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From musical theatre, to mini-publics debating the climate emergency, meet the radical thinkers reshaping participation in UK democracy

Today, global innovation foundation, Nesta announces 19 ‘Democracy Pioneers’, each recognised with a £10,000 reward for their work to improve people’s understanding and experience of democracy in the UK.

The announcement comes at a time of declining trust and participation in civic life:

  • Data from the Office of National Statistics shows that between autumn 2018 and autumn 2019, trust in national government fell by 11 per cent, from 32% to 21%*
  • 61 per cent of people in the UK are dissatisfied with democracy, according to research by the University of Cambridge.**
  • 44% of the UK public said that the government was the most broken institution in the UK, and 59% said the government doesn’t listen to people like them.***

Together the 19 Democracy Pioneers provide an antidote to this democractic malaise with their visions for improved civic participation.

The ambition is, if mainstreamed, that the Pioneers’ approaches have the potential to help reconnect people meaningfully to democracy, and better enable people to participate in and influence the issues that affect all our lives.

The Pioneers include:

Shout Out UK (SOUK): Based in London, Shout Out UK is a non-partisan social enterprise that helps young people to get politically literate, helping schools to teach students about democracy in cost-effective ways. Shout Out UK will now expand into more schools in areas with the lowest participation numbers in local elections, to help make sure young people vote in the upcoming Local and Mayoral Elections in May.

Glasgow City Council: Glasgow City Council are using mini-publics, an assembly of citizens that are demographically representative of the larger population, to deliberate on climate policy and decide on the allocation of budgets (participatory budgeting). By using more inclusive methods, the Council is committed to ensuring climate issues feel more local and interpersonal.

Full Fact: Based in London, Full Fact is at the forefront of fighting misinformation. The team of independent fact checkers and campaigners find, expose and counter the harm bad information does - to lives and to our democracy. They work to ask people to correct the record when they get things wrong, develop new technology to counter misleading claims, and campaign for better information in public life.

Say Yes to Tess: SYTT is a new musical theatre production based on Tess Seddon’s real life experience of standing in the 2017 UK General Election as a 30 year old state-educated female from a small Yorkshire town. Say Yes to Tess (SYTT) asks audiences to imagine a fully representative democracy and their role in its transformation.

The competition to find Nesta’s Democracy Pioneers attracted over 190 entries from across the UK. The panel of 10 expert judges (see Notes to Editors), which includes Dan Lawes, Founder of YouthPoliticsUK and Peter Macfadyen of Flatpack Democracy, selected the winning pioneers, recognising the hope and energy these approaches provide. The judges felt together the Pioneers demonstrated how we can make democracy and civic engagement more inclusive, relevant and impactful in meeting the social challenges that matter most to people’s lives.

Nesta’s Democracy Pioneers are spread across the UK, from Scotland to Devon. Technology features in many of their solutions, e.g. Democracy Club based in Gloucestershire and mySociety based around the UK, use digital tools to make information and data more accessible and encourage people to be active and hold power to account.

Carrie Deacon, Director of Government and Community Innovation at Nesta, said:

“All democracies are complex, imperfect systems. We need to ensure we keep upgrading our democracy.We are excited that we can recognise and celebrate the bold experimenters working tirelessly to re-energise and reimagine civic engagement. These quiet revolutionaries are important actors reviving our democracy, but their work can all too often be overlooked. Nesta’s Democracy Pioneers award is only one step in recognising this crucial work. We want to support experimentation in this field, and work to mainstream the best approaches to ensure our democracy remains fit for the future.”

Dan Lawes, founder and CEO of YouthPolitics and a judge for the Democracy Pioneers said;

‘It is fantastic to see bold ideas that value the contribution of young people, and show how we can be more inclusive in how we engage young people in our democracy. I’m excited by the Democracy Pioneers that recognise the vital role of education for us all, but especially young people. Its clear we must continue to create ways that are easy for younger people to be involved, and demonstrate how their involvement directly has an impact on the changes that matter to them and their future.’

Sir Paul Grice, Vice Chancellor at Queen Mary University, London and a judge for the Democracy Pioneers programme said;

‘The Democracy Pioneers give me real optimism and hope for the future of democracy. From Holyrood to Westminster, we need even more fresh ideas, that help us make our formal and informal democracy work better for people. There has never been a more important time for us to all be discussing how our democracy could evolve to help us thrive in the future.’

  • Ends -

Notes to Editor:

Press contacts

For further information on Democracy Pioneers and any other press enquiries, please contact

Izzy Roberts and Emma Foster
Allegory Communications
07827 323504 / 07890 284318
[email protected] / [email protected]

Sarah Reardon, 07812 362714, [email protected]/[email protected] /

Nesta_Press [email protected]

The Nesta Democracy Pioneer Award winners

The projects Nesta will be supporting are:

Be Buckfastleigh

Be Buckfastleigh is transforming community participation and power in ‘forgotten’ rural towns through strategic and local collaboration, engagement and delivery.

Democracy Club

Democracy Club uses crowdsourcing and technology to get accessible information about elections to millions of UK citizens, filling a significant digital gap left by the state.

Democracy in Social Care

National social care charity Community Integrated Care run a ground-breaking campaign, aimed at bridging the democracy gap for people who access the care sector. They support people who use the care system to develop their political knowledge and connections, and enable people to campaign on what matters to them the most.

Full Fact

Full Fact fights bad information. They are a team of independent fact checkers and campaigners who find, expose and counter the harm it does - to lives and to our democracy.

Shout Out UK

Based in London, Shout Out UK is a non-partisan social enterprise that helps young people become politically literate and ensures that schools teach students about democracy in cost-effective ways. Shout Out UK will now expand into more schools in areas with the lowest participation numbers in local elections to ensure that young people register to vote and participate in the upcoming Local and Mayoral Elections in May.

Highway Hope

Highway Hope works to increase diversity in democratic process and electoral systems in Manchester. They encourage black and ethnic minority groups in Manchester to participate in electoral registration, voting and work to increase turnout. Their strong connections with black led organisations helps reach into communities.

Kirklees Council: Democracy Friendly Schools

Kirklees Council are working with our citizens, councillors, schools and partner organisations to grow a stronger local democracy in Kirklees, from the ground up.

Let’s Talk... Mainstreaming PB

Fife Council are building on the strong foundations laid under Scotland’s keen interest in participatory budgeting, to develop a bold democratic system and corporate framework for mainstreaming participatory budgeting that will support local people to get involved in decisions about mainstream service budgets.

NewsWise from The Guardian Foundation, National Literacy Trust and the PSHE Association

NewsWise enables primary children and parents to become independent thinking, active citizens able to respect others’ opinions and play a role in the democratic process.


mySociety uses digital tools to empower people to become informed and active citizens, able to participate in shaping decisions and hold power to account.


Economy supports people - particularly those furthest from power - to use economics to achieve what matters to them and to change how society thinks, talks and makes decisions about the economy.

Participatory Democracy for Climate Change

Glasgow City Council aim to build capacity and develop inclusive participatory democracy using deliberative dialogue and mini-publics to allocate budgets (PB), tackle inequality and inform policy with citizen’s panels.

People’s Priorities for the North

The People’s Powerhouse is a movement which exists to shape the debate around the future of the North, working to ensure that all sectors and voices can contribute, and that people are put at the heart of discussions.

Resistance Lab
Resistance Lab is a network of activists, grassroots community groups and university staff and students who work to confront state violence, with a focus on racism.

TheatreState in association with Leeds Playhouse - Say Yes to Tess

Say Yes To Tess is a new musical theatre production based on Tess Seddon’s real life experience of standing in the 2017 UK General Election as a 30 year old state-educated female from a small Yorkshire town. The production asks audiences to imagine a fully representative democracy, and empowers them to participate and transform the current one.

Smart Schools Council

Smart Schools Council helps schools to embed a model of direct democracy that involves 100% of pupils and makes regular, youth-led engagement with democracy the norm.

The Parliament Project

The Parliament Project works to inform, inspire and encourage women to stand for election in all spheres of Government in Scotland and England.

User Voice

User Voice, led by ex-offenders, provides a platform for service users to have a voice, through their User Councils. Council structures used within prisons and in the community for probation, youth offending teams and other related services, use democratic processes to enable active participation and structure to hear all voices. These processes are used to productively create solutions to collective challenges.

Women’s Aid - Law in the Making Project

The law in the making project, works to empower and support survivors of domestic abuse to use their lived experience to campaign for change, and ensuring they, as experts by experience, are central to the development of the Domestic Abuse Bill and future legislation.

About Nesta’s Democracy Pioneers Award

The Democracy Pioneers Award Fund has long worked to improve civic systems and over the last decade has researched, championed and supported a range of innovations in democracy and civic participation: from making the case for more people powered public services in local government and health; ways to shape a more social impactful sharing economy; calling for a high energy democracy to support an inclusive economy; research and practical experimentation around digital democracy and participation to more recent explorations of new ways for institutions to harness the wisdom of the crowd to find solutions and make decisions using new methods like collective intelligence and participatory futures.

About the Nesta’s Democracy Pioneer Judges:

About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society. We've spent over 20 years working out the best ways to make change happen through research and experimenting, and we've applied that to our work in innovation policy, health, education, government innovation and the creative economy and arts. Nesta is based in the UK and supported by a financial endowment. We work with partners around the globe to bring bold ideas to life to change the world for good.

Data References
* Office for National Statistics Social Capital in the UK. Trust in the national government in the UK has been variable since 2004. Until recently, it had remained relatively stable following a peak of 37% in spring 2015. Between autumn 2018 and autumn 2019, trust in national government fell by 11 percentage points, from 32% to 21%

** Information on the University of Cambridge research and the Onward report. Nearly two thirds of people (61%) in the UK are dissatisfied with democracy, according to the University of Cambridge’s Centre for the Future of Democracy report.

***A YouGov poll run for Nesta days before the General Election in December 2019, found that people would spread their vote across the political spectrum, given the chance. It showed that people don’t fit into neat political boxes, highlighting the need for people to feel represented and have a voice on issues that might not toe party lines of central politics. YouGov poll for Nesta. Total sample size was 1,680 adults. Fieldwork undertaken 5th-6th Dec 2019.

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