Shaping active citizens

Can you disprove this? Exposure to democratic processes in student opportunities doesn’t influence a student’s further participation in politics.



Democratic processes – representative democracy within sports clubs, societies and other student groups, consensus decision-making, probably covering as well as overall union democracy in choosing their leaders

Participation in politics – Defining participation in politics can be subjective however research carried out nationally through the British Social Attitudes survey provides a widely-used measure - ‘participation in local and national politics beyond voting or signing a petition.’


Part A. Quantitative – build the argument

Launch a survey to reach at least 370 students who are involved with clubs and societies. Ask:

  • When they first got involved with student opportunities (<6 months ago; 6 months – 1 year ago; 1-2 years ago; for long courses or universities you might add an extra field for 2+ years ago)
  • How much control and/or influence they feel they have over the way the activity happens. (not at all/not very much; somewhat/a lot; don’t know) - offer 5 options, but count them as 3 when you’re using the data.

Also ask about the nature of their recent social action:

  • What political or social action groups have they actively participated in the last 6 months? (political party; trade union or professional association; other voluntary association; church or religious organisation; sports, leisure or cultural group)
  • What forms of political and social action have they done in the past 6 months? (signed a petition; have boycotted, or deliberately bought, certain products for political, ethical or environmental reasons; have donated money or raised funds for a social or political activity; have contacted, or attempted to contact, a politician or a civil servant to express your views; have taken part in a demonstration; have attended a political meeting or rally; have expressed political views on the internet; have contacted or appeared in the media to express your views)

Separate the responses into groups based on how long they’ve been involved with student opportunities. Are there any trends in reported political activity based on how long they’ve been involved?

Now look at the responses in terms of how democratic they report the clubs/societies to be (or, as we phrased it, how much control they experience). Are there any trends in responses?


Part B. Qualitative – how does your students’ unions contribute?

We’re trying to find out whether democratic activity within student opportunities has influenced their behaviour. It’s best to ask open-ended questions and see if their responses align with what we are hoping to see.

Interview 5-10 respondents who reported rises in political activity to find out what has influenced their behaviour.

Interview 5-10 respondents who did not report rises in political activity. How has their involvement with the SU affected their understanding of democracy and politics, if at all?


Advanced questions

How might this effect vary with students’ different levels of engagement across the SU? (e.g. from candidates for full-time officer positions through to student staff and beyond).

A longitudinal study will help assess whether any pro-democratic behaviours become stronger or weaker over time.


Example posters from students' unions

Keele University Students' Union (additional explainer)



(If you develop an interview and/or a survey template, please send them in for others to use