Talk Shop

I take as my text, as the preachers, say, an extract from a recent TCI article called ‘Why DEFRA’s waste consultations matter; we are ALL stakeholders now!’ In it, Rhion Jones asked, “are there sufficient attempts being made to have deliberative sessions with the large number of stakeholder types that matter? And can we not involve civil society more – whether it is the Women’s Institutes, youth bodies or local community councils?” The purpose of this article is to show how that can be done, using the card-based discussion kits that my organisation, Talk Shop, produces.

First, what are these kits? For our most recent topic, on adult social care and its funding, our starting point was the citizens assembly commissioned last year by two select committees – a first for parliament. The assembly had 28 hours of discussion – we are supporting a two to three hour discussion. Obviously there are not the witnesses that the assembly had, so some of the cards contain quotes that give a flavour of different aspects of social care. We combine such quotes with facts and statistics, presented as an infographic. See the visual for an extract.

The stories and the infographic support the first part of the event, which is to find out about the issue. Then, we ask people what forms of social care should be provided, giving three choices, with the arguments for and against each one. Making all personal social care free, as in Scotland, is one of those choices. We also ask how social care should be funded, again with three options, such as a Social Care Premium, paid by everyone from age 40 onwards.

Second, how are they used? Our last topic, driverless cars, involved over 600 people, in 50 events across the country, including U3As (University of the Third Age), a WEA (Workers’ Educational Association), a college for the blind and a technology company. We made a short film about the project. Going back a while, the county where I live, Herefordshire, used such a kit to design its first climate change policy. The participants in our events are evidently not a representative sample, but the fact that diverse groups (travellers, a firm of architects, children excluded from school, etc.) all came up with similar results suggested that those results were robust.

I should like to think that a better democracy is on the cards (ho ho).


Perry Walker is a co-founder of Talk Shop. He also runs He is a fellow both of Involve and of the Royal Society of Arts.

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