Civil Society Futures was an independent inquiry that ran from 2017-2018, 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 created 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 investigated how to maximise the positive effects of civic action and provide a guide to how to release its potential to drive positive change.

The inquiry concluded in December 2018. This site is left online as a permanent record.

Find out more about what we heard, our approach and where we went.

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.


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 was guided by an independent panel of people, bringing a unique set of skills and perspectives. It was 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 bringing skills in participatory academic research;  openDemocracy facilitating wide ranging discussion about our society; and Forum for the Future bringing years of experience of helping people figure out how the world is changing and how best to respond.

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


The inquiry was launched ten years to the month since the first bank collapsed in 2007, triggering a financial crisis from which many had 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. It ran until the end of 2018.

It took place in a time of great change – you can explore some of these trends and changes further here


We were an inquiry into civil society in England. We looked 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 was 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 went here 


Through a series of open conversations between people across England – face to face and online – we discussed 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 was 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 was 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
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