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


Politics without Parties: Flatpack Democracy by Peter Macfadyen

the bookFrome. Rhymes with broom. Nice small town in Somerset. Home to the Guardian’s John Harris, who brought attention to the fact that in May 2015 the local electorate booted out political parties from the town council altogether, in favour of a loosely aligned group of independents known as Independents for Frome.

The ringleader behind it all – though leader is probably an unwelcome word – is Peter Macfadyen. He’s written a call to arms / guidebook on why and how to repeat their success.

The book’s only a 100 pages long – so you should probably just order a copy. But here’s a precis just in case. 


Discussing ideas of an Open UN – one month on

About a month ago I posted a proposal for an Open United Nations web platform. This is the idea of making global governance – the discourse, debates and decision-making at the UN and beyond – more transparent.

I thought it might be useful (to me, at least) to blog about what it’s like to try to start something like this despite having no idea what you’re doing. Here’s post number one.


Open business: publishing pay, abandoning hierarchy and creating the democratic firm

In this week’s The Economist, Schumpeter (the business columnist) discusses the application of open methods to management in ‘Corporate Burlesque: the case for stripping away secrecy surrounding firms’ finances’. 


Imagining an Open United Nations platform

Lisez cet article en français!

The ‘Open’ movement is in full force. There are now projects for Open Governments, Open Budgets, Open Charities, and even Open Corporates.

But, as yet, there are no Open International Organisations. No Open IMF, no Open World Bank, no Open World Trade Organization.