European Future Labs Explore Paths Towards More Active Citizenship

Between February 24 and March 15, 2023, the Allianz Foundation held seven Future Labs in seven European cities. The Future Labs are a place of networking, peer learning and exchange for Risktakers from across Europe and the Mediterranean.

July 26, 2023

A person is hoding a selmade protest slogan on which "For Future" is written.

For Future © Christian Lue_Unsplash

The Future Labs

Between February 24 and March 15, 2023, the Allianz Foundation held seven Future Labs in seven European cities: Berlin, Athens, Istanbul, London, Palermo, Warsaw and the city of Prizren in Kosovo. The Future Labs are a place of networking, peer learning and exchange for #Risktakers from across Europe and the Mediterranean. The interactive workshops brought together 81 activists and civil society leaders from climate and social justice fields as well as artists and investigative journalists. 

The Future Labs are part of the Allianz Foundation Study series which seeks to create a new basis of data and insights for Europe’s #Risktakers in civil society, climate action, the cultural sector and politics. The Labs were conducted by our research partner, the SINUS-Institute, which is going to complete an in-depth analysis of all Labs over the coming weeks. The final results will be published alongside the findings from our representative survey of 10,000 young Europeans in the autumn of 2023.

First Take-Aways from the Allianz Foundation Future Labs

An insight from Dr. Simon Morris-Lange, Head of Research at Allianz Foundation

The Future Labs participants shared, discussed and innovated, addressing one overarching question: What conditions are needed for more civic engagement across Europe? In other words, how do you encourage more people to stand up for social justice, open societies and a livable planet? 

Here are the first take-aways from the seven Labs: 

Civil society is under pressure

In numerous places across Europe and the Mediterranean, the space for civic engagement has been shrinking for years. In Warsaw, Lab participants reported that they and their peers have been exposed to hate speech and lawsuits designed to silence or even criminalize them. In Prizren, participants see plenty of room for more civic engagement, but the still common practice of exploiting volunteers and the widespread corruption in the country were reported to stifle active citizenship and weaken civil society. In Istanbul, the political climate and the fierce competition between civil society organizations have created a climate of uncertainty, which prevents citizens from getting involved.

The way forward: Preliminary learnings from the Labs

Many of these challenges are specific to local and national contexts. Others are shared across Europe, including smear campaigns against activists, financial and legal insecurities, emotional stress and a heavy workload. The same is true for solutions. In the Future Labs, participants developed and discussed ideas and scenarios for a stronger and more impactful civil society.  

Going forward, they encourage European activists, civil society leaders, artists and journalists to

  • Build networks of trust: Participants in all seven cities stressed the importance of building personal networks of trust by leveraging existing connections, and to do so in person instead of over-relying on social media. These networks are crucial in times of dwindling support – or even outright opposition – from established institutions.
  • Seize the moment: Moments of crisis can be emotionally devastating, even paralyzing. The recent train crash in Greece and the earthquake in southeast Turkey and northwest Syria serve as a case in point. Yet, Lab participants encourage fellow activists to also see them as windows of opportunity for increasing civic engagement, both short-term and long-term.
  • Prioritize mental health: Burnout and mental health issues among activists and civil society leaders are more common than generally assumed, Lab participants say. They see an urgent need to increase resilience among their staff and active supporters by offering mental health support, especially to those working directly with vulnerable groups.
  • Address the structures: Lawmaking can be messy, long-winding, highly technical and in some places, plagued by corruption. Despite or precisely because of that, Lab participants see public policy advocacy as an important component of civic engagement, especially when it comes to policies that affect civic engagement itself, such as laws that affect NGO finances.
  • Utilize the power of convening: In order to build and strengthen partnerships, Lab participants singled out cultural festivals as one of several promising mobilization tools, given their aesthetic appeal, their potentially political nature and their ability to encourage new alliances between civil society and the cultural sector.
  • And, crucially, Lab participants emphasize the need to stay close to the lived experiences of those you are trying to help and reach.

Your contact: Head of Research Dr. Simon Morris-Lange

You have questions about our research or regarding the Future Labs? Please contact Simon.

Dr. Simon Morris-Lange develops and leads the research and knowledge-sharing activities at Allianz Foundation. He oversees the Allianz Foundation Study series which investigates how young Europeans envision a future society and what they are willing to do – including the risks they are willing to take – to shape this future

A picture of Simon Morris-Lange

Simon Morris-Lange © Marcel Wogram