Third sector groups band together to promote democracy

“People must become the authors of change, not its victims.” So said Bob Fryer of the Independent Inquiry into Lifelong Learning, a co-presenter at a seminar attended by representatives of fourteen third-sector organisations who promote democracy, effective citizenship, participation and practical politics.

Fryer’s talk included various models of learning to engage citizens in active participation, quoting Jacques Delors’ “The Treasure Within” as a healthier approach to learning in the community than that currently evident in the UK. He elaborated on this with models by Williams and Nussbaum: human capital, identity capital, and social capital.

Fryer was preceded by a presentation by Jo Dungey, Senior Policy Consultant of the Local Government Association, describing the new legal duty of local government to promote democracy. They must explain to their constituents the democratic arrangements of councils, the opportunities to engage or become elected, the role and activities of councilors, and routes to becoming a councillor. Local governments are encouraged to interpret these very new measures in a way that is best for the area they govern. Dungey advised those attending to be on the look-out for how this is interpreted in their own areas.

Group discussion included a need for clarity between “civic” and “civil” in this context, plus recommendations how civil society organisations can work with local authorities to make the most of this new duty. Action points were planned and assigned to various members of the group in time for the next meeting.

The ECA was represented at this gathering by two members of the National Executive Committee: Judith Robinson, representing Luton’s Alban Neve Deaf Association whose European project, EuroPol, creates learning tools to enable active citizens’ involvement in their own communities (a follow-on from TEACh, the Grundtvig active citizenship project of which ECA is the UK lead.); and Bernard Godding, ECA Chief Executive, who contributed to the learning framework of the UK Government’s Active Learning for Active Citizenship, “Take Part” initiative. Bernard is increasingly called upon to ensure that the learning dimension is included in UK and European policy decisions. This is nothing new. The ECA’s focus from its inception 90 years ago has been based on learner engagement, and the student voice in active citizenship.

DEMOCRACY MATTERS is seeking to enlarge the membership of this loosely-formed alliance. For more information, and dates of future meetings, email Novas Scarman’s Titus Alexander at:

By Judith Robinson

Date Added: November 30th 2009