Published on December 19, 2014

Our top 8 democracy moments from 2014

NHS Citizen Open Government Partnership People & participation Sciencewise Scotland

By Sarah Allan

Sarah Allan is Engagement Lead at Involve. She has a wide ranging background in research, campaigning and project management, and a long-standing belief in the need to transform how UK decision-making works.

Podemos

It’s the end of the year and the Involve team are about to head off for Christmas. There was just time left to set ourselves the near-impossible task of choosing our top 8 democracy moments from 2014.

Here’s what we came up with.

  • Podemos: Organising for democratic change
    Chosen by Sonia Bussu
    Over the past few years, as a reaction to the economic crisis and a crisis of legitimacy of mainstream party politics, many European countries have seen the rise of anti-establishment parties. In Spain, 2014 has seen growing success for the left-wing party Podemos (“We can” in English). It was founded only this year, as a development of the indignados (indignant) movement, and has received much attention for its strong democratic inner structure. The party won 1.2m votes and five seats in May’s European elections and currently tops Spanish opinion polls. We’ll see how it fares in the long term, but could such a bottom-up political formation come to represent a bridge between the old de-legitimised world of representative democracy and the vibrant but still embryonic participatory movement?
  • Mainstreaming training on public dialogue across the UK civil service
    Chosen by Amy Pollard
    My highlight of the year comes from our Sciencewise programme. We’ve successfully negotiated with Civil Service Learning to integrate training on public dialogue into their Open Policy Making courses. This means that in 2015 we’ll be training civil servants around the country – policy makers, fast streamers and others within government and non-departmental public bodies – on how to engage the public in complex policy issues.
  • Scotland’s Independence Referendum
    Chosen by Sarah Allan
    As I lead Involve’s democratic reform programme, I felt I had to pick the Independence Referendum. It has, temporarily at least, changed the status and framing of UK constitutional reform debates. And it has already contributed to further change, for example the Devo Manc settlement. If that wasn’t enough, its record turnout and preceding intense debate showed how many people will get involved if they feel an issue is important enough and that their contribution will make a difference. It is also worth remembering that the single biggest reason for people voting ‘yes’ was dissatisfaction with Westminster politics.
  • The Umbrella Revolution
    Chosen by Tim Hughes
    You can’t talk about democracy in 2014 without mentioning the “Umbrella Revolution”. The 83-day long protests began in response to the Chinese governments plans to introduce universal suffrage to Hong Kong on its own terms. Rather than open elections, Beijing’s reforms would see only candidates approved by a selection committee being allowed to run. The protests peaked with over 100,000 Hong Kong residents taking to the streets to demand open elections. The protests have now come to an end with open elections seemingly still an unlikely prospect. So, a top moment for democracy or not? At the very least, it once more brought the ongoing struggle for democracy into sharp focus.
  • Creating space for collaborative conversations in NHS England
    Chosen by Simon Burall
    We’ve spent just over a year working with NHS England to design a Citizens Assembly to hold the Board of NHS England to account. This has evolved into NHS Citizen. We held the first, live webcast Assembly Meeting on the 18th September. At the Assembly over 200 citizens and patients worked collaboratively with members of the Board on critical issues facing the NHS. These issues were not chosen by NHS England, instead power to choose had been given to citizens. There is much to improve, but much to celebrate too.
  • The rise of the others
    Chosen by Tom Harrison
    OK, I’m slightly cheating here as it isn’t quite a “moment” but I found the rise of other parties in UK this year very exciting. Fuelled by the referendum and perhaps mainstream media’s reluctance to invite the smaller parties to the Election Debates, membership numbers have increased 65,000 for the SNP, 7,000 for UKIP, and 35,800 for the Greens in England, Wales, and Scotland. People have identified constructive ways of responding to the frustrations they feel with the existing 2.5 parties.
  • Commitment on corporate transparency
    Chosen by Josephine Suherman-Bailey
    In April this year Business Secretary Vince Cable announced measures to improve corporate transparency, including a new public register to track who ultimately owns and controls UK companies. This followed the Government’s commitment to introduce such a register in the UK’s 2013-15 Open Government Partnership action plan. This is a big step forward in extending the principles of openness and transparency to companies, and will help the government and authorities tackle the scourge of tax evasion and corruption.
  • Democracy in the North
    Chosen by Emily Graham
    My top democracy moment for 2014 has me looking home-wards to the North of England, where I can see a real energy for democratic reform. Conversations about alternatives to the current distribution of power are flourishing at least in some circles, but the feeling that policy is often made in too-distant Westminster is certainly popular. This year, we had Northern Futures and DevoManc – what will 2015 bring? What about Yorkshire (which after all, has bigger population than Wales)? And what would a devolved North-East mean? I’m looking forward to exploring these questions in 2015 & seeing what happens next…

 

So that’s our top 8. What do you think? Did we miss anything?

 

Picture credit: Podemos Uviéu

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