Incubating Civic Leadership film

This film gives an overview of the Incubating Civic Leadership (ICL) research project; it provides a glimpse into the civic leadership initiatives supported on the ground and the learning and impacts produced from the multiple perspectives of the academic and community collaborators.

ICL was a knowledge exchange project, funded through Research England’s Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) allocation to the Open University. It was a collaboration between the Open University, The Glass-House Community Led Design and Knowle West Media Centre. The research project ran from September 2020 until July 2021.

Film produced by Emma Crouch of isayRAAR.

Case studies

Drawing on previous research looking at the community-led design in the context of historic buildings and places of worship, the project produced two case studies to showcase the value of civic leadership and provide inspiration and practical tips to activate civic leadership in local places. The one is focussed on Cemetery Road Baptist Church and the other on the ISRAAC Somali Community Association, both located on Cemetery Road in Sheffield. There is also a short film with key messages combining insights from the two places.

Papers and reports

Mapping Civic Leadership Platforms

The report entitled ‘Mapping Civic Leadership Platforms, Digital Civics and Volunteering in the UK during Covid-19’ provides an overview of the different kinds of digital platforms used during the pandemic, by government, local authorities and community organisations to support civic activity at different scales. It reviews current practices and identifies some key challenges and opportunities for supporting civic leadership through digital tools. The research was conducted during the summer months of 2020 and was funded from the Open University’s Citizenship and Governance Strategic Research Area. The project was led by Katerina Alexiou and Theodore Zamenopoulos at the Open University, with consultant Neil Pye and The Glass-House Community Led Design.

Relevant projects

Empowering Design Practices: historic places of worship as catalysts for connecting communities

Empowering Design Practices was a large £1.5m project funded by AHRC under the Connected Communities and Design Highlight Notice. The project investigated community-led design (CLD) practices in the context of historic places of worship and focussed on the development of new mechanisms and processes to empower communities and to facilitate and evaluate good practice. The project has supported over 50 communities involved in adaptation and maintenance of historic places of worship of different faiths and denominations. In parallel it delivered a training program for design students, professionals and communities in order to build national capacity for research by design.

The project was run as a collaborative partnership between the Open University and The Glass-House Community Led Design with organisations outside the Higher Education sector including Historic England, the Historic Religious Buildings Alliance and National Lottery Heritage Fund. 

Project website:

Scaling up Co-design Research and Practice

This project focused on organisations that support communities through creative co-design activities (including media, technology, product design and place-making). The aim was to identify challenges and opportunities for unleashing and building upon the intrinsic capacities of community-academic partnerships involved in co-design in order to: increase the impact of their practice; extend reach; and make more sustainable and resilient communities. Our core tools were: cross-pollination activities, fostering ambassadors of co-design practice, design hacklabs and online collaborative technologies.

The project was led by OU academics Theodore Zamenopoulos and Katerina Alexiou in collaboration with Prof Andy Dearden, Sheffield Hallam; Dr Basayawan Lam, Brunel University; Prof Ann Light, Northumbria University and Community Partners: The Glass-House Community Led Design, Blackwood Foundation, Fossbox, Flossie, Silent Cities, Voluntary Action Westminster, Hannah Goraya. The project was funded by AHRC under the Connected Communities programme.

Project website: