This blog is written by Bob Thust, Partner Practical Governance  and Esther Foreman, CEO The Social Change Agency  Conveners of Losing Control as a response to the Civil Society Futures Report, PACT. Originally published here

We both welcome the outstanding work of the inquiry over the past year and the Civil Society Futures report. There is not doubt that ‘a strong, renewed, re-energised civil society is urgently needed to shape the future now’.  The principles of the PACT – the four pillars of power, accountability, connection and trust – resonate with us as the fundamental building blocks that will allow us to rise to the many challenges we face.  The emphasis too on us all, as people who work in and around civil society, bearing both the responsibility and capability to take positive action to respond is significant.

The danger, however is that we choose to respond in small, incremental ways, or only as individual organisations, or that we fail to recognise the role we have to play in fundamentally engaging and shaping the whole of society, not just that which we call ‘civil’.

In many ways it feels to us that the tide is beginning to turn, with the findings of this inquiry testament to that.  More and more people and organisations across civil society are seriously examining principles in line with those expressed in the PACT, challenging themselves to respond and most importantly putting them into practice.  Supporting many of them over the past few years, we have seen more interest in, for example alternative forms of governance, distributed decision making and campaigning, collaborative networks, systems leadership, movement building techniques, participatory budgeting, community ownership, the recognition of the importance of experts by experience and the proliferation of new tools such as co-budgeting and loomio.

It is this very shift which led us to create Losing Control, an idea which started as an event in 2017 and is now developing into a network, resources and event programme for an initial 2 year period. We are bringing together people from across sectors to learn from and support each other in finding practical ways to let go of power to unleash social change.  One thing that has always stood out as we’ve developed this work is how many like-minded and committed people there are across sector and country boundaries – and how powerful it can be when they come together, find common ground and start plotting…

As important as our individual actions are, we need to recognise that for those actions to have truly meaningful impact the PACT can’t just be about how we in ‘civil society’ respond, but how we collectively act as a convening and converging force to engage the whole of society in this challenge – business, tech, government and the public. All have a role to play; the responsibility for the future cannot be unevenly distributed.  

We also know from experience that incorporating new principles into leadership, governance, engagement and accountability is an uphill struggle and can carry a heavy resource tag.  It takes time and energy to make this happen; doubly so when challenging the very structures that make it hard in the first place. We also need to commit to practical investment in supporting collaboration across those sectors that are focussed on reshaping the way our economy and democracy works, for example through promoting community and employee ownership within mainstream business.   So, if the decision makers and influencers across civil society are standing by these principles, we need to see the resources and investment that will help us to strengthen that work on the ground, looking outwards as well as inwards.

This inquiry has made stronger and more apparent the need to focus on these critical topics and set down some clear challenges.  Let’s take that momentum and not just take action as civil society but as ALL society because it’s in ALL our interests.  Losing control is just one effort to try to support that – we will need to work together to support and build many more.