Towards a participatory representative democracy? UK Parish councils and community engagement

  • Joanie WillettEmail author
  • Joe Cruxon
Original Article


This paper considers local democracy in the UK regarding citizen participation and engagement with Town and Parish councils. As the first tier of government and primary access point of democracy in England, Parish councils have the opportunity to be deeply connected and responsive to their communities. However conversely, they are the least democratic of all tiers of government, primarily due to low election turnouts and regular co-option. The paper contributes to a broader literature around improving citizen participation, considering specifically the question of how to encourage stronger engagement in local formal democracy in order to initiate vibrant participatory democracy within local representative structures. We use an innovative qualitative research methodology and a case study of the UK to find that many of the popular perceptions around Town and Parish councils can be traced to issues of communication. Consequently, we argue that engaging a more broader demographic, particularly through the use of new technologies such as social media or mobile phone Applications, may present a way forward to develop a vibrant local democratic sphere.


Parish council Participatory democracy Representative democracy 


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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd., part of Springer Nature 2018
corrected publication July 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PoliticsUniversity of ExeterPenrynUK

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