Published on June 13, 2014

Tools for civic activism

Civic activism

By Tim Hughes

Tim is director of Involve. He took over leadership of the organisation in January 2017, having previously led Involve’s open government programme and the UK Open Government Network (OGN).

Civic activismInvolve has been commissioned by the Building Change Trust to collect examples of tools and methods that can be used by civil society organisations to enable and support civic activism (i.e. involving citizens in decision making processes).

The tools or methods will be usable by civil society organisation working at a local level (e.g. in rural, suburban or urban communities) and will support six categories of activities (derived from Civicus’s Participatory Governance categories):

  • Public budgets – Enabling / supporting citizens to understand and influence decisions about the allocation of public resources, monitor public spending and hold government actors accountable for their management of public financial resources.
  • Public debate – Enabling / supporting citizens to be aware of their civic rights and responsibilities, collectively deliberate on priority issues and/or express their opinions and concerns.
  • Public information – Enabling / supporting citizens to have access to relevant information about government policies, decisions and actions.
  • Public oversight – Enabling / supporting citizens to scrutinise the conduct of politicians and public officials, identify corruption, oversee public action, seek redress for injustices or misdeeds, ensure that elections are free and fair and hold politicians accountable for their electoral promises.
  • Public policy – Enabling / supporting citizens to engage constructively with policy makers on public policy issues.
  • Public services – Enabling / supporting citizens to monitor and evaluate the accessibility, quality and efficiency of public services.

We are undertaking our search for tools and methods through a combination of desk based research and the crowdsourcing of ideas. If you know of any interesting tools or methods, please tell us about them:

All of the tools and methods we collect will be published with the intention that they are shared, used and reused to inform and inspire civil society around the world. A selection of the tools and methods will be used by the Building Change Trust and Involve in our work to support civic activism and engagement in Northern Ireland, Britain and beyond.

Civic activism_Logos@2x

2 Responses to “Tools for civic activism”

  1. June 18, 2014 at 8:01 am

    I entirely understand how your project has come to focus on this interpretation of citizen engagement and civic activism but it does seem oddly lacking in what most people would regard as relevance to their ‘ordinary’ lives.

    In a recent essay ‘Municipal Enterprise: renaissance in an Information Society’ ( ) I considered the ‘cultural connections’ – the threads of everyday life oft referred to as the social fabric that holds communities together.

    These ‘threads’ are not easily measured or understood and are so often ignored by linear economists or (at best) excused as secondary or tertiary ‘externalities’ – an admission, possibly, of deeper inadequacies in their models and the understanding of the real world.

    We are however rapidly approaching a time when the great diversity of linkages and behaviours can be tracked, measured and understood. My essay focused in large part on ‘cultural’ investments – by which I meant something far deeper than public artworks or museums, and something far more immediately relevant to everyday lives.

    Exploring this theme recently in New York at the Intelligent Community Forum’s annual summit I cited the example of a digital inclusion project aimed at bringing more people into the online world.

    The project run by a local support group for women had a refreshingly non-technical focus but ‘Baking with Friends’ naturally involved some maths, recipe downloading, physics and a great deal of fun. The ‘cultural connection’, the thread, was an interest in cooking. It could easily have been knitting, sport, writing, embroidery, DIY, music – all things that are relevant to everyday life.

    These things may seem a million miles from ‘civic activism’ and engagement in ‘decision making processes’ but I do think it will eventually be possible to refocus local government (municipalities) on the real needs of the communities they are supposed to serve.


  2. Simon Burall
    June 18, 2014 at 2:11 pm

    I’m sure Tim, who is leading this work will want to respond to. However, your comment chimes the Pathways through Participation work that we completed a couple of years ago:

    This is a particular project with a specific aim, but your comment is a reminder for those that need it, that in the end civic activism and engagement will only work when citizens, their interests and energy, are driving it.

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