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Capacity Building

WANTED: Agents of change in Central and Eastern Europe outside the big cities

Mapping four regions in Central and Eastern Europe to give visibility to local actors.
by Civic Europe on Feb. 25, 2021
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Picture: © Gabriele Schlipf. Visualization by a graphic recorder during our lunch with ideas on ‘civic deserts’ at NECE CAMPUS 2020.

Making local agents of change visible

Sofia Platform Foundation’s team as partner in Civic Europe is launching a mapping of the local civic context & actors in four so-called civic desert regions in Central and Eastern Europe. The mapping will help us identify the biggest opportunities and threats to civil society in those regions, the relationships between actors and the potential for more cooperation. It is based on a questionnaire in the local language looking into three main areas: organizational capacities, the local environment, and network.

The results will be analyzed in a recommendations paper and will be visualized in an interactive online map. It will demonstrate the relationships in civil society by giving visibility to local actors. The research will help inform the activities of Civic Europe, as the mapped regions are where our capacity building programs are taking place, but also the work of large international and national civil society organizations, philanthropic initiatives, networks, researchers and academia. Examples of similar network maps can be found here and here.

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Picture: ©Gabriele Schlipf. Visualization by a graphic recorder during our lunch with ideas on ‘civic deserts’ at NECE CAMPUS 2020.


In our capacity building programs so far we have focused predominantly on four regions in Central and Eastern Europe, understood as so-called civic deserts: Northern Hungary, Southern Romania, North-West Bulgaria and North-East Poland (the Podlaskie region). The term civic desert was initially coined by a team of researchers in the U.S., which looked into areas where traditional forms of participation have disappeared but have not been yet replaced by new forms of participation, leaving these areas with little to no opportunities for engagement. The term was not framed in order to judge, but rather to flag a problem that is not on the radar of philanthropies, researchers or journalists. In the European context we have found these to be places perceived as having few to no opportunities to participate in civic life because of:

  • deficient civic infrastructure (weak civil society, very few or no actual physical spaces where people would come together as a community, very few or no community centers, libraries, museums, schools, low mobility of the local population, etc.),
  • low civic literacy (citizens do not perceive themselves as civic actors, they do not feel that anything depends on them, they lack the motivation, but often times also the knowledge and skills to actively participate in their communities).
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Picture: © Gabriele Schlipf. Visualization by a graphic recorder during our lunch with ideas on ‘civic deserts’ at NECE CAMPUS 2020.


Currently, there is hardly any research available about the so-called civic deserts. The poor understanding about civic life there leads to lack of attention or resources for what would be mostly needed to give civic life a boost. Moreover, such regions can often hold other civic assets that are simply not recognized by the traditional framework that studies civic life. And so, the team is motivated to look deeper into the local reality and to give visibility to local agents of change – as those so-called civic deserts might not be so deserted after all.

If you are from one of these areas, do civic work and want to participate in the mapping, get in touch with the team in charge at
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