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  • How can people power make a difference in the coming year?
  • How can people power make a difference in the coming year?
    Chris Beckett, Creative Commons (2015) ©

2016 Expert Outlook on Citizenship

Will crowdfunding sites merge into charitable aid? How will people react to social and environmental crises? And will they continue to favour local? As part of our Expert Outlook 2016 series, we speak to three citizenship experts about the relationships people and brands have with broader society.

Location Global

In the citizenship chapter of our Expert Outlook 2016, Canvas8 speaks to Andy Thornton, CEO of the Citizenship Foundation, Tomas Diez, co-founder of the Smart Citizen project, and Jonathan Simmons, chief experience officer at pro-social digital agency Zone.


Andy Thornton is the CEO of the Citizenship Foundation – a charity that develops education for citizenship, empowering young people to take part in society as equals.

In 2016 people will begin to understand the value of global alliances, recognising why the European Union is needed. The vote for staying in the EU will be something like 70/30 in favour of remaining, and the good thing about it is that people will recognise the terms of our global connection, and how these international links are inevitable. The isolationist, protectionist mindset will be rooted out a bit more than it currently is.

The referendum on Europe is likely to include votes at 16 for the first time in anywhere in the UK except Scotland. So that should make a difference to the discussion as well, because young people will be involved for the first time – and more immediately – and that will make a bit of a difference to consumer behaviour for young people. When encountering issues for the first time, people see them as fresh, perhaps more optimistically, and the education for young people which will hopefully take place will be important.

In terms of behavioural change, you might see a greater sense of debate over how much people's locality matters to them and how well these localities are served. This is manifesting in things like the Love Local campaign, in which people consider how much local shops and small businesses are worth to them rather than demanding high streets full of chains like Next and Starbucks and Costa. That's going to come into focus at some point. It's much more focused in places like Bristol and Brighton at the moment, where people have a greater sense of civic place.

There might also be a resurrection of Made in Europe, with people pushing for products to be made ethically on the continent, as opposed to being designed in Europe and made with cheap labour in the East.

How might youth activism affect a referendum on the EU? How might youth activism affect a referendum on the EU?
Thomas Hawk, Creative Commons (2009) ©

One thing that austerity demonstrates to people, for instance, is that the ability to avoid tax has a direct relationship with how long you wait in A&E. So if Starbucks and Facebook can get away with paying nothing in taxes, then consumers will say 'wait a minute – they're taking my money, but that money isn't going back into the things that we've all chipped into historically.' There will be more pressure on government to take big business on and more pressure from consumers to challenge big businesses on their unethical practices.

At the moment, companies are putting a lot of CSR energy into employability. They're initiating programmes for young adults to get into work in order to be seen as doing something and stimulating the economy. But that's not the same as actually paying your taxes, so more people will be watching them, and they’ll expect transparency from businesses.

At the same time, community organisations are being eroded. Originally, David Cameron wanted to reformulate an understanding of what charities do as not just people who raise money for others, but people who step up to take ownership of public issues, spaces and assets on behalf of the community. Yet as expenditure on local infrastructure further declines due to austerity measures, people aren’t stepping up to replace the institutional input in their communities with people power. They haven't got the spare time.

If Starbucks and Facebook can get away with paying nothing in taxes, then consumers will say 'wait a minute – they're taking my money, but that money isn't going back into the things that we've all chipped into historically'

So there's a quandary for the government and for the citizens, with people becoming much more domesticated, thinking about having all the assets they need for entertaining and for fulfilling life at home, rather than taking the risk of spending time on developing community assets. This massive shift to domestication means people will be increasingly scared to go out of their own home because they don't have a sense that it's a safe and friendly place.

The increased devolution of tax-raising powers to regional authorities will mean that cities can actually manage their own business a lot more independently – and Bristol is one example of this. It’s formed a very well co-ordinated, single project where the city is imagining itself into the future. It’s potentially quite disruptive in the sense that people will affiliate more with the city than the nation.

In a few years’ time, Bristol will be the first city to have driverless cars. They've already built the grids to operate driverless cars in the city centre. They are thinking so far into the future, and the identity and success of a city like Bristol will be disruptive to others because it will lead people to think, 'How come they've got that and we haven't?'

The ‘Big Society’ has struggled to take off in Britain The ‘Big Society’ has struggled to take off in Britain
Garry Knight, Creative Commons (2014) ©

Tomas Diez is an urbanist and co-founder of Smart Citizen, which specialises in digital fabrication and its implications for future cities.

What we are seeing now in citizenship is raised awareness about people’s legal rights. 2016 will see more claims for recoveries around things like internet freedom. Things that we actually have lost, especially in Spain or in Europe, with new laws coming out that limit the privacy of people – things that matter to them as citizens in cities. This will be a struggle between people and the established powers.

New technologies are going to help even more; this is something that people forecasted many years ago. With the appearance of mobile phones, everyone predicted that we wouldn't have to move to participate. So far, the conditions have never been right for technology to encourage mass participation, but in 2016 there will be, if not the tipping point, a kind of a change in people’s tendencies. We will hopefully see more applications, hardware, and technological innovations related to citizen involvement in the city.

There are different crises that we are headed towards, and they are going to become more evident. Social crisis, ecological crisis – these are becoming increasingly visible and people are seeing that they’re affecting their lives in a profound way. I think people will react to these crises with a renewed positivity.

You'll always have very extremist parties, launching some messages that are totally against what I'm saying, but I see that the public will advocate for more generalist values related first of all to the social inequality that we’ve created, and then to things like the ecological impact of our lifestyle on the planet.

The fight for digital freedom is set to continue into 2016 The fight for digital freedom is set to continue into 2016
Thomas Hawk, Creative Commons (2015) ©

During the last few years, large corporations and governments have changed their discourse from talking about only technology and control and business, to a more empowering, human-centred, participatory smart city. Large businesses are increasingly trying to engage people in different ways – in turn getting them more engaged in issues – and these strategies will have to be more than just commercial soon. There's a big challenge for corporations to recover trust from people, so that will also be an interesting thing to see.

Intel has done great things this year to enhance people’s relationships with tech. It partnered with Arduino, working on hardware and support in the maker movement, and it’s been really exciting. I'm also excited about some of the research Airbus is doing in relation to materials and the advanced technology it’s generating.

I would like to see companies in the fashion industry, like Zara, changing policies around where they make things and how they make them. Increasing transparency is important, especially within the fashion industry, which is one of the most wasteful in the world.

We will also see big changes following the World Health Organisation's report about meat, highlighting how the consumption of red meat can increase the risk of getting cancer. Some people criticised it, but I think WHO has been really brave to say something about this huge industry. There is truth in it, both about the effects of processed meat in humans, and also the negative effect the meat industry has on the environment. It’s something I hope they will continue talking about in 2016 too.

Public pressure, both online and offline, can be key in influencing corporate policy Public pressure, both online and offline, can be key in influencing corporate policy
Louisa Billeter (2013) ©

Jonathan Simmons is chief experience officer at pro-social digital agency Zone, and an expert in the not-for-profit and public sectors.

We will continue to see a kind of attack on the citizenship sector. There’s a gap between what the commercial sector is prepared to deliver because it’s commercially viable, and what the state’s prepared to deliver because it assumes that it’s its job to deliver. That gap is being filled by lots of different people – and we will continue to see brands move into that area.

As products and services become more utility-based and less differentiated – the main dividing factor between supermarkets is price, or price and service for airlines – we’ll want brands to stand for more, and to have a bit of purpose behind what they deliver.

Businesses will continue learning that CSR isn’t a standalone thing – they have to have a social purpose and to mean it. The reaction to things like tax evasion and smaller companies being bullied by bigger companies will see people continue to turn to local in response, with the bigger brands thinking ‘we need to tell people about the good we do’.

As products and services become more utility-based and less differentiated, we’ll want brands to stand for more, and to have a bit of purpose behind what they deliver

Charities will continue to look for brands to fill the gaps that the government has created through reduced funding and assistance. Corporate fundraising is a big ambition for lots of charities, because where they were once taking £5 million from the government, that money is drying up. They’ve got their eyes on brands, and they’re telling them that they’ve got big credibility stores, a large base of volunteers – the message is that ‘we can help your social purpose’. We’ll continue to see these relationships – like the one between Boots and Macmillan – develop. It suits the commercial sector, but it also suits the charity sector.

We’ll also see the charity sector come under pressure from the public, and largely because of the media. For whatever reason, the British media want to have a crack at the charity sector. They’re okay with a games developer making a game that includes violence and selling it to children, but they get upset when a charity chief executive earns £10,000 more than the national average wage. That attack will continue.

Charity fundraisers could take some tips from crowdfunding platforms Charity fundraisers could take some tips from crowdfunding platforms
Garry Knight, Creative Commons (2012) ©

As individuals, we will see a continued increase in citizenship, with people asking ‘is this all there is?’ They’ll think that consumerism isn’t the only thing for them. They can buy experiences now – which is becoming more and more important, particularly to Gen Y – and they’ll soon be asking if they can have experiences that are win-win (i.e. raising money and enjoying it at the same time). So there will be a rise in people feeling obligated to do good things.

Yet they don’t want to pay for the middle man, and a lot of citizenship organisations or charities are those middle men. People will continue to put pressure on these organisations to spend less money on being an intermediary.

Technology is expected to play a growing role in the sector. We’ll increasingly see charities and organisations use things like wearables – and Asthma UK is a great example. It schedules three million asthma appointments with doctors every year, all through technology. Pressure to use technology in instances like these will remain, and charities will bow to it. Apple Pay will continue to build steam, and if people can’t donate this way, they won’t.

The brands bringing change in citizenship are those from the outside. The more traditional organisations have great ambition, but they don’t really have the same conviction

Tesco has done great things this year. Its Farm to Fork initiative shows how a brand can use its assets to engage with as many as one million children. It also shows that when organisations get involved, they should do what they’re good at. Tesco opened up its supply to primary schools, helping them have a better relationship with food, and it’s been hugely successful.

Cancer Research UK continues to set the trend in Britain. It’s very pointed and focused on what it does, continuing to put out a very simple message that says ‘we need to research cancer.’ There’s no confusion in that, which is not the case for many other organisations.

All of the crowdfunding sites – Kickstarter, Just Giving or Kiva in the US – are essentially fundraising platforms. And the growth of this – people with good ideas asking for funding – should see it merge and grow into more charitable aid, becoming more of a citizenship platform with time.

This should be a wake-up call to established citizenship organisations. The brands bringing change in citizenship are those from the outside; Skype, for instance, has changed so much about human interaction. Elsewhere, micro-financing services like M-Pesa in Africa give people access to bank accounts like they’ve never had before. These are all disruptors but they’re all new. The more traditional organisations have great ambition – and they’re lovely people – but they don’t really have the same conviction.

Related behaviours
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Shared Values: People expect brands to rise to society’s challenges