Crises and Change - RSA

Crises and change: our community enquiry


  • Community and place-based action

We are excited to launch Navigating Crises and Change: Past, Present and Future.

This is a year-long community enquiry supported by The National Lottery Community Fund’s Emerging Futures Fund, where we share insights and stories from communities and changemakers around the UK, about what things were like before the pandemic, how the pandemic changed their lives, and their aspirations for the future.

Crises and disasters precipitate often transformational change for individuals, communities, places and institutions. The more they disrupt the status quo and upend our existing patterns, behaviours and systems, the more they challenge our values and expectations and the more likely change becomes. This disruption releases the energy that offers the possibility of change taking place across these settings.

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Crises also amplify and accelerate existing trends and open up new possibilities for change. To many these trends and possibilities lay hidden beneath the surface of our every-day experience, yet for others they represent day-to-day reality. The pandemic has laid bare some of the pre-existing fault-lines in society. It has also revealed some of the foundations on which an emergent future might be based.

The storm that is Covid-19 has landed with differing intensities in different places and we are all riding it out in different boats. For everyone the pandemic represents varying degrees of disruption and uncertainty. For some it has had little material impact, for others life will never be the same again. There are almost as many Covid-19 realities as there are people.

Over the last year, we were able to surface this complexity in varying ways: community listening events, reviewing existing research, hosting national conversations with changemakers, and polling the general population. The scope of the work is exploratory; it is clearly too soon to have face-to-face conversations in different communities across the UK and too soon to predict with any confidence the full impact of Covid-19. Instead, this enquiry is intended to use these preliminary stories to identify some of the insights that the crisis has precipitated, and what these might mean for the future. We hope that documenting and sharing insights from this enquiry enables our community of changemakers to build a collective memory of what we have experienced in the last year, mirroring individual experiencing or opening up our awareness to the diversity of others‘ experiences, whilst inspiring us to imagine and work towards a better and bolder emerging future.

There are an increasing number of reports suggesting that community is the answer to the question of how we can build back better. We are not going to leap to the same conclusion. Of course community is important. So too are institutions that are fit for purpose in the 2020s, places that we can live in sustainably, a political system that offers hope, and people who feel that they have agency over their own lives.

We would agree that, as an organising principle, the notion of subsidiarity should be at the heart of an emerging future. People should have more say in the things that impact them, whether or not they are ‘in control’ of such processes or participants in them. We heard a desire for citizens to have greater influence over the future. This organising principle should be based at the smallest - most local - practical unit of organising. Many call this the community or locality or neighbourhood. This organising principle is one of a number that we draw out of this initial work. Others include a devolution of decision-making power, redistribution of resources to areas that are most in need, the need for fair funding of core publicly-funded services, the need for processes of reconciliation and marking the losses that have occurred, and methods of building community foresight capability to ensure the future is co-designed in ways that make most sense locally.

These are not mutually exclusive principles nor are they collectively comprehensive. They do, however, represent a good starting point for an ongoing dialogue. To that end we offer this content as a provocation for continued exploration, sense-making, and imagination. We present learning to date under a series of provocations around how a crisis precipitates social change, illustrated with the voices of those we spoke to, the views of those we polled and a wider set of ideas and insights we have been witnessing. It is only a start, but a crucial one.

Covid-19 is not the only crisis we face. Many were already facing individual crises of volatile employment, poverty or escalating costs of living. Many communities were already facing the consequences of years of disinvestment, the aftermath of critical service failure, environmental disaster or de-industrialisation. Many of our public institutions were facing significant funding cuts with practices looking increasingly obsolete for the 2020s. Many of our high streets and shopping centers were looking barren, transport services cut and facilities closed. Our natural environment has been under sustained pressure and our resources increasingly depleted.

Collectively, whether these represent our individual experiences or not, we face an agglomeration of crises across the UK. In this respect, Covid-19 may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Two critical questions arise. Are we at a fundamental threshold beyond which everything changes, in which our social, political, economic and ecological systems and structures are fundamentally reconfigured in ways we cannot yet know? Will we look back in a hundred years and recognise that Covid19 marked such a transition?

And if so, are we prepared to rethink and reimagine what’s possible as we emerge out of Covid-19 and into the emergent future?

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