An experiment in ‘Being Civil Society’

Welcome to the “Being Civil Society” experiment

The aim of the experiment is to define and prototype practices that seek to enable us to collaborate in ways that are beneficial to everyone and to ‘organise’, design organisations and ultimately build a world where all can flourish. The experiment is also intended to prototype the underpinning way of operating of the Civil Society Forum.

We seek to practise ways of working that inspire and enable individuals and also to develop a new generation of ways of organising, ones that are better adapted to serving the needs of all stakeholders.

This is an open experiment to test out a set of organising principles at a small scale, enabling small-scale collaborations between members/participants through what we are calling a Collaborative Cell. It aims to prototype an infrastructure that would enable this to be scaled up to generate more life-enhancing organisational forms, forms that can be used as-is or modified for use in different settings as well as providing the back bone of the ‘operating system’ – or, rather, the DNA and cell structure – of the Civil Society Forum itself.

It will seek to embody practices that embody wholeness at every level drawing from ideas about reinventing organisations and teal principles (as described in Frederic Laloux’s book ‘Reinventing Organizations’ and introduced in video from the RSA), Theory U, complexity theory, spiritual intelligence and ideas on what it is that enables people and other living systems to thrive.

To collaborate on activity within the context of the CSF mission “to bring people together to work out how to address their challenges and opportunities in ways that help build a world where all can flourish”.

Principles or Simple Rules for the experiment

  1. Seek creation of real, life-enhancing value; and also
  2. Seek to enhance the participants’ ‘flow’, i.e. tapping into our full potential; understanding and accessing our best in making our contribution in the world and flourishing in the process. A component of this is being authentic with others and to ourselves and getting practiced in non-violent communication as a vital supporting capability.
  3. Seek smallest (or nearly smallest) viable scope – smallest or nearly smallest possible scope that gives a level of completeness in each component and a reasonable/acceptable exchange of value. This means people can engage in ways which is not more than they can reasonably give and receive when, in a bigger form, it would not otherwise be viable to receive. It enhances flow, by opening the way for real value to flow quickly. And this is encouraging and helps develop our ‘will’ which is a key aim of the cell. It also enables rapid learning and opportunity for rapid adjusting. Through these things it builds resilience in collaboration
  4. Seek balanced exchange of value between the collaborating and effected parties; and, given that real life is not often accurately predictable, seek commitment by all participants to make adjustments to gain a satisfactory balance whatever unfolds. (Drawing on mediation and/or arbitration in support to help and to build everyone’s skills in doing this ourselves.)
  5. Open-handed giving with an abundance mentality – giving in the way nature does; in the way that trees give far more blossom that they need to produce fruit and the rest give animals and insects the gift of food and humans the gift of the beauty. Giving in a spirit of generosity, accepting the need for replenishment of resources to a level that enables sustainability. Where people are able to give without recompense their contribution will nonetheless be recognised and recorded, and efforts made to pay forward the gift for the wider good.
  6. Tracking and transparency of both commitments and the experience – so as to create value for future engagement. This enables others to understand and see the value of previous work and so inform their own decisions on whether and how to get involved, with whom to collaborate, and how to engage in generative engagements themselves (via cells or other engagements in other places). Database of commitments made and delivered gives information on reliability of participants in meeting agreements, thus enabling collaboration based on social agreements and ‘social pressure’ – reputation – (in contrast to legal pressure).

Getting involved

Please do contact us if you are interested in getting involved. In the initial cells we are constraining scope in the initial cells to what things that enable rapid learning, within the resources we have and so enable viability of initiative to move to the next stage. As we progress the intention to become increasingly open in scope. To discuss please email

Focus areas

Focus area 1:
Help people identify areas of activity it would be generative for them to focus on (as individuals).

Generative Interview
To support people to consider and clarify where what would be most useful to them in moving towards accessing their full potential in the areas of interest to them, within the context of the CSF mission (above). Mechanism: Up to 2 hour ‘interview’ drawing on ‘Theory U’ thinking on how to enable deep transformation. Aim to provide support through a) conducting, transcribing and editing interviews and b) funds permitting, in building wider capacity of others to do be able to support others in this way either through formal generative interviews and more informal encouragement and support.

Focus area 2:
Help people identify potentially fruitful areas of activity to collaborate on.

Focus area 3:
Support in scoping a package of activities in a way that meets the criteria for the experiment (see Cell Principles and Simple Rules).
Using mediation techniques when scoping work, so as to encourage mutual understanding and alignment of expectations.

Focus area 4:
Mediation and/or arbitration on value: support in working out comparative value and coming to agreement on a fair exchange.

Focus area 5:
Review and realignment (see Cell Review Guidelines).

Focus area 6:
Support in getting the most out of the opportunity in enabling participants to be and make the change we want to see in the world:
how to maintain each collaborator’s individual passion while structuring their various contributions so that the whole is coherent and of wider value.
clarifying the contribution we want to make and making progress towards it.
helping the participants in using the opportunity to step into their full potential; enhancing the ‘flow’ of participants.
being authentic in our interactions with each other, and ourselves.

The Journey
The initial cells are developing materials needed for their own operation and as guidance to future cells. We now seek to build capacity (human and financial) to invite and support wider engagement in the following ways:

  • Direct support to cells: guidance, facilitation and coaching.
  • Capturing and sharing of learning both for benefit of those directly involved and to advocate the intent and champion building of the capabilities in different contexts on a wider basis.
  • Development of online and offline support materials.

Resourcing the work

We are seeking to raise funds to pay the costs of enabling wider engagement. This will contribute towards the time invested in the following stages of activity:

  1. Generative interview; including setting up call, writing up, review and editing. [4 hours per participant]
  2. Exploration of possible fruitful areas of activity for individual that would work either on a collaborative or mutual support basis. [2-4 hours per participant]
  3. Exploration and pre-scoping of potential collaborations / mutual support activities (potential cells). Identifying and sounding out potential cell members. Potentially including soft systems mapping exercise. [4-12 hours]
  4. Forming and scoping of cells. (Key component: supported scoping workshop, ranging from mediating bilateral exchange between 2 people, to facilitating a multi-party collaborative project. Includes initial estimates of value exchange and could initial mediation on this.) [4-8 hours]
  5. 2 review sessions; including coaching. (Each review comprises 2 parts: part 1 on practical outcomes; part 2 on human outcomes, i.e. helping flow and authenticity of participants. Each part is 2 hours.) [8 hours]
  6. Mediation and arbitration to evaluate contributions and the exchange of value. (Mediation of participants’ respective perceptions of value may take place during scoping.) [4-6 hours]
  7. Co-ordination and administration. Hard to estimate. [2 hours]
  8. Capturing learning; reviewing & editing writeups & evolving support materials [2-4 hours]

Total time for facilitation and support for 3-5 participants ranges from 40-76 hours direct time. In addition, as well as coordinating and administrating within and between the cells, effort is needed to capture the learning, edit and review writeups and to evolve support materials.

Participants will be benefiting but early participants will also be contributing substantially to evolving the process and to producing learning materials for others. Early cells will be therefore be more labour intensive for all. Based on this we seek to raise £3000 to fund a multi-party collaborative cell (including first involvement of participants; the time required would be less where Generative Interviews have already been completed and areas of potentially fruitful activity are already known). We propose that cells be half funded by participants, half from other sources.

The next stage is to develop training workshops, standard formats for cell activities, illustrative case studies and other helpful guidance materials for cells.

To support the work
We would be very grateful for any support in resourcing the initiative, however small. Any advice on covering the costs of the initiative and in providing openings for wider engagement in it would be welcomed. If you are able to donate towards it we would be very grateful. To donate online click here or get in touch to discuss.

Stewardship of funds
Funds will be held and applied in accordance with the organising principles of the Civil Society Forum (, which provide for a holistic appreciation of value, including human, social and natural capital, as well as financial capital and conventional assets; clear mechanisms of mediation and arbitration in evaluating contributions; and complete transparency concerning the flow of value.

Note on underlying principles of CSF contributions
Everyone’s first contribution in the Civil Society Forum is gift. By gift we mean giving abundantly of what we have in an open-handed way – in the way that trees give far more blossom that they need to produce fruit and the rest give animals and insects the gift of food and humans the gift of the beauty. Everyone’s first input of time is to be given freely, without payment. A portion of contribution thereafter is to be on this basis. Everything to be given in a spirit of generosity, accepting the need for replenishment of resources to a level that enables sustainability. Where people are able to give without recompense their contribution will nonetheless be recognised and recorded, and efforts made to pay forward the gift for wider good.

The eventual intention is to evolve a self-organising, self-replenishing network of cells.

The initiators

The experiment has been initiated and designed by Esther Ridsdale and Christopher Wray. Esther did initial cell design work in 2013 and picked up again and started working on this in a team with Christopher in 2015. Click here for their bios.

To Find Out More
Do email ( to find out more about the experiment and how you might be able to participate.

See article ‘Beyond the Gentleman’s Agreement‘ about the Experiment and the Event run as part of the Festival of Human Organising.

A followup meeting on the experiment has been pencilled in for Saturday 23rd July in London. See events page for details as they emerge or email to be kept informed.

To donate click here or get in touch to discuss.
Any advice on promoting, resources and gaining wider engagement wider engagement would also be welcomed.