European Citizens’ Consultations: call for civil society links

If your organisation would like to be a link, please complete this short form:
https://goo.gl/forms/lDzRtYXzAe3urMHq1 

The ECC Civil Society Network are seeking expressions of interest from civil society organisations (CSOs) that can function as national links between the core network and the member states.

The network aims to make the ongoing conversation around the future of Europe as joint as possible, to support positive and broader engagement in the different consultation approaches available, and to use the consultations to start to build a network of organisations interested in connecting up the European conversation (read more about the network here).

National links will play a crucial role in establishing a good flow of information about what is happening on the ground in each country and in drawing out the lessons for the future.

This is an opportunity to meet CSOs from across Europe with a shared interest in improving citizen participation and engagement; to share your work; to find opportunities for collaboration; and to shape future recommendations. The network will facilitate regular conversations and support you with materials and examples from elsewhere in Europe.

The network is looking for national links that can:

  • REPORT: Report on European citizens consultation events or digital consultations happening in their country.
  • RELAY: Share information about activities with the network and opportunities for CSOs to engage in the ECC process and support participation.
  • ENGAGE: Attend an initial meeting in July 2018; follow-up meetings until March 2019 (remotely or in-person); and a final meeting on the next steps in April 2019.
  • LIAISE: Liaise with the relevant government representatives in their country to understand what is going on and develop a strong civil society and government relationship where this is possible. The European Policy Centre are leading the research working group and will be coordinating the wider research plans.

You should be:

  • A civil society organisation, actor, or umbrella organisation for civil society
  • Located in one of the following 27 member states of the European Union: Austria; Belgium; Bulgaria; Croatia; Cyprus; Czech Republic; Denmark; Estonia; Finland; France; Germany; Greece; Hungary; Ireland; Italy; Latvia; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Malta; Netherlands; Poland; Portugal; Romania; Slovakia; Slovenia; Spain; Sweden
  • Able to carrying out the responsibilities listed above.

We have funding available for travel and subsistence to ensure that you can participate in meetings for evaluation or research purposes.

Please contact kelly@demsoc.org with any questions.

Help create a more constructive debate about the shape of Greater Manchester

 

Deciding what we should build where always seems to stoke intense emotions and conflict. Greater Manchester’s Spatial Framework set out plans for how land could be best used across the city region. The resulting consultation gave voice to a kaleidoscope of different concerns and interests but generated very little in the way of constructive discussion. With a consultation on a new draft currently planned for October, we thought now was a great time to ask how we create better conversations about the future shape of Greater Manchester.

You can help us explore this question. ‘Space in Common’ is a project based on a series four workshops happening around the build-up to Greater Manchester’s Spatial Framework consultation, and we are looking for people to take part.

Who are we looking for?

Our aim is to bring together a small group of 12-15 people with experience of Greater Manchester’s consultation from a wide range of different perspectives, and with access to wider networks or groups that you could use to push for change. We hope to mix housing developers with local campaigns groups, transport charities with business people, and economists with activists. We are looking for people who:

  • Have some knowledge and experience of the first consultation process
  • Have different kinds of ‘stake’ in the spatial planning process, for instance, through those engaged in housing, social inclusion, environmental protection, heritage, property development, land ownership, recreation, local government, transport, business, planning etc
  • Are attached to an organisation, institution, network or group and can mobilise wider networks (even if small) to drive change
  • Have a link to Greater Manchester

What’s involved?

Working in four, two and half hour, workshops we’ll explore peoples’ prior experience of the Spatial Framework consultation, and unearth the challenges encountered in trying to influence change. From this we’ll investigate how a better quality of debate could be created, with a focus on making an inclusive, informed, and constructive discussion.

As the workshops progress we’ll also be encouraging our participants to take action themselves to start building better conversations around the issues you care about. We’ll be exploring how our group can help each other; and we’ll be making practical support available to our participants.

What’s the point?

You will be at the forefront of discussion on how to create better policy and community conversations, working in a carefully assembled team. What we learn together from the project will be published and promoted via our existing networks to key policy-makers and influencers, both in Greater Manchester and beyond. We have good working relationships with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority Housing, Planning and Homelessness Commission and Greater Manchester Low Carbon Hub.

Participants will also be able to access practical support from us to take actions themselves. The workshops will also give participants a chance to connect with a wide range of local groups and explore opportunities to support each other.

Space in Common is part of a wider Jam & Justice project (see below). As part of this, participants will be invited to join a coalition for developing a city region based on a more participative, ‘co-productive’ way of working.

How to take part

To express interest in taking part, please fill in this short online form to let us know who you are.

We will select our final group of participants to try and cover a range of different interests and prior experiences, and will get back in touch with those who express interest nearer the time. The form also asks you to tell us what time slots would work best for you. We’ll use this to plan when our workshops will be. Our first workshop has now happened (you can see what we talked about here) but its not too late to get involved.

If you have any questions or want to know more about this project, please get in touch with Mat Basford at: Mat@Demsoc.org

Who we are

Space in Common is a project led and delivered in partnership between The Democratic Society and a group of academics and practitioner researchers in Greater Manchester, who organise as the Action Research Collective. The Democratic Society are an international organisation that works to get people more involved in decisions that affect their lives. The Action Research Collective is part of the Jam & Justice project, a research collaboration led by the Universities of Sheffield, Birmingham and Manchester and the Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisations. Space in Common has funding from the Economic and Social Research Council and Mistra Urban Futures. Space in Common is just one of the projects initiated by the Action Research Collective. You can find out more about the other projects here.

 

[Image: Peter Griffin, publicdomainpictures.net]

Networked European Democracy ready to start in Italy!

In attesa della versione italiana del sito, la descrizione del progetto in italiano segue quella inglese.

In a delicate moment for Italy and its political situation, next week we will launch the first event of Networked European Democracy, an ambitious but practical programme that aims to deliver a better connection between citizens and European policy.

We’ll bring discussion of relevant and current policy issues to the local level and our theme this year is the future of work and skills. This is also related to a key theme of the Festival dell’Economia 2018 in Trento, where international experts and practitioners were discussing “Technology and Jobs” from 31st May to the 3rd June with many interesting outcomes.

During the project we’ll be engaging with three Italian municipalities: Courmayeur (AO), Martina Franca (TA) and Settimo Torinese (TO). These three municipalities have different social and cultural background, as they are spread from the very south of the peninsula to the French boundary, and will allow us to reflect and feed back various outcomes and suggestions.

The first meeting will take place on 7th June in Settimo Torinese. We’ll discuss the future of work and skills with 60 students of “Istituto d’Istruzione Superiore Statale 8 Marzo” using a participative methodology.

This will happen thanks to the collaboration and support of a brilliant association of young people “Tavolo Giovani”, the vice headmaster of the Institute, Professoressa Givone, and the municipality.

The perception of the distance from the European institutions is real for many citizens and one idea to start reconstructing trust and legitimacy is by working to increase participatory and deliberative opportunities for citizens to be better involved in influencing, shaping and making decisions. Through testing new approaches and formats, we hope this project will demonstrate a new and different way to have conversations about European policy issues at the local level.

A networked approach is needed if the European action is to be linked into citizens’ opinions and experiences at local level, cutting away the geographical and theoretical distance between the two.

EU democracy needs to re-start where people live.

 

Interested in finding out more? Please contact francesca@demsoc.org or italia@demsoc.org

Do you want to keep in touch with us? Please subscribe to our newsletter!

 

 

Democrazia Europea Interconessa al via in Italia!

In un momento delicato per l’Italia e la sua situazione politica, la prossima settimana lanceremo il primo evento del progetto Democrazia Europea Interconnessa, un programma ambizioso e allo stesso tempo pratico, che mira a fornire una migliore connessione tra cittadini e decisori europei su un importante problema politico.

Discuteremo questioni politiche pertinenti e attuali a livello locale e il nostro tema quest’anno è il futuro del lavoro e delle competenze. Questo è anche legato al tema chiave del Festival dell’Economia 2018 a Trento, dove esperti e professionisti internazionali hanno di “Tecnologia e lavoro” dal 31 maggio al 3 giugno, offrendo numerosi spunti di riflessione.

Durante il progetto lavoreremo con tre comuni italiani: Courmayeur (AO), Martina Franca (TA) e Settimo Torinese (TO). Questi tre comuni hanno un diverso background sociale e culturale, poiché si estendono dall’estremo sud della penisola al confine francese, e ci permetteranno di riflettere e restituire molteplici risultati e proposte.

Il primo incontro si terrà il 7 giugno a Settimo Torinese. Discuteremo di questo tema con 60 studenti dell'”Istituto d’Istruzione Superiore Statale 8 Marzo” utilizzando una metodologia partecipativa. Ciò avverrà grazie alla collaborazione e al sostegno di una brillante associazione il “Tavolo Giovani”, della vice preside dell’Istituto, Professoressa Givone, e del comune.

La percezione della distanza dalle istituzioni europee è reale per molti cittadini e un’idea per iniziare a ricostruire la fiducia e la legittimità è lavorare per aumentare le opportunità partecipative e deliberative affinché i cittadini possano essere maggiormente coinvolti nell’influenzare, dare forma e prendere decisioni.

Sperimentando nuovi approcci e formati, speriamo che questo progetto possa affermare un nuovo e diverso modo di avere conversazioni su questioni politiche europee a livello locale.

Un approccio interconnesso è necessario se vogliamo che l’azione europea sia collegata alle opinioni e alle esperienze dei cittadini a livello locale, eliminando la distanza geografica e teorica tra i due.

La democrazia europea deve ripartire dove vivono le persone.

Interessato a saperne di più? Contatta francesca@demsoc.org o italia@demsoc.org

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Reflections on the European Citizens’ Panel

Over the weekend, The Democratic Society was involved in the European Citizens’ Panel, run by the European Commission, with the support of Kantar Public (a market research agency) and Missions Publiques (a specialist citizen deliberation organisation). Bertelsmann Stiftung acted as academic experts.

We helped with the design and facilitation of the event, which ran from Friday night to Sunday lunchtime, and a group of facilitators from the civil society network that we are creating on the European Citizens’ Consultation supported Missions Publiques with independent facilitation.

These are my first reflections – I’m sure there will more thorough research and reporting put out in due course.

What was the purpose?

The European Citizens Consultations (ECCs) are happening across 27 EU member states over the next few months. With original impulse from President Macron, they are designed to give a sense of what European citizens want for Europe’s future, in advance of the European elections next year, and the mandate of the new Commission.

The ECCs are not a single thing. Each member state has said they will undertake them in their own way, and certainly some will do more and some will do less.

The central common element is a digital consultation being run by the European Commission. The Citizens’ Panel that met over the weekend was intended to choose the themes and questions for that digital consultation. The French government had already said that they would use the themes that emerged as the core elements of their consultation approach, and others may do the same.

Who came?

Kantar Public, the market research agency who have the contract for undertaking the regular Eurobarometer survey, recruited a group of 96 participants from all 27 countries.

To ensure that each country could send a man and a woman, there wasn’t an even distribution between countries. Many countries had two participants, none had fewer than two, and none had more than six. This meant that France, say, was comparatively underrepresented compared to Malta.

The participant selection was also designed to create an audience representative on gender, age, employment status and economic status. The recruitment plan was designed to ensure that representation was spread across the countries, so that, for instance, in country X Kantar Public’s team would have to find a man under 30 who was employed and a woman over 65 who described herself as being under financial stress.

Participants did not have to speak English, or even understand it. In the final group, just over half said that they had some knowledge of English, but this varied widely between countries.

What was the setup?

We were hosted by the European Economic and Social Committee, who were unbelievably flexible, welcoming and supportive. Because the event was finalised at short notice, there were a lot of last-minute arrangements to sort out.

Because people had to express themselves in their native language, we used interpretation (the usual setup with interpreters in cabins and people wearing headsets that you’ve probably experienced, or seen on news reports if not).

The interpreters, who were giving up a bank holiday weekend, arranged the participants in groups so that everyone could speak in their native language and hear in a language that they understood (though not always their native language). With 22 languages spoken (the official languages minus Maltese and Irish) this was a multi-dimensional jigsaw puzzle but it worked – there were only a couple of people for a couple of sessions who needed someone with them to translate by whispering in their ear (chuchotage) rather than through the interpretation service.

The one inflexibility this introduced is that, because interpreters can’t work in all languages at once, the distribution of the participants had to be fixed for the whole two days, there was no option of mixing and combining groups. Still, there was a good mix in each group – I don’t think we had fewer than four nationalities in any of the rooms.

What happened?

We started with a blank sheet of paper. There was some talk beforehand of having a long list of topics that the EU worked on, or key themes that had come out of other engagement exercises like Eurobarometer, but it was thought best to start from zero.

After an introduction to the process and some icebreaking on Friday night, and a validation of the rules and confirmation that people understood the process the following morning, discussion started in groups.

Participants were asked to nominate topics that they would consider to be the main issues that should be asked to their fellow European citizens, in the context of a conversation on Europe’s future. Each group was facilitated by an independent person, with a note-taker recording the issues and argumentation for each.

After 1h45 minutes of discussion, the topic lists were brought together by the facilitators and the six most frequently raised issues were marked as the “top six”. These were:

  • Education and Youth
  • Equality, Fairness and Solidarity
  • Environment
  • Making rules and making decisions
  • Migration and Refugees
  • Security and Defence

These “top six” were then pinned – people could reopen them and continue the discussion on them, but they were noted as being significant topics that would be part of the twelve selected.

After lunch, participants were asked to continue their discussions with a prompt question, about what they think Europe will be like in 2040. The aim in this session was to enrich and deepen the list of topics from the morning.

Finally, before the plenary session at the end of the day, participants were asked to choose the two most important topics that they had discussed, excluding the “top six”, and present those back in the plenary.

Each group presented back in the plenary session, and there was then a vote to select the “second six” to go with the “top six” to form the twelve topics for the citizen consultation. From the fourteen topics presented, similar ones were merged so in the end ten were voted on.

The vote was positive only (you could vote for but not against), and each participant was asked to cast no more than six votes. The electronic voting system in the Committee was not ideally suited to this voting setup, but we made it work after a couple of initial hitches and the topics and voting results can be seen below:

  • Health/Quality of Life/Ageing Society (merged) – 86 votes
  • Social Protection – 74
  • Economic security – 67
  • Maintaining the Union in a future crisis situation – 61
  • Work/Technology/Employment and Technological Development (merged) – 55
  • Agriculture/Fisheries/Food Security – 54
  • Climate change – 47
  • Local vs EU decision making – 46
  • Size of the EU (states joining or leaving) – 45
  • More or less integration of the states of the Union – 39

I was a little surprised that Climate Change and institutional arrangements didn’t make the cut, but “Environment” and “How decisions are made” were already in the top six so presumably participants thought that the issues were sufficiently covered under that heading.

At that point the first day ended but each group had been asked to nominate one or two participants to take part in an evening session in which the group presented back to Kantar Public’s question design experts. Had we had longer with the participants, this would have been a focus of a daytime session, but with just a weekend to work with, this had to be an evening one. The disadvantage was that the session had to be conducted in English, because there was no interpretation available, but this was a report-back session rather than one where anything was going to be decided.

The participant volunteers joined their group facilitators and Kantar Public, and fed back the key points of the discussion in their groups relevant to each of the twelve selected topics. They were supported by the facilitators’ and note-takers’ notes. Kantar Public’s team (who had also been sitting in on the sessions) then asked questions for clarification, and explained how questions could be written to be open or closed, and how to avoid leading or biased questions.

The plan had been for Kantar Public’s team to spend an hour drafting a first set of questions on the twelve topics, before presenting them back to the group for initial feedback, but the group presentations took longer than expected and Kantar Public had a lot of material to work on. Rather than presenting the questions back to the volunteers at 2300, we brought them to the venue early and gave them first sight of them at 0830 before the 0900 start.

Kantar Public produced a long list of 39 questions, arranged under the twelve topics selected by participants. They merged “equality” and “social protection” to allow space for a set of cross-cutting or “transversal” questions that picked up on common issues arising.

In the original event plan, we had thought about giving each group one or two topics and asking them to choose one question from each to send to the plenary for approval, but on looking at the question list and thinking about the breadth of discussion the day before, we changed the plan on the Sunday morning and gave all the groups all the questions to consider.

This was the area where there was the most discussion in the facilitation team. Giving all the groups all the questions meant that every participant could express an opinion on everything and no-one would feel that they had been prevented from talking about, say, the environment. However, it was also a big workload for the Sunday morning, particularly since interpretation meant that the whole questionnaire draft had to be read to participants to ensure that they were able to hear it in their own language.

However, after considerable discussion, this approach was thought preferable to giving each group a subset of themes or issues, which would have increased their opportunity to go deeply into the questions, but (given that we couldn’t rearrange the groups because of interpretation) prevented some participants from having a say on issues that they cared about.

In each group, participants were given ten votes to distribute among the 39 questions (one vote per question maximum). They were told that the target was for there to be at least three open questions in the survey as a whole, and one question on each topic.

The participants expressed some concern that the workload of 39 questions was too heavy, but the discussions did get under way and with a half hour extension on the planned time in groups, each group voted successfully.

The vote in each group was added together and the top question in each section selected. In the end, only two of the open questions were selected and ten of the closed ones. On the basis that we needed one more open question, participants in plenary were given a vote between the two open cross-cutting questions, and chose the second of the two options as a thirteenth question.

Finally, participants voted to approve the list as a whole, and we had our twelve topics and our thirteen questions.

Thanks and reflections

It’s worth recording here what a great piece of teamwork this panel was. Arranged at short notice, reworked as we ran it, it demanded and received a huge level of commitment from the Commission, from Kantar and its partners. I’ve never run a fully multi-lingual citizen panel before and although we had the immense benefit of the EESC and the interpretation service, there was a lot more discussion between participants than I had thought there might be. On some tricky issues dividing Europe, you could see those from countries with different political attitudes listening to and reflecting on each other’s views.

Not everything worked. We needed more time than we had, for a start. Certainly another day would have allowed for deeper deliberation, or even running the event across two weekends – but the logistical upheaval of bringing people to Brussels for that would have been impossible.

The discussions were good but the slope of the decision making process (from blank sheet to final questions in a day and a half) was very steep. Participants were positive about the experience in the discussions at the end of the event, but I will not be surprised if the evaluation forms tell me that they found themselves rushed at certain points.

The questions, too, will need a little polishing, coming as they do from late night work by Kantar Public and being drawn from a very broad and diverse discussion. I don’t know – I’m writing this before the questionnaire is released – how faithful the final version will be to what emerged on Sunday afternoon, but I hope it will be a very close correlation. Perhaps not every multiple choice will be the same but I hope to see the same fundamental questions, and the twelve topics that emerged.

The final contribution, from Commission DG of Communications Timo Pesonen, reflected that this was a very new experience for the Commission, who had run citizen dialogues before but never an event like this, designing a participation approach participatively. The door was very clearly open to more, and although there are lots of lessons on what to do and what not to do that we can draw from it, for a first time event, pulled together over the course of no more than a month, it feels like a success.

What’s next

The real mark of success, of course, will be the impact of the European Citizens’ Consultations and the themes that the participants came up with. We’re talking about them, and this event, at the launch of the Open Government Network for Europe on 22 May, and you can sign up to join us there right now.

We’re also, with our colleagues at the European Policy Centre, running a European civil society network on the Citizens Consultations, and if you would like to find out more, or share what’s happening on the ECCs where you are, please let us know.

Thanks to Hannah Starman, Lena Morozova-Friha, Stephen Boucher and Marcin Gerwin for acting as facilitators, to Paul Butcher and Satguine Maison for taking notes, and to Corina Stratulat for her work in the core facilitation team.

Further Links

“City Democracy Incubator” joins the shortlist for Advocate Europe!

Advocate Europe is a challenge to find unconventional and transnational ideas that respond to Europe’s present challenges, covering different fields such as civic education, arts and culture, social innovation and advocacy. The initiative is realised by MitOst and Liquid Democracy, funded by Stiftung Mercator.

This year 475 ideas were submitted from 42 countries, with 31 of those ideas selected for a shortlist.

The shortlisted ideas are each in with a chance of securing grants of up to €50,000 and mentoring to implement their ideas – and we’re delighted to share that the idea we submitted for a “City Democracy Incubator” is one of them!

You can view the full shortlist here: https://advocate-europe.eu/ideas/

The next step is to send representatives to an ‘Idea Challenge Camp’ from April 25th to 29th 2018 in Kiev, Ukraine. We’ll peer review the ideas and be inspired by other experts coming from all over Europe. Two members of the Demsoc team – Anthony Zacharzewski, Demsoc founder and President, and Francesca Attolino, our Italian Network Lead – will attend this incredible networking event.

A brief introduction to the City Democracy Incubator

Across Europe, cities are experimenting with participatory democracy, in budgeting, in planning and in city services. Too often, those experiments are small-scale, disconnected and fail to transition from experiment to mainstream.

The Incubator aims to:

  • Find and connect city experiments in democracy and increase their impact;
  • Help places learn from each other;
  • and create European models for urban democracy to act as the foundation for a networked European democracy infrastructure.

Demsoc has already started some work to explore these ideas, but now we’re looking forward to taking the next step. This project helps build a foundational network of local participatory structures, locally designed but learning from each other and interconnected.

Our idea is to start locally, where people live, in order to reconnect this level to the European one. We’ve had interest from some cities and we hope there will be many more to come.

Behind this proposal there’s already an initial network, ideas and commitments from the World Forum on Democracy that takes place annually in Strasbourg in November.

At the challenge camp and beyond, we’ll be looking out for practical ideas for the big problems and opportunities that clusters in the proposed Incubator should address, ideas for other cities to approach, opportunities for collaboration, and some great examples of local democracy activity.

Let us know what you think by tweeting @demsocBXL or by emailing brussels@demsoc.org – we encourage you to share the idea to help us reach a wider audience too!

Change at the Council: Independent Review of Governance for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

Today, The Democratic Society (Demsoc) and the Centre for Public Scrutiny (CfPS) published a report titled Change at the Council: Independent Review of Governance for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Funded by the Local Government Association (LGA), this report is the result of months of research conducted by talking to residents, councillors, council officers and partners about the good and bad aspects of the current system, and how it can be improved. We have looked at the way that the Council makes decisions and who is involved in making those decisions. These conversations, survey responses and interviews, as well as previous experience of work that CfPS and Demsoc have done, has allowed us to write twelve principles and seven recommendations for the Council going forward.

Principles:

  • Connecting with residents
  • Focusing on what matters
  • Listening to every voice
  • Acting with integrity
  • Involving before deciding
  • Communicating what we’re doing
  • Inviting residents to take part
  • Being clearly accountable
  • Responding fairly to everyone’s needs
  • Working as a team
  • Managing responsibly
  • Having the support we need

Recommendations:

  • Incorporate the twelve principles into the Council’s key policies, strategies and partnership arrangements, including the Constitution, organisational, officer and member development programmes, as the foundation for a new and positive culture
  • Hold a Borough-wide conversation to decide the strategic direction and governance arrangements for the Council
  • Establish a citizens’ assembly, along with similar “deliberative” process as part of the Borough-wide conversation on the strategic direction and future governance of the Council
  • Establish a “listening committee” for councillors to hear directly from residents in an open format
  • Set up a commission to review how Borough-wide and area governance will work in the future, involving residents and partners to consider options
  • Take practical steps to engage with local government good practice
  • Use the Annual Government Statement as the basis for an ongoing, wider conversation about how governance can be improved

These have been explored and explained in detail in the report, a link to which you can find at the bottom of this post.

We do not expect that the recommendations set out in our report will be followed exactly by the Council, but that they will work with the community and use this report as a first step and framework to making changes that are best for everyone involved. We hope that the dialogue with residents started by this report will be continued, and they will have joint ownership of any changes that are put in place.

Good governance means doing the right things in the right way. It is about more than just legal systems and policies. It is about being transparent, accountable, involving people, acting with integrity and having the right support. We hope that this report goes some of the way to achieving that.

You can find the full report here.

 

 

Ideas of Democracy: Save Democracy – Abolish Voting

Demsoc has just launched the first in our Ideas of Democracy series. The series is intended to give space for writers to express a vision and contribute to the debate on the future of democracy and democratic governance. The books are personal views, and not those of the Society.

Here Paul Evans, author of “Save Democracy – Abolish Voting” discusses his new book, which you can buy online now.

“Save Democracy – Abolish Voting” sketches out an alternative means of managing liberal democracy.

It is an unusual book, in that it defends the values and reputation of Representative Democracy as vigorously as possible while also promoting a new form of Direct Democracy that could even eventually replace our current parliamentary system.

While rejecting the use of referendums, the book also rejects the argument made by some opponents of referendums about how voters don’t have the intelligence to make big democratic decisions for themselves. Instead, it argues that it is the wise voter who rejecs the selective appeals of politicians who allow us a say on some carefully-chosen questions but not others.

“Save Democracy – Abolish Voting” calls for an equality of control over every aspect of our governance. The book suggests an alternative to balloting – one that makes it practical and possible for us all to have our interests defended and advanced equally.

The book goes further than just a rejection of referendums. It questions the very link between the desire of each citizen to get “the kind of government that I want” and “casting a vote.” It ridicules the idea that the way citizens can direct a government by selecting from a limited number of political options in an attempt to say what we think we want.

It attacks what many believe to the very heart of democracy; our vote, and the right it gives us to decide what sort of government we think that want to have going forwards. It doesn’t do this without making a better suggestion though.

There is currently some truth in the old anarchist slogan; “it doesn’t matter who you vote for, the government always gets in.” While defending the values that underpin Representative Democracy, “Save Democracy – Abolish Voting” recognises that it is not enough for us to only have parliamentarians and other elected representatives directly responsible to us.

“Save Democracy – Abolish Voting” proposes a way of placing every part of the public sphere – every resource that goes into writing laws and deciding what governments do – equally under the control of each citizen. Crucially, it does it in a way that does not depend upon citizens needing to put any direct effort in. This is not a proposal for a system that rewards activists, or the cash/time rich citizens who currently dominate our political system.

“Save Democracy – Abolish Voting” is written from an understanding of how digital technology is changing politics and society. It voices a demand that is very rarely made in a sustained way. It calls for the most complete democratic equality that is practicable. It calls for a huge expansion in the role of participatory government. It does this in a way that actually complements the best aspects of Representative Democracy while abolishing the worst bits.

Most of all, it is a rejection of the idea that “politics” is a good tool to use to control a democracy. “Save Democracy – Abolish Voting” proposes a better alternative.

Reflections on a three month internship with The Democratic Society

In June we were delighted to welcome Alex Hrabinová to our office in Edinburgh to begin a three-month internship, which was enabled by the Erasmus+ programme. Having now returned home to Slovakia, we asked Alex to reflect on her time spent working with the Demsoc team. You can read about her experiences below.

We’re always happy to hear from people interested in working in the Democratic Sector. We are able to support occasional internship opportunities, but it’s important to us that the placements are meaningful development opportunities and can fit alongside our existing programmes of work. If you want to chat, feel free to drop us a line at hello@demsoc.org. 


After five years of studying Economics and two final theses written focusing on participatory budgeting in Slovakia, I found myself dreaming about seeing how it works in practice. At university, they told us all the theories about democratic regimes, systems and transformations – but we all know and even can feel that bringing about change and reform is not that easy.

The reason I chose Scotland was clear: I perceive it as an inclusive and innovation driven country, keen to share its experiences. The reason I chose The Democratic Society was even clearer: focusing on implementation of participatory budgeting processes across Scotland with embedding tools for digital democracy seemed like a perfect opportunity to expand my horizons of professional and personal interest.

First and foremost, when describing my experience with Demsoc, it is useful to say that I was paid during my internship, unlike many other Erasmus interns who may have to live off a small bursary from the Erasmus programme. From speaking with one of my colleagues, it would be in contradiction with their organisational values. They appreciate people interested in their work and make every effort to fairly support anyone who works with them.

Following their broader organisational belief coming from independent, non-partisan and non-political aligned background, they certainly consider the partners they work with too. I found it really affable hearing them talk about considering ethical principles and financial transparency of their potential partners as one of the criteria of their further digital tools research. Although it is increasingly difficult to maintain a flat organisational structure in a constantly growing environment – which requires increasing professionalisation – Demsoc is trying to be non-hierarchical and always treat their employees equally by insisting on providing an open and honest workplace; they focus on clear internal communication and prompt responses to all of their staff’s needs and concerns.

I met my colleagues for the first time in the middle of June when my internship started. I remember stepping nervously into the cosy office to meet my mentor and supervisor, but ended up having a relaxed conversation in a truly welcoming and supporting environment. We finished that day knowing each other better and networking with clients and associates at Demsoc’s regular HolyroodTweetUp event. What a great way to start this experience!

After meeting the rest of my colleagues, I quickly gained in confidence and lost any the nerves that I had. I think there must be something special about Demsoc that just bring the right people into the organisation! I always perceived the team as a bunch of very interesting, all very different but hugely compatible personalities who simply enjoy doing their job – and they do it so well!

During my time working with Demsoc, I discovered a level of creativity and innovativeness that I’ve never seen before. I think this difference might be in part cultural, affected by a different educational system, but mostly it’s about the people who like to share and discuss ideas together and who believe that ‘we’ is more powerful than ‘me’. They were supporting me all the time in developing my ideas and putting them into practice, engaging me in every learning opportunity that occurred.

So, what exactly I was doing during my internship? Because I was interested to gain an internal insight into all kind of issues around participatory budgeting, my first role was observation. I attended meetings with clients and partners, workshops, webinars and learning events from where I started to build a valuable knowledge base. Generally, I was positively surprised by the number of kind people I had a chance to meet during my internship. I never felt unpleasant in conversations I had regarding my language barriers. I learned that when people see you trying and if you have positive attitude and interest, you will get to know all sort of things.

Later on, I moved from observation to supporting delivery of the projects. For example, I was helping to finish case studies for the various PB initiatives running in previous project phase by analysing data from participants’ feedback. It was really interesting to see what people think about the process, what they like or what they would improve, but mostly that they do care about it and they wish to be engaged in decision making.

I learned a lot of valuable lessons and useful tips from case studies written by my colleagues, e.g. how important it is to plan everything properly in advance to make our project successful, what issues need to be considered more specifically, how long time various stages of the process take, but mostly how digital tools can support PB, what are the options and how to integrate them with offline processes. Drawing from these lessons, I further collaborated in designing preparation document for launch of the next phase of PB programme in order to communicate even more effectively with councils and community organizations in the future.

What I enjoyed very much was the possibility to be involved in the research on digital tools for participatory budgeting, finding platforms and tools for a refresh of Demsoc knowledge and building my own. I also had an opportunity to try some of those currently used by Scottish councils and meet their providers. Digital tools for citizen participation are not commonly used in Slovakia, however I believe this topic in the future will be relevant for us and by undertaking further study in this field, I will have a lot to offer back in Slovakia.

Doing this internship in Demsoc provided me with a chance to see everyday progress, it prepared me well to adapt to and act in new situations, to cooperate with people from other backgrounds and cultures and finally help me to make clearer my ideas about my professional career aspirations and goals. Getting back home, I will continue to build on this knowledge and I hope to catch up to their tempo soon. I can’t be more thankful for such wonderful people and lifetime experience!

Thank you for all of your contributions, Alex, it was fantastic to work with you! We wish you every success in developing participatory budgeting and democracy in Slovakia.
– The Demsoc Team

Event Alert: Democracy in action? – The Place of Referendums in Scotland and the UK

The referendum is, in theory, one of the best democratic instruments around.  One person, one vote. Direct Democracy in action. Look at Switzerland!

However, when we look at referendums in more detail, we can be exposed to a very different picture. Are referendums being used within a democratic culture that generates positive democratic outcomes?

Alistair Stoddart from The Democratic Society will speak on a panel about The Place of Referendums in Scotland and the UK in Glasgow on Wednesday 13th September 2017 from 5.30pm.  

The event has been organised by the Centre for Scottish Public Policy and the discussion will reflect on recent referendums, a future Scottish independence referendum and the interpretation of the recent UK “Brexit” referendum.

The event will examine when, and how, referendums have been, and should be, used in parliamentary democracy in the UK and in Scotland.

Did the #IndyRef create a new democratic energy in Scotland? Did the #EUref provide a deliberative debate and a decisive outcome?

Alistair will touch on these questions while also providing his thoughts on alternatives to referendums and ideas about participative democracy.

Join the discussion by reserving your free ticket here or send an e-mail to marine@cspp.org.uk, stating your name and organisation.

If you have any questions about our work in Scotland, please email us at Scotland@demsoc.org

Help us research how the EU is trying to open up, and how this can be supported

We are trying to find out what initiatives are already happening to build greater accountability, participation, and transparency into the work of the EU. We also want to find who the people are within EU institutions that are working on these initiatives, and driving this change. We want to speak to these people about how this kind of work can be better supported – is there a way that learning and progress can be better shared, and innovators within and outside the institutions better linked up?

EU Commission offices
Creative commons image, click for the original

This is where you may be able to help. If you know of interesting initiatives within the EU institutions, or know people who would be interesting to talk to about their work within the EU institutions then please get in touch. Drop Mat an email on mat@demsoc.org with a few sentences outlining the initiatives or people that you know about. It may also useful for us to have a quick research chat with you, if you would be willing to do this please let us know. Either way it would be very useful to hear from you. We are interested in the full spectrum of EU bodies- from the Commission, to the Council of the EU, down to smaller bodies like the EU Fundamental Rights Agency.

This research is being commissioned by the Open Society European Policy Institute (OSEPI). It builds upon research we previously worked on for them, looking at the work of the Open Government Partnership and whether this approach might be usefully applied to the EU. The culmination of both these phases of research will be a public report that looks at how initiatives to open up EU governance could be better supported and taken forwards. We will also be discussing our findings at a roundtable in Brussels to which OSEPI will be inviting key innovators and advocates for opening up government at an EU level.

Thank you for any information you can share, and we look forward to sharing our findings here in July.