Sonia Bussu

Sonia Bussu

Associate Professor in Public Policy

Contact details

School of Government
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Sonia studies and teaches public policy. Her main research interests are participatory governance and democratic innovations, and creative and arts-based methods for research and public engagement. She led on projects on youth participation to influence mental health policy and services, coproduction of research on health and social care integration, models of local governance, and leadership styles within collaborative governance. She contributed to the design, prototyping and evaluation of innovative tools of citizen engagement over a range of public policy issues, at the local, national, and EU level. Her recent publications and projects focus on embedding participatory governance in policymaking to strengthen impact and sustainability, and intersectional equality in democratic innovations.

She is interested in methodological developments and specifically in participatory approaches to research and creative and methods to strengthen inclusive participation in policymaking.


  • PhD in Government, London School of Economics - thesis on participatory governance
  • MSc in Globalisation and Development, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, SAS, University of London 
  • Certificate in International Relations and European Studies, Birkbeck College
  • MA in Bilingual Translation, University of Westminster
  • BA + MA (First Class with Distinction) in Modern Languages (English and French), University of Sassari, Italy 
  • Liceo Classico (classical studies, Ancient Greek and Latin), Sassari, Italy 
  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy since 2019


Sonia studies and teaches public policy, or what governments do or do not do, why and how. Her main research interest is participatory governance, or ways of involving citizens, and particularly those groups often at the margins of social and political life, in making policies that affect them directly. She is also interested in doing research with citizens as co-researchers to reframe problems and research questions, by taking their perspective. Her research has a strong practical orientation. Following her PhD, she spent a few years working in the third sector, where she helped to design and evaluate innovative processes to strengthen democracy through citizen participation and community engagement.

Through her work experience within academic and non-academic contexts and on a wide range of policy issues, she learnt how to apply her academic expertise to help solve practical problems that are relevant to citizens, policy makers and different communities of practice.

As a senior researcher at Local Trust, a London-based charity funded by the Big Lottery Fund, she helped to develop and implement the evaluation plan of a large community development programme, Big Local, involving 150 communities across England, working closely with community groups and policymakers. For Local Trust she also developed a research network encouraging community-led research and collaboration between communities and their local universities. For Involve, a think tank working on democratic innovations, she produced several policy papers on participatory and deliberative democracy and helped design and test NHS Citizen, an innovative deliberative system commissioned by NHS England. She helped to develop and curated Participation Compass, a platform on citizen engagement methods aimed at practitioners, civil society and policy makers. As a member of the Participation Lab at Reading University, she helped develop new ways of sharing complex data with community groups to support their self-evaluation efforts (e.g. training on community-led research; supporting partnerships between community groups and universities and other research organisations; workshops on data to democratise statistics and make it accessible and useful to non-experts).

Before joining INLOGOV in 2023, she was senior lecturer in politics and public administration at Manchester Metropolitan University (2018-23), and research associate at UCL (2017-2018) where she led on a participatory evaluation of integrated care, acting as a Researcher-in-Residence. This is a model of participatory research, where the researcher is embedded in the organisation under evaluation and becomes a core member of the operational team, with the aim to narrow the gap between academia and professional practice.


In recent years she studied the role of social movements and grassroots politics in using and strengthening democratic innovations to further social justice. She co-edited a forthcoming volume on these themes for Routledge, Reclaiming participatory governance: social movements and the reinvention of democratic innovations.

Postgraduate supervision

Sonia is interested in supervising PhD research in the following areas:

  • Participatory and deliberative democracy; collaborative governance
  • E-participation
  • Public engagement in public administration/ coproduction of public services
  • Local government/ local governance; polycentric governance

She is also interested in research work using participatory methods (e.g. action research; participatory action research; coproduction; researcher in residence, etc.)


Research projects and grants

2022-2023.  Mindset Revolution: opening space for youth-led change in mental health (PI) - funded by UKRI/ RSA, £60,000

Public dialogue is often a top-down, one-off affair, where the commissioner (e.g. public agencies; academia) sets the agenda, plans the process, decides who is invited. There is limited follow-up, and it is hard to assess the impact of isolated initiatives. Mindset Revolution flips this and reinvents public dialogue as a bottom-up process embedded in the community. The focus is on youth mental health: young people work with diverse partners (academics, grassroots and institutions) to co-design, and evaluate, sustainable participation processes that don’t stop at recommendations but also strengthen scrutiny, putting young people’s voice front and centre of mental health policymaking.

2022 - Optimistic Minds: Re-imagining young people’s agency in evidence-based decision making in mental health (Co-I) - funded by Emerging Minds, £30,955; PI: James Duggan

The Optimistic Minds project experiments with the processes, spaces, and cultures by which various stakeholders come together to improve evidence-based decision making by commissioners and policy makers to inform mental health support for young people. The project seeks to understand how we can embed participatory spaces that ensure that evidence is discussed, understood, and evaluated through engagement with youth and other key stakeholders working on youth mental health to strengthen implementation of research into practice. We worked in partnership with the Greater Manchester Living Well youth co-researchers, supported by 42nd street, who are conducting research with young people, practitioners, professionals, commissioners and policymakers. The project is grounded in approaches for building inclusive spaces for evidence-based dialogue between young people, professionals, practitioners, commissioners and policymakers: co-production, participatory innovations and Legislative Theatre.

2021 - The British Academy Horizon Europe Pump Priming Collaboration between UK and EU Partners - £ 9,985.99.00

2020 - International Collaboration Fund, MMU, £5000 - Understanding Developments in Participatory Governance

2017-2018 - UCL Improvement Science Team 2-year evaluation of integrated care, Tower Hamlets CCG £300,000

2014 – 2017- Engage 2020 funded under the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme.

Other activities

External Examiner for Leeds Beckett University 

Co-convenor of the PSA Participatory and Deliberative Democracy specialist group (March 2020-to date)

Member of the PSA Local Politics specialist group and Italian Politics specialist group

Member of the ECPR Democratic Innovations standing group 


British Academy


 Member of the Italian association for deliberative democracy, Prossima Democrazia



Bussu and Bua (eds) (2023) Reclaiming participatory governance: social movements and the reinvention of democratic innovations. Routledge

Journal articles

Bussu, S. Bua, A., Dean, R. and Smith, G. (2022) Symposium on Embedding participatory governance, Critical Policy Studies  DOI: 10.1080/19460171.2022.2053179

Bussu, M. Lalani, S. Pattison, M. Marshall (2021). Engaging with care: ethical issues in Participatory Research. Qualitative Research. 21(5), pp.667-685.

Bua, A. and S. Bussu (2021). Between governance‐driven democratisation and democracy‐driven governance: Explaining changes in participatory governance in the case of Barcelona. European Journal of Political Research. 60(3), pp.716-737.

Bussu, S. and Galanti M. T. (2018). Facilitating coproduction: the role of leadership in coproduction initiatives in the UK. Policy and Society 37(3): 347-367.

Bussu, S. and Bartels, K. (2014) Facilitative Leadership and the challenge of renewing local democracy. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 38 (6):2256–2273.

Book Chapters and Commentaries

Bussu, S. and Fleuss, D. Citizen Assemblies: Top down or bottom up? (2023) In Reuchamps, Min, Julien Vrydagh and Yanina Welp (eds) Handbook of Citizens’ Assemblies, De Gruyter Publisher


Bussu, S. (2019) Collaborative governance: between invited and invented spaces, in Elstub, S. and Escobar, O. (Eds.) Handbook of Democratic Innovation and Governance, Edward Elgar Publishing.

View all publications in research portal