NCVO annual conference 2008 - Issues facing civil society: looking out to 2025

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Megan 's picture


Third Sector Foresight

Yesterday we hosted an afternoon seminar at the NCVO annual conference. An excellent panel of speakers debated the ‘burning issues’ of climate change, bridging communities and the ways in which young people are associating.

The session began with a presentation from Lenka Setkova, who took us through the findings of the Carnegie UK Trust’s Inquiry into the future of civil society in the UK and Ireland. Stuart Etherington (NCVO’s Chief Executive, who chaired the session) then invited the 90 strong audience to discuss and feed in their key messages building on the presentation. And this is what emerged. There’s a wealth of ideas here, which were generally expressed either as threats, opportunities, questions or calls to action.


  • Fragmentation of society (building community/ies is very important)
  • Collaboration v competition (seeing the big picture, working together. Public good is paramount)
  • Implications of global warming
  • Risk of communities becoming more distant from each other
  • Third sector losing its independence – challenge and values subsumed
  • Increasing obstacles to engaging with civil society
  • Less participation, time poverty, individualism/atomisation, a tension between participatory and representative civil society
    Increased complexity of need
  • The unintended consequences of policies to keep us safe
  • Growing competition for resources (oil, water etc) results in militarism
  • Decline in local association and increase in global virtual association
    Impact of the media and technology on the personal relationships that are the glue of civil society
  • Fragmentation of society coupled with growth of surveillance
  • Emptying countryside – migration to cities – shanty town economies
  • Homogenisation of values, opinions, voices – insularity


  • Technological developments – both for organisations, civil society and individual clients
  • Increased identification with local life
  • Online communications to addess marginalisation of dissent and create new kinds of public deliberation spaces at a local and global level
  • To reach out to other groups and influence change
  • Global sustainability challenge results in solidarity and growth in civil society
  • Expansion of use of social networking – eg flashgroups
  • Position civil society as leaders in environmental expertise and in working with people for change
  • Impact of the media and technology on the personal relationships that are the glue of civil society
  • Networks and alliances


  • Can civil society associations rise to the challenge of working together – locally and nationally – to tackle head-on intolerance (generated/fuelled by the media, politicians) towards some of the UK’s most marginalized groups (eg drug offenders, destitute migrants, asylum seekers etc)?
  • What happens to those individuals in society that do not fit into a specific agenda (eg sex workers, drug addicts)? How do they fit into the accepted ‘good’ society?
  • Does technology take away from localism and being involved/participating locally?
  • Will our independence be eroded if we become stronger as a sector
  • How can we promote local awareness and discussion of these issues, across social and sectoral ‘boundaries’?
  • How do we keep the third sector from being wiped out by the first and second sectors?
  • How can we address climate change, which requires collective action while managing an inherent community cohesion/dissent tension, in a world where people have less time t oengage and fewer meaningful spaces in which to do so?

Calls to action:

  • Civil society should define and exemplify new models and patterns of growth. Growth is not always good. Extra extra extra is neither equitable or sustainable – let’s look for ‘infragrowth’. The negawatt (energy saved) rather than megawatt (energy generated).
  • Civil society needs to embrace online spaces more effectively, more often, mainstream it.
  • VCS must revisit history and become the advocates for our liberties.
    If we could make growing older a positive experience we would at the same time find universal solutions for social coherence

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