Since the beginning of devolution at the end of the last century, the civic life of Wales has grown in ways few had imagined possible.
As the Senedd has grown in power and more national institutions have grown in stature, so too has it become more important of everyone in Wales can make their voices count.
Although it may sometimes feel that decision-making is removed from the everyday life of average citizens, there has never been a more important time for us all to use our influence.
But how can you make your voice heard? Here are six ideas to get you started.
1. Speak to your local politicians
Everyone in Wales is represented by five Members of the Senedd. Our country is split up into 40 constituencies, and these are grouped into five regions. Each constituency has an individual Member of the Senedd, and each region has four Members of the Senedd.
Their job is to represent us in the Senedd and to help shape the laws that govern us. If they’re not members of the government, they’re there to ask tough questions of Ministers and make sure that public money is being spent appropriately.
Members of the Senedd right across the country hold regular surgeries. These are opportunities for residents to come to them with any issue they need help with. It could be a problem getting help with a particular health problem, an issue with local bin collections, or poor local transport.
Or it could be something you want to tell them about – something you believe in that you want them to raise in the Senedd. A campaign for or against something, an issue close to your heart, or a cause you care about.
2. Sign or create a petition
One of the most effective ways of having an issue that you care about discussed by politicians is to sign – or even start your own – petition.
The Senedd has a petitions committee made up of Members from the three largest parties and their job is to consider petitions that have been submitted to them and to seek action on whatever issue the petition concerns.
They agree to discuss any petition which receives more than 250 signatures. If a petition gets more than 10,000 signatures, it will then be considered for a debate in the Senedd itself, where all Members of the Senedd will have the opportunity to discuss the issue.
The great thing about starting a petition is that you don’t need to be a big organisation, or even have a big group of people, to do it. Any individual person with an address in Wales can start one.
3. Respond to consultations and inquiries
One of the most important ways that decision-makers get to know what people think about their ideas for new laws and policies is by holding public consultations and inquiries. Usually, an idea will be opened for consultation, and people and organisations across Wales will have the opportunity to say what they think about it.
Whichever body has proposed the idea will then take all this feedback into consideration when further developing the idea. There will often be a public response to the collective responses and the body will set out why it agrees or disagrees.
Anyone can respond to consultations. You could be responding on behalf of an organisation (for example, your employer or a group you’re involved with) or simply on behalf of yourself. All responses matter equally and are given the same consideration.
Responses are most effective when you can demonstrate why a particular idea is good or bad, and the impact it could have, either positive or negative, on you, on other people, or on a particular area of Wales or business.
You will also be able to find local consultations on your local council’s website.
4. Join a campaign
If you care about an issue, you can bet there’s a campaign about it. In every corner of Wales, there are groups of people who care about the same thing who have come together to try and use their collective power to effect change.
It could be anything from women’s rights to the environment, racial equity to language, public transport to housing. Some campaign groups operate in specific locations and concentrate on specific local issues, while others work right across the country (and beyond) on broader societal issues.
Often, one of the best ways of finding campaign groups is through social media. You might even be able to find other people near you who might be interested in helping you start your own campaign.
You can also look at your local newspapers (and online equivalents) to find stories about campaign events that might be taking place in your area, and information about how you can get involved.
5. Get involved with a voluntary or third sector organisation
There are a wide range of charities and other organisations who represent different people’s experiences or interests, advocate for different people’s needs, and use their influence on decision-makers to try to make positive change in society.
Opportunities to get involved with these kinds of organisations are as varied as the organisations themselves. If you have some spare time, you might want to find an opportunity to volunteer for a charity. Otherwise, you may want simply to join an organisation to receive regular information about their events and campaigns.
If you have a particular set of skills or experiences, you may event want to put yourself forward to help lead an organisation. Some (for example, specialist roles on the leadership committees of membership organisations) are by election, while others (such as positions on boards of trustees) are by appointment.
Our colleagues at the Wales Council for Voluntary Action can offer a lot of information about the kind of opportunities that may be available to you.
You can also search all the public appointment opportunities that may be available.
6. Stand for election!
Our democracy is only as good as the politicians we elect. That means we need people with a diverse range of identities, experiences, skills, and ideas putting themselves forward for election to public office.
You don’t need any qualifications to become a candidate. You can try to get yourself nominated by a party to be one of their candidates or take it upon yourself to be an independent candidate (not affiliated to any party).
Running for election is a challenging, but highly rewarding, experience. And of course, if you win, that means you will have a direct say in what happens in your local area or, indeed, right across Wales.
You could run for election locally – for example, in community or county council elections – or nationally – for example, in Senedd elections. The next scheduled local elections will be in 2022, and the next Senedd elections will take place in 2026.
More information about running as a candidate from the Electoral Commission.
More information about the Women’s Equality Network public life mentoring programme.
More information about the EYST Wales All Wales BAME Engagement Programme.
More information about the Access to Elected Office Fund Wales, administered by Disability Wales and funded by the Welsh Government.
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This resource is part of the Active Citizenship in Wales collection.
Discover more on the collection homepage.