This is an archived version of
Resources | Civic Europe

Mapping 'civic deserts'

How exploring Europe´s peripheries can inspire ways of improving civic life

For the past three years, our team has been working in several peripheral areas in Europe, referred to as ‘civic deserts’ – a term that describes those places perceived as offering few to no opportunities to actively participate in and learn about civic life, mainly because of deficient civic infrastructure and low civic literacy.

Desk research and anecdotal evidence from semi-structured expert interviews lead us to four such regions: the Severozapaden region in Bulgaria, the Eszak Magyarorszag and Eszak Alfold regions in Hungary, the Podlasie region in Poland, and the Sud Muntenia region in Romania. We also discovered that civic life in these rural regions differs from civic life in capitals and big cities, as do the challenges that civic actors are facing. And while a lot of attention is being paid to civil society on the national level and in large urban centers, little attention, resources, and research are being devoted to civil society on the local level.

We decided to organize our capacity building programs there as these were the areas where civic life needed the biggest boost. But since there is little research available on the state of civil society and the civic competences and attitudes of the local communities, we initiated a mapping to address this gap and to inform the capacity building activities of Civic Europe. We were able to reach 183 local civic actors from the four regions who filled in an online questionnaire survey that was enquiring into the environment in which they operate, their civic work, as well as their organizational capacities and needs.


By Julia Hoffmann


The results not only helped inform our work but also gave us insights into the local civic context and allowed us to formulate recommendations, relevant to civil society in general, philanthropies, researchers, policy-makers and media.

The key findings and recommendations are available in the report “From ‘civic deserts’ to civic cohesion”.
Detailed data for the four regions, including interactive maps of the local actors, and the methodology are also available on the mapping website.
This introductory video gives a short overview of the whole process and key terms.
Last but not least, we’d be happy to send a paper copy of the report so if you would like to receive one, let us know here.


None of this would have been possible without our partners and the support of various organizations and individuals. We would like to thank everyone who took the time to fill out the mapping questionnaire. We would also like to thank the Stiftung Mercator for supporting the Civic Europe program and thereby the mapping of so-called civic deserts. We thank the Civic Europe program’s team in Germany and cooperation partners in Hungary, Poland, and Romania for all their support in providing valuable feedback on the survey design and contacts in the target regions, as well as the rest of the team at the Sofia Platform Foundation. We are grateful to Alexandra Stef, Mihaita Lupu, Ruxandra Pop, the team at Global Metrics, as well as the team at the Tisch College’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) of Tufts University for their valuable insights and feedback. We thank everyone who shared their experiences in our interviews and workshop. We are grateful to the local phone operators in Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, and Romania who followed up with the participants in our questionnaire. We thank Georgi Totev from Lens2Lens for the creation of the introductory video to this report, available at And last but not least, we would like to give a big thank you to Razvan Zamfira and the team at Studio Interrobang for their support, data collection, analysis, and visualization, and for setting up of