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Next steps on networking for democracy

Over the summer, I researched and wrote Networking for Democracy, funded by JRRT. It looked at the needs, capacity, tools and approaches for the democracy sector to better share information, to coordinate and collaborate. This post is about what happened next.

Thanks to everyone who commented or left feedback, and to the group who came to a couple of follow-up meetings on next steps. (Note to future self: don’t only make your grant application about writing a report, but include time to host follow-up meetings and shop it around).

Meanwhile, I’ve been lucky to have some fantastic opportunities to freelance with some of the sector on various projects, such as: with Involve, on this blog series on Covid-19 and democracy, and on a series of workshops on better communicating deliberative democracy to the public; with Democracy Club, on a voting information network in partnership with UCL’s Constitution Unit; with 38 Degrees, on how digital democracy might affect their work; and with Chatham House, on the next steps for their digital democracy project.

Now, thanks to Nesta, I’ve a bit of time to refocus on the networking efforts, and as a first step wanted to lay out where everything stands (as I see it — shout if I’ve missed stuff!).

There are now several pieces of the ‘network infrastructure’ space underway. (I can’t claim credit for all of them, but they all strike off recommendations made in the report, hurrah!):

— There’s a new democracy newsletter (funded by JRRT) — sign up here.

— There’s an effort to create a UK Democracy Map. Koreo, funded by JRRT, is currently surveying hundreds of organisations in a much more detailed way than I could. Make sure your organisation is included here! This will hopefully become an open, live product to be kept updated by all of us.

— There’s a new UK Democracy Handbook being prepared with some startup funding from Nesta. A detailed look at this below.

— Lastly, JRRT is working on a call for proposals for efforts to strengthen and support the democracy network. There was a meeting on this earlier this week — I’ll update this post when the call is out. (Edit, 14 Jan ’21: here we are)

The UK Democracy Handbook

This project is being led by James Moulding and Ed Saperia at Newspeak House, with support from Jonny Will Chambers from Koreo, Michelle Man from NPC and myself. It takes the same approach as Newspeak’s previous handbooks: a collaborative one-stop-shop for information, crowdsourced by the sector, with space for connections and networking linked from it. The handbook aims to:

  • Build an open library of channels, tools and resources deployed and in use across the sector;
  • Bring together best practice examples and FAQs for those within the sector and those around it;
  • Act as a space for people within the sector and those with an interest in it to find and share useful resources, tools and contacts;
  • Act as an archive or hand-off space for ideas, previous initiatives and past ventures.

Nesta’s support will allow us to create the backbone for the handbook and support it lightly through May 2021, and we’re seeking more funding (from JRRT and beyond) to be able to do the project justice and support it beyond May. If you’re interested in supporting the work, please get in touch!

We hope the handbook can be a case study for how the sector can collaborate in a way that is very low cost, but with high reward, and will help build up a culture of sharing information and working together.

We hope to have a full theory of change and notes on potential metrics to share soon, followed by the backbone of the handbook in January.

And lastly…

Back to the Networking for Democracy report, I knew there was more to do to engage bits of network that hadn’t been reached in the limited time I had — and happily, a small Nesta project grant is going to allow me to pursue that a bit further. It’ll also allow me to help some early cross-sector networking efforts — potentially between board members of different organisations, for example — and to keep me pushing on this work for a couple of months, including blogging about some ideas around versions of an ideal, realistic or minimum viable support institution for the network would look like — which could then inform any bids into JRRT. It’s all coming together…

Your next steps:

Watch this space for more news on the handbook and for JRRT’s call for proposals…

Make sure your organisation is in the democracy map

…And if you’re keen to do some more networking before the end of the year, come to the following Xmas (on Zoom) parties:

🎄 mySociety’s Christmas party (and report launch!) — 16 Dec, 4pm

🎄 Delib’s Christmas democracy rave/quiz — 17 Dec, 4.30pm — no event link, but drop @delibthinks a message and I’m sure they’ll have you.

🎄 Unaffiliated Christmas democracy drinks — 17 Dec, 6pm — give me a shout and I’ll send you a link!

Forward!

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