ARTICLES Welcome to Civil Society Futures

Julia Unwin, Picture by Adam Fradgley
Julia Unwin, Picture by Adam Fradgley

Welcome to Civil Society Futures

Welcome to Civil Society Futures. Over the next two years, we’ll be facilitating a conversation across England about how civil society can flourish in a fast-changing world. And to do that, we’ll need all of you.

Every one of us is involved in some way in civil society. Whether it’s a parent-teacher group or your local Mosque, a trade union or a chess club, giving to charity or helping out your neighbours once in a while, all of us have parts of our lives which aren’t about either the marketplace or the state.

Some of the things that you take part in might involve large national organisations. Others will happen through local groups, and others might be arranged through informal networks of friends or neighbours. All of these matter. We are interested in all of them. After all, these are the things which hold our society together.

In an era when the world is changing fast, it’s inevitable that these sorts of civil society networks and groups are changing too. As we look forward to the next decade, we are going to have to embrace this change if we are going to flourish. But what are the specific changes that are happening? And what’s working?

It’s now ten years since the first bank collapsed in 2007, triggering a financial crisis from which much of the country has yet to recover. How have charities, voluntary groups and faith groups responded? And what can we learn from that? There have been significant demographic changes in recent years – with migration and an ageing population. How have community groups adapted? Technology has radically altered the nature of many workplaces. Have trade unions kept up? The internet, cable TV and the decline of traditional newspapers have drastically shifted how people get information, and how we debate with those around us. How have our communities changed as a result?

I could go on. But the point is this: the world has always changed. And civil society has always been key to that: driving change, adapting to it, mobilising people around things they believe in, and looking out for those who are left behind. But right now, as it feels to many like things are moving faster than they have in a long while, it seems a good moment to pause for a chat – to think about whether the same ways of organising as we’ve used before still make sense, to see what we can learn from each other and how we can all apply those lessons in our own contexts.

In this inquiry, which will run over two years, we want to be humble in finding out what is happening, but bold in what we look at. And we have a number of strands to do that through. There will be academic research, interviewing people across the country about how things are changing and how they are responding. There will be events in a broad range of communities across England, taking a deep look at what’s happening in each of them. And there will be an online debate – at the centre of which will be the hub you are currently on. On here, there’s a chance for you to answer a few key questions, to sign up to our email list, and to read a few different points of view about the future of civil society in England (if you’d like to write something, then just email [email protected] proposing a piece).

This Inquiry can’t answer every question or solve every problem. But what we can do is provide a space for us all to have a think together about how we organise to build the future we want.

We look forward to hearing from you.