Strengthening democracy and civic space

Government is stronger when it values outside expertise and listens to civil society and the public. Most governments respond to public opinion when issues become high profile. But by engaging early on, they can make better decisions about the real world impact of policies.

A healthy democracy actively encourages civic participation. Too many decisions in recent years have shut down the ability of people to take part and speak out. The next government should reverse this trend. They should be more open to challenge and criticism.

Civic participation has many forms. Voting, attending a local council meeting, or working in a community garden are all examples.

People who are involved in one aspect are more likely to be active across civic space. Research has identified a ‘civic core’ (pdf, 573KB). This refers to a relatively small proportion of the population who are responsible for the bulk of volunteering and civic participation.

Volunteering is a key way people participate in democracy and civic life. Many democratic processes are organised or facilitated by volunteers, including community organising and supporting voting.

We should consider how we can reduce barriers to voluntary action and civic participation, particularly for underrepresented groups.

Collaborate on policymaking

Charities and civil society can play a key role in helping people access and understand policymaking processes. For this to happen we need to rethink how we engage individuals and communities and value their contributions.

To make policy effectively, government needs to draw on the expertise of all sectors, communities, civil society, business, trade unions, and the public.

We want the next government to:

  • develop a cross-government engagement strategy. This should set out how government will involve civil society organisations and the people they work with in strategy and decision-making processes
  • ensure people who will be directly affected by major policy changes are supported to participate in consultations and in the initial development of policies. Ideally directly, but if necessary facilitated by charities. This includes offering funding. Consultations should typically be open for at least eight weeks to allow for more detailed engagement
  • make sure policy consultations seek input from underrepresented groups and those with lived experience
  • adopt a respectful approach to the administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Work with them to reach consensus on cross-UK issues, rather than imposing solutions from Westminster
  • encourage departments to use well-run and funded deliberative democracy arrangements where appropriate. These are approaches that allow smaller, representative groups of the public to have the time and resources to consider specific issues in detail. For example, citizen’s assemblies. These should be used to gain greater insight on the public’s view of policymaking.

Ensure democratic and civic participation

We want everyone to understand their democratic rights and feel able to participate in civic action.

Giving people a stake in democracy will build a more civic-minded society.

We want the next government to:

  • remove requirements for voter identification in UK elections. This reduces the risk of excluding voters from global majority communities, older voters and other marginalised groups
  • encourage more volunteering and social action as a way of increasing democratic and civic participation. More work should also be done to investigate and build on the link between volunteering and civic engagement.

Reduce barriers and encourage participation from people who are marginalised

Lived experience should be at the forefront of all policymaking. It should inform the entire policy cycle, from consultation through to implementation.

People are the experts in their own lives. They often know what solutions would work for them. Government should recognise where people can offer insight and consider how this can be used to address problems on a bigger scale.

We want the next government to:

  • guarantee people who are marginalised and underrepresented have a ‘seat at the table’ in the policymaking process. Policymakers should take a proactive approach and recognise the value of lived experience in developing policy
  • ensure participation in policymaking goes further than the consultation stage
  • recognise that lived experience is not a negative. Any challenges from a community should be viewed as a learning opportunity.

Protect the right to speak out

Government needs to be open to feedback, challenge and criticism.

The next government should ensure people can exercise their democratic rights to speak out and protest.

We want the next government to:

  • retain the Human Rights Act and bring forward legislation to further embed human rights into UK law. New legislation should be drawn from UN human rights treaties and provide greater economic, social, cultural and environmental rights
  • protect the rights to freedom of assembly and expression. Government should ensure that protest is allowed. The policing of protests should also be limited, proportionate, consistent, predictable and accountable
  • protect the rights of minoritized people by repealing:

Share your feedback

Thank you if you took the time to share your thoughts. Your responses will help shape the final manifesto which will be shared with MPs and parliamentarians.

Sign up for email updates for news on the next stages of the manifesto.

You may also be interested in our new political campaigning guidance for charities.

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 18 October 2023