5 mins

It’s time for democratic decision making in the third sector

By Steve Cook


Participatory and democratic decision-making, shared and collaborative working within and between sectors and a ‘whole systems’ approach to change and improvement.

This needs to apply to every aspect of society and it’s interdependent constituent parts, including the voluntary sector. Very excited about work that I’m engaged in at present to help make this achievable.

It’s time for democratic decision making in the third sector
By Mark Swift FRSA

From supplying people with essentials like food and medication to offering advice, counselling, or a listening ear for those who are lonely and isolated, the third sector is responding to the physical, emotional, spiritual, and social needs of citizens during these unprecedented times.

It is likely that demand for voluntary sector support will grow substantially and for years to come as the full psychological impact of Covid-19 reveals itself.

Such demand will of course be most acute in areas of greatest disadvantage. Especially so if the financial burden of this crisis falls heaviest on the shoulders of those who can least afford it, as was the case after the 2008 economic crisis.

How can the voluntary sector adapt to the complexity of the challenges ahead? Based on my experiences at Wellbeing Enterprises, I believe we need to encourage participatory and democratic decision making.

Why? We need to strengthen collaborative working within the sector and with citizens to be a part of a ‘whole systems’ approach to improving wellbeing.


There is an incredible amount of goodwill and generosity in the voluntary sector, and it is often in times of crisis that this is more outwardly visible as organisations come together to co-ordinate efforts.

3 things have helped support greater dialogue and collaboration during Covid-19:

The use of digital technology

Platforms like Zoom and Google Hangouts have been extraordinarily helpful in connecting organisations and people.

I have personally enjoyed meeting new people, and learning first-hand about the work of organisations of all different sizes – from large charities to self-help groups.

It has reaffirmed to me just how important everyone’s contribution is throughout this crisis and beyond it.

There will of course always be a need and desire for meeting in person (I’m reminded of the saying ‘in a world full of iPads and iPhones, let’s not forget the value of eyeballs!’), however I do think technology can offer a helpful workaround for the logistical challenges of convening larger numbers of voluntary organisations.

I hope as we move forward, that the convening power of digital technology is harnessed more widely to ensure there is greater opportunity for open debate, the setting of collective priorities and as a tool to support democratic decision making in the sector and with communities.

Developing a shared sense of purpose

There is no doubt that this crisis has helped crystallize a strong sense of shared purpose among partners in the areas where I work.

Minimising harm and safeguarding the most vulnerable has most certainly been an overarching priority and understandably so.

I think this growing sense of shared purpose has helped to focus the sector’s collective attention outward, towards the community. This has enabled greater dialogue with citizens and stakeholders about what matters to them and what support and assistance they would like to see.

Read the full article by Mark Swift FRSA here




+44 7956 544943   |   stephen.cook@vstrategy.co.uk

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