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Executive Summary

Image Credit: Save the Children

Communities are hurting, but there is deep hope and strength to be found in people standing together. There are green shoots of local action and collaboration happening in pockets of the UK and a desire for people to connect with each other at a local level to make their area (and ultimately their world) a better place.  Whilst there are some challenges to be overcome, there is a deep appetite among both grassroots leaders and the national strategists and funders who support them to rebuild a strong, localised civil society able to bring about change locally, nationally and internationally.

We know that the UK is one of the most centralised democracies in the world, but what we explore through the situational analysis in this research is that civil society isn’t effectively navigating the political landscape in a way that allows it to build countervailing power. If anything, the increasingly hostile campaigning environment means that for many social change movements and organisations, even their traditional insider advocacy work is no longer making a difference. We heard a strong emerging consensus that the tools which served us well in the past are not the same ones we need for the conditions we now face in the 2020s.

Throughout this research we heard consistently that changemakers are increasingly coming to the conclusion that the fastest route to sustained policy influence runs through showing and growing support in constituencies, and the most effective overall strategy is linking local organising to national influencing.  Civil society needs to reconnect to the wider public and stop speaking to ourselves and the people who think, speak and behave like we do if we want to build long-term people power.  

There are a number of strategic dilemmas in front of us (around geography, audiences, messages, and funding) but also a strong desire to be both more intentional and explicit in how those choices are navigated. The more we are able to explain what we are each doing – and why – the stronger each of our fields and sectors will be and the greater our ability to work as a genuine movement of movements, with each of our actions advancing human rights and social justice and making the UK a fairer, greener, more equal and democratic place to live.