Press release: Commission on Civil Society Calls for Evidence

The Law Family Commission on Civil Society has today called on charities, community groups, social enterprises, volunteers, policymakers, business leaders and academics to submit evidence on the future of civil society. The initiative, chaired by former Cabinet Secretary Lord Gus O’Donnell, is appealing to as many organisations as possible to provide their ideas as to how the potential of civil society can be unleashed.

The cross-sector call for evidence comes at a key moment for civil society in the UK. The pandemic has shone a light on the contribution of volunteers and community groups, while the growing support in the private sector for purpose to be put on a par with profit creates an unparalleled opportunity to bring all sectors together to solve the challenges Covid has created and deepened.

Through the call for evidence, the Commission is seeking insights, data and examples to help them better understand the current landscape for civil society and start developing ideas to achieve its ambitions. Among them, the Commission intends to delve into the hard numbers about the value of civil society. It aims to ensure the three sectors – public, private and social – work more effectively together, recognising the unique role and value each contributes to achieving the best possible outcomes for the UK. And finally, the Commission is seeking to put forwards practical policy proposals to help social sector organisations unleash their full potential. That means understanding what currently prevents organisations achieving as much as they possibly could – from funding to capacity building to how volunteers are used – and working with practitioners to develop solutions.

With many touchpoints between civil society and the state, including finance, regulation, service delivery, influencing policy development and contributing to decision making, the Commission wants to understand exactly how civil society and government interact currently, where this relationship is working well and where there are opportunities to do better.

The Commission is also seeking to hear from community groups the potential they have to help the government ‘level up’ the country. With a growing consensus that the inequities faced by left behind communities are as much social as they are economic, civil society is well-positioned to help the government overcome this challenge if the two partners can work together effectively.

The deadline for submissions is 10th May 2021.

Anoushka Kenley, Pro Bono Economics Research and Policy Director, said:

“We want this Commission to be a dialogue across organisations and across sectors because that’s the only way to achieve real progress. Civil society knows better than anyone that change rarely comes from one organisation alone making the case.

“So launching today’s Call for Evidence, we want to hear not only from charities, community groups, social enterprises, volunteers, services users, community leaders and activists, but also from policymakers, and both purpose-led and profit-led businesses. We want to hear examples, good or bad, of civil society working with government and with business. We want to know what holds civil society back from unleashing its full potential and what existing evidence we need to build on. And we want to know what you’d most like us to achieve over the next two years.”

Theresa Shearer, ENABLE Scotland CEO and Commissioner, said:

“There have been many reviews, research and inquiries into civil society and charities, but this Commission is different. It is truly cross-sector and looking to undertake some serious deep dives into the issues of our time. In doing so, it is looking to stand on the shoulders of giants, building on research that’s gone before but has had less attention than it deserves. We urge leaders across sectors to let us hear their views.

“Never has the value of civil society been more apparent than over the past year, during which it provided much of the vital support that has kept our country going through the pandemic. But Covid has created significant challenges, with many organisations trying to meet increased demand for support with fewer resources. The Law Family Commission on Civil Society wants to look for practical solutions that will help civil society organisations make the best possible use of existing resources, as well as looking for opportunities to increase the amount of resource flowing into the sector.”

Call for evidence: the potential of civil society