Public Square – putting people at the heart of local government

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Public Square

A guest blog from The Democratic Society

Around the world democracy is struggling and needs strengthening. It’s time we ensured that people are placed at the heart of how decisions are made, how places are shaped, and how services are run. Local government is a key place where this vision will either be realised or sunk. In response to this challenge, Public Square is a two-year-long programme of research and action exploring how local government can go further in putting the voices of the people they serve at the heart of how they work. It is a collaboration between The Democratic Society and mySociety with funding from Luminate.

This exploration will be based on research in test sites across the UK where we will be working with councils and the communities they serve to look at what is already working well for involving people in the work of local government and what challenges and unmet needs remain. Drawing from this research we will then be prototyping techniques, approaches and tools that could respond to these gaps and push public participation to the next level. These resources we develop will be made freely available. We will also focus on making these resources work in a way that fits with other tools out there and that are freely adaptable by others.

We know that there are already many people working on this question. Often this is done from a wide range of different angles, and with advances not always being joined-up. A key aim of this programme is to reach out to this diverse community, learn from what is already known, and make sure that what we learn can have maximum impact for people working in this space. Throughout the project we will be sharing what we are working on and seeking views from people already working on this challenge.

How to get involved

Public Square really kicks off on 19th November 2018 with an event open to all at the People’s History Museum in Manchester where we will be learning together about where progress is at now and what is needed to take public participation further. You can sign up for free through this Eventbrite page: Public Square – register

We are also looking forward to speaking to people at The People’s Powerhouse Convention, Stakecamp and Notwestminster.

If you want to know more you can also get in touch with us through We are particularly keen to hear from councils who would like to take part in this programme of research. You can also follow our progress, and find ways of feeding in, through @PublicSquareUK and

We look forward to speaking with you.

Mat and Michelle

The Democratic Society

Democracy in the Making – Twitter Moment

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What is democracy for?

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what is democracy for?You can try out mobile messaging before, during and after this year’s Notwestminster.

Have a think about this question:

“What is democracy for?”


Send a text starting with NOTWM
then your thoughts
to 07786 205 227

(it only costs the same as texting your friend’s phone)

You’ll get a reply with a link to read other people’s answers.
It’s public but anonymous, so you can be as honest as you like.


Help us to share our text experiment

Please print out a few copies of these instructions and leave them in a cafe, a pub or anywhere else where you live.

Print these instructions on A5 paper (PDF)

Print these instructions on A4 paper, two copies per sheet (PDF)


Where did the question come from?

Our question was asked by Anthony Zacharzewski,
as part of the evidence he gave to the
Kirklees Democracy Commission.

Why use mobile messaging?

Participation using mobile messaging has a different feel to participation using social media. On social media we are performing and managing our identities for an audience, often a complicated mix of work, interest-group and personal contacts.

Mobile messaging is often for an audience of one, and we only communicate with a small group of contacts by messaging. This means that when mobile messaging is used as a way for people to take part in civic conversations, it feels anonymous.

This can be very helpful for encouraging heartfelt contributions and for welcoming people who are less confident about speaking up in meetings.

Two councillors in Camden used text messages to try and involve more people in a participatory budgeting process as long ago as 2008.

This is one of the messages they received:

“We are 6 mums and we’d like to plead with you about giving the Winch Project funds so it could carry on the wonderful activities for the children. Please as it is the only chance for all low income families. Please.”

One of the councillors involved said afterwards:

“Using texting definitely led to a net increase in participation in the democratic process. It probably almost doubled the participation in the local area forum vote.”

Thumbprint Camden


Thumbprint - share local knowledge by text message

Speak up for local democracy – in less than seven minutes

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PechaKucha Night

PechaKucha speakers wanted

We’re hosting a special PechaKucha Night in Huddersfield on Friday 10th February 2017 – and we’re looking for some speakers.

A PechaKucha Night is a fast-paced evening full of exciting speakers and topics. Ours will have a distinctly democratic flavour, as it’s a fringe event of Notwestminster 2017, a two day event bringing together people who have something positive to say about local democracy and who are up for the challenge of making it work better.  

Notwestminster PechaKucha Night 2016So if you’ve got something to say about local democracy, if you’ve a story to tell, or if you’ve got an idea to share, you might like to be one of our speakers on the night.

Each speaker will talk for 6 minutes 40 seconds on a theme of their choosing, following a “20 slides for 20 seconds” format. The slides advance automatically, so everyone gets exactly the same amount of time to speak – and you should be prepared to keep going!

The event will be in Cafe Ollo at the Media Centre on Northumberland Street in Huddersfield, from 7pm.

Our previous PechaKucha talks have included everything from whether public servants are human beings and why technology can’t save democracy, to the ‘joy’ of being a councillor and how regional democracy in England measures up to the Galactic Empire. As you can see, it’s a mixed bag, and sometimes challenging.

We’d love to hear your suggestions.

Councillor Andrew Cooper's PechaKucha talk

Want to be a speaker?

Please contact us if you’re interested in taking part. Get in touch by Friday 20th January if you can.

Want to listen to the talks?

Please come along to learn something new and be entertained. It’s a fun way to find out what inspires some of our local democracy advocates and to hear about people’s passions and interests. There are always a few surprises.

PechaKucha Night – register now


The Notwestminster PechaKucha Night is organised by the Media Centre in Huddersfield and the Notwestminster local democracy network.