Discover our tribute to democracy
and how local public services can help it thrive
This feature will be updated throughout the week. Share your stories with our reporting team Abha Thakor and Holly Bremner.
The celebrations & voter awareness campaigns
Abha Thakor explores how public services are marking the inaugural National Democracy Week.
The first week long celebration of democracy in the UK is taking place this week, 2 – 8 July 2018. It coincides with the 100 year anniversary of when the first women in the UK were granted the vote.
Local authorities communications teams are reinforcing voter registration, encouraging citizenship and participation and using text, video and the media to generate residents’ interest in standing for election. They are highlighting ongoing campaigns to sustain and widen democratic participation through awareness projects with community groups.
The special celebration week has been organised by the National Democracy Week Council, the Cabinet Office and partners. Local public services have also been represented through the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE) and The Association of Electoral Administrators (AEA).
Organisers, describing the purpose of the event, said: “This is an opportunity to use all of our experience, insight and passion to deliver a programme of activity that encourages democratic participation.”
The week-long festival of democracy began on Monday 2 July 2018, the 90th anniversary of the 1928 Equal Franchise Act which granted equal voting rights to men and women. 2018 is the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918 which gave the first British women aged 30 plus (who met a property qualification) the right to vote.
Minister for the Constitution, Chloe Smith MP, said: “Our democracy should be inclusive of everyone in society. We hope the fantastic events being held around the country will inform, include and inspire people of all backgrounds to participate in our democracy.”
Councils including the City of Wolverhampton and Blaby District Council are running ‘Be a Councillor’ events to help the public discover more about the work of elected members and consider standing for election. Existing councillors will talk about their experiences and answer questions.
Blaby District Council in Leicestershire is using the dual messages of registering to vote and ‘be a councillor’ to encourage residents to make a difference to the people in their area. The council, like other authorities, provides easy to follow information on how and where to vote to maintain residents’ awareness of ways to use their vote.
Camden Council promotes the diverse backgrounds of its councillors showing residents that members come from all backgrounds. One example featured on the national ‘Be a Councillor’ website shows an elected member who runs a local football team.
> Be a Councillor website (LGA)
> Local Government Association’s Be a Councillor campaign The website includes information on how to run a campaign in your local authority.
This week, local authority communicators are championing voter registration. They are encouraging would-be electors to spend just five minutes to register online. Across the country, they are promoting the Make your Voice Count campaign message ‘Voting is a great way to take part in democracy. But you must be registered!’ Using the social media packs available, messages from their electoral colleagues and common examples, they are reminding the public to update records when they move house or reach voting age. They are also providing easy tips on how to register if residents have never done so before and how they can learn more about voting.
The Electoral Registration Officer for Angus and Perth & Kinross Councils’ social media messages are focused on how the public can get involved with democracy, for example, by voting in elections and referendums. The tweets also highlight examples of different demographic groups to encourage wider participation.
Representation, your voice, influence
The shared social media assets and similar messaging across the country supports public sector communicators in promoting voter registration and democratic participation.
The Electoral Commission’s ‘Your Vote is Your Voice’ and central Government’s Register to Vote campaigns are being reinforced through local authority usage. Communicators are adding further value locally through media features, online videos featuring councillors and electors from different demographic groups, drop-in sessions online and offline, and Q&A opportunities.
The UK Parliament communications team uses a slide show infographic on Twitter to tell the public how MPs are elected and promoting the message ‘It is important to vote if you want a say on who represents you’.
> Register to Vote (Gov.UK)
> Your Vote Matters (Electoral Commission)
The first ever National Democracy Awards was held at the People’s Museum in Manchester to “recognise the exceptional service of those who work tirelessly to increase democratic engagement in the UK.”
Test your knowledge
How much do you know about electoral boundaries? The Boundary Commission for England is running an online quiz to encourage the public to find out more ‘about the importance of fair and impartial boundaries in the democratic process.’ The answers reveal some fascinating insights including the large percentage of consultation responses the Commission receives through its website. Discover the actual percentage through the quiz. You can even share your result and show-off your boundary knowledge on social media at the end of the quiz.
A schools pack to help pupils explore the way boundaries are set in the UK has also been created and is being used used by some local authorities’ youth councils. The Commission will finish its review of constituencies in September 2018.
CIPR Local Public Service Group Vice-Chair Holly Bremner writes about how communicators’ work is vital in promoting and enabling democracy.
As we celebrate National Democracy Week, I wanted to put fingers to keyboard (if that can be considered a phrase) and share my thoughts on the pivotal role communications plays in enabling democracy.
When I joined the communications industry, my motivation was to enable the democratic process, as democracy, in my eyes, centres on listening and responding to your publics – classic Grunig and Hunt two-way symmetrical communications.
Yet, public sector communicators are currently operating in an increasingly challenging environment. Trust in public services over the past two years has remained at an all-time low according to Endleman’s annual trust barometer.
The 2018 report highlighted that a majority of its respondents felt that their thoughts and views were not represented by politics today.
Trust also remains low in experts and people in power.
Looking at these statistics, it could be simply argued that this provides a real opening for communicators to bridge the divide between those in a position of power and the publics they were elected to represent.
“Communicators can help bridge the divide to those in power and the public they represent”
But the report also highlights that trust in the tools we are increasingly relying upon to engage with our publics is also changing – less than a quarter of people now trust social media and there has been a significant shift in how people consume media, with 19 percent actively avoiding it.
Interestingly though, trust in traditional media has increased dramatically.
So, what does this mean for public sector communicators? Well for me, these findings reinforce my initial motivations for joining the public sector – to be the person who can provide a voice to those who might not necessarily share it strongly. My concern though now is how we go about doing that.
Public services are increasingly relying on social media and are investing time and resource in developing capacity to enable this, as they think it provides a direct route to engage with their publics.
Reaching our publics
But, if our publics are now choosing not to trust those channels and are also selectively choosing how they consume media, how do we create a meaningful conversation with them that enables those people in power to be able to respond to their views and concerns? How do we reach those who actively choose not to be reached?
My thoughts are that we need to go back to basics. To meet our publics where they are, to build a dialogue with the hardest to reach though the channels they trust. This is about creativity and going back to face-to-face conversation, putting yourself out there and finding real opportunities to speak to people. However, in a world of ever decreasing budgets and resources, how do we find the capacity and capability within our organisations to enable this conversation to sustain? How do we equip our whole organisations to become active listening devices?
“Are you using creative approaches to build dialogues?”
These are not questions that can be easily answered in a single blog. The Local Public Service Group would welcome the thoughts and views of our colleagues across the public sector for how we could potentially address these challenges and equip public sector communicators accordingly. Please share your thoughts and let us know if you have any good practice you would like to share too.