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A democracy sector network? A needs, tools and capacity review

Previously, on this blog…

The other thing I’d want to see if I was a funder — and as someone in the sector — is that we’re working together, sharing knowledge and ideas, or at least avoiding repeating the same thing or competing for limited media attention. That’s where better networking comes in.

Me, earlier

There’s not much collaboration across democracy-related fields, despite some enthusiasm for it. My guess is that this is due to a lack of capacity among such organisations: no single organisation can volunteer the resources to run a central hub or a coordination role to support a network.

Before diving in to try to create something new, I’ve wanted to do a bit more research into the problems faced by the sector. Happily, the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust (JRRT) have awarded me a small grant to look into this further.

Here’s the brief summary from the longer application I made (which I’m happy to share, just drop me an email):

My experience in the democracy sector has suggested that a network would be effective and welcomed across the field. This small project will test that assumption. It will review:

a) previous efforts at coordination in the sector;
b) what works in other sectors;
c) the views of the need for coordination and collaboration by the sector; and
d) the sector’s views on how best to go about such a network.

This project will help us understand the motivations and needs of the sector for any such network. It’ll provide practical next steps..and could lead to a more collaborative democracy sector and a healthier democracy in the UK.

My application to JRRT

So I’m going to have a lot of chats, read up on successful and unsuccessful examples of where this has been tried previously, and come up with some suggestions for stuff to try and how to test it. I’ll blog and tweet along — or least once I’ve done the work and written it up — so stay tuned.

Part of this work involves me defining the ‘sector’, so please do review my initial list below. Let me know if there’s people I shouldn’t miss talking to and whether you can connect me to them!

Draft list of areas to look for interviewees:

— successful networks in other sectors
— political finance
— civic education
— civic tech
— rule of law
— media reform / public interest news
— misinfo / disinfo / online harms
— voter participation
— participatory democracy
— deliberative democracy
— human rights
— culture of politics
— research centres and thinktanks
— political parties and unions
— equality and diversity
— local-, region- or nation-specific
— funders

Draft interview questions:

  • What’s X’s organisational vision?
  • Do you perceive X to be working on ‘democracy’?
  • How do you define the sector you work in? Who else do you think is in your sector? Who are the organisations closest to you?
  • Aside from funding, what would most help you support your goals?
  • Who do you already collaborate with? Is there anyone you’d like to collaborate with?
  • Are you a part of / have you been part of any cross-organisational networks? What worked well / didn’t work?
  • If there were a magic wand waved, and a ‘Democracy Network’ existed tomorrow, what would you want from it? What could you offer it?
  • What planning or communication tools do you already use?
  • What’s your capacity to attend in-person meetings or virtual meetings?

More soon…

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