ARTICLES Changing society: changing ourselves

Changing society: changing ourselves

One of the fascinating things about the inquiry process has been travelling the country to see how civil society is making a difference in different areas. Just as local challenges are unique, the responses from community groups have been similarly varied.

Civil society is uniquely placed to help people and communities respond to these challenges – but there’s a snag. Trust in charities is declining, spaces for civil society to engage people are becoming less common, many feel civil society isn’t representative of our diverse communities, and the way funding is allocated has led to many organisations and groups competing with each other, rather than collaborating.

How can we re-energise civil society in light of these challenges? We’ve faced some criticism for this, but we think, rather than only make demands of government, regulators, and funders, we, as civil society, need to turn the mirror on ourselves. We need to ask ourselves some difficult questions.

Questions like: how can we share decision-making? Who are we really accountable to in our work: government, funders, or communities? How do we earn the trust of the communities we serve? And how will we bridge divides across race, gender, generational, and social class divides?

We summed up these ideas in the form of four commitments we think 21st century civil society should aspire to:

  • power – sharing power and using power to help everyone play a full part in the things that matter to them
  • accountability – being accountable to the people and communities we serve
  • connection – broadening and deepening our connections with people and communities
  • trust – staying true to our values and investing the time and resources in activities that will help build trust in the sector

These principles form the basis of the PACT – a map which we hope will guide us all in the future.

But here’s where things get tricky. We know that we don’t hold all the answers. And we know that every community, every organisation, and every individual is different. So power sharing in Preston will look completely different to power sharing in Penzance. Building trust in Truro means different things to building trust in Tamworth.

And so this is where we need your help. Engaging with the PACT will require ongoing reflection and long-term commitment. In some cases, building this type of change within organisations might be challenging.

There are already examples of how people and organisations have navigated these challenges [link]. But we want to see more. We want to build a group of people, organisations and networks who are interested in grappling with the exciting issues the PACT raises. We want to build a small group of PACT pioneers – from across civil society, with organisations big and small, working in different fields and in different ways – who are passionate about change and willing to share their learning with each other and the rest of civil society.

If this sounds like something you might be interested in please get in touch with Asif Afridi from Civil Society Futures at [email protected] or call 0121 272 8450.