ADSO champions the role of Democratic Services Officers, but what is a Democratic Services Officer?

North Kesteven District Council were joint Team of the Year winners 2020, Jenni Swift the Democratic Services Team Leader gave an excellent acceptance speech, an extract follows…

“Thank you so much!

I would especially like to thank my team for all their hard work and dedication – Hannah, Ramin and Tom you are all ace. And my manager Marcella – I couldn’t ask for a more supportive manager and she quite frankly keeps me sane.

And thank you to our corporate management team, who recognise the importance of Democratic Services and support and value our work – that is so important.

I’d like to also thank ADSO for your guidance and support, which has been invaluable. Thanks to John and all the directors for the hours you put in to make ADSO a success. The ADSO forum became a lifeline to many of us this year especially – sharing knowledge and experience has never been so important. So thank you also to everyone who contributed.

We’d like to accept this award on behalf of all Democratic Services teams across the country. We have all been put through the ringer, we have all worked our bums off.

I’ll just leave you on this thought….

A few weeks ago, I heard a DSO referred to as ‘the person who takes the notes’. And this really made me really cross, as yet again our role was down-played and not recognised for the profession it is.

We don’t just take the notes. Yes we are minute-writers, yes we are administrators, but we are so much more………

We are listeners, We are advisors, We are presenters, We are trainers, We are researchers, We are promoters, We are negotiators, We are firefighters, We are nags (!) We are mediators, We are regulators, We are protectors, We are defenders, We are professionals, We are Democratic Services.”

We asked our 2020 shortlisted Rookies of the Year to tell us about what their role is and what they do, listen to what they say.

Emilia from Sevenoaks District Council

We also asked some of our members to put it in their words and here is what they had to say…

Nick Hughes, Committee Services Manager and Regional Representative for the South East answered three questions about the role of a DSO, this is what he had to say:

Some members also gave a written response, here is what they said.

Josie Newman wrote:

“Sometimes I refer to myself as the official nag or as a councillor recently put it the council’s goalkeeper – I quite like that one…

In the past described it as providing stewardship for decision making at the council, and although we undertake lots of administrative and clerical tasks ultimately I see our core role as advice giving, very much striving to balance the needs of officers, councillors and the public helping them to understand the procedures and how they can best approach formal decision making.”

East Midlands Regional Representative Rebecca Owen wrote:

“On a bad day I would say I’m a general dogsbody and do anything that nobody else wants to do… but generally if anyone asks what I do, I say I manage the decision-making processes of the council including supporting councillors and committees and ensuring decisions are taken in accordance with relevant legislation and the council’s constitution. I would say Democratic Services ensures councillors have the information and skills to make decisions, ensures decision making is open and transparent and makes and keeps the legal record of decisions made.”

Lisa Siggins wrote:

“I would agree with Becky’s description but would add that it includes the servicing of the meetings of Committees, Boards and other groups including the collation and preparation of agenda papers and the taking and writing up of the minutes. My particular role also involves giving support to one of the political groups and supporting, and administering, the work of the Independent School Appeal Panels -attending hearings and advising panel members. I would say that Democratic Services administer the Council’s governance arrangements; providing support and advice to councillors, providing support and advice to officers corporately in respect of the Council’s governance arrangements; and providing advice and assistance to members of the public in respect of the Council’s governance arrangements. (it all sounds a bit like something from my ADSO Certificate assignment!)”

Lennox Beattie wrote:

“I heard a good definition of governance which was the right people making decisions in the right way at the right time.

Leading on from that then I suppose we are the people that facilitate the right people making decisions in the right way at the right time and make sure other people can see or understand that happening.”

John Austin, ADSO Chair:

“Democratic services is the glue that holds the organisation together. I think that sums it up well. Governance is not sexy and will not attract headlines – unless it goes wrong. “guardian”, “gatekeeper” “stewardship” and “goalkeeper”.”

James Goodard wrote:

“Democratic services is the glue that holds the organisation together. I think that sums it up well. Governance is not sexy and will not attract headlines – unless it goes wrong. Words like “guardian”, “gatekeeper” “stewardship” and “goalkeeper” are words that people will understand.”


–          responsibility for scrutiny and regulatory committees, plus working groups (meetings can be held on a monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly basis).
–          ensure meetings occur as timetabled and that appropriate legal requirements/meeting procedures have been satisfied.
–          Roles undertaken when servicing committees include organisation, administration, reprographics, handling confidential material and minute writing.
–          ensure Councillors have the information they require at committees to make decisions regarding Council policy and allocation of funding.
–          liaise with a wide range of stakeholders (internal and external to the Council) at Officer,

  • Communications with senior officers, councillors and members of the public – This can be through various communication
    methods including email, verbal, written or web based
  • provide advice to; and answer queries from; Councillors, Officers and the general public
  • respond to procedural questions during meetings, or provide general
  • information regarding Council services or committees outside of meetings
  • assist with the local elections process.

Unofficially we can do anything!
– Sound and ICT engineers when committee room A/V kit doesn’t work.
– General factotums and administrators.
– The A-Team of the organisation i.e. creative problem solvers.
– Specialist / unusual / general project work e.g. royal protection duty when TRH Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visit…..
– Ambassadors for the organisation.”