The future of citizenship

The future of citizenship

17 January 2008

The seminar explored how notions and definitions of citizenship might change in the future. A presentation by the Henley Centre Headlight Vision based on a report produced for the DCA on the future of citizenship in 2026 provided the background to the seminar. The report also contains four potential scenarios for how notions of citizenship in the UK might change in 2026; these were the subject of our discussion.

Last updated at 15:08 Mon 18/May/09.

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Natalie's picture


Third Sector Foresight

Last Thursday, we held a seminar which looked at the future of citizenship for the VCS. The background to the seminar and the subject of an excellent presentation by Michelle Harrison from the Henley Centre Headlight Vision was a report produced for the DCA on the future of citizenship. The report also contains four potential scenarios (see pages 15- 26) for how notions of citizenship in the UK might change in 2026; these were the subject of our discussion. I posted some early thoughts on here last week about the scenarios but the seminar raised many more specific questions about how the VCS can respond. I thought Third Sector Foresight members here might like to add what they think are the opportunities and risks for their organisation, whether they came to the seminar or not! During the session each group examined a different scenario and although these were all very different, it was easy to see there were some common threads across all four:

  • We particularly talked about citizenship in terms of horizontal citizenship (how people engage with others around them), rather than how citizens engage with government (vertical citizenship) which is in itself one of the main challenges. What is the role of the VCS in re-engaging citizens in democratic structures? Is it as an intermediary?
  • The role of the sector in bridge building across diverse and fragmented communities came up as a key requirement for the sector, no matter how resource-rich the scenario and active the citizens.
  • How well placed is your organisation in supporting different groups with competing needs or values?
  • What are some of the issues that you need to overcome or be aware of to do this?
  • A sector that relies upon volunteers to be passionate, give up time and engage in activities may seriously suffer from reactive, passive citizens. What can organisations do to encourage more volunteers to get involved in their organisation or keep those that are involved engaged?
  • In an affluent society of self-interested, individualistic individuals, will the only form of engagement we see with the VCS be in the form of charitable giving, perhaps as a way of relieving guilt?
  • Finally, one last thought, although there are hundreds more I could add! Will global or local issues become the more influential factor in encouraging citizens to be more active?
  • In an increasingly globalised society, will we see a renewed interest in issues that affect the whole world or a society that is increasingly focused and dependent on their local community? Which scenario would present the most opportunities for your organisation?
Véronique's picture


Third Sector Foresight

I facilitated one of the group discussions at the seminar and we ended up having a fascinating conversation on the implications of localism. The group was asked to reflect on the risks and opportunities of the ‘Charity begins at home’ scenario in which public and political engagement is more likely to take place on more local and personal levels within an environment of relative affluence. In this scenario the emphasis of people’s involvement is more on the safety and quality of their own neighbourhoods than the future of society as a whole.

As the majority people in the group were from larger charities there were quite a few comments on the impact of localism on national charities. While participants saw more local volunteering and community spirit as an opportunity, they also felt that national organisations would need to adapt and make the case that national working was still important. For organisations like theirs more local action would probably mean having to provide more diverse services, being more transparent and employing more project-based specialists.

I didn’t make it to the seminar, so I found Natalie’s post and Veronique’s comment really interesting. It got me thinking about the implications of localism in relation to communities of ‘interest’ which can and often do cross so many geographic boundaries: is one of the risks associated with the ‘charity begins at home scenario’ that as more and more decision making happens at the local level, the VCS might begin to focus disproportionately on the “local” in relation to geographic neighbourhood/localities and not on the wider, regional/ national /multi country and global issues that so many people do identify with?

In relation to trying to influence government and decision making, certainly recent legislation in the England has been ‘permissive’ and enables more autonomy and less central control, and its interesting that those from large national charities are beginning to think about how to work at the local level. One of the things to consider next is how the learning from working in smaller geographic areas can be then be shared across localities and globally.

We also posted a meeting report on this meeting. It can be found at

I found the meeting a bit insular (an inward focus on the UK that didn’t take in the European context) and a bit one dimensional (no real consideration of how citizenship might change if the UK loosens a bit further into devolved areas).

However, I had a good time, met some interesting people, and it gave me an interesting reality check from the real world.

Natalie's picture


Third Sector Foresight

The seminar report for this session is now available here. The report is designed to also be understood by people who didn’t attend the seminar. So why not have a read of the groups’ reactions to the scenarios and add what you think the opportunities and risks might be for your organisation?

Join the discussion!

How will this affect your organisation? Have you considered it during your strategic planning? Can you share any interesting relevant links?

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