Abstract Drawing upon empirical research of governance in the North East of England, this article aims to evaluate the impact of current practices of stakeholder engagement on declared aspirations of both inclusivity and democratic renewal. Using the North East Assembly (NEA) as a case study, it details the experiences and opinion of both 'key' and marginalized stakeholders of the NEA in its role as 'the voice of the region'. Whilst highlighting examples of good practice, its findings identify persistent barriers to the inclusion of the wider civic society in regional decision making. Barriers that require more than mere aspirational terminology or the development of consultative fora if the expertise and voice of this civic society is to be not only encouraged to participate but effectively utilized and represented. It concludes with a proposed model for future engagement that aims to provide a more accountable, flexible and non-hierarchical approach to stakeholder engagement. Whilst located within a distinctively North Eastern context, the issues it attempts to address are equally pertinent to other regions looking to a genuine inclusive polity.