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January Update 2017

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Political literacy will be more important than ever in 2017, as the UK seeks new relationships with the EU 27; as Europe deals with refugees, rickety banks, terrorism, climate change, resurgent Russia and other challenges; Donald Trump takes America (and the world) on a political rollercoaster, strong men run China, Egypt, Russia, Turkey and elsewhere. Not to mention devolution to city regions and a host of domestic issues.

2017 is likely to be a turning point in world politics. What direction it takes depends on decisions by political leaders and the influence of the press, pressure groups and the public.

This newsletter highlights several ways organisations can help citizens learn how to have a more effective voice in what happens.

There are no bystanders in politics: people will either be hit or learn how to make better things happen.

Democracy Matters aims to support all those helping citizens learn how to make better things happen.


  1. New members of Democracy Matters and other projects
  2. New book on learning practical politics
  3. Commission on Learning for Democracy
  4. World Forum for Democracy
  5. Get ready for Parliament Week 2017
  6. Engaging in Brexit, the EU and Europe
  7. Running Democracy Matters

You are welcome to share this message with colleagues and your networks.

1.  Welcome new members to Democracy Matters!


It is great to discover people creating new opportunities for participation and political education. Democracy Matters aims to connect initiatives so that we are stronger together, learn from each other and make the case for supporting people to take part in politics.

I’m delighted to mention three new members to Democracy Matters:

TalkPolitics aims to challenge the poor image of politics, improve political education and defend free speech. They are based in Leeds, Bath and online. They offer information pieces on ‘politics put simply’. They plan to write myth busters and interview politicians to show their human side. @UKtalkpolitics

just-debate-logo-benjiJust Debate is another new project to provide a forum for political education and debate to engage people in politics, initiated by politics students in Birmingham.

CoVi (Common Vision UK) aim to create a shared vision of the common good in four strategic areas: Life, Work, Money and Nation.

I’d also like to welcome several other initiatives:

use-your-vote-logoUse Your Vote is an all-party non-aligned national campaign to build political literacy and enhance democratic engagement and active citizenship across all age groups.

Simple Politics is a new website by a teacher from East Kent that aims to help people “get to grips with the sometimes bewildering world of politics” by providing impartial information on issues and talks for schools.

Start The Change is a new project for schools to understand young people’s views on extremism and their ideas for developing and promoting a more cohesive society, run by Think Global with partners from Croatia, Slovenia and Italy. If your school would be interested in taking part, please visit the website and fill in the brief application form and send it to with the subject line ‘Start The Change’.

Education4Democracy NE was set up by Stephen Lambert, a Newcastle City councillor and teacher, to promote non-partisan citizenship education in the North East.

Talk Stalk-shop-logohop is a new way of discussing and reaching agreement about issues so that everyone has a voice in the matters that concern them – so that democracy works for everyone. Tricky questions about the European Union, energy security, planning, public services or health. Find out how it works.

Citizen Participation Network (CPN) includes 600 citizens, researchers, practitioners and policy makers in Scotland and beyond. It is open to anyone interested in citizen participation, deliberative democracy, public engagement and collaborative policy-making. It is convened by Oliver Escobar of the Academy of Government in Edinburgh.

‘Our Democracy – Act as if we own the place‘ is a campaign for democratic renewal recently launched by civil society organisations in Scotland, including the Electoral Reform Society, Scottish Community Alliance, SCDC, Scottish Rural Parliament and many more. Willie Sullivan (ERSS) explains its background and urgency in his blog.

Participedia is a resource centre for participatory politics and governance around the world, full of case studies, methods and research, open to all.

Ø Collaboration is our aim: if you are working in any of these areas, get in touch with the organisers of these projects to explore ways of working together and strengthen democracy, participation and peoples’ power.

2.  New book on learning practical politics

Practical politics coverFor the past two years I’ve been working on a book about teaching practical politics. Writing a book may be the least effective campaign tactic there is, but it contains a lot of ideas and strategies for practical political literacy.

As far as I know it’s the first text book on practical politics. I hope it can give students, teachers and others confidence to bring political skills and knowledge into courses.

You can download free extracts, including the preface, first chapter and a short guide to action. It would be great if you could share this link and mention the book in blogs, tweets and meetings, and review it on Amazon  (please tick any customer reviews you find helpful). Educators can get an inspection copy from the publisher’s page, and get your library to order a copy. It cost me a lot to write and I would greatly appreciate your help in getting it to people who can use it to make a difference.

3. Commission on Learning for Democracy

It is almost 20 years since the Crick Report on citizenship education and we desperately need a new drive for a political literacy. A Commission on Learning for Democracy, if possible led by the Speaker of the House of Commons, could push the subject up the political agenda and encourage education institutions to bring new energy into it.

A Commission would ask three questions:

  1. What knowledge and abilities do people need to take part in politics effectively?
  2. What is the current state of political knowledge and ability, and where do people get it?
  3. By what means can political ability and understanding be developed, particularly for those who currently have least confidence and ability to take part in politics?

It would draw on a wide range of recent research, such as the Hansard Society’s annual Audit of Political Engagement (2004 – 16) and Connecting Citizens To Parliament (2011), the Council of Europe’s Reference Framework of Competences for Democratic Culture and the experience of our members.

If you would you like to join a small action group to make it happen, please email me.

4. World Forum for Democracy

A wide range of organisations contributed to our event, giving an overview of the state of skills for democracy today: read the report to find out how education for citizenship in schools has been marginalised and civil society organisations are reaching out to support diverse groups in the community.

World Forum logo-2The World Forum for Democracy is an important initiative by the Council of Europe to strengthen democracy by encouraging citizens and states to share experiences and discuss practical projects. Two inspiring videos present highlights and conclusions from the 2016 Forum in November.

The Council of Europe also organized ‘Democracy Incubator’ to share practice in participatory democracy: read the report here (all attachments listed in the report can be found here).

We are following this up with the Minister for Skills, Robert Halfon, and UK members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe: let me know if you’d like to be involved with this.

The Council of Europe’s Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education was adopted in May 2010 and in April 2016 a Ministerial meeting adopted a Reference Framework of Competences for Democratic Culture. This is a very useful synthesis of curriculum frameworks for education in citizenship and political literacy. Worth reading.

Next year’s Forum will focus on populism: it is free to take part, if you cover the cost of travel and accommodation – unless you are presenting a project, so it’s worth thinking about what XX can contribute in November and signing up for updates. Follow @WFDemocracy

5.   Get ready for Parliament Week!

Parliament Week (13 – 17 November) is a great way to connect people with power and learn more about how they can use the political system for the causes they care about. If you’re interested in hosting an event for UK Parliament Week sign up to their Partners’ newsletter. During the run-up to Parliament Week they’ll send you regular news, updates and information to help you run your event. Put the Week in your diary now and thing about ways you can use it promote democracy and your work.

Don’t forget that the UK Parliamentary Education and Outreach services provide and wide range of resources and support for people doing democracy across the UK, as does the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly.

6.  Engaging in Brexit, EU and Europe

Brexit means that people need to become more involved in EU politics than ever before – first to make sure their interests are taken into account in the Government’s negotiations with the 27 EU members, then to watch out for the impact of EU decisions on the UK: just because we are outside the EU doesn’t mean it won’t affect us.

Last year the WEA ran a very course on Europe, Citizenship and Democracy in the 21st Century across England.

So long as Britain is in the EU, we can use the education and information services of the European Parliament in London, Edinburgh and Brussels.

The European Parliamentary Week runs from 30 January to 1 February 2017 at the European Parliament in Brussels for Parliamentarians from all over the EU to discuss economic, budgetary and social matters.

As we leave the EU, we should also learn how the Council of Europe can help us promote freedom, equality, democracy and co-operation across the 47 countries of Europe.

7.  Running Democracy Matters

At our satellite meeting for the World Forum for Democracy David Blunkett called for a movement for the right to political literacy, like Make Poverty History, with concerts, debates and demonstrations. It would be great if Democracy Matters could help make it happen.

I run Democracy Matters on a voluntary basis, out of my own pocket. I would like to get it set up on a more secure basis in order to build a movement for political literacy and inclusive democracy. There are a growing number of projects for political education, participation and democracy which could work together better, through a loose umbrella group like Democracy Matters: please get in touch if you can help.

Spread the word

Do pass this information to your networks, and send news for next month.

Titus Alexander


Democracy Matters

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