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What do we do?

School of Public Life: political education for a democratic Hungary

Our mission

The School of Public Life is a grassroots civic education center founded in 2014 dedicated to building a democratic and just Hungary. We are a based in Budapest and have a nationwide reach. We work for a world where everyone is able to participate in public life and decision-making regardless of their social status. We help citizens dedicated to building a democratic and just Hungary, especially members of marginalized communities and those working on their behalf to organize themselves and stand up for their rights and interests effectively.

What is the problem?

It is not enough to have the right to vote every four or five years if we have no collective control over what decision makers do on our behalf, which is increasingly the case in Hungary. People can participate effectively in democratic processes if they know their rights and have sufficient knowledge and skills for collective advocacy and organizing. However, as one of our training participants said: “this is not taught in school, this is taught in the School of Public Life”. We provide a unique space for people to (re)turn to politics as a realm of our shared issues, not something to be afraid of as well as a meeting point for people to learn about their rights and the tools of advocacy and organizing.

Our motto is that “Democracy is not a noun, but a verb – it only exists if we do it”.

In other words, we cannot expect democratic institutions to exist just because we need or like them or because they are expected to exist by external powers. Democracy has to be exercised by regular citizens on a daily basis. Also, democracy needs to go hand in hand with the fight for social justice and the just distribution of resources so that everyone is able to make their voices heard.

The School of Public Life is a grassroots education center where we tackle these issues through adult education using the approach of critical pedagogy.

Our aim is to…

  • make the knowledge and skills for grassroot organizing available to everyone, especially those who experience or fight against oppression
  • support movements and civil society organizations that work for social justice to operate more effectively
  • encourage grassroots groups and local organizations to engage with the elections, support them in running community-based campaigns and support citizens who organize for clean elections
  • build a diverse community where critical thinking, democratic participation and solidarity are highly valued.

What do we do?

We work towards a more democratic and just Hungary in the following four areas:

Political education

We organize free training courses, workshops and programs for adults to enable them to participate in political processes and actively shape public life.

  • The first step on the way to change is the deeper understanding of social relations, so most of our introductory programs help participants develop a critical analysis of social inequalities.
  • We also need to know what tools we can use to take action for a more just society. Many of our training courses are about concrete methods of advocacy and organizing, campaign skills, communications about social (in)justice as well as ways to understand and assert our rights and interests as citizens.
  • The depoliticization of citizens and community organizations is a barrier to reclaiming democracy in an increasingly authoritarian state. Many of our educational activities including workshops, training courses, conferences, film clubs and roundtable discussions aim to break down the prejudices and fear around politics and support the political engagement of progressive grassroots organizations and social movements.
  • Change can be achieved by well-functioning groups and social movements, so some of our trainings address the democratic operation and sustainability of organizations.

Publications and knowledge production

We find it important to have progressive and easily accessible literature in Hungarian that supports our mission and activities. We write and edit books and articles and produce educational materials related to advocacy, critical pedagogy, participatory action research and the organization of groups and collectives. So far, we have produced the following publications, most of which are available both online and offline in Hungarian:

  • Don’t talk about us – talk with us! Socially disadvantaged activists talk about their life and work
  • Mom stands up and speaks out – experiences of mothers who work for social change
  • Social inequalities – collection of easily understandable essays on social inequalities
  • The liberatory power of research – manual on participatory action research
  • Elections belong to everyone – guide to organizing grassroots electoral campaigns
  • When is the time to act if not now?! – history of housing movements in 20th century Budapest
  • It is great freedom to know what we work for – manual on strategic planning
  • Opportunity from crisis – crisis from opportunity – the agency of grassroots organizations and municipalities during the Covid-19 pandemic
  • How to have good discussions online – manual on organizing and moderating discussions online

We have also developed an activist board game called Organize! that can be used for youth and adult education.

We have launched the website, which traces the history of Hungarian movements for social justice since 1989.

Participatory action research

Everyone, regardless of their social status, has the right to ask questions and produce knowledge about the world around them. In participatory action research, people affected by a particular issue investigate their own reality in order to understand and then change it. In addition to conducting our own participatory action research projects, the School of Public Life provides professional advice, mentoring and consultation for groups and researchers interested in this approach. So far, we have organized the following PAR projects:

  • When is the time to act if not now?! participatory action research about the history of Hungarian housing movements
  • Living independently in a community – participatory action research about independent housing for disabled people
  • The history and future of our struggles – participatory action research on the ways in which progressive forces have dealt with the Covid crisis

The School of Public Life provides professional advice and consultation for groups or researchers interested in this method.

Strategic planning for organisations

How can an organization achieve real impact and success? How can a group achieve its goals effectively? How can we build democratic, sustainable organizations where members feel appreciated? The answer to these questions is strategic planning, which is the creation and implementation of a comprehensive plan of action and operation.

Since 2014, the School of Public Life has supported more than 35 progressive organizations in strategic planning to develop their effective, sustainable and systematic operation. This work is tailored to the needs of every organization and takes shape in intensive multi-day retreats where we help our clients develop their long-term goals and plan their concrete activities.

School of Public Life in numbers

  • every year we hold 20 training courses
  • every year we hold up to 30 low-threshold programs such as workshops, events, conferences or film clubs
  • every year we have around 600 participants in our educational programs
  • every year participants of our education activities represent around 150 different organizations
  • 25% of our participants are returning students
  • 40% of our participants come from outside of Budapest
  • every year we work with 6 organizations on their strategic planning
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