New democracy projects, briefly

I recently wrote a long post about new institutions to support democracy, but I thought a three-minute version might be handy…

Democracy is under threat. We have failed to invest in it. Here are six investments that should be pursued as part of systemic improvement to the health of our democracy. 

  1. 🔭 A permanent observatory or monitor (approx. £5m-£10m/yr) 🔬

We do not leave the defence of the realm, or public health, to chance. We rigorously research: we prepare for new scenarios, analyse threats and monitor behaviours and attitudes over time. We need to do this for democracy. This institution is necessary to make all other investments worthwhile: it will show us what works.

  1. 🎲 A one-off citizens’ assembly on democracy (or at least a commission) (£1m-£3m) 🎲

Brexit, COVID-19, half-finished devolution, a collapsing parliamentary estate, deep regional inequality… it’s time for a big conversation about the rules of the game. Ideally, this would be truly democratic: a multi-stage citizens’ convention, with randomly chosen participants. It would have to be supported by government or the next government in order to ensure it had impact. The runner-up prize would be a commission on democracy: big names + citizen juries across the regions and nations. It would have a significant marketing and advocacy budget.

  1. 🕸 A permanent convenor of a network of democracy supporters (£0.1m/yr + ) 🕸

Projects working to strengthen and defend democracy are often small, poorly funded and rarely coordinated. A small investment in a coordinator or organiser could enable the sector to achieve much more together. A larger investment could create a Centre for Democracy: a strong central hub to coordinate, award funding and even co-house projects and teams.

  1. 👩‍🏫 A national endowment for civic education (approx. one-off £1bn) 👩‍🏫

There is no adult civic education. Civics is barely in schools. Government policy is too short-termist to institute a serious long-term education effort. In many European countries, a central institute delivers civic education to all ages. The UK should borrow the idea. An endowment model will ensure impartiality and sustainability. A billion-pound endowment would support a £50m/yr budget for this, roughly what Germany spends (at per capita rates). 

  1. 🌱 Foster a culture of democracy (£0.1m/yr+) 🌱

A better democracy is everyone’s responsibility. Currently, the involvement of the private sector in pushing democratic values and participation is minimal, compared to the USA, for example. A tiny investment could pay for a small project to get ‘democratic participation’ on the CSR radar and get some big blue-chip companies involved.

  1. 🗳 Work towards a goal of 100% turnout 🗳

The democracy sector lacks a ruthlessly clear, measurable goal. This project would start from the desired outcome and work backwards to find out the best way of getting there, from design hacks to policy nudges like opt-out voter registration. 

(Again, you can read the more detailed, nuanced version here.)

What’s next?

I’m grateful for lots of feedback and conversations on the original post. I’m keen to focus my efforts: what are the three most urgent, important and realistic projects? More to come, possibly in sexy pitch deck format.

I’m trying to raise some small funds to flesh the projects out, do the research on what’s gone before, identify what assumptions need testing and show how to do that quickly and inexpensively.

I’m also keeping an eye on the political context. The new Labour leader is said to be interested in democratic reform. And as we come out of COVID-19 lockdown, there will surely be vast numbers of questions about how our governance structures and systems functioned, or didn’t, and what we might now do differently…

Photo: Exeter, in Spring. Tulipmania!