Open grant applications

Previously, on this blog:

  • Research into the democracy ‘sector’ suggests that some efforts could be made to improve networking in the space (and that this is an excellent way to support the pursuit of a better democracy);
  • I wrote up some ways to do that… but it rather depends how much money is available;
  • The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust (JRRT) put out a call for proposals to do some of this work.

On Monday, myself and a team of partners put a bid to answer that call for proposals. Our approach has been to attempt to live the values of the thing we think should exist in future: including working together (hence five different organisations/individuals coming together on the bid) and in regards to openness: we shared a summary of our bid doc for feedback (thanks everyone who made suggestions!) — and now, here’s the actual full bid doc. (The only thing I’ve removed is the list of endorsements, because we didn’t tell endorsers that they’d be public.)

In case you don’t want to trawl through the full document, here’s a quick summary:

  • We’re trying to get to a place where more networking is practiced in the space and as a result, the community is denser and broader. Information flows more easily, duplication is reduced, innovation is increased, there’s growing specialisation, more collaboration and shared learning and understanding.
  • Some areas in the space are already connected — we’re not trying to compete with anything that already exists — attempts to create ‘The Democracy Network’ seem unlikely to succeed — the game is supporting and strengthening what exists, making connections across practices/issue spaces, helping build trust and space to work together, helping everyone understand where they fit in the space, who their allies are, who they can draw on for support, where they might connect well with or create other shared projects, where they might risk duplication, what they can learn about previous projects, and where these projects can be most effective for the sector as a whole.
  • The actual work is to (a) continue to deepen everyone’s understanding of the sector, through building out the UK Democracy Map as a live, open resource of organisations, networks and projects, and through annual surveys and other open research efforts resulting from the needs of the space;
  • (b) increase information sharing and coordination, by maintaining the Democracy Handbook — a collaborative information-sharing space, and a space for serendipitous meetings (a virtual water-cooler?) — and developing vital shared resources (e.g. media lists, public affairs monitoring, whatever the sector deems useful) — and capturing lessons from pop-up activity around elections so that lessons aren’t lost;
  • (c) develop deeper connections, community and impact, by hosting a range of meetups (horizontally, across a similar job role or practice; and vertically, through a specific area of democracy) as well as coordinated co-working days, mentorship, peer learning groups and coaching — plus supporting professional networks in support of the democracy sector (e.g. Designers for Democracy) — and supporting the sector to seize collective opportunities, such as profile at party conferences or the development of shared policy platforms at election time.
  • It’s not land-a-rover-on-Mars level stuff, but it needs a good team who work in an open way, are motivated by improving the whole sector, and are up for testing and learning along the way. The team is Koreo, Newspeak House, Fair Vote UK, Michelle Man, and myself.
  • Lots more detail in the full proposal.

More broadly … I see some kind of magical future where grant bids are always published — by default of the funders if necessary. Just as most funders are pretty open about what they fund after the fact, I think there’s value in openness before the fact too. It would help grant-writers compare their efforts with others and could raise the quality of grant apps over time. It would help different org’s who put in similar bids realise that they could probably work together in future. It could be done in a multi-stage way, reducing the (significant) cost of application-writing in a simple first round that allows everyone to see who’s interested, what ideas people are bringing to the table, a rough sense of costs, and seeing opportunities for more detailed joint proposals going through to later stages.

I’m sure someone is working on this, and there might be good examples out there somewhere — do please share!

Photo by Gabriel McCallin on Unsplash


Root causes and other stories

Last year, I published the results of a range of interviews across the democracy sector. It was only a small project, so I wasn’t able to speak to everyone I had hoped to.

Happily, Nesta funded an ‘expansion pack’ of interviews, and some more insight from these chats is below. I hope it’s of use to anyone thinking about ways to support the sector, and thus, a better democracy.

I spoke to 16 new people over the last couple of months. Given the typical size of organisations in the sector, these were mainly CEOs. Most people were working on democracy as their core mission, but for some it was one of many themes that their organisation worked on. The interviewees were a diverse group across genders, ages, locations and ethnicities. They included people working for non-profits, charities and for-profits — and people no longer working on democracy.


Sketches for a democracy network hub

Previously, on worrying-about-democracy:

  • Our democracy needs some work;
  • Perhaps the cheapest and quickest first step is to better connect everyone who’s already working on democracy, share info, coordinate and collaborate;
  • That seems to be popular — there are lots of ideas for how this could work and what people would want from such a network; and,
  • The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust are up for funding some of the effort needed to make this happen.

So what does that effort look like?

I’ve made a to-do list, based on the Networking for Democracy report and from further chats across the space over the last six months.


Donations for global public health in a pandemic year

Since 2014, I’ve donated one-tenth of my salary/income to end poverty. I do so alongside thousands of other folks, having pledged to via Giving What We Can.


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.


Networking for democracy

I’ve spent the last couple of months interviewing folks in the UK’s democracy sector — in order to learn about how better networking might help boost our efforts to improve democracy. (The work was previewed in this post.)

I’ve now finished writing up the report.

Here is the full report as a Google Document. This is best for reading on a phone.

Here are two other formats:

Or read on for the summary and list of recommendations.


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.