you do not have to agree with and fully sympathise with their position to understand the value of what their perspective illuminates.