UK Citizens Online Democracy: Empowering Civic Engagement through Technology

In an era when newspapers are filled with headlines about crackdowns on civil society, UK Citizens Online Democracy is working aggressively to open up and strengthen these spaces. Since 2003, the organization has run mySociety, a project that builds democratic and civic websites and apps in order to empower people to change their communities.

mySociety operates under the belief that government accountability is fundamental to common welfare and that this only happens when people engage with government and their communities. Thus, mySociety provides access to civic engagement through technology across the following three areas:

  1. Democracy — access to open-source code, open data, and repurposable tools to hold power authorities accountable
  2. Freedom of Information — tools designed to clarify and simplify the process of holding governments accountable
  3. Better Cities — tools to help local authorities and citizens improve their communities

In addition to running sites in its home base in the U.K., mySociety also operates in 40 other countries, and its websites and apps are used by more than 10 million people each year.

NGOsource's Role

UK Citizens Online Democracy first underwent the equivalency determination (ED) process with NGOsource in May 2014. Three additional funders subsequently requested EDs multiple times for the organization, in turn supporting mySociety's initiatives. Myf Nixon, mySociety's marketing and communications manager, notes that "funding from the U.S. has been absolutely invaluable to mySociety" and that having the ED "means the whole process of application is simpler for both sides."

NGOsource eliminates the need for and costs associated with internal ED expertise or external legal counsel on the grantmaker end. Additionally, NGOsource's standardized questionnaire helps NGOs avoid redundancy for carrying out the ED process from one grantmaker to the next.

NGOsource also supports NGOs in increased access to cross-border philanthropy. Nixon points out, "Many of the big grantmakers in our area of Civic Technology are on your side of the pond, and having access to these sources of funding have allowed us to be much more ambitious and wide-ranging in our plans." Find out more about the benefits of NGOsource.

ED in Action

One of mySociety's recent projects with U.S. backing is Alaveteli Professional, an international service through which mySociety aids journalists in creating more impactful and better-evidenced news stories. By connecting and allowing journalist users to request information from relevant authorities, the tool enables journalists to ensure that information is vetted and backed by multiple sources.

Through mySociety, UK Citizens Online Democracy is turning the trend of opaqueness on its head and putting power back into the hands of the people. Smart, research-supported methods help mySociety empower civil society, pushing back on closing spaces "byte by byte."

Top Photo: mySociety team, volunteers, and trustees, 2017