We thought the EU referendum debate was focused far too much on personalities and party spats and not enough on the real issues that affect you and the country. So we decided to do something about it.
In May 2016 the Electoral Reform Society, with academics from the Universities of Sheffield, Westminster and Southampton launched this online toolkit to create a more informed EU referendum debate.
We gained contributions from senior figures in both official campaigns, and from leading EU experts from across the UK (drawn from the UK in a Changing Europe programme). The goal was to give citizens a chance to meet and discuss the issues with each other, to debate and learn from each other. Based on our work with the award-winning Citizens' Assemblies, we tried to help to widen the democratic space around the EU referendum.
In their own meet-ups, voters picked the issues they wanted to discuss with the time they had available, and the tool took them through the facts with the academics, and then the arguments of both campaigns, with time for discussion and deliberation (and tea). The aim was to create a structure for informed and vibrant deliberation. A Better Referendum gave citizens the information and arguments on the issues they wanted to discuss and then a process to come to their own conclusions in discussion with each other.
‘Deliberation’ is long and careful discussion crafted towards making a decision. Deliberative processes emphasise the importance of reflection and informed discussion in decision-making. This allows people to adopt more nuanced positions on the issues at hand, with a better understanding of the trade-offs inherent in a given decision. For deliberation to be effective it is important that an appropriate amount of time is provided for people to familiarise themselves with the various aspects of a question. While people ought to be exposed to arguments representing contrary positions, they should also be given the time and resources to discuss and reflect on the issues away from the too-easy sloganising of political campaigning. The outcome of a deliberative process should be one in which people feel more able to make an informed decision on a given issue.
A Better Referendum is a joint project between the Electoral Reform Society, University of Westminster, University of Sheffield and University of Southampton.