The Hansard Society believes that the health of representative democracy rests on the foundation of a strong Parliament and an informed and engaged citizenry.
Founded in 1944, we are a charity working in the UK and around the world to promote democracy and strengthen parliaments. An independent, non-partisan political research and education Society our work is devoted to:
1. Exploring the evolution of representative democracy: offering evidence-based ideas for reform of political and parliamentary institutions, processes and culture to help foster democratic renewal.
2. Educating citizens, particularly young people: so that they have the knowledge and confidence to play an active role in our democracy and be future leaders in civic and political life.
3. Connecting citizens with parliamentarians and policy-makers: through innovative on and off-line initiatives to address the democratic deficit.
4. Convening debate on topical political issues: providing a non-partisan forum for the exchange of ideas about our democratic future.
Exploring the evolution of representative democracy
Our research addresses some of the most critical challenges facing our democracy today: declining public engagement and participation in politics; inequalities in representation and increasing concern about the role and purpose of our elected representatives; the role of ethics and standards in public life; the constitutional and political implications of a hung Parliament; the extent to which parliaments are organised and resourced to perform effective scrutiny; and the causes and consequences of deficiencies in the legislative process. We also focus on how technology is transforming politics: whether new forms of direct democracy are viable and if so whether they desirable given our representative system; and the impact of the digital age on legislatures and the communication of parliamentary democracy.
For the last decade our flagship Audit of Political Engagement has provided the only annual health check on British democracy. We are widely recognised for our innovative research about parliamentary public engagement and our projects often focus on important but over-looked areas of reform such as delegated legislation and financial scrutiny. The Society also provides a platform for the latest international research and debate in our peer-reviewed journal, Parliamentary Affairs, which is published in partnership with Oxford University Press.
Educating citizens, particularly young people
We run the largest mock elections in schools programme anywhere in the world. Over one million pupils in the UK have participated in ‘YVote’ Mock Elections in the last decade and we have provided thousands of teachers with curriculum resources and bespoke political literacy training across the country. The Society was instrumental in the adoption of citizenship education as part of the national curriculum a decade ago and continues to campaign for improvements in political literacy support for young people, most recently as Chair of the Association of Citizenship Teaching and as a founding member of the national ‘Democratic Life’ campaign coalition.
The Society also works to support the civic and political engagement of adults, particularly those from the most disengaged communities, through our democracy training programme, People to Parliament, which provides citizens with the knowledge and skills they need to get involved in the political process and connect with key decision-makers.
We deliver accredited undergraduate and postgraduate modules on British politics and public policy to young scholars and ‘future leaders’ from across the globe through our long-standing international scholars programme and provide bespoke training, professional development support and executive education programmes on constitutional, political and parliamentary issues to a wide variety of domestic and overseas audiences.
Connecting citizens with parliamentarians and policy-makers
The Society has been at the forefront of the development of public engagement initiatives adopted by the Westminster Parliament. We created and manage the award winning Lords of the Blog site – the only collective blog maintained across party lines by members of a parliamentary chamber anywhere in the world. Our award-winning HeadsUp online debating forum for young people and policy-makers was recognised as one of the foremost sites of its kind, building on our earlier pioneering work in the use of digital media to provide public submissions to parliamentary committees and our piloting of the first ever select committee consultation via an online forum. More recently, working in partnership with universities and NGOs across Europe, we have been exploring how policy-makers can better engage in a two-way dialogue with the public through the use of new technology and how parliaments and governments might better detect, track and mine opinions and discussions on policy oriented topics through tools such as social media and big data.
Convening debate on topical political issues
We use our unique convening power to host a diverse range of Democracy Forum debates, lectures, seminars and workshops each year to discuss topical political and constitutional issues. We organised and hosted the first-ever public hustings for the election of the Speaker of the House of Commons (2009) and Lord Speaker (2011) both of which were streamed live by the BBC. The first ever public lectures given by both the Speaker, John Bercow, and the Lord Speaker, Baroness Hayman, were also given on a Hansard Society platform. As a Parliament Week partner, we host the annual Young People’s Question Time at Westminster, bringing hundreds of teenagers from schools across London and the south-east of England to Parliament to question parliamentarians on the issues of the day. We also run a range of public panel discussions at the National Assembly for Wales and the Scottish Parliament and as a non-partisan body, the Society is often asked to chair debates and discussions for other organisations such as the British Library, the Royal Society for the Arts, and the Scottish Festival of Politics in Edinburgh.