How to give a voice to citizens in evidence-informed policy processes.

  • 14 Mar 2024
  • 2 Mins Read
  • 〜 by World Health Organization

Citizens have a vital role in shaping health policies that affect their lives. However, much remains to be done to make policies more responsive to their needs and values. Engaging citizens in evidence-informed policy-making (EIP) greatly contributes to gaining insights into their perspectives, preferences, and experiences and producing more inclusive, equitable, effective, and reflective health policies.

WHO organized a webinar which reflected both the Organization’s strong commitment to advancing citizen engagement (CE) and the growing interest from the general public in this approach. There were 350 attendees from 73 different countries participated in the event, engaging with the diverse and insightful interventions delivered by the speakers and panelists.

As principal author of the WHO overview for implementing CE in EIP, Bobby Macaulay, Research Fellow at the University of the Highlands and Islands, made the case for integrating citizens’ voices in decision-making, a crucial and underutilized from of evidence in policy. He gave three reasons: to enhance transparency, accountability, trust, and confidence (democratic purpose), improve the quality of decision-making (instrumental purpose), and improve knowledge and capacity of the participants (developmental purpose).

Oliver Escobar, Professor of Public Policy and Democratic Innovation at the University of Edinburgh and main author of the second WHO publication, presented a comprehensive overview of the new  Guide on mini-publics, targeting both novice and experienced practitioners in this field. Mini-publics are forums that include a cross-section of the population selected through civic lottery, and their organization comprises of four stages:

  1.     Inception: building foundation;
  2.     Preparation: getting ready;
  3.     Deliberation: running the mini public;
  4.     Influence: wrapping up, mobilizing results and evaluation the mini public.

The Guide, while showcasing existing standards of good practice, serves as a flexible route map to adapt mini-publics processes to local circumstances, with a focus on the principles of poverty reduction, equity, and societal impact.

A cross-regional panel consisting of editorial board members who supported the development of the mini-public Guide, commented on the added value of the new WHO resources. Notably, the Guide was considered to address a critical methodological gap by offering a very practical approach and focusing on the Global South. At the same time, it was seen as a valuable resource for academic teaching, reinforcing the currently observed shift from citizen participation to deliberation and amplifying the voices of marginalized groups. Real-world experiences from Thailand and Ireland further exemplified valuable lessons learned. They underscored the essential role of the Thai National Health Commission Office in promoting and institutionalizing CE in EIP, and shed light on the Irish citizen assemblies, particularly the one focused on abortion, which played a pivotal role in reforming Irish abortion laws.

One of the key themes running through the launch event was the necessity of fostering active partnerships and dialogue between citizens and policy-makers in the context of CE. Laurence Lwoff, from the Council of Europe, who moderated the event, particularly emphasized this point.

In line with the objective of strengthening linkages and exchange, peer support, and learning, WHO and its partners will establish a Community of Practice on CE as a next step. This idea was very well received by launch participants. Based on a real-time online survey, 89% of the respondents showed interest in becoming members of the Community of Practice, and 63% of them would like to champion it.

Throughout the event, participant enthusiasm for mini-publics was palpable. Our goal now is to build upon this enthusiasm and complement the existing WHO CE resources by establishing a Community of Practice. 

(Source: WHO)