Feb 13 2024 - Posted by Yvonne

Yvonne Murphy’s speech at The Democracy Box Report – Beyond the Ballot Box – Public Launch Event at Senedd Cymru/Welsh Parliament 7th February 2024


“To make an informed decision, you have to first of all be informed.”

– Talking Shop Visitor


Thank you all so much for coming here today and a huge thank you to all the young co-creators who have presented and performed already. There is more to come.

For anyone who doesn’t know me I am Yvonne Murphy. I have been a freelance Theatre Director, Producer and Creative for 32 years and I co-founded Omidaze Productions in 2008 which is a partnership run by two freelancers with no core funding. i.e. I do not have a salary, no core staff and Omidaze relies on project funding.

I would like to begin by offering my deepest thanks to all those who have made this work possible over the last 4 years. Clwstwr – who funded the beginning of The Democracy Box’s research and development and then subsequently a range of others including the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, the Electoral Commission and Wales Millennium Centre and over 30 supporting collaborating organisations including the Electoral Reform Society Cymru who have very kindly supported today’s event and made refreshments possible.

With all of their support I have recruited and trained 67 young people to date aged 16 to 26 from across Wales as co-creators, including from the 5 lowest voter turn-out constituencies. In addition, hundreds more young people have contributed via creative think-ins, interviews, surveys, live events and prototype testing. Feedback from nearly 9,000 visits from people of all ages to Talking Shop trials across Wales has also shaped this research.

The only reason that I as a freelance creative can continue to do this work and be standing here today is because the Electoral Commission awarded me a small grant for 6 months to enable us to continue to work together developing The Democracy Box. This meant I could pay young co-creators and myself until March this year. The final trial of The Talking Shop in Blackwood has funding for 14 weeks from when it opens after which point all of this work will, as it currently stands, end.

All this work actually began over 6 years ago when I first began to explore the intersection between cultural and democratic participation. I am doing this work because I passionately believe that creativity, creative approaches and co-creation are key to increasing both cultural and democratic participation.

I know we are all overwhelmed with work and reports, priorities and deadlines however I would urge everyone here to read The Democracy Box report.

It provides the proof of the problem and outlines tested prototypes solutions to help us address our democratic deficit.

Before I talk about both the problem and those solutions here are some more young co-creators to tell you why this is work is so important.


VIDEO Young co-creators ‘What does democracy mean to you?’


Key finding 1 – The Information & Knowledge Gap or our broken cycle of shared story telling

There currently exists a gaping knowledge and information gap about our democracy for the majority of the population. This is caused by a lack of joined up, easy to access and engaging information.  This in turn is leading to record levels of disillusionment, distrust, disengagement and dissatisfaction with our UK democracy.



“Engagement comes from understanding. People are only going to be interested in something if they understand it. If you don’t understand, why would you take part?” – Young co-creator, aged 17


However people are engaged. They do care. About issues that affect them locally, across Wales, the UK and the world.

Record low levels of voter turn-out sit side by side with record high levels of activism People are struggling to be heard and influence the change they want to see.

I know from talking to thousands of people all over Wales inside The Talking Shop trials that they really care about their local areas and communities. However people want and need to know how their democracy actually works and fits together and how they can be involved, contribute and influence and help create the society and country they want 365 days a year.

The common denominator in terms of democratic engagement is not age

It is having had the luxury and privilege of a home and/or classroom where the basics were discussed or taught.

Every single elected representative, Councillors, MPs and MS interviewed for The Democracy Box podcast series said they had learnt about our UK democracy around the kitchen or dining room table.

That dinner table experience is a privileged one not enjoyed by the majority. My kids have it. I did not.

How then do we create that kitchen/dining room table experience for everyone?

And what about democratic education in the classroom?

 “Why weren’t we taught this in school?” has been a constant refrain since I began this work over 6 years ago.

Here in Wales we now have a ground-breaking new curriculum which places Global Citizenship at its core. We could and should be leading on Democratic Education here in Wales. Unfortunately there is an implementation gap

If our teachers come from a background where democracy/politics wasn’t discussed around the kitchen table growing up, chances are they will not have a sound basic understanding of our UK democracy.

How then can you teach something you do not understand?

There is a shame accompanying not knowing this stuff which moves with us through into adulthood and gets harder and harder to admit to.

To teach something you do not understand yourself and to do it creatively and thereby engage and inspire young people is a tall order.

Teachers will therefore often sidestep it all together or resort to the passive practice of putting on a video or handing out a workbook resulting in low level or zero understanding and engagement.

The cycle of poor story sharing thereby continues and low democratic engagement and participation with it.

We must begin by teaching the teachers.

Democratic education being routinely taught using creative and innovative methods is vital.

What supports that in the community and within wider society is equally vital.

We have excellent engagement and outreach teams working hard in all our parliaments in the UK including right here at the Senedd. Unfortunately my research evidences that Westminster focussing only on Westminster and the Senedd team focussing only on Wales when it comes to democratic engagement and education is detrimental and a key part of the problem.

Another key problem is our media which I will come to in a moment.

The majority of people are not learning the basics about our UK democracy in the home, the classroom, through our institutions or via the media.

A lack of knowledge about our democratic systems and structures makes it impossible to access them. This leaves many people, of all ages, frustrated and unsure of how to get their voices heard about the issues which matter to them most.

Can we honestly claim to have a democracy if the majority of citizens do not actually understand how that democracy works and fits together?

This is our democratic deficit.




62% either do not understand or want or need more information on the basics of our UK democracy.

75% do not understand or only partly understand what devolution is and what is devolved.

65% don’t know who represents them in the Senedd or what a Member of Senedd does or is responsible for.

77% don’t know who their councillors are or what a councillor does or is responsible for.

39% do not know who their MP is or how to contact them.

67% either do not know or only partly understand the difference between Parliament and Government.


If 77% of people don’t know what a councillor is or what they are responsible for is it any wonder so few turn out for local elections?

If 75% do not understand what devolution is or what is devolved and 65% do not know what a Member of Senedd is or what they do, why would they vote in a Welsh Parliament election? Why would you want to take part in and vote in a system you do not understand?

The majority of people who have contributed to this research do not know who their elected representatives are or how to contact them. They don’t understand devolution or what is devolved and what words like ‘constituency’, ‘ward’ or ‘district’ refer to or the difference between parliament and government or terms commonly used by the media like ‘left’ and ‘right’ (when it comes to the political spectrum). They do not understand the difference between our various parliaments and all our forms of government or the different elections that are held and how their votes are counted in each.

This does not mean they do not want to know. They are passionate about knowing and are really angry and frustrated that they don’t.



“This is essential life knowledge. It’s as important as English and Maths.” – Young co-creator, 2020

How then have we arrived at a situation where millions do not understand the basics of our democracy and where people can go through their entire school education only to enter society as adults not understanding how the democracy they live in actually works and fits together?

My research does not provide a simple answer. Rather, it highlights that the current situation is the responsibility of all past governments, all political parties, broadcasters, journalists, news providers and policymakers.

My research does conclude that we must begin to prioritise basic democratic education as a matter of extreme urgency and ahead of focusing on voter registration and voter turnout and underpin, electoral and constitutional reviews and reforms.

This was highlighted unequivocally in the recently published final report from the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales.



“The Welsh Government should strengthen the capacity for democratic innovation and inclusive community engagement in Wales.…New strategies for civic education should be a priority for this work, ….. Levels of understanding of the UK’s constitutional set-up are low, and most people do not feel informed enough to contribute to the debate about changing it…. The generally low levels of knowledge and understanding, even among those who are politically engaged, is striking.”

Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales Final Report.


Key Finding 2 – Young people need to involved and be paid as co-creators Those currently most disengaged need to be made co-creators and placed front and paid for their time, talents and ideas. Paying them is essential.

Young people are the lowest voter turnout demographic so we need to design from the outer most disengaged edges inwards. We are currently and traditionally designing information campaigns from the inside (by the most engaged) to the outer edges (to the least engaged). That needs to switch. And the thing about young people is they only get older. If we start with those who will go on to become parents and educators we might have a fighting chance of beginning to address our democratic deficit.


Key Finding 3 – A frenzied focus on elections and voting is part of the problem – The Democracy Box research suggests that the current focus on elections and getting people to register to vote – and vote – is at best ineffective and, at worst, and rather ironically, may actually be contributing to our record low levels of voter turn-out. Many people are feeling disillusioned with the ballot box as the only advertised/perceived method of participation.  We are asking people to participate in something they do not understand. You would never invite someone to sit down and play a game (Like Monopoly or Cluedo) without first telling them the rules and how the game works. If you did they would understandably not want to participate or get frustrated and disengage.



“…people need to get involved beyond making a cross on a ballot once in a few years. Democratic participation should be taught from school and reinforced by of events and media campaigns.” – Democracy Box survey response


I have been asked more than once how we can sustain interest year round in our democracy and create a buzz outside of elections and yet we don’t worry about creating a buzz around maths and English – or other life information that we all accept everyone needs to know, or have a basic standard of knowledge about, in order to take part in society.


Key Finding 4 – Language as a barrier – The words we use are key and we need to ensure we have a shared vocabulary and avoid ‘problematic language’. In focus groups over the last three years a constant refrain has been: “Slow down, go back – we don’t even understand the words you are using.” Some young people do not know what the word ‘democracy’ itself means let alone words like devolution, constitution, constituency, ward or legislation.


The word ‘politics’ is strongly connected to concerns around truth and trust for many people and is often thought to imply ‘party politics’. The word ‘politics’ heats up the discussion. In contrast, the word ‘democracy’ cools down the discussion and allows people to think about how to work together collectively for the greater good now and for future generations.



“No one would call themselves a citizen. Citizens have no power. People have power. We are people.” – Talking Shop visitor


The terms ‘civics’, ‘citizen’ and ‘citizenship’ were commonly disliked and not understood by many and said to be problematic and alienating.

Glossaries, explainers, easy-to-understand simple information have all been routinely requested over the last 4 years.


Key Finding 5 – Trust and truth –a general concern about how to find facts and the truth in an oversaturated digital world and a lack of trust were key recurring themes throughout the research. There is a significant breakdown of trust in democracy across all generations, including a growing lack of trust in elected representatives, political parties, the media and the structures and systems surrounding all three levels of government.


Key Finding 6 – A One stop democracy shop People want a one-stop shop for democratic information – both digital and in person.



And people want the information to be:

  1. Relevant to people’s lives.
  2. Easy to find and all in one place.
  3. Simple and easy to understand.


People want to see a role for themselves as engaged citizens. They want to be able to contribute and feel valued 365 days a year.

The evidence from my research suggests that if we do change our focus and promote and celebrate everyday democracy then a significant increase across all forms of democratic engagement and participation, including voter turnout, will follow.



Democratic education

  1. Democratic education in schools
  2. Public Information campaigns outside of elections
  3. In-person democratic information points


Democratic education in schools was the highest priority for everyone I spoke to.

Public & state funded Information campaigns run outside of elections by neutral organisations (not government run) was the second highest priority.

The 3rd priority was in-person democratic information points.

I have created prototype solutions for all three.

But first before I tell you about those I must first tell you about four key problems.

SLIDE – The Four Problems

  • The Ivory Tower Problem
  • The Managed Democracy Problem
  • The News/Media Problem
  • The Status of Creatives Problem


Addressing all four of these problems is necessary if we genuinely want to address our democratic deficit.


Problem 1 – The Ivory Tower Problem

The Ivory Tower Problem is created and perpetuated by every person who has ever said or thought that ‘knowing the facts is not enough’ or ‘knowledge doesn’t necessarily lead to engagement’.

Basically anyone who currently understands our democracy and feels like they have a voice but are unconscious of, or do not prioritise or downplay, the knowledge gap which I’ve just described which exists for the majority.

If you are sitting in this room and you are content with the current levels of democratic literacy in Wales and the UK then you, I’m afraid, are part of the Ivory Tower problem.

Fixed beliefs, apathy, polarisation all stem from a lack of knowledge and can be altered.

Obviously if 100% of people are all informed, it does not follow that 100% of people will be engaged. However, what is certain is that it gives them the choice. Not giving people the information they need to fully participate, and therefore not giving them the choice, is fundamentally undemocratic.

Anyone in a position of power at any level who is conscious of the information gap and consciously chooses not to address it leads us to problem 2.


Problem 2 – The Managed Democracy Problem

Many people who have contributed to this research expressed a concern with why this lack of democratic education exists and whether it was deliberate.


Poor information flow and the subsequent lack of opportunity for the populace to impact decision making between elections could be defined as a managed democracy – a democracy that is reduced to elections and the people, as occasional voters.


A managed information gap is fundamentally undemocratic, as is the decision to ‘forget about’ people who have historically not voted or who traditionally vote against the government in power, whether that government is local, devolved or UK.


A managed democracy in the UK could describe a situation where the interests of party politics and the interests of individuals, organisations, movements and/or groups are put above the interests of a whole population and a working democracy,


Problem 3 – The News/Media Problem

The main responsibility for delivering democratic education within our mainstream media currently sits within rolling news, with some budget being given to education.

This is problematic and needs to change for two main reasons:

  1. Democratic education becomes wrapped around ‘newsworthy’ events, mainly elections.
  2. News/news providers have become distrusted and difficult to distinguish for many from fake news and misinformation.



The advances of artificial intelligence (AI) also make it urgent that credible, non-partisan, trustworthy sources of information that are fully independent of government are protected, promoted and exist beyond rolling news.




Problem 4 – The Status of Creatives Problem

In ancient Greece, citizens were obliged to go to the theatre as part of their civic duty. Now I am not advocating that we should make theatre attendance compulsory in Wales and the rest of the UK – however, I do believe, like the ancient Greeks, that access to and participation in arts, culture and creativity is vital to a healthy and democratic society.



Creativity and the creative arts help us to express ourselves, make sense of the world and fine-tune our critical thinking, debating, collaboration and consensus-reaching skills, along with encouraging us to challenge and critique. Ritual storytelling can help us to reflect and understand and reform our social and political structures.




“Students from low-income families who engage in the arts at school are 20% more likely to vote as young adults.”

Cultural Learning Alliance, Imagine Nation The Case For Cultural Learning


The years of experience, skills and wealth of knowledge that creatives can bring to the democracy sector and the problem of declining democratic participation should not be underestimated.


And yet creatives have been in a position of defence in the UK for decades and required to constantly re-articulate and re-evidence the value and impact of arts, culture and creativity to society. Creatives spend a vast majority of their time working to survive, (I am speaking from 32 years personal lived experience) rather than being placed in positions of influence and power to help unlock some of society’s most pressing problems including, but not limited to, our democratic deficit.


A recent report by the European Union details:

“How citizens’ participation in cultural activities enhances civic engagement, democracy and social cohesion.”


It is essential that we routinely invite professional creatives (as well as young people) to be involved and help lead and inform democratic education and engagement work and for them to be paid for their creative thinking, time, skills and experience.


All four problems can be addressed. The question is whether they actually will be in any meaningful way, since it may run contrary to the interests of political parties, the media and those who currently hold power in all its forms.


What is certain is to tackle those 4 problems we need to take three steps



Step 1. Democratic education for all ages via 3 routes.

  • Public information campaigns for all ages,

We need to co-create public information campaigns and pay all co-creators

  • Democracy Hubs

We need democracy hubs in both the digital and real world Democratic Education

We need to transform basic democratic education, teach the teachers and equip them to use inspiring and creative methods with the support of professional creatives



Step 2. We need to change democratic culture and language & shift the focus away from elections and voter registration and voting to all year round democratic education and participation. To a focus on everyday democracy. This includes transforming how our media tells the story of our UK democracy.


Step 3  We need to bridge the gap between activism and our democratic systems and structures and ensure those systems and structures are fit for purpose and that people know how to access them and can influence change beyond the ballot box at all times of the year.



“Many see democracy as beginning and ending with the ballot box and know little about the way representative institutions work.”

  • Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales Final Report.


We need the flow of information and communication to be two-way.


The Democracy Box prototypes and the Democracy Story of our UK Democracy which all citizens should know in 7 short chapters can help with all 3 of these steps.

This ‘story’ which is available free online as a downloadable PDF (and bilingual booklets inside The Talking Shop thanks to Conwy Local Authority) contains the basics which every citizen needs to know to participate fully in our UK democracy. This story addresses the knowledge gap.

The information is in a hero story format because my research demonstrated that using story is the best way to engage and share complex and dry information.

I wrote the story following several think-ins with young people and key stakeholders from across the democracy sector including civil servants, teacher trainers, media and young people and using my original script from a workshop script I had created for schools back in 2017. The story has been fact checked and approved by the Electoral Commission who I am now working with to update it.

The graphic design has been done by a young co-creator. Another has illustrated the story.

This ‘story’ is now the basis of all The Democracy Box prototypes which are.



  1. The Democracy Box public information campaign
  2. The Democracy Box Creative Cascade in schools programme
    3. The Talking Shop – a cultural and democratic information centre.
  3. The Democracy Box Toolkit – a best practice framework for working with young people as co-creators.


The Public Information Campaign

All Democracy Box young co-creators are storytellers retelling the democracy Box story of our democracy in a myriad of ways across multiple digital and broadcast media platforms including


Tik Tok

You Tube


BBC Bitesize



The campaign is co-led, co-managed, co-designed and co-created by young people who are all paid as freelance co-creators. It also includes young co-creators acting as Democracy storytellers at in-person events including whole year assemblies and community events.

The Democracy Box branding and logos were created by one of the young co-creators.

This model for a public information campaign is tested and ready to be up-scaled.


The Democracy Box Creative Cascade Schools Programme

Mirrors the public information campaign prototype and allows the school students to become democracy storytellers too.

Each year, students will learn the story in more detail and re-tell it and cascade it to the year below them using progressively more complex creative skills, mediums and techniques year on year.


In Wales, The Democracy Box Creative Cascade programme for schools will create a strong foundation for the statements of what matters, principles of progression and descriptions of learning in this Humanities area of the new curriculum.


The Creative Cascade programme is so simple and yet the results are extraordinary.


Students own and drive the work. They are active citizens and learners rather than passive receivers of information and knowledge.


This programme was successfully piloted with 15 primary and secondary schools and Central South Consortia in 2021/2 and received amazing feedback with teachers and pupils saying it was the best thing they had done all year. The programme is ready to be up scaled and rolled out.


It is very important that I stress that The Democracy Box is made by young people for everyone. It is for all ages and The Talking Shop, is for visitors of all ages



“Most people do not understand how their country is governed and who is responsible for what. Many feel that the system is not listening to their concerns and that they lack the information and understanding to discuss alternative constitutional options. There is a perception of powerlessness and distance between citizens and government, and a dearth of participatory structures that provide time and space for genuine public discussion and scrutiny.” Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales Final Report.


The Talking Shop

The Talking Shop provides the ‘dining/kitchen table’ experience for everyone.

We urgently need to provide and facilitate public spaces where people from all walks of life can come together to hear each other, and thereby hear opinions and views different from their own, as well as debate and deliberate.




Inside The Talking Shop© you will find the Democracy box digital content on screens, on headphones, in booklets, via QR codes and trained hosts who introduce the public to The Democracy Box story and content, signpost democratic and cultural information and facilitate democratic deliberation using creative approaches.


Scaling up – All four prototypes have the potential to be up-scaled and rolled out across Wales and potentially the UK.

So what happens now?  What do I want to happen to The Democracy Box prototypes?

There are 10 recommendations inside the report. They were on the screens earlier and are also included in the report highlights chosen by young co-creators and on the tables.


Recommendation 2          is that the Electoral Commission and the BBC join forces to deliver recommendation 1 with additional stakeholders and partners, including all local authorities, and embed and scale up The Democracy Box prototypes.


This can only happen following recommendation 1 and state investment


I passionately believe that The Democracy Box public is a ‘public good’ and therefore needs to be state funded and co-owned/co-produced by companies who have public service and democratic education and information as their core purpose.

My vision is for the BBC and the Electoral Commission, two publicly funded, arms-length organisations to come together for the first ever time and be the guardians of The Democracy Box and develop, embed, up-scale and roll out the public information campaign prototype together in partnership and for myself and Omidaze to incrementally step away from The Democracy Box public information campaign and for young co-creators to be upskilled and trained to lead it under the joint guardianship of the BBC and the Electoral Commission

In 2021 I drafted a proposal for a memorandum of understanding which I presented to the Electoral Commission and the BBC asking them to be the inaugural and permanent guardians of The Democracy Box and ensure its longevity and aims are met. This proposed MOU would gift The Democracy Box copyright for the benefit of the public and persons of the United Kingdom.  It is fair to say that the Electoral Commission are sitting at the table and ready to begin a conversation.


Recommendation 3          The report strongly recommends that the Electoral Commission are promoted and funded to be the number one source for democratic information in the UK.


Recommendation 4          is that The Democracy Box Creative Cascade programme should be government funded and delivered in partnership with local authorities and education consortia and rolled out either by the Welsh Government pan-Wales or piecemeal by all local authorities.


Recommendation 5          is about The Talking Shop

My aim is for The Talking Shop to be blueprinted and a non-commercial ‘franchise’ model created that allows myself and Omidaze to own and be responsible for the design and overall concept and handover the management and running of the model to collectives of stakeholders in each town in which it operates.

I passionately believe that new money is not needed to make a Talking Shop sustainable and long term. Rather multiple stakeholders (cross departments of local authorities together with cultural organisations, public service boards, regional partnership boards and additional partners and collaborators) need to come together and use their various budgets strands for public consultation, engagement and participation in a more joined up, creative and effective manner.

The Talking Shop model has now been trialled successfully in Cardiff, Newport and Merthyr Tydfil in 2022/23 and has engaged over 8400 visitors with no dedicated marketing budget. The final trial of The Talking Shop is ready and will open its doors in Blackwood in Caerphilly County as soon as Yu Energy reconnect the electricity supply.

Talking Shop visitors range from 6 months to 96 years old and include all socio/economic demographics with a high percentage of young people aged 16-30 and visitors represent the full range of democratically engaged from self-declared non-engagement to highly engaged citizens.

The Talking Shop trials to date have evidenced the power of the model to increase democratic and cultural participation and tackle polarisation in communities and society and how help us confront some of society’s most pressing issues including isolation and loneliness; mental health and well-being and inter-generational connection; community cohesion and urban regeneration.

My question therefore is not can we afford to do this but rather can we afford not to?

Thank you for listening and I look forward to taking your questions and hearing your thoughts

The Democracy Box Report can be found on The Democracy Box Linktree

I am going to finish with some of very first young co-creators to tell us why this work is important

Video – The young co-creators

The Democracy Box© & The Talking Shop© and all associated content is Copyright © 2020 OMIDAZE PRODUCTIONS/Yvonne Murphy. All rights reserved.