Research of Dr. Rikki J. Dean

Ongoing Projects

with Brigitte Geissel and Jonathan Rinne

This project starts with the idea that democracy is a contested concept that eludes a single specific definition and single institutional realization. We investigate how the systemic turn in democratic theory enables us to produce a conception of democracy that takes account of this heterogeneity. Drawing on a range of different traditions in democratic theory, as well as quality of democracy scholarship and citizens’ democratic preferences, we break down democracy into its root concepts, conceived in terms of democratic norms, tasks and practices. The aim is to examine how this approach to democratic theory can enrich comparative political science on democracy. Our contention is that actually existing democracies will come in a variety of forms, emphasizing the different democratic norms, tasks and practices in different ways, but will all consist of some configuration of these ‘modules’.

Dean, R.J., Rinne, J.R. & B. Geissel. 2019. Systematizing Democratic Systems Approaches: Seven Conceptual Building Blocks. Democratic Theory 6 (2).


with Catherine Durose, Liz Richardson and Beth Perry

It is mostly taken for granted that coproduction of research, public policy and public services goes hand-in-hand with a particular form of shared, horizontal leadership. Building on the experience of the Jam and Justice project to carry out coproduced research and public projects in Greater Manchester, this research explores whether coproduction is compatible with a range of different modes of leadership. Using a Q-method survey it asks those involved in coproduced research about what forms of leadership they want to see in such projects.


Funded by GRADE, Goethe University Frankfurt

This project is the first to use the systems turn in democratic theory as a theoretical framework for investigating citizens’ democratic preferences. It aims to understand the variety in process preferences, but also the contingent and contextual factors that shape this variety. For example, are there hard ideological divides between people committed to different decision-making ideals, or are differences more pragmatic, based on different perceptions of the specific problems of the moment that democratic governance has to address? And how nuanced are citizens preferences to the multi- level governance structures of the societies we all inhabit? By mapping these kinds of contingent and contextual variations, this project aims to produce a richer and more predictively valid account of process preferences.


with Brigitte Geissel and Stefan Jung | Funded by Mehr Demokratie

The Bürgerrat Demokratie is the first Citizens’ Assembly to be carried out in Germany. It convened 160 randomly selected residents from across Germany to discuss the future of citizen participation and direct democracy at the federal level. Using a combination of surveys, participant observation, interviews and documentary analysis this project evaluates the Bürgerrat According to criteria of inclusive participation, deliberative quality and connection to the political system.


Previous Projects

funded by Economic and Social Research Council

Calls for greater public participation in the policy process have become a commonplace in contemporary governance, advocated across the political spectrum. Part of what makes participation beguiling is that it can take many meanings. This project investigated those meanings and their implications for how to do participatory policy-making.

It outlined an innovative new typology of four modes of public participation in social policy decisions. The four modes – labelled: knowledge transfer, collective decision-making, choice and voice, and arbitration and oversight – are each linked to different traditions in democratic and public administration theory. As such, they go beyond existing typologies of participation, which are either rooted in one, radical participatory, normative orientation, or abstracted from broader normative debates altogether.

This typology was accompanied by an empirical study of the procedural preferences of 34 key informants involved with participation in health, housing, poverty, and social security policy in Britain. This combined a Q-method survey and qualitative interviews to provide a novel mix of quantitative and qualitative data on each person’s preference. The analysis demonstrated that the preferences of the majority of study participants mirror the knowledge transfer and collective decision-making modes of participation, with significant disagreements over the objectives of participation and how much power should be afforded to the public.

The rich mixture of quantitative and qualitative data also enabled a deeper exploration of the nature of procedural preferences than existing studies, which have primarily employed secondary data analysis of large-scale surveys. It established that there are not just differences between participants but deep ambivalences within participants’ preferences.

The project developed a framework for designing and assessing participatory policy-making that takes account of the diversity of procedural preferences. This framework employs a systems approach based on three core functions that participation can serve in complex policy systems: effectiveness, autonomy and accountability. The four modes of participation are matched with the three functions, demonstrating how different forms of participation can serve different functions.


Dean R.J. 2017. Democratising Bureaucracy: The Many Meanings of Public Participation in Social Policy and How to Harness Them. PhD Thesis. London School of Economics.
* Received the LSE’s Richard Titmuss Prize for Outstanding Scholarship

Dean, R.J. 2017. Beyond Radicalism and Resignation: The Competing Logics for Public Participation in Policy DecisionsPolicy & Politics, 45 (2)
* Received the 2018 Bleddyn Davies Prize for best Early Career Paper

Dean, R.J. 2019. Control or Influence? Conflict or Solidarity? Understanding Diversity in Preferences for Public Participation in Social Policy Decision-Making, Social Policy & Administration, 53 (1).

Dean, R.J. 2019. ‘Democratic Innovation in Social Policy’ in O. Escobar and S. Elstub (eds.), Handbook of Democratic Innovation and Governance, Edward Elgar.

There is more than One Way to Involve the Public in Policy Decisions. Discover Society and Policy & Politics Blog, 1 June 2016


with John Boswell and Graham Smith

What does it mean to design democratic innovation from a systems perspective? The demand of the deliberative systems approach that we turn our gaze from the single forum to the broader system has largely been embraced by those interested in democratic innovation. Nevertheless, there has been no analysis of whether the deliberative systems approach is helpful for doing democratic innovation. Is it possible to design a range of differentiated but interconnected participatory and deliberative settings? Does this better connect democratic innovations to mass politics? And does it promote greater procedural legitimacy? This project analyses a rare case of one such attempt to design a deliberative system in the real world: the ambitious NHS Citizen initiative. NHS Citizen was an attempt by NHS England to design a complex participation system to contribute to shape NHS policy. Drawing on a range of materials, from observation of the design process to interviews and focus groups with key stakeholders, we ask what can be learnt from this unique case for designing participation systemically.


Dean, R.J., Boswell, J. & G. Smith. 2019. Designing Democratic Innovations as Deliberative Systems: The Ambitious Case of NHS Citizen. Political Studies, OnlineFirst.


with Catherine Durose and Liz Richardson

Decentralized decision-making has created restructuring from larger to smaller administrative units, but in many places, strays little from existing governance arrangements. Moves towards decentralization from central government to city-regions, and in some areas, below city-region scale to neighborhoods, reflect a mandate for reform.  But what is the nature and extent of desired reforms? The study employed Q-methodology to identify and interrogate distinctive local viewpoints on attempts to decentralize decision-making in England. This analysis demonstrated that local actors’ largely had preferences for relatively minor modifications to the status quo. The findings question a conflation of decentralization with participation in decision-making. The study thus emphasizes the importance of understanding the role of preferences and narratives of local actors in shaping decentralized institutions.


Richardson, L., Durose, C. & Dean, R.J. 2019. Why Decentralize Decision Making? English Local Actors’ Viewpoints, Governance, 32 (1).


with Moira Wallace

The New Labour Government (1997-2010) invested significant public expenditure and policy effort in trying to remedy multi-dimensional problems of adolescent disadvantage. The effects were intended to be long-term and multi-faceted. However, individual programmes were evaluated in isolation and over a short time-scale. The generation of children whose life-course coincided with most of these policy and expenditure changes is now making the transition to adulthood. As such, it is a good time to ask what happened to them throughout their adolescence. This project outlined Labour’s approach to adolescent disadvantage and analysed the data on their key Public Service Agreement targets, namely: child poverty; educational underachievement, school exclusion and truancy, teenage conceptions, NEETs, juvenile crime, and drug and alcohol misuse. The remarkable decline in teenage pregnancy is now well documented. Our analysis shows a similar or greater magnitude in reductions across the other indicators of youth disadvantage for the cohort who experienced these policies.


Dean R.J. & Wallace, M.W. 2018. ‘New Labour and Adolescent Disadvantage: A Retrospective’, Social Policy Review, 30.