The Civic Ecosystems Initiative brings together researchers, activists and practitioners interested in civic ecosystems and social innovation.


Civic Ecosystems are complex systems that self-organise to address specific social problems. They can enable or constrain civic actors and action in critical ways. Our interest in civic ecosystems reflects a particular understanding of social change that is bound up with their distinctive characteristics:

Diversity is about the actors and approaches in the ecosystem and the different theories of change driving them such as institutional change, pre-figurative experimentation, and personal transformation.

Interdependence draws attention to the ways in which different components of the ecosystem affect, enable or constrain each other. And its value is in fostering complementarity.

Civicness implies a shared commitment to certain norms and values that emphasise and prioritise the public interest. It is what holds the ecosystem together.


Our initiative is a vehicle for researchers, activists and practitioners interested in civic ecosystems to produce new kinds of knowledge and to experiment with practical applications.


Our approach involves a combination of research, engagement and resourcing strategies, and our methods include ecosystem mapping and analysis.


Our aim is to make visible emerging and established civic ecosystems in different domains and make sure they are getting the attention and resources they need to thrive.

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Iavor Rangelov & Marika Theros

Over 15 years of working together in some of the world’s most difficult places, Iavor and Marika have engaged with a host of civic actors, ideas and practices. That engagement revealed the extent to which the success of civic actors and action is determined by the broader systems they are embedded in and dependent upon. It became clear that these systems often cut across civil society, public authorities, and the private sector, and can extend from the local to the global. Iavor and Marika have developed the concept of civic ecosystems in order to understand the nature of this phenomenon, make it more visible, and help unlock its potential to drive social change.

Iavor and Marika work at the intersection of research, policy and civic engagement at the London School of Economics. Iavor is Research Fellow at the Conflict and Civicness Research Group at LSE IDEAS, and expert advisor at the Civic Engagement Project. Marika is Policy Fellow at the Conflict and Civicness Research Group at LSE IDEAS, Director of the Civic Engagement Project and a senior fellow at the Institute for State Effectiveness.

Chris Abbott

Chris helps civic actors at risk understand and manage their holistic security risks. He has a particular interest in scaling impact through the use of open resources and remote support. He is the lead author of the Holistic Security Protocol for Human Rights Defenders, the Minimum Operating Travel Security Standards (MOTSS), and Frontline Policies. In 2011, Chris founded Open Briefing, a non-profit that provides physical, digital and psychosocial security support to civic actors at risk around the world. He was previously the deputy director of the Oxford Research Group and an honorary research fellow in the Centre for Governance and International Affairs at the University of Bristol and in the School of Social and International Studies at the University of Bradford.

Amy Blackwell

Amy is an impact adviser working with families to design philanthropic strategies and incorporate impact investing in their portfolios. She specialises in building consensus across families to develop values-aligned frameworks for achieving social impact. Amy is particularly interested in the implications of the civic ecosystem model for resourcing social change, responding to the need for beneficiary-led solutions and the different ways in which millennials give and engage with social causes compared to previous generations. Amy is a partner at Acorn Capital Advisers and has extensive experience in the private and non-profit sectors.

Jelena Đureinović

Jelena is a researcher, practitioner and activist working on memory. She is particularly interested in memory cultures and politics in post-conflict and post-socialist contexts, as well as the politics of memory in contemporary authoritarianism and populism. Most of her work revolves around the role, actors and practices of memory in the post-Yugoslav space, with wider implications for other regions. Jelena is a postdoctoral researcher and coordinator of the research platform ‘Transformations and Eastern Europe’ at the University of Vienna. She developed the Memory Activism Programme at the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade, where she is still involved in providing strategic direction to the programme.

Andrea Carolina Guardo

Andrea is a Colombian lawyer with extensive experience leading human rights, rule of law, and civil society programmes. She is particularly interested in the interactions of grassroots and top-level civic actors in driving sustainable development and peacebuilding. In the peace implementation process in Colombia, Andrea’s work enabled local civic actors to engage and shape peacebuilding and local governance efforts. Andrea has worked globally on innovating ways to expand civic space at the World Alliance for Citizen Participation (CIVICUS) and provided strategic advice to the U.S. Institute of Peace in Colombia. She currently works in Democracy Protection for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Open Society Foundations.

Poonam Joshi

Poonam helps independent philanthropy respond more strategically to the issue of closing civic space by advising funders on effective strategies to counter restrictions on freedom of assembly, expression and association. She has a particular interest in the trends that will shape the future of civic space over the next decade, including the increasing use by governments of counterterrorism and security laws, technological tools and discourse to criminalise, surveil and delegitimise civic actors. Poonam is the director of the Funders Initiative for Civil Society. Prior to this she was the Executive Director of the Sigrid Rausing Trust, and Director of the European Office for the Fund for Global Human Rights where she gained experience of supporting civil society in MENA, Balkans, South Asia and CEE.



Civic ecosystems can act both as vehicles for effective crises response and as a driver for social innovation.

Civic ecosystems often emerge spontaneously and evolve organically to address a range of crises – from natural disasters and extreme weather events to health and humanitarian emergencies. Crises expose urgent needs and deeper structural problems, but they can also disrupt ‘business as usual’ and create opportunities for innovation. An ecosystem perspective to crisis response and recovery brings out the diverse range of civic actors and practices that mobilize, highlights their distinctive functions and contributions, and reveals critical complementarities between diverse approaches, capabilities and resources brought to the overall effort.


The phenomenon of closing civic space is normally approached through the lens of restrictions on civil society activists and activism in particular settings. However, that approach may obscure the diversity of civic actors and the extent to which they are embedded in broader ecosystems that often cut across civil society, the state, and the market, and extend from the local to the global.

By drawing attention to disruptions and distortions at the ecosystem level, our approach offers an alternative lens for interpreting the closing space phenomenon. In practical terms, it offers new ideas and strategies for opening up and expanding civic space, for example by reinforcing the diversity, interdependence, or normative alignment and coherence of civic ecosystems.


Protection tends to be associated with public security provision although in practice, the security apparatus can both protect and threaten the safety of individuals and communities. An ecosystem lens brings out the diversity and interdependence of the actors and practices, both public and private, that are involved in providing protection in particular settings. It also enables experimentation with new ideas and approaches for enhancing and expanding protection ecosystems.


Peace processes are often interpreted through the narrow lens of those who are directly involved in the negotiations. An ecosystem lens reveals how a broader set of actors, ideas, and practices activated at multiple levels can influence such processes and affect their outcomes in significant ways. Adopting an ecosystem approach enables us to identify civic openings in the wider systems that shape peace processes and to develop strategies for sustaining such openings and unlocking their full potential.


The rise of memory activism in different parts of the world is injecting new energy in local and global struggles for justice. Memory activists are experimenting with different forms of social mobilisation and knowledge production that draw attention to past oppression and injustice and strive to expose and challenge their lasting legacies in the present. An ecosystem approach allows us to capture the emerging synergies between memory and justice activists and activism and consider how they could be strengthened and harnessed in productive ways.


Conventional approaches to resourcing social change tend to focus on particular actors, ideas or practices that are selected for support, whereas an ecosystem approach emphasises the broader systems they are embedded in and dependent upon. The concept of civic ecosystems is useful in thinking about resourcing because it draws attention to patterns of interdependence and interaction, revealing how resources flow and circulate among diverse actors in the system. It also implies a broader understanding of resources and resourcing that goes beyond the provision of financial support.


Here you can listen to our latest podcasts.

Episode 1. What is Civicness?

In this episode, Marika Theros and Iavor Rangelov discuss civicness with Professor Mary Kaldor, Director of the Conflict Research Group at the London School of Economics.

Runtime: 21:35

Published Date: 20 April 2022

Episode 2. What is the Justice Archive?

In this episode, Iavor Rangelov discusses the justice archive with Ruti Teitel, the Ernst C. Stiefel Professor of Comparative Law at New York Law School.

Runtime: 21:18

Published Date: 10 April 2023

Episode 3: Who carried out the Afghanistan evacuations?

In this episode, Marika Theros discusses the Afghan evacuations with Ilaha Eli Omar, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Uplift Afghanistan Fund.

Runtime: 29:08

Published Date: 08 September 2023


Here you can learn about our collaborations.


By Iavor Rangelov and Marika Theros, Global Policy Journal, July 2023

This article introduces civic ecosystems as a concept and set of practical approaches to social innovation.