Incubating Civic Leadership

Much of the research we do at the Design Group is driven by a sense of care for people, our places and the planet, and an aspiration to use design to enthuse and empower people to create better futures. We often focus on the struggles but also creativity of everyday people, especially those that are marginalised, unheard, or unappreciated, as a route to innovation, social justice and sustainability.

With funding from the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) we recently completed a knowledge exchange project focussed on Incubating Civic Leadership ( Civic leadership is a term that is used differently in different circles, but the focus of the project was on exploring how we can create the conditions (spaces, processes, tools) to inspire, and catalyse people and organisations across sectors to work together and to convert ideas and conversations into collaborative, interdisciplinary projects in their local places. We teamed up with colleagues from the social sciences and business, as well as with two community partners, The Glass-House Community Led Design and the Bristol based Knowle West Media Centre.

As part of project activities, the team supported the delivery of two pilot projects. The first was co-designed and co-delivered with London Borough of Redbridge and Muslimah Sports Association in East London. It culminated in a pop-up “urban activation” event in Ilford town centre to explore how a temporary activity to transform and use a space differently can get people interested in how we shape and use our shared public spaces. The second was formed in collaboration with the Filwood Broadway Working Group of the Knowle West Alliance in Bristol who decided to experiment with setting up a stall at the Filwood monthly market to facilitate conversations about the future of the place and get more local people actively involved with the activities of the group, ensuring that the local community have a voice in the Filwood Broadway regeneration.

Through these pilot projects and through a series of creative and reflective online workshops and conversations, we explored barriers and enablers of civic leadership associated with language, digital technology, funding and culture among other things. Some of the key ideas that emerged from the project were the value of experimentation, openness, creativity and solidarity, but also the value of starting from the intrinsic strengths and aspirations of the local community. This offers a fertile ground for civic leadership to emerge and grow outwards. As one of the participants superbly articulated it:

Start by supporting something in the community, which the community wants to do. (…) Start things off locally, and the momentum grows locally, and then suddenly starts to cascade over into other communities’.

If you want to learn more about the project and its findings, have a look at this film made by the talented Emma Crouch.

Post by Katerina Alexiou and Theodore Zamenopoulos






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