Introducing the project team

Dr Rod Dacombe

Rod is Lecturer in Politics in the Department of Political Economy, King’s College, London. A political scientist with an interdisciplinary background, his work focuses on civic participation and its importance to both democracy and effective public policy. He address the problems caused by inequalities in civic life, and follows a research programme that aims to understand the ways in which social problems can be resolved through connecting the expertise and commitment of the public together with stakeholders and decision-makers from across public agencies, the market and the voluntary and community sector.

Michelle Lawrence: Link Up (UK)

Michelle started her career in marketing, then moved into the voluntary sector in 1996, first of all working for Centrepoint – the youth homelessness charity – in charge of their corporate and community fundraising team.  From this she worked as a freelance consultant, during which time she successfully capacity built and developed income streams for a number of charities.

Since 2005, she has focused her attentions on issues around interfaith and citizenship, running programmes to build bridges between different community groups.  In 2012 she set up Link Up (UK) a charity working to combat racism and prejudice, which is developing a range of initiatives that look at providing innovative solutions to overcoming misconceptions and prejudice towards different minority groups.

Katy Vanden: Cap-a-Pie

Katy is a Producer at Cap-a-Pie, an organisation which brings together theatre makers and communities to co-create performances, and foster learning and thinking through a democratic creative process. The company has been working in participatory contexts with communities and making professional work for audiences in the North East of England and beyond since 1996. Since 2012 Cap-a-Pie has been partnering and co-creating with academic researchers, audiences and communities to embed theatre and the creative arts within all stages of the research process to enable community and public participation.

Dr Louise Brown: University of Bath

Louise Brown is an Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of Bath. She has extensive experience of researching, teaching, publishing and experimenting with social innovation in the field of health and social care. Over the last ten years Louise has worked specifically on the implementation of social innovation, exploring key challenges within this process such as; how to select which ideas are most likely to succeed, how organisation’s manage risk whilst experimenting, what methods of evaluation work best to generate evidence at different stages of the innovation cycle, how to evidence or measure social impact, how to scale up an innovation beyond the pilot phase and how to manage local or cultural contexts when innovations transfer from one place or country to another? She is currently working in China assisting the Chinese government and Save the Children with the development and  implementation of innovative models of practice in the field of child protection. She holds the position of Visiting Scholar at Sun Yat-sen University. She has published extensively in this field and has recently been commissioned by Hefce to assist with the evaluation of their Social Innovation programme.

Using deliberation to tackle social problems

Our project aims to develop a means of tackling the marginalisation and stereotyping of young Muslims by drawing together insights from political science with the arts and cultural sector. One of the most exciting things about the project is the way it takes theoretical principles from the world of academia and applies them to a pressing social problem. This post provides a very brief introduction to some of the ideas that underpin our work, and how they relate to the aims of the project.

The intervention we develop in the project will draw on insights which originally developed in the literature on deliberative democracy. A major area of work within political science, this is a complex (and at times controversial) idea but in broad terms it suggests that the quality of democracy can be improved through reforms which focus on free, open participation in discussion over issues which are important to those who take part. Of course, not any discussion can count as ‘deliberation’, and important principles such as equal participation, respect, reason-giving and reflection are built into reforms and experiments in deliberative democracy. Examples of real-world applications of these ideas include participatory budgeting, citizens’ juries and deliberative polling.

Importantly, the use of these ideas has reached beyond the reform of formal democracy into other areas of social life. The principles of deliberative democracy have been used in a wide range of different settings, including reconciling conflicting views on environmental management, with former combatants in post-conflict situations and amongst deeply-divided social groups. In many cases, they have had a demonstrable effect on the attitudes of the participants. Deliberation has been shown to make participants more tolerant, knowledgeable about important issues, and to enable groups who are normally marginalised from public debate to have a voice.

Of course, there are a whole set of disagreements and problems, both theoretical and practical, that lurk just beneath the surface of this brief introduction, and some of these will be addressed in future posts as we progress with the project. In the meantime, anyone interested in reading more about these issues might enjoy the below resources:


Welcome to the Talking Heads project blog

Talking Heads is a project, funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), which aims to bring together insights drawn from deliberative democracy and the performing arts to tackle the stereotyping and marginalisation of young Muslims.

The project a team is drawn from across the higher education, cultural and voluntary sectors. Led by Dr Rod Dacombe, of the Department of Political Economy at King’s College, London, it also includes Dr Louise Brown (University of Bath), Michelle Lawrence (LinkUp UK) and Katy Vanden (Cap-a-Pie).

On this blog we will provide information on the project and regular updates on our progress.  We will also discuss the ideas underpinning the work, and talk about the ways in which universities can contribute towards socially-innovative solutions to social problems.