Matt Whittaker, CEO of Pro Bono Economics

What unites civil society and the civil service? The clue is in the names: civilians working either in service of the state or in support of society, but always with a view to creating a better world. It’s a shared commitment to purpose (as opposed to fabulous remuneration) that gets civil servants and charity workers alike out of bed in the morning.

In pursuing their purposes, the two sectors act as compliments to each other. Civil society is typically agile, innovative and plugged into local and often hyperlocal conditions and networks. The civil service provides scale, stability and the ability to affect the bigger picture.

Both have the capacity to step outside the short-termism that can limit the ambition of politicians and business folk and never more so than when they work together. Joint efforts on initiatives such as mental health support, homelessness reduction, and environmental conservation highlight how pooling resources, knowledge, and networks can achieve greater collective impact.

Yet for all the benefits of collaboration, a disconnect remains. Touchpoints are limited, and individuals in both camps frequently complain of finding it hard to know where to start when it comes to navigating the other side.

Happily, the problem appears to be more one of practicality than of appetite. After all, 6-in-10 (60%) civil servants surveyed by the Law Family Commission on Civil Society think there should be more engagement between policymakers and charities. And a third (32%) think their own government department would be more effective if charities were more involved in its work.

And there is political will too. Earlier this year Keir Starmer called for a “reset” of the relationship between civil society and government, pledging to work in partnership with the charity sector. The Minister for Civil Society, Stuart Andrew, has similarly highlighted the importance of connecting civil society with key government priorities, bringing the diversity and expertise of the sector to the discussion.”

Given such sentiments and the obvious prize on offer, PBE is excited to be hosting a unique, cross-sector event designed to explore, understand and let loose the transformative impact of closer collaboration between the civil service and civil society.

Senior civil servants and civil society leaders will come together to highlight what can happen when good engagement occurs. For example, we’ll be hearing from DCMS and NCVO about the efforts that underpinned the establishment of the Community Organisations Cost of Living Fund.

Set against what looks like a tough backdrop for both public services and those most in need in the coming years, we’ll be reflecting on the barriers that prevent more collaboration of this kind from happening. Importantly, we’ll be asking our speakers – and our delegates – to set out implementable solutions and ways forward.

And, with approaching half (45%) of all civil servants reporting zero contact with civil society in the last year, we will discuss the practical routes available for getting involved with civil society as volunteers, trustees and through secondments.

The event offers a rare opportunity for individuals from both sectors to come together in one space to establish new connections and to better understand how the other side works. Like all the best collaborations, it promises to be inspiring, challenging (polite challenge, this is a civil alliance after all) and outcome-focused.

Our hope is that it leads to a new form of partnership between civil society and the civil service that adds up to more than the sum of its constituent parts. Two sectors, joined by a commitment to purpose and each with their own unique strengths, pulling together in the shared pursuit of better.

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