Seeding a local civic economy in the UK and around the world.

We need to develop new open ways to produce a sustainable society, not just environmentally, but economically and socially as well. Poverty is always local and therefore asks for diverse responses. As local authorities, charities and social entrepreneurs are responding to fundamental welfare reform and growing needs, they increasingly find the current system is stretched to its limit.

That means we need to develop wholly new ways to produce social outcomes – with a rich diversity in local responses mirrored by a radical re-making of our current systems. In order to alleviate & systemically prevent poverty and its many side effects and we must create new conditions that re-enfranchise people to be active participants.

A participatory and open society

Many approaches to addressing poverty have been tried: redistribution, public service innovation, charity, social investment and area regeneration. Success has been varied – and all approaches come with their own limitations. Quite apart from whether we can afford them in the future, traditional approaches too often waste existing local resources and opportunities for resourcefulness.

There is a growing alternative perspective: that in order to alleviate & systemically prevent poverty we are going to need to create new conditions that move us collectively from a consumer modelled society to a participatory one.

An open collective vision

A collective vision of what is possible is already being pieced together. Over the last 5 years we have seen an explosion of new citizen-led and hybrid cross-sector experiments seeking to address our disenfranchised society.

In food systems people are creating new ways to grow, sell, make, eat food – outside of existing consumer-orientated economic systems. We are seeing the system innovations in energy creation, distribution and surplus use, in monetary mechanisms through credit unions and local currencies, in the physical making of houses, furniture, clothing.

These initiatives are working not to build new public services, remediation strategies or consumer markets but reframe our everyday local experience toward a participatory and civic economy. Each new initiative adds to a body of imaginative ideas and critical lessons of how we, as individuals and groups and organisations, can together create stronger local economies through an open and participatory society.

We now need to go further…. with a whole systems approach

Our challenge is now to create the conditions and mechanisms for such change to flourish – a whole systems approach which accelerates local initiatives to solve unique problems, with unique opportunities, using unique local resources. This practical and participatory localism cannot be, and must not be, a rare act performed by a few – but a common happening – a different way of living our day-to-day lives in which the many become co-producers of this new local.

What this means in practice is changing complete sets of relationships, models, processes and methods, not just one or two. Change needs take place at every level – with citizens, government and organisations working together – from open policy to Collective Impact funds – through to the way we hold conversations, how we learn to make these changes together and understand its impact more rigorously.

The Civic Systems Lab Mission

Civic Systems Lab has built a body of knowledge on how we understand, seed, and develop citizen-led change and the civic economy. We have done this together with a wide range of partners from across the public private and third sector. Each of our partners and projects has helped us to better understand what’s possible and what’s at stake.

We have researched local innovation extensively through Hand Made, the Community Lover’s Guides and the Compendium for the Civic Economy.

We have a set of prototypes in progress that are testing the conditions, tactics, tools and wider platforms needed for supporting civic change, including The Open Works in Lambeth, Open Hub in Dudley, Hub Westminster in Westminster, The Common Room in Norwich, The Open Institute in London, Library Lab in Brent and Trading Spaces in Sidcup. Each of these prototypes re-designs infrastructures and methods to stimulate and support the emergence of new local initiative. And each of them creates a better understanding of the system in which they are currently embedded and how it needs to change, from project initiation to structural finance, from governance to collective learning.

From March 2014 will be incubating civic initiatives across Birmingham and the Black Country with a £750,000 investment programme: with the Civic Systems Launchpad, part of the Hub Launchpad programme, we are increasing the scale to city level. We aim to scale up our impact by applying and validating what we have been learning into whole-systems re-design through collaborating with a further five major cities over the next 2 years.

Together with our innovative partners and investors our mission is to transform society and accomplish tangible change for real people.