Civic Futures — Programme Design & Evolution

Koreo
5 min readMay 14, 2024
9 people stand on a purple carpet in front of a big window looking out onto the river Thames.
The delivery team for the first Civic Futures session at City Hall, with Deputy Mayor Debbie Weekes-Barnard.

From February-May 2023, Koreo was commissioned to undertake a review of the first 4 years and 3 cohorts of Civic Futures, as part of which we shared a reflection on the design and deliver of the programme. You can access the full report via the Koreo website or the Civic Futures microsite.

Design Principles

The delivery of Civic Futures has been guided by a set of design principles, defining what the partnership considered essential for a successful programme.

These principles have evolved each year, with the more consistent themes including:

  • Equity: recognising the need to equalise the Fellowship, prioritising accessibility, and providing bursaries for people outside organisational structures.
  • Fellowship: recognising the importance of connection and relationships, with the aim to build fellowship across organisations, sectors, and the different programme cohorts.
  • Emergence: recognising the power of the project being co-developed by the partnership and everyone participating in the programme.
  • Generative: recognising the need for Civic Futures to generate ideas and practical experiments, and creating the scope for learning to be shared and explored beyond the fellowship itself.

Learning Methods

Working with these design principles, and responding to our learning each year, we’ve deployed a range of learning methods to build a learning community:

  • The heart of the project has been a series of group workshops, where participants were offered space for collective inquiry, sensemaking, reflection and experimentation in the interests of shared learning and collaboration. Group work happened primarily as one group, but also included action learning, peer coaching, and shadowing opportunities.
  • Alongside group work, we’ve worked with people on their own personal development, offering 1–2–1 coaching sessions with a Koreo coach. This involved a 360 feedback process of self-reflection and feedback and individual participant support through the programme from a named programme coach/manager.
  • Finally, the project has increasingly offered space for experimentation and learning through funded learning experiments or ‘probes’. These were built from shared conversations during the programme and collaboration between Fellows.

Programme Journey

Methods were stitched together into a programme journey, which has remained relatively consistent throughout (despite Year 1 being curtailed due to Covid-19). Following a process of design between partners and a recruitment/selection process to identify Fellows, the project worked through 5 stages:

  1. Onboarding and connection, through which people were welcomed onto the programme.
  2. A period of provocation: participants were offered opportunities to engage with a range of perspectives on social change and leadership from the programme partnership.
  3. A period of inquiry: participants worked together and with the programme partnership to explore personal and collective leadership inquiries, with the aim of finding common themes, issues and opportunities.
  4. A period of exploration & experimentation: common themes surfaced equitable, collaborative experiments.
  5. A process of reflection to review learnings and impact.

Programme Evolution

The above demonstrates there’s been continuity through the first three years of Civic Futures’ approach and partnership. However, the programme also evolved to meet a combination of external circumstances, challenges, and learnings from the experience of delivering the project in partnership with participants. There are 3 areas of evolution to highlight:

  • Thematic Focus: There’s been an evolving approach to the thematic focus of the project. The first iteration was a fully open call for people seeking to collaborate on better approaches to civic life in the city. The second, responding to Covid, was themed around the GLA’s recovery agenda, and was organised around the Mayor of London’s 9 Recovery Missions. Following several conversations between partners and the GLA, the third reverted to a more open offer while making it clear that the thematic focus of the programme so far had been on fair decision-making and community participation in public life. A thematic focus for a possible fourth cohort could be informed by the insights found through this piece of work.
  • Make-up of the Cohort: Linked to the above, each year has seen a different approach to the make-up of the Fellowship. In the first year, the programme was exclusively on offer to people who were playing a leadership role as part of civil society (professionally or as a volunteer). This decision led to a number of conversations in Year 1 about who wasn’t in the room, in particular the sense it had reinforced boundaries between different parts of the system rather than breaking them down (an ‘us and them’ dynamic). The second year ringfenced 15 places for leaders from civil society, and 15 places for people in local government. While this led to encouraging collaboration between different parts of the system, the distinction broke down quickly as it became clear participants were wearing multiple hats. This meant they had multiple perspectives and routes into the system. As such, the third cohort has been an open cohort, welcoming people from all civil society and local government backgrounds.
  • Contact Time & Format: Reflecting the below note about Covid-19, it’s fair to say the programme across the 3 years has been dominated by a need for flexibility. The opportunity to work with people face-to-face has been limited, initially by lockdowns and more recently by school and rail strikes. As such, the amount of time the group have had together physically has varied wildly from year to year. Conversations and feedback received through this review suggest while there’s some benefit to working virtually, as a whole there’s a desire to work face-to-face in a programme offering so much in terms of personal connection and support.

Covid-19

When telling the story of Civic Futures across the 3 years, it’s impossible not to see it as having been dominated by Covid-19 and the disruption it caused for the project, the participants, and the communities they were serving. In terms of programme delivery, the first cohort of Fellows was initially paused and subsequently stopped halfway through its year. The second cohort was required to meet virtually for more than half the year. The third cohort was the only one not to be interrupted by lockdowns, although it has been affected by industrial disputes. But the impact has been more fundamental in terms of the demands of operating in a Covid-dominated context, and with communities that have been impacted by the resulting crises of public health, racial inequity, cost of living, and more. This affected people’s ability to commit to the project, as well as their own personal health and well-being.

Read the full report on the Koreo website.

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Koreo

A learning consultancy dedicated to imagining and building a better world.