ABOUT

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 will create 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 will investigate how to maximise the positive effects of civic action and provide a guide to how to release its potential to drive positive change.

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.

WHO?

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.

This Inquiry will be a two-year exploration by English civil society into its future.

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, the former chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and is made up of Asif Afridi, Sarah Gordon, Bert Massie, Danny Sriskandarajah, Rhiannon White, Carolyn Wilkins, Steve Wyler, Debu Purkayastha.

This panel will be powered by a collaboration of four unique organisations. Citizens’ UK has its roots in communities across England. Goldsmiths brings skills in academic research, looking at the changing trends in civil society. 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.

WHEN?

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 begins less than a month after Theresa May triggered Article 50 reshaping England’s relationship with the rest of Europe, and potentially with the other nations of the current UK. It is taking place in a period of rapid automation, with ever more jobs being replaced by machines. It is launching amidst one of the biggest movements of people across the planet in history, and it is happening just as the world tries to work out how to implement the Paris climate agreement.

Civil Society Futures is happening just as many predict another financial collapse on the horizon, as Scotland and Northern Ireland examine their own constitutional futures, and as questions about the future of the NHS come more sharply into focus than ever.

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.

WHERE?

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. We make no prediction as to the constitutional future of the nations of the UK, but it’s increasingly clear that to lump them together and treat them as the same would be a mistake. And we are looking at all of England: with events in communities right across the country, and research examining what’s happening everywhere.

It is an inquiry into civil society everywhere from Newcastle to the Isles is Scilly and Plymouth to Holy Island; the suburbs of Southampton to the hill farms of Cumbria and the city-centres of Merseyside to the seaside towns Kent. From 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 – whether they arrived here this morning or their families have lived here for generations – that’s where Civil Society Futures is about.

HOW?

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.

Community organisers will host events across the country, giving people the chance to come together and discuss how civil society is being changed and how it needs to change, what’s working well and who we can all learn from.

Academics at Goldsmiths will data-delve, interview, and otherwise research what’s going on and what people think needs to happen. The Inquiry will host a wide-ranging online discussion, with this online hub at the centre of a broader conversation across social media.

Together, we will develop a map of the future of English civil society, and the inquiry will host a ‘Civil Society Lab’ to experiment with new forms of civil society organisation and test constraints and enablers for scaling successful elements of civil society today with the aim to learn how to strengthen civil society in the future.

We’ll ensure that conversations in each corner of the country and different crannies of civil society are reflected to each other, and that the ideas our panel are most excited by are collected together and shared widely.

WHY?

The contours of civic life are shifting. From technology to politics, the climate to the economy, and the constitution to identities, the world around us is rapidly changing. Wages in Britain have fallen by more than 10% in the last decade and ever more jobs which were once done by people are now done by machines. Inequality is soaring and information is more accessible than ever – both to us, and about us. Britain is leaving the EU, and the constitutional futures of Scotland and Northern Ireland, and therefore England, are under more question than anyone could have imagined a decade ago. Trust in institutions – from politics to the media to charities – has collapsed.

Business has changed: in less than a generation, vast firms have crumbled and new corporate behemoths have grown up in their place. Government has been forced to respond, with revolts on both left and right.

In many ways, civic life – how we choose to spend our time when not interacting through the market or the state – has transformed too. Lower proportions of us than ever before worship through organised religions or organise our workplaces through trade unions. Old hobbies are dying fast, and new habits consuming our lives.

But that doesn’t mean that we aren’t still coming together as communities to protect our rights, build better lives for ourselves and each other, have fun and be creative. Just as we always have, we are finding ways to organise together. And the organisations we do this through are adapting in turn.

Large charities have been forced to step in as austerity has cut back public services and new technologies have allowed people to reach out to each other in new ways, whether they want to protest or make music, find support groups or find people to abuse. Trade unions are having to learn once again how to defend workers with flexible contracts and religions groups are having to respond to the internet.

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.

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 ‘think better’ tank inspiring and leading change to make public, private and voluntary sector organisations fit for the needs of a more diverse society.

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 Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EiR) at Octopus Investments, a premier European investment firm. You can follow him on Twitter at @debusultan.

Get in touch

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



4th April 2017