Civic Space 2040

Over the next two decades, environmental, technological, and demographic trends will dramatically change how we live our lives. A vibrant civic space is essential to ensure everyone can fully participate in shaping this future.

Civic Space 2040 is a futurist initiative to craft a positive vision for civic space and map strategies to make it a reality. The initiative explores trends that will radically transform the world and discusses how they will impact civic space.

ICNL launched the initiative in 2019 with a meeting at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center in Italy. Participants included civil society leaders from around the world, along with experts on technology, climate change, democracy, conflict and crisis, and philanthropy. Together they sought to envision the civic freedoms we will need two decades from now, key questions that must be addressed, and steps to guarantee these freedoms in the future. The meeting outcome report summarizes the discussion and potential ways forward.

ICNL also commissioned a series of trend reports to inform civic space advocates about the opportunities and challenges ahead. The trend reports and resources on this page aim to help understand critical future trends from a civic space perspective.

Participants from the August, 2019 Civic Space 2040 kick-off meeting. The meeting gathered thought leaders, experts, and activists from around the world at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center in Italy to explore trends that will radically transform civic space in the future. (Photo: ICNL)
Participants from the Civic Space 2040 kick-off meeting. The meeting gathered thought leaders, experts, and activists from around the world to explore the future of civic space. (Photo: ICNL)

Emerging Digital Technology

Civil society must play a part in shaping the future of digital technologies, including standard-setting for artificial intelligence, the governance of cryptocurrencies, and the accountability of tech companies.

Key Resources

Integrated Advocacy: Paths Forward for Digital Civil Society

By Lucy Bernholz, Nicole Ozer, Kip Wainscott, and Wren Elhai, Stanford PACS, January 2020

The Case for Digital Public Infrastructure

By Ethan Zuckerman, The Knight First Amendment Institute, January 2020

Artificial Intelligence & Human Rights

By Eileen Donahoe and Megan MacDuffee Metzger, Journal of Democracy, April 2019

How Artificial Intelligence is Reshaping Repression

By Steven Feldstein, Journal of Democracy, January 2019

Machine-made Goods: Charity, Philanthropy, & Artificial Intelligence

By Rhodri Davies, Charities Aid Foundation, June 2018

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Climate Change & Resource Governance

The climate change emergency will be a source of mobilization but also of authoritarian clampdown. Policy and activism on climate change are central to civic space, and youth movements are at the heart of this activism.

Key Resources

Climate Change & Poverty

UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights report, June 2019

In Search of Just Transition: Examples From Around the World

International Insititute for Sustainable Development, April 2019

< 2°C Futures

By Tony Henshaw, Shiv Shivakumar, et al., Aditya Birla Group, November 2018

Climate Change, Migration, & Displacement: The Need for a Risk-informed & Coherent Approach

By Sarah Opitz Stapleton, Rebecca Nadin, Charlene Watson and Jan Kellet, ODI, 2017

The Future of Philanthropy & Civil Society

Participants emphasized the need for strategies against disinformation campaigns, online trolling, and harassment. Civil society organizations could use open source technology to more efficiently share learning and coordinate action.

Key Resources

Philanthropy & Digital Civil Society: Blueprint 2020

By Lucy Bernholz, Stanford PACS Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, 2019

Civil Society Innovation & Populism in a Digital Age

International Civil Society Centre and Just Labs, 2019

Scanning the Horizon Sector Guide #1: China

By Bertram Lang, International Civil Society Centre, November 2019

Philanthropy is at a Turning Point: 6 Ways it could Go

By Rhodri Davies, Charities Aid Foundation, April 2019

The CCP’s Model of Social Control Goes Global

By Martin Hála and Jichang Lulu, Asia Dialogue, December 2018

The Mobilization of Conservative Civil Society

By Richard Youngs, Gareth Fowler, et al., Carnegie Europe, October 2018

The Global Landscape of Philanthropy

By Andrew Milner, WINGS, January 2018

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Democracy & Governance

In the face of major shifts in geopolitics – the rise of authoritarianism, increasing populism, and a simultaneous decline of multilateralism – protecting civic space must remain a priority.

Key Resources

Dictators in Trouble

By Thomas Carothers, Foreign Affairs, February 2020

Carnegie Endowment Resources on Civic Activism

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2019

A World Safe for Autocracy

By Jessica Chen Weiss, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2019

How Will Demographic Transformations Affect Democracy in the Coming Decades?

By Jack A. Goldstone, Larry Diamond, Hoover Institution, May 2019

Mapping China's Global Governance Ambitions

By Melanie Hart and Blaine Johnson, Center for American Progress, February 2019

Democracy & Disorder: The Struggle for Influence in the New Geopolitics

By Bruce Jones and Torrey Taussig, Brookings, February 2019

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