There are many fantastic people and organisations working to protect and strengthen our democracy in the UK, but too often we are isolated from one another and struggle to have the impact we desire.
The Democracy Network is a new initiative to build and strengthen the democracy sector. It will bring together people passionate about democracy from across the UK to support collaboration and build our collective power and influence.
If you are working to improve democracy in the UK – in whatever way, and whatever form – we invite you to help shape the Democracy Network!
These FAQs set out our early thoughts about the Democracy Network. As part of the setup phase we will be engaging across the democracy sector to take key decisions about, among other things, how it works, what it does and who it’s for, so these answers are subject to change based on those discussions.
What led up to this point?
In 2020, the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust commissioned Networking for Democracy, an analysis of sector needs and perspectives. It concludes that building better connections within and outside the sector is a priority capacity building need; and that there is a good case and support for building a “network”.
Following a call for proposals, Involve has been awarded a three-year grant of £350,000 from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust (JRRT), which includes a contribution of £50,000 from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT), to incubate, expand and coordinate the Democracy Network.
What is the purpose of the network?
The priorities and activities of the network will be developed openly and collaboratively with its membership, but as we start out developing the Democracy Network we have three aims in mind:
- Connecting: Developing a trusted, strong, diverse and well-functioning democracy network, with high engagement in network activities and an expanding reach to new groups;
- Information sharing and capacity building: Increasing the knowledge, skills, resources and impact of members; and,
- Vision and influence: Expanding the collective influence of the network and its members, including receiving increased media and political attention.
We propose taking a phased approach over the next three years to build the scale and impact of the network. This would begin by focusing internally on the network and its members, and gradually shift its focus externally to how the sector engages new groups and builds its influence. Throughout, our focus will be on building understanding, trust and common purpose across the sector, as this is ultimately what will build and sustain collaboration.
What will the network do?
The activities of the network will be agreed with its membership. In his review of the democracy sector, Joe Mitchell identified four groups of networking efforts based on interviews with people in the sector:
- Sharing knowledge and information;
- Building community;
- Coordinating and building consensus; and
- Collaborating (e.g. sharing space, resources, functions, etc.)
We will be further exploring the value of these different types of activity with the sector during the setup phase. As a starting point for discussion, these are some of the sorts of activities that we envisage the network undertaking:
- A regular programme of online meet-ups / workshops on a variety of topics selected by members including:
- Meetings with politicians & media via a advocacy and communication working group
- Meetings with academics via a good practice and standards working group
- Thematic working groups
- Coordinating a festival of democracy, which brings people together to build relationships and collaborative;
- Supporting existing initiatives (e.g. Democracy Handbook, Notwestminster, Open Government Network, etc.);
- Establishing communications and knowledge sharing channels including shared calendar, research tracker etc
- Identifying existing strengths and assets in the sector, and supporting the exchange of these via “in-network” training, exchange of information, mentorship, action learning groups etc.
- Co-creating a shared vision and policy proposals for the sector;
- Commissioning research, training, communications advice, etc.
Some activities will be led by us as coordinators, but we hope to create the network as a platform for its members to be able to self organise and collaborate independently.
Who is the network for?
Our starting point is that the network should be open to anyone working to improve democracy in the UK, with some limited exclusions agreed by the network (e.g. party political organisations). This will include people who identify as being part of a “democratic sector”, but it may also include others who work on related issues. We anticipate creating a range of ways for people to be involved in the network (e.g. as individuals or organisations), with different offers available for different groups of members to ensure it’s responsive to different needs.
Ultimately, we believe that the network will be at its most powerful where this is a broad and diverse coalition of people that reaches far and wide across the country, and includes lots of different perspectives and approaches. This will inevitably mean that not everyone will agree on everything, but we hope to find new ways for people from across the sector to work together, learn from one another and, over time, develop a common vision, which can be used to engage and mobilise widespread support, and ultimately influence power.
Core to our approach will be ensuring that the network is open and inclusive of everyone working to protect and strengthen democracy in the UK. We will be particularly proactive about ensuring inclusion and diversity, through ensuring that platforms are accessible, language and imagery are inclusive and the topics / issues covered reflect the diversity of members.
How will the network be set up?
From the outset, we want to work with a diverse group of people from across the democracy sector to co-create the network. Over the coming months we will be establishing a collaborative process to define the key elements of the network, including agreeing its purpose, governance, membership and how it will function.
We will be establishing a working group to oversee this process, made up of representatives from a range of different groups and organisations. The members will receive an honorarium to ensure the opportunity is open to a variety of organisations, both small and large. As well as taking key decisions about the network, the working group will support engagement across the democracy sector.
We plan to take an iterative approach to developing the network, testing approaches and increasing its membership over time. In this way we can ensure that the network is fully responsive to its members and adds real value to their work. This includes testing different ways for members to engage with the network.
How will the network function?
We intend to recruit a new member of staff as a Network Coordinator in order to take on coordination of the network. We plan to involve representatives from across the democracy sector in agreeing the role description and specification, and in the selection process (i.e. short-listing and interview).
The Network Coordinator will be hosted and employed at Involve and line managed by our Director of Advocacy and Communications. They will be able to draw on Involve’s facilities, systems and staff to support the network. However, they will work in the collective interests of the network and will be accountable to its membership.
The governance of the network will be agreed in the co-creation process, but we propose setting up a steering committee to take over from the co-creation working group in order to oversee the work of the network coordinator, offer input and advice, and hold us to account. Our aim is to build distributed leadership across the network, with different people and organisations leading activities through the network.
How will you work with others?
There is already great work underway in the democracy sector to support information sharing and enable collaboration. The starting place for the Democracy Network will be ensuring that it is complementary to these existing initiatives, helping to support and boost their impact, rather than replacing or competing. We will take the approach of a network of networks, helping to join up and maximise existing initiatives.
The initial focus of the network will be on recognising and maximising what the sector already has. This will involve exploring what added value a Democracy Network can bring to existing initiatives, as well as identifying the knowledge, skills and resources that can be shared among members.
Core to how we will work is to value and respect the skills, insights, knowledge and experiences that people from across the democracy sector bring. From the outset, we will be open and transparent about what is happening and involve people in key decisions about the network.
The first step is going to be starting recruitment for the network coordinator. We’ll be sharing a draft role description for comment during the week of 21st June to collect feedback. We will then start the recruitment process the following week, with the aim to make an appointment by the end of July.
How can I get involved?
If you would like to get involved in shaping the Democracy Network, you can sign up via this form.
Or you can get in touch via DemocracyNetwork@involve.org.uk