The Community Foundation for Northern Ireland's Civic Innovation Programme aims to support initiatives that put people at the centre of decision-making in Northern Ireland.
The first of its kind in Northern Ireland, the programme is funded by a consortium of independent charitable foundations including the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.
The Civic Innovation Programme uses a combination of intensive project design support, expertise on public participation and grant-funding to support the delivery of new initiatives that aim to deepen local democracy.
The Community Foundation First Civic Innovation Programme took place between Jan 2020 and completed in December 2022. This three year programme was launched during International Democracy Day, where voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations, individuals and public sector representatives, were invited to identify a social, environmental and/or economic challenge where they felt democracy needed to improved. With forty four challenges identified, interested parties took place in a World Cafe format workshop to explore discuss the challenge area and explore each others ideas and opportunities to collaborate.
At the end of Democracy Day, fourteen new initiatives, aimed at deepening local democracy in communities across Northern Ireland were selected for the co-design stage of the Civic Innovation programme.
Following the co-design stage, 11 projects were supported with a £5,000 grant to allow projects to further develop or test their project. We called this the Prototype Stage - this allowed project teams time to explore, design, test, iterate and develop their project plan. During this time, project teams consulted with their public, researched the public participation techniques they were trialing and engaged with decision makers around their chose challenge area.
Each project teams then had the opportunity to apply for up to £100,000. Due to Covid the pitch for the fund took place online. Seven project teams were successful in their pitch for funding and the Civic Innovation Programme awarded over £500,000 to a range of projects aimed at improving democracy in areas of education, environment, community cohesion, peacebuilding, health and wellbeing, language rights, and community planning.
As well as making an impact on the ground with their local communities, project teams have been exploring democracy at a regional and national level. The Growing Food and Growing Community projects went on a best practice visit to Scotland and England to visit community farms and to explore how to engage communities in environmental planning and food education
The Project Teams came together in October 2022 to showcase their Civic Innovation Project. Projects which was presented in the form of a drama presentation and a roundtable discussion with project team members. All participants then took part in a discussion on the health and future of Civic Innovation in Northern Ireland.
To support the future engagement of groups working on improving democracy in Northern Ireland, The Foundation has played a key role in supporting the development of 'The Democracy Network', a new group providing support for groups to stay connected and learn and participate in a wider democracy networking group, that will support further the deepening of democracy across the UK. The network is managed by Involve, the public participation organisation.