On the 8th December 202 The Democracy Network was pleased to celebrate the tireless and dedicated individuals and organisations who are working to empower people and communities.
The awards, which were judged in five categories representing the diverse and wide-ranging democracy sector, honoured those who have built upon decades of success as well as new startups working in tech and local government.
Despite a display of huge diversity within the sector, the award winners all shared one thing in common: they are all making a meaningful and positive impact towards a society and democracy in which people have more influence over the decisions that affect their lives, more power and resources to improve their communities, and better ability to elect and hold their elected representatives accountable.
We were overwhelmed by the number of entries we received for each award category and were truly honoured to be joined by the people and organisations that are driving the advancement and improvement of our democracy. It was an inspiring and uplifting evening, and we are grateful to everyone who participated and helped make it such a success.
Sponsored by Ipsos
The Equality and Power Award recognises campaigns, projects or organisations that enable and empower people to have more influence over the decisions that affect our lives, more power and resources to improve our communities and that ensure that those who are least heard are given more of a meaningful voice and ability to affect change.
Finalist: The GLA and Shout Out UK – London Voter Registration Week (LVRW)
The biggest impartial democratic partnership in the UK, LVRW co-designs and co-delivers all its activity and materials with under-registered and under-re- presented Londoners under the hashtag #NoVoteNoVoice. It brings together
a broad, pan – London coalition of all London borough councils and over 150 civil society organisations and education institutions. In the last two years,
it has reached over 1.4 million Londoners and has supported over 75,000 under-represented Londoners register to vote. In October 2022, the European Parliament’s EU Digital Citizenship Working Group and Meta recognised the unique London Voter Registration Week co-design model and co-delivery partnership and its impact in the “Europeans Fit for a Digital Age” report, the only UK digital citizenship project to be included as a spotlight after it in- creased voter registration rates among young Londoners by 23% during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Finalist: The Politics Project
Supports young people and politicians to have powerful conversations that build understanding, trust and relationships and lead to real change in communities. This year alone, The Politics Project has achieved the following:
VotesforSchool encourages youth voice through engagement with important and topical issues and ensures that young people’s voices are heard; not just as statistics, but also through the insights that accompany the qualitative data. Working with 5-18-year olds, they develop lesson and assembly resources to facilitate an informed debate; this culminates in a weekly national vote. Since September, there has been an average of over 40,000 votes each week. It is used in 1,300 schools and educational settings across the country. Each week, over 100,000 children aged 5-18 have parallel debates on a topical issue.
VotesforSchools developed the resource and produced a VoteTopic that elicited over 31,000 votes from school-age children. The data was shared with the UKCB and other organisations such as the National Children’s Bureau and Marie Curie. The VoteTopic data was subsequently used as evidence by the UKCB as part of their report ‘Bereavement is Everyone’s Business’, published in September 2022
Winner: Iswe Foundation – The Global Assembly
Iswe Foundation made extraordinary contributions to innovating democracy by conceiving, planning, and implementing the world’s first global citizens’ assembly. It consisted of 100 people from 50 countries and also included people with diverse views on climate. Together, the 100 Assembly Members produced The People’s Declaration for the Sustainable Future of Planet Earth. This was presented to citizens, civil society organisations, and world leaders at the United Nations’ COP26 in Glasgow, and subsequently refined to incor- porate their reflections on COP26.
This was an extraordinarily complex project with multiple never-before-done tasks that would be necessary to make it possible. They successfully enabled Assembly Members to communicate to each other across time zones, war zones, and geo-political fault lines and had to engage Assembly Members in closed societies, such as China, where communication with organisers from other countries might not be allowed.
Sponsored by TPX Impact
Finalist: Climate Emergency UK – Council Climate Plan Scorecards
Aided by technical support from mySociety, it scores every Climate Action Plan from every UK council across 73 points that cover every aspect of what an optimal plan should include.
CEUK created a database of all council’s climate action plans, took advice from several experts in the field over what an effective action plan looks like; and then remotely trained up 120 volunteers to mark the plans. Extra rigour was applied as the councils were then given a right to reply and a smaller cohort of 25 volunteers conducted a final audit, before the scores were published on a site designed by mySo- ciety.
The project has not finished there – next year CE UK will be scoring councils on the actual action they’ve taken, using a variety of methods including volunteer research, national data and Freedom of Information requests to ascertain the progress they have made on their plans. One effect of this is that citizens will be able to see what their councils are spending money on as they implement their plans, and ultimately how
Finalist: Smart School Councils
Smart School Councils introduce democracy to young people. They believe that every pupil’s voice is important and their mission is to help every child to engage and lead change in their world through democracy. Designed for time-poor teachers in busy schools, Smart School Councils help transform pupil voice through a clear step by step guide with all the support, resources and CPD a school needs. 40,000 pupils are involved in Smart School Councils class meetings every month.
Winner: The Civic Innovation Programme – Community Foundation Northern Ireland
The Civic Innovation Programme brought together individuals, volun- tary, community and social enterprise organisations, individuals and public sector representatives, to work together to deepen local democracy. It is the first of its kind in Northern Ireland and has supported communities with a combination of intensive project design support, expertise on public participation and grant-funding to support the design and development of a range of public participation projects.
The programme has seen the investment of £900,000 in civic innovation in Northern Ireland and provided a series of grant awards between £60-90k towards seven public participation projects that ranged across areas of education, environment, community cohesion, peacebuilding, language rights, and community planning. Many projects used tried and tested approaches such as participatory budgeting and community conversations whilst others developed new innovations that put people affected by the decisions to have a greater voice and say in the decision making processes.
Finalist: Northern Ireland Open Government Network
The Northern Ireland Open Government Network (NIOGN), established in 2014, is an alliance of individual citizens, activists and representatives of com- munity and voluntary organisations. Their aim is to contribute to delivering a more open, transparent and accountable government that empowers citizens to shape decisions that impact on their lives.The nomination is for work on
the Open Local Government project, a piece of work that demonstrates how working in collaboration with local, place-based campaign groups can bring democracy alive. Through their collaboration with local campaign groups, they identified a major gap in the understanding of planning in Northern Ireland from the perspective of communities. They helped identify issues, which were then applied an open government lens to, identifying a course of action, and ultimately commissioning a hard-hitting report that documents the failures of the planning system to engage with and respond to local needs.
Finalist: WhatDoTheyKnow.com – staff and volunteer team at My Society
Since 2008, WhatDoTheyKnow has provided a simple way for citizens to access the rights afforded to them by the Freedom of Information Act — whether or not they are knowledgeable about those rights.
Over 850,000 public FOI requests (and nearly 900,000 total requests) have been
sent via WhatDoTheyKnow. Each response is viewed on average 160 times. Over the years, this activity has compiled into a massive public free archive of information, li- kely to be discovered through search engines when it answers a specific query; easy to browse, search or share.
British society has been, to a small but important extent, reshaped by WhatDoTheyK- now, as the project has normalised the idea of asking an authority for the information they hold; informed news stories at every level from citizen outlets to national media; and pushed back against threats to the citizen’s right to know. WhatDoTheyKnow both promotes and upholds the concept of making an FOI request in public and was instrumental in a change of the law to add an explicit edict that email is an accepta- ble format for submitting FOI requests.
In the UK, the WhatDoTheyKnow service is made possible by a group of expert and dedicated volunteers, who devote significant unpaid and often unseen time to moderating the site, setting policy and helping users with their queries. This award nomination is therefore as much in recognition of the volunteer team as it is for the WhatDoTheyKnow project itself.
Finalist: Speakers Corner Trust research project ‘COVID-19 Impact on Local Democracy: Citizens’ Participation in Local Decision-Making’
In 2018 Speakers Corner Trust had just £2k in the account yet faced with closure, the organisation reviewed their strategy, recruited three new young trustees and in 2021, spotted the need for a piece of research during the Covid pandemic about the impact that virtual council meetings have had on engagement in local democracy. On a small grant budget of £12k, and a group of committed volunteers, they involved over 150 local authorities, 35 Local Democracy Reporters and democracy experts in interviews, analysis, findings and recommendations. Copies of the final report were widely distributed to all involved, as well as Parliamentarians and the media.
SCT now has three strands to championing democratic empowerment, transparency and rights to speak out: advocacy through thought-leadership and the media; delive- ring national debates (online) to a wide audience; and awarding small grants to local groups running speaking events.
They are nominated for this turnaround, and the commitment given by the seven Trustees and Board members.
Winner: Our Home Our Vote
Our Home Our Vote started as a campaign under the3million in 2020. In the 2021 local elections, Lara Parizotto and Alexandra Bulat, the leads of the campaign, spent hours in towns like Peterborough, Northampton and Corby, canvassing and leafleting to encourage migrant residents to vote. They spoke to hundreds of EU citizens who became first time voters. Our Home Our Vote, now the Migrant democracy Project campaigns to extend the right to vote to migrants, so every resident has a democratic say. They also work with com- munities on the ground to ensure that those who are eligible to vote, know about their rights and are informed to vote in their and their communities’ in- terests. They also allow migrants who currently do not have the right to vote to make their voices heard through different avenues, empowering migrants who do not currently have a vote by working with trade unions so more and more people know about their rights and are organising a tour of UK Parliament du- ring UK Parliament Week so those migrants can get closer to democracy and can advocate for their right to vote.
Sponsored by Electoral Reform Society
Finalist: The Dream Dearg Campaign
flipped the traditional power relationships on their head, ensuring that a grass- roots movement could hold those in democratically elected positions of power to account. The question of Irish language rights became a main political issue, one that was central to the New Decade New Approach Agreement that seen the res- toration of the political institutions. Following that, when local parties continued to deny legitimate aspirations for legislative protections, An Dream Dearg, both digi- tally during lockdown, and on the streets ever since, pursued a vibrant and positi- ve rights agenda through an organised and engaged community demanding equa- lity. This movement took us to An Lá Dearg in May 2022, with over 20,000 people taking to the streets of Belfast, which has been hailed as the biggest Irish language demo in the history of this island. The colour, youth and family orientation of the Dream Dearg events have been celebrated across the political spectrum, and by both the British and Irish Governments. 3 days after this demonstration, the British Government finally announced they would move the legislation at Westminster, 16 years since they gave the original commitment to do so at St Andrews.
Finalist: The Democracy Defence Coalition
The Democracy Defence Coalition was formed in response to the Government’s Election Bill in Summer 2021. The Elections Bill was a major assault on our democratic rights. Democracy organisa- tions quickly realised that an attack of this magnitude required a coordinated res- ponse – which led to organisations including Fair Vote, Electoral Reform Society, Unlock Democracy, Hands off our Vote and Open Britain setting up the Democra- cy Defence Coalition.
The campaign ran for nearly a year and was supported by hundreds of thousands of people. It included petitions, letters to MPs, newspapers and peers, campaign summits, briefings for MPs and peers and an Elections Bill Rally in Parliament Square. The campaign won some major victories in the House of Lords, but sadly the Government’s majority in the Commons meant those were overturned. Even though the bill is now law, the coalition is still working to mitigate the effects of the bill and is highlight the threat that a botched implementation of voter ID repre- sents to the 2023 local elections. Perhaps the most powerful legacy of the cam- paign is the strong relationships and cooperation it created across the democracy sector which should put us in a good position for future campaigns.
Finalist: We’re Right Here
is a national campaign building a united movement for community power, span- ning places and communities across the UK as well as the political spectrum. They are campaigning for a Community Power Act to give communities more con- trol over the spaces, services and spending decisions which shape their places and futures. They have pioneered a new approach to community-led campaigning at the national level which has been convened and is being supported by nine na- tional organisations: Power to Change, New Local, Locality, The Cares Family, the Young Foundation, the People’s Health Trust, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Local Trust and Friends Provident Foundation.
The campaign has built a diverse coalition of community organisations and groups from across the UK, with over 200 organisations or groups of this kind having taken action in support of the campaign. They were instrumental in persuading Shadow Levelling Up Secretary Lisa Nandy and the Labour Party to adopt a Com- munity Right to Buy – giving communities the right of first refusal once important local buildings and spaces with significant community value come up for sale – as official opposition policy.
Winner: Labour for a New Democracy
It would have been easy to give up after extraordinary efforts in 2021 to sign up Constituency Labour Parties in support of electoral reform did not result in the party adopting PR at party conference that year, but instead, this coalition of pro-democracy groups and Labour insiders doubled-down and worked strate- gically on the next hurdle – convincing and getting on board union after union in support of their Labour conference motion. Which passed at conference, resoun- dingly. The challenge goes on of course – the conference motion doesn’t mean PR will make it into the manifesto, but we can trust that L4ND will be doing their utmost to ensure it does. The campaign is strategically intelligent, it’s open and communicative of what it’s doing, it relies on network effects among CLPs and supporters, pushing down the work to volunteers best placed to get results. It’s well-run, it’s optimistic, it’s winning!
Sponsored by Shout Out UK
Finalist: Democracy Club, Sym Roe and Team
Democracy Club is an open source technology focused organisation that has ploughed the way for providing critical local level election information. Since becoming a CIC in 2015, they have focused on developing these platforms for the use of officials, departments and individuals to strengthen our democratic processes, and the use of digital, in the UK.
Vitally, their work has ensured the Electoral Commission has been able to report local election results rapidly and accurately, and provided new and diverse candidates with more equal access to transparent information for their campaigns. Their work has shifted what information is available and reliability of it, each election they are active. This is all despite being a tiny team, relying on a hefty network of qualified local volunteers, to protect this infrastructure. Their ethos is guided by the integrity to remain apolitical and fuel better parti- cipation for all through better electoral information for all
Finalist: Open Democracy
For over 20 years openDemocracy has been challenging and exposing the de- mocratic deficit in the UK (and elsewhere). Their mission goes beyond straight journalism: it is not only to challenge power but also to inspire change. Over the past several years they have led the way in shining a light on the govern- ment’s undermining of ‘Freedom of Information.’
Thought to be a direct result of Open Democracy reporting, the government announced that the “‘FOI Clearing House’ should be redesigned and ultima- tely disbanded. In February 2021, they managed to convince leading Fleet Street editors and numerous other senior media figures to come together. The editors of The Guardian, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, the Financial Times, the Daily Mirror and a host of other national titles signed an openDemocracy open letter calling for FOI reform, putting FOI firmly on the political agenda. Alongside many other achievements, they have also rebooted the formerly volunteer-run Who Funds You? campaign, which uses think tanks’ own income disclosures to position them on a funding transparency scale. Their report found that the UK’s most secretive think tanks have raised more than £14m from mystery donors in the past two years, and the project was mentioned in Parliament.
Next year, mySociety celebrates its 20th year as a civic tech organisation pro- viding digital services, data, research and events – helping people speak truth to power, make change within their own communities and play an active part in democracy while holding public authorities to account. It has contributed to democratic change over a long period of time and is unusually long-lived within the Democracy sector.
With its Transparency service WhatDoTheyKnow, it has provided a simple way for non-experts to make a Freedom of Information request, maintaining a mas- sive archive of requests and responses that acts as an open online repository of information.
The street fault reporting site FixMyStreet, also open source, has also been wi- dely replicated across the world, and repurposed for needs such as reporting anti-social behaviour, medicine shortages, Assets of Community Value, gover- nment corruption, empty homes and tree preservation orders. Its fundamental purpose is to empower people to keep their own environments functional and clean, increasing transparency and efficiency by publishing all reports online.
In recent years, mySociety has identified Climate as the vital issue of our time, and one that cuts across the organisation’s work in Transparency, Community and Democracy. It has embarked on a programme that will empower citizens, through the use of data and our existing services, to demand better, faster and more effective climate action from our local governments.
mySociety’s open source practice, and their global TICTeC events programme have both meant that the organisation is at the centre of a worldwide commu- nity of civic tech practitioners.
We would like to thank our sponsors for their generous support which allowed us to put host The Democracy Awards and allowed us, as a sector, to adhere to our values of inclusivity.
Thank you to Citizen Network Research, Demos, Electoral Reform Society, Ipsos, Make Votes Matter, Shout Out UK and TPX Impact.
A special thank you to the University of Westminster for the kind donation of their space.