tools directory

PopUp Democracy

PopUp Democracy

What situations is this tool used in?

Pop-up democracy is a term for institutional forms that use temporary, site-specific practices to provide opportunities for increased local political and civic participation (e.g. pop-up shops; activist spaces; circulating libraries). 

Who is this tool aimed at?

It is aimed at engaging communities to create a culture of participation. Pop-up democracy can help overcome “the threshold problem”, which refers to the challenge facing institutions in getting people to participate in public meetings (often the result of cultural and social barriers). These temporary installations can help build social capital, close to the community they aim to engage. When they no longer serve, they no longer exist.

How Is the Tool Used?

Pop-up democracy can take different forms.

Inserted interventions can take place in vacant buildings, in which case projects tend to last longer.

Modular interventions, such as mobile vans or other kinds of "pods", are flexible and usually located in the public realm, such as a square.

Food as medium of exchange revolves around the idea of food as a means of building stronger community ties and encouraging cultural exchange, particularly within diverse communities. It can take the form of convivial events where people exchange food or commerce (e.g. 'food not bombs', temporary food stores).

Pop-up shops provide temporary opportunities for targeted commerce, often related to a larger context of events (e.g. a festival or conference). They can be used to provide information or engage members of the public in debate on a particular issue.

Activist spaces, such as artist protest tents, the Occupy Wall Street library or Tent City University in Occupy the London Stock Exchange, are generally created within the environment of power that is being challenged (e.g. Wall Street; a prominent public square  or a government building).

Who has used the tool?

The Holywell Trust, Cedar Foundation, Corrymeela and Community Places projects documented in the case studies section used versions of Pop-Up Democracy in their work.


Food Not Bombs is an all-volunteer global movement that shares free vegan meals as a protest to war and poverty. Each local chapter collects surplus food that would otherwise go to waste from grocery stores, bakeries and markets, as well as donations from local farmers, then prepares community meals which are served for free to anyone who is hungry, often  during protest events or during humanitarian emergencies. The movement was started in the 1980s by anti-nuclear protestors in the US.


Food Not Bombs global website  

Academic article on the ‘Food Not Bombs’ movement in the USA 

Where to find out more

Overview of pop-up democracy

Academic article on Social Centres and Activist Spaces in Contemporary Britain