Councils to trial online citizen polls as part of government ‘innovation in democracy’ plans

The newly published Civil Society Strategy includes initiatives to improve participation in local decision making 

The government is to work with councils on pilot schemes that will use online polls of citizens to inform local decision making.

Plans for these “Innovation in Democracy” trials were unveiled in the government’s newly published Civil Society Strategy. The pilots will include the use of meetings of so-called citizens’ juries, as well as online platforms and apps where local residents can vote on decisions affecting their area. Trials will run in the coming months in six regions, although the strategy does not specify where these will be.

“Evidence shows that enabling people to participate in the decisions that affect them improves people’s confidence in dealing with local issues, builds bridges between citizens and the government, fosters more engagement, and increases social capital,” the strategy said. “It also increases people’s understanding of how decisions are taken, and leads to authorities making better decisions and developing more effective solutions to issues as a broader range of expertise can be tapped into to solve public issues.”

It added: “The government will work with local authorities to trial face-to-face deliberation… complemented by online civic tech tools to increase broad engagement and transparency.”

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The strategy is comprised of 15 core “missions”, one of which is “a social sector confident with digital”.

The government made a number of pledges in this area, including a commitment to “work with the Centre for Acceleration of Social Technology and other partners to explore how best to build a responsive, resilient, and agile social sector”. The government will also “continue to work through the Digital Skills Partnership to help civil society organisations to build their skills”.

In the section of the strategy dedicated to the role of the private sector, the government references a number of existing technology-centric initiatives, such as the £20m GovTech Catalyst Fund, which was established to support tech firms proposing solutions to societal challenges.

The strategy added: “We will explore what more can be done to harness the power of technology to address complex social issues, including but not limited to tackling loneliness, healthy ageing, online safety, and digital inclusion.”

The government also wants to make it easier for providers of “social tech” to find and obtain seed funding.

“The government is interested in working with sector partners to explore if more could be done to segment and categorise social-tech ventures,” the strategy said. “The government is also interested in exploring how we could improve access to markets for social tech ventures.”

It added: “The government will review the extent to which it is procuring social tech solutions as part of its service delivery.”

Minister for sport and civil society Tracey Crouch said: “Civil society is the bedrock of our communities. It is made up of the volunteers, youth workers, charities and innovative businesses that work to improve lives and make areas better for all. Our strategy builds on this spirit of common good to help create a country that works for everyone. I want people, organisations and businesses to feel inspired to get involved and make a difference. Through collaboration, we will unlock the huge potential of this incredible sector, help it grow, support the next generation and create a fairer society.”

Sam Trendall

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