Many organisations and individuals are working to improve democracy and citizen participation in local government in the UK. These organisations and individuals are working from a variety of perspectives, including service design, digital transformation and democratic innovation. While impressive work is being carried out in this area, this innovation is often fragmented and isn’t realising the potential it could for achieving substantial change to participation in local democratic institutions.
Public Square is a two-year action research project that responds to this by bringing together disparate strands into an investigation of what is needed to improve participation; and developing tools, frameworks, and approaches that match key unfilled needs.
This project is being funded by Luminate and being delivered by The Democratic Society and mySociety in collaboration with local authority partners. We will have two reference groups, to help and advise our work throughout the programme – a Community Reference Group and a Technical Reference Group.
What will it involve?
- Mapping the landscape – understanding the wide variety of innovations already being explored for improving participation in local government, and the organisations and programmes exploring this.
- Carrying out user research in a sample of local government test sites to explore needs. This includes situational analysis from an organisational and community lens, and looking at technological requirements and user needs from a design perspective.
- Reaching out to, and working with, the wider community of local authorities, communities, academics, civic tech organisations, and others interested in improving participation, to develop an understanding of common issues and needs.
- Developing prototypes that respond to the identified needs, with an emphasis on building upon rather than re-inventing what is already out there, and ensuring resources developed are open and reusable by default. What these prototypes look like will be determined during the project.
The research and prototypes will produce a common framework for civic participation, including a ‘playbook’ of techniques and resources that support improved participation. These learnings will be made freely available for others to use. We will emphasis making tools that are interoperable and available for others to use and build upon.
We are taking a collaborative approach to this project, working with a wide range of experts by profession and experience.
We will work in the open to ensure our learning is widely available, including leaving legacy materials that others can benefit from. We will use networks that have been prompted during this project to disseminate the project findings and encourage these to inform wider policy and practice.
As the project progresses we will explore how learning could be applied to a wider range of contexts beyond our starting point in local government.
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