How to be more involved in Local Democracy
As part of the Trust’s work on our ‘Creative Space for Civic Thinking’ theme, we are keen to encourage engagement between the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector and the state to ensure that the interests of the most vulnerable and marginalised members of the community are heard.
Here are our top tips to help you get involved in local democracy:
Be informed about the work of your council
Contact your local council to find out exactly what work they do and where their remits lie. By understanding their scope of authority you can understand who to contact with complaints, concerns and issues. They may also have a set process for you to engage with them.
Be aware of your local MP
Depending on where you live and operate, you will need to find out who is the best person to help your cause. Have their details to hand and contact them with relevant queries.
Be open to a changing process
Decision-making is changing and we are now entering a phase where co-designed decision making between councillor and organisations is taking place. This is creating more opportunities for conversations between the VCSE sector and local politicians so that informed choices can be made.
Be active on social media
Social media has become one of the fastest and most effective ways to disseminate information, connect with the right people and express expert opinions on key discussions. Campaigns can gain support and build profiles quickly on social media platforms.
Be business minded
Networking still has an important role to play in getting in front of the right people. Your organisation should look at the opportunities to meet with key individuals and have the right engagement strategies in place to get the most from those situations.
Be open and responsive
Embrace innovation to have more say on the issues that matter most to you. Be active in bringing your concerns to the people, rather than expecting them to come to you.
If you are trying to gain the support of your local community, informal meetings held in neutral settings have more attraction. Schools, community halls and leisure centres are all useful public spaces. Create your events with your audience in mind and promote them efficiently.
Be involved in the debates
Arrange your own public debates and have a presence at discussions relevant to your cause. If you are staging your own debate, invite key influencers to join you.
Be engaged with other organisations
There are several organisations in Northern Ireland already engaging well with local democracy:
NI Speaks Out is a group of NI citizens from various backgrounds (business, academic, social science and community work). None belong to any political party, but all very much believe in the positive value of participatory democracy and in developing a real sense of community as the basis for social and political progress.
WIMPS stands for "Where Is My Public Servant?". It is a project run by and for young people. They began with an idea - to make politics more relevant to young people - and decided one way of doing this was to remind politicians that they work the citizens.
Age Sector Platform is a charity which represents the interests of older people in Northern Ireland. Since 2008 it has supported older people to make their voice heard on the issues that matter to them.
To find out more about our work in this area visit our Civic Thinking page.