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.

This website is a resource for anyone wanting to find out more about the programme, including how to apply, as well as a learning resource for anyone interested in innovations in democracy.

The only independently-funded programme of its kind in the UK or Ireland, 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 programme builds on the legacy of the Building Change Trust’s Civic Activism Programme which operated from 2014-2018. Past projects have included the Citizens’ Assembly for Northern Ireland, Participatory Budgeting Works, the NI Open Government Network and FactCheckNI.

As well as the Community Foundation’s own resources, funding for the programme is provided by a consortium of independent charitable foundations including the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

Open to all voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations working in Northern Ireland, as well as public sector representatives and interested individuals, the programme will support projects that can deliver greater public influence over key societal issues as well as demonstrating how a more participative and deliberative model of democracy can build a better Northern Ireland for everyone. 

One of the unique features of the programme is that the individual projects don’t need to be precisely defined at the beginning. Instead, organisations and individuals were able to complete a simple online expression of interest form when the programme opened between October and January 2020. Fifty-five groups submitted an expression of interest for the programme and following assessment, thirty groups were invited to ‘pitch’ their idea during the Community Foundation’s Democracy Day event on 29th January 2020.

Democracy Day was delivered in partnership with the Imagine Belfast Festival and included inspiration from international and local contributors working in the fields of public participation and democratic innovation. This event was attended by 130 participants ranging from statutory, community and voluntary organisations as well as individuals with an interest in thematic areas. Following the pitch, groups then had the opportunity to discuss their project with other individuals and organisations in a global cafe discussion and agreed on which groups they felt would increase public participation in democratic decision making the most. 

Community organisations came to pitch on a wide range of topics and challenges from health issues, disengagement of the unemployed through to the absence of a Community Rights Act in Northern Ireland.  Examples included:  

The Integrated Education Fund who are seeking to challenge the segregated school system and the resulting duplication of school provision by consulting and engaging communities around possible school amalgamations. 

NI Youth Forum who highlighted the need for a Northern Ireland Youth Assembly to overcome young people’s disconnection and exclusion from the democratic process 

Garvagh Development Trust who want to support people to address the local effects of climate change and loss of biodiversity. 

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.  

For a full review of Democracy day visit the Civic Innovation NI news section here

Across the entire programme the Community Foundation will seek to tap into the groundswell of democratic innovations taking place around the world and provide opportunities for grantees to learn from this and showcase their own work. 

For further information contact Paul Braithwaite via pbraithwaite@communityfoundationni.org