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.

If you have any questions that are not answered here, please email us at [email protected]

What is the Democracy Pioneers Award?

Democracy Pioneers is a £100,000 award for up to 10 innovations experimenting with ways to re-energise and reshape the future of civic participation and everyday democracy in the UK.

We are looking for everyday civic participation and democracy innovations that demonstrate:

  • An impactful approach, not yet adopted as mainstream but with an established track record;
  • A clearly articulated vision for how civic participation and everyday democracy can be reshaped to be:
    • Better informed
    • More inclusive and participatory
    • More open, accessible and transparent
    • Smarter and more creative or;
    • More trusted and accountable
  • High potential and clear aspirations to have a bigger impact in the coming years
  • Clear commitment to be part of wider community seeking to establish a movement for bigger democractic and civic participation shifts.


Do I have to be a charity to apply?

For-profit organisations may apply if there is a strong argument for public benefit being generated from your innovation.

Do I have to be based in the UK to apply?

Yes this open call is limited to organisations in the UK.

Can organisations apply in partnership or consortia?

Partnerships or consortiums that have developed a democracy or civic participation innovation together are eligible, although we would expect to work with one lead contact. As part of the application process, we explicitly require that all partners are aware of the partnership and have agreed to the application, even where a formal partnership arrangement is not suitable or not yet in place. We may check in with partners as part of our assessment process.

Can I nominate someone to receive an award rather than apply myself?

No - the application needs to be made by the organisation who would be the winner. If there is an organisation or project who you think is a perfect fit for the Democracy Pioneers Award, please contact them directly to suggest they make an application or email Nesta at [email protected] to ask us to approach them.

What can the award be spent on?

The award is intended to support you to further develop and deliver your democratic or civic participation innovation. We expect that you will know how best to use these resources to support your goals, and will create a grant agreement to reflect your aims. The main restrictions are that Nesta can only award money to causes which advance our charitable objects for public benefit and that we cannot fund projects which are party political, or which support or promote religious activity. Note any private companies must demonstrate public benefit upfront.

Do we have to have already been working on the innovation to qualify for the award?

You need to have an established track record of working in the field of democracy and civic participation for at least six months. However, the award money, could be used to help advance this work via a new approach or initiative.

Application Process

What are the timescales and key dates?

  • Launch: 16th December 2019
  • Information webinar 1: 3pm, 21 January 2020
  • Information webinar 2: 10am, 28 January 2020
  • Submission deadline: 12 noon, 31 January 2020
  • Pioneers announced: 12th March 2020
  • Commitment to work with Nesta: April - October 2020

What is the application process?

The application form will ask you key questions about your organisation, innovation, vision for change and work to date. After submitting the application form a shortlisting process will take place, we will contact you if there are any outstanding questions. The Judging Panel and Nesta will select the award winning organisations, with the announcement of the winners due to be made on the 12 March 2020.

If my application is not successful can I get feedback?

We anticipate a high volume of applications and so will not be issuing individual feedback. We will publish some summary feedback in the round though.

How do I enter?

Entry is online only, via the entry system. Only entries submitted via the system will be accepted. Part or unfinished entries will be discounted.

Can I submit an application to you outside of the Democracy Pioneers Award?

At Nesta we focus on providing support and funding through our programmes. To find out more information on current and future opportunities follow us on twitter and sign up to our newsletter.

Is there a registration fee?

No, it is free to enter.

My computer crashed or the form timed out before I finished my online entry. What do I do?

You can start and submit a new entry - any part entries will be discounted. We would recommend drafting your proposal in a Word document or similar before submitting through the online form, so you can save a copy of this.

I’m interested in applying, but I’d like to discuss my work with someone first, can I?

We will be hosting a webinar on 21 January and 28 January 2020. If you are unable to attend and have further questions please email [email protected].

Will there be future rounds of this Award?

This is a brand new initiative and at the moment we only have one open call planned, and do not anticipate running further awards at this stage.

Assessment Process

Does my application need to include the use of innovative technologies?

No - we welcome applicants who are focused on delivering through in person or face to face approaches, as well as through digital technologies. We are excited by a whole spectrum of approaches, both online and offline, including ones that work to blend approaches.

What will the Judging Panel be looking for in my innovation?

The Democracy Pioneers will be awarded to innovations that are reshaping democracy and civic participation in the UK. Please see Assessment Criteria for full details.

Who are the judges?

We will announce the full list of judges in January.

Guidance for Awardees

What do winners of the Democracy Pioneers Award get?

To recognise and support these pioneering approaches, Democracy Pioneers will receive:

  • £10,000 to support the development of their work
  • opportunities to showcase their work and ideas across a variety of local and national media, as well as Nesta communications
  • the opportunity to work with Nesta and the other Democracy Pioneers collaboratively to champion this pioneering work, and create a case for what is needed to make democracy fit in the decades to come.

What is Nesta’s expectation of what awardees will do with you?

We ask that all awardees work in collaboration with Nesta for two days as part of Democracy Pioneers. Collaboration is likely to be workshop or meeting based, bringing together all winners to further explore the field. The aim of collaboration will be to explore creating a movement for bigger democratic and participatory change, identifying barriers and opportunities, sharing learning and ideas. We would also like to have a minimum of two calls with you to reflect on the progress of your work.

If I win the the Democracy Pioneers Award am I expected to attend the launch event?

We look forward to celebrating the awarded organisations by launching at an event in London on the evening of 12 March 2020. We are hoping that being part of the Democracy Pioneers will develop collaboration, expand networks and raise the profile of awardees. We therefore advise attendance at the launch, except in cases of extenuating circumstances.

Do you envisage making a large impact on civic participation and democracy in the UK with £100,000?

We are aware that there will need to be significant investment in the future for a more participatory future. Democracy Pioneers is an award to champion innovations that are experimenting with ways to re-energise civic participation and everyday democracy in the UK.

Once the Award has ended, then what?

We are hoping this will not only showcase the brilliant innovation already making a difference in this field, but also stimulate new ideas and approaches, either pushing current work or collaborating more. We will take learnings from this to share publicly to encourage the furthering of goals for democracy and civic participation.

Are there any questions Nesta hasn’t thought of?

Yes, definitely! If your query wasn’t answered above send us an email at [email protected] and we'll get back to you as soon as possible.