Cohort beginning March 2024 – Please note we are now full and operating a wait list. Please continue to register your interest in the event circumstances change.

ADSO offer two (non-regulated) qualifications  programmes for those working in Democratic Services: A Certificate in Democratic Services Knowledge and a Diploma in Local Democracy. It is important to note that these are both distance learning programmes and all assignments are written.

Certificate in Democratic Services Knowledge

Target Audience
The Certificate is aimed at those who already work in the Democratic Services area, including all Democratic functions such as meetings support, scrutiny, members support and civic support. They may be newly appointed (with a minimum of 9 months in the job) or want to get some recognition for their skills and knowledge learned ‘on the job’. For more details about the Certificate in Democratic Services Knowledge download this brochure.

Certificate in Democratic Services Overview and Information

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Gaining the Certificate
Each learner will be assigned an assessor to support them through their studies. In order to achieve the modules, learners will be required to write seven assignments that they will submit through an assessment portal which will be signed off by their assessor before quality assurance and certification. There is no formal training required but ADSO offers a range of courses to compliment the programme and  a number of resources to support learners including knowledge banks to help with research and guidance on completing the assignments.

Please note that, currently, the assessment criteria are based on English legislation.

Learners can access two free places on training courses during their time working on the ADSO Certificate, this applies to courses except ‘Just a Minute’ and ‘Becoming a DSO.’ If you would like to access a place as a Learner please ensure that you email  at the point of booking to ensure that there are places available and to inform East Midlands Councils that you would like to take advantage of this benefit of being a ADSO Learner.

Learners must identify a workplace mentor when registering for this programme. The role of the mentor is to support and guide the learner throughout the full term of the programme and should be someone with good knowledge of Democratic Services who can offer encouragement and advice as well as identify resources or opportunities that may help the learner successfully complete their assignments. This could be, for example, a line manager or a more senior manager working in Democratic Services. For more information on the role of the workplace mentor please see the guidance document below.

Workplace mentor guidance document

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Learners must complete their assignments to strict deadlines, laid out in the  guidance document (above), with the aim of completing 7 modules within an agreed timescale of 18 months.

Learners must be prepared to work on the programme in their own time, without this commitment it is not possible to complete the programme.

Current cost
ADSO members £1200 + VAT
Non ADSO member £1530 + VAT

A limited number of bursaries are available for ADSO members – please go the Bursaries web page for information. Submission deadlines apply.

Applying for a place on programme
Due to the high volume of enquiries for the Certificate you must submit a formal application form to be considered, this will need to be supported by your line manager (an email asking to be placed on the programme is not sufficient). Applications  are logged on a strictly first-come, first-served basis however the submission of a formal application doesn’t guarantee a place on the programme as this is dependent on assessor availability therefore early submission of an application is advised.

When we know how many places we can offer, we will be in touch to confirm if a place can be allocated (This is usually in January/February for the Certificate) or give you the opportunity of being carried forward to the next cohort.

The next cohort will start in March 2025.

If you would like to apply for a place on the Certificate programme, please do so by completing the application form below and emailing it to Sarah Papper at South West Councils: along with an up to date CV and Bursary application form (if applicable).

ADSO Qualifications Application Form

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Preparing for the Certificate
ADSO strongly recommends that you book on to as many of the corresponding module courses (see list below) as you can as they will help you prepare for your assignments. To view the course dates please click here. You may also wish to consider attending one of upcoming the ADSO Webinars or reviewing past webinar recordings from the programme accessible under the Training area of the website. 

ADSO Modules and corresponding courses

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Extensions Policy
ADSO understands that sometimes extension requests may be necessary in certain circumstances. If learners become aware that they may require additional time to complete any of the modules they must complete an extensions request form:

ADSO Qualifications – Extensions request form 

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Before completing this form please familiarise yourself with the extension request process below:

  • Up to 6 weeks – email your completed form to your assessor as soon as possible requesting an extension. The assessor will confirm giving a specific submission date and inform South West Councils.
  • More than 6 weeks – your line manager must email your completed form to SW Councils who will refer to ADSO.

Please note:  Whilst ADSO acknowledge there may be some slippage in meeting submission deadlines, learners who fall more than 4 months behind programme may be withdrawn from programme unless there is a formal and robust request for an extension submitted by your line manager, and which is subsequently approved by ADSO.


The most significant change I have noticed since completing the programme in 2022 is that my confidence in my work has soared. There is a lot to learn when you start out in Democratic Services. I started off going to meetings second guessing myself. During and after the completion of the Certificate, I was confident in my knowledge and my ability. I felt like I really knew what I was talking about and having the Certificate behind me was the proof. Now I communicate my knowledge without doubting myself and I conduct myself with confidence. It gave me a real boost, and my colleagues from across the council have even noticed this change in me as well!
Sally Watson, Democratic Services Officer, Charnwood Borough Council

I decided to embark on the ADSO certificate in Democratic Knowledge in March 2020, and module one became my lockdown project, little did I know the final module would also be a lockdown project, as well as several of the modules in between! That all seems a world away now, however the usefulness of what I learned through the assignments is still something I think about and refer to!

One of the things I learned while preparing assignments was that it’s ok to not know – you can find out, and also that thinking and reflection before responding helps.  There are lots of resources including the ADSO’s training sessions and forum. Completing the certificate has increased my confidence that I have the knowledge and understanding to support the democratic process in my role, and to share the knowledge with elected members, senior staff and colleagues.
Cathy Hayward, Committee Services Officer, London Borough of Sutton

The Certificate has been a challenging but rewarding qualification to undertake, furthering my knowledge of Surrey County Council’s processes and governance arrangements in comparison with the arrangements within other councils across the UK.

The optional Knowledge Bank – resource which provided guidance to support learner research such as key sources – and the seven assignments have developed my knowledge of my day-to-day activities and covered all aspects of Democratic Services from understanding the structures and functions of local government, researching local government legislation and assessing how that differs across the countries within the UK, looking at governance arrangements, how to manage meetings effectively and exploring the relationship between Members and officers.

The final assignment was insightful as it gave me a deeper understanding of overview and scrutiny which is outside of my day-to-day regulatory work. The Certificate has provided me with a strong foundation for progressing my career in Democratic Services and I recommend it to anyone seeking professional development.
Amelia Christopher, Committee Manager: Legal and Democratic Services, Surrey County Council