Civil Society Futures is a national conversation about how English civil society can flourish in a fast changing world.

Through community events, academic research and online debate, Civil Society Futures creates a space for a much needed conversation among those involved in all forms of civic action – from informal networks to vast charities, Facebook groups to faith groups. Considering how both the nature of civil society and the context it exists in are changing fast, we are investigating how to maximise the positive effects of civic action and provide a guide to how to release its potential to drive positive change.

Find our more about what we have heard, our approach and where we have been.

Change has always been inevitable: it is the only constant in history. It brings vast opportunities as well as risks. But citizens and our organisations must find ways to understand it, to grasp it and to shape it. And that is what this inquiry is about.

Together, we will develop a clear vision for the role of civil society in England for the next 10 years.


Civil society is all of us. When we act not for profit nor because the law requires us to, but out of love or anger or creativity, or principle, we are civil society. When we bring together our friends or colleagues or neighbours to have fun or to defend our rights or to look after each other, we are civil society. Whether we organise through informal friendship networks, Facebook groups, community events and protests; or formal committees, charities, faiths and trade unions, whether we block runways or co-ordinate coffee mornings, sweat round charity runs or make music for fun; when we organise ourselves outside the market and the state, we are all civil society.

The conversation is guided by an independent panel of people, bringing a unique set of skills and perspectives to this journey. This panel is be powered by a collaborative team of individuals, bringing skills from four unique organisations. Citizens UK with its roots in communities across England. Goldsmiths, University of London brings skills in participatory academic research. openDemocracy facilitates wide ranging discussion about the powerful institutions in our society. And Forum for the Future brings years of experience of helping people figure out how the world is changing and how best to respond.

The Inquiry has been funded by Baring Foundation, Esmee Fairbairn, Barrow Cadbury, Paul Hamlyn, Lloyds Bank Foundation, City Bridge Trust, Lankelly Chase and Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. Research support has also been provided by NCVO.


The Inquiry into the Future of Civil society in England is launched ten years to the month since the first bank collapsed in 2007, triggering a financial crisis from which many have yet to recover. It began in early 2017 less than a month after Theresa May triggered Article 50 reshaping England’s relationship with the rest of Europe. And will be running until the end of 2018.

It is taking place in a time of great change – you can explore some of these trends and changes further here. We will attempt to look ten years hence, to find out what we can about the waters we are sailing into, and to develop a few suggestions as to the direction of travel, and the vessel we do so in.


We are an Inquiry into Civil Society in England. We are looking at England rather than the UK as a whole because each of the nations of the UK is important in its own right and has its own distinct questions to ask. 

It is an inquiry into civil society everywhere from Newcastle, to the heart of London, to the tip of Cornwall and from the offices of vast charities to small meeting rooms in the back of community halls, where people gather – that’s where Civil Society Futures is about. Find out where the Inquiry has been here 


Through a series of open conversations between people across England – face to face and online – we will discuss how the world is changing, how civic action is changing, and how civil society organisations can adapt in order grasp those changes and steer us towards a better society. You can find out more about the Inquiry approach here. 

The Panel

The conversation will be guided by an independent panel of people with perspectives ranging from theatre making in South Wales to tech investment in Gaza, local government in the North of England to the world’s alliance of civil society organisations. It will be chaired by Julia Unwin.

Julia was the Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation for ten years, and a Charity Commissioner from 1998-2003, among other roles.

Julia Unwin, Picture by Adam Fradgley

Carolyn Wilkins

Carolyn Wilkins is Chief Executive of Oldham Council. Follow her on Twitter at @CWilkinsOldham.  

Asif Afridi

Asif Afridi works for brap, a national equality and human rights charity that is transforming the way we think and do equality. You can follow brap on twitter at @braphumanrights.

Sarah Gordon

Sarah Gordon is business editor of the Financial Times. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahgor.

Bert Massie

Bert Massie was a leading disability rights campaigner. He served on our panel before he sadly died in October 2017.

Dhananjayan Sivaguru (“Danny”) Sriskandarajah

Dhananjayan Sivaguru (“Danny“) Sriskandarajah is the Secretary General of CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society organisations. Follow him on Twitter at @civicusSG.

Rhiannon White

Rhiannon White is co-founder of Common Wealth Theatre, who make site-specific, political and contemporary theatre. Follow her on Twitter at @rhi_annon1584.

Steve Wyler

Steve Wyler is an independent consultant with 30 years experience in the field of social change. He is a former Chief Executive of Locality. Follow him on Twitter at @Steve_wyler.

Debu Purkayastha

Debu Purkayastha is a venture capitalist who is currently Managing Partner at 3rd Eye, a Venture Capital and Private Equity firm investing globally in the technology, media and telecoms sectors. You can follow him on Twitter at @debusultan.

Get in touch

Please contact [email protected] if you have any enquiries.

4th April 2017