Meaningful, organic conversations, open to all.

Our Open Space events

To find out what our regional community wants from UEA, we have toured East Anglia collecting opinions and ideas using a participatory method called 'Open Space'. The findings from these events have been distilled to form UEA's Civic Charter, a statement of values, principles and promise, to guide our work going forward.

Open Space is a democratic, participatory method of holding meetings and conferences, that allows attendees to set the agenda and offers each participant equal opportunity to make their voice heard. The format is simple, yet it takes away hierarchical structures found in traditional meetings which empowers participants to speak confidently and honestly, inspiring creative and collaborative discussions. Open Space is designed to empower all participants to share their thoughts regardless of job description or demographic, giving people ownership of what’s being discussed which makes the developments that come out of the meeting much more impactful to the organisation and its stakeholders. 

We also used the Polis online tool to gather open ended feedback from large groups of people. It is well suited to gathering organic, authentic feedback while retaining minority opinions.

Ipswich Civic Uni Open Space Event

Previous events

You can read about our previous events below.

Venue : Kings Centre Norwich

On Wednesday 8th March Civic UEA and Climate UEA held an open space event at the Kings Centre in Norwich city centre. The event explored the question “What is the role of a civic university in the context of the climate emergency?” The event attracted a diverse group of enthusiastic participants, encompassing members of the local community, UEA staff and students, with an interest and curiosity in the overarching question for the day. The collaborative bottom-up, agenda-setting process produced a broad spectrum of ideas that were discussed over the course of the afternoon, and the ensuing conversations raised a wide variety of ideas and discussion points, creating an energised, inspiring and hopeful atmosphere in which all views were welcomed. All the conversations from this and our previous open space events have been captured in a series of ‘books’ and will formulate the basis of the updated UEA Charter, which will be open for signatories in October 2023.

The open space event was followed by an evening -reception at nearby Dragon Hall, with a presentation from the team behind A Climate Mural For Our Times. Eco-artist Gennadiy Ivanov along with researchers from ENV, spoke about the climate mural Gennadiy has created, which is permanently displayed in City Hall was co-created to mark the 50th anniversary of the Climatic Research Unit. Attendees were able to view reproductions of the mural and other examples of Gennadiy’s work on climate change and coastal erosion.

Venue: King’s Centre, Norwich

Event poster

This event, in partnership with National Centre for Writing and Norwich University of Arts, attracted a diverse range of more than 60 participants, ranging from academics, to freelance creative practitioners, to local authority representatives, all brought together by their opinions around the topic ‘how can higher education work in partnership with the cultural sector to ensure that creativity flourishes in East Anglia?’.

The collaborative agenda setting process raised a broad spectrum of ideas to be discussed over the course of the afternoon, and emphasised the many ways in which creativity impacts every area of our lives, fostering a vibrant and inspiring atmosphere throughout. The afternoon ended with a drinks reception at the beautiful nearby heritage building, Dragon Hall, home to event partner National Centre for Writing.

Key Themes

  • Equality, inclusivity and improving accessibility to the creative industries
  • Communication, conversation and connection
  • Utilising resources and knowledge in HE to benefit creative communities
  • The role of the arts in the context of the environmental crisis

Venue: Waterfront Building, University of Suffolk

This event at University of Suffolk’s Waterfront building on 21 October was attended by members of the region’s business community, who were keen to share their ideas on the theme ‘How can universities collaborate with businesses in East Anglia to better meet regional needs?’. While the topics discussed spanned a variety of areas, the consensus was that open communication – across institutions, businesses and communities – is paramount, something that is central to the ethos at the centre of our Open Space events.

Key Themes

  • Improving the perceptions of the region as a hub for innovation;
  • Opening channels of communication between universities, businesses and community groups to provide mutually beneficial opportunities;
  • Utilising university and business facilities and skills to benefit the community.

Venue: Norfolk Showground

The Civic University team was at the Royal Norfolk Show 2022, asking what our university could mean for the East Anglian region in the next 60 years? What could UEA be doing more of for people, businesses, and communities? The team hosted an online interactive opinion poll with Polis to allow visitors to the show to have their say as well as a poll in a jar to vote on what UEA should be doing more to actively promote – ‘Culture’, ‘Education’, ‘Sustainability’ or ‘Health and Wellbeing’.

Civic University in Great Yarmouth


Venue: UEA Campus

The day started with an introductory talk followed by the agenda setting process. We started with a blank slate and the attendees set the agenda, picking the topics for the three discussion sessions that followed. The event ended mid-afternoon with a full-group plenary circle. 

All topics discussed during the day were decided during the agenda setting process, and we had a full programme of 23 conversations, underpinned with a buzzy atmosphere and intense, productive debates. Throughout the event, there was food and conviviality. There was also a determination to take the spirit, and principles generated in the room, out of the room and into the daily activities of the university in a genuine way. 

This was reflected in the concluding thoughts articulated in the plenary circle:  UEA needs to make a long-term commitment to the project and that civic action is only meaningful if it is about long-term partnerships and outlooks. Within these general principles we discovered some overarching themes that we have used to group discussions together although conversations can span different themes. These themes are: 

  • Accessibility and Inclusion 
  • Decolonisation 
  • Deepening Links with Local Community 
  • Changing University Structures 
  • New and Improved Student Services

Venue: The Drill House

We had 71 participants at the Great Yarmouth Civic University Project event which took place on the 30th April, 2022. This event was full of engaged, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable Great Yarmouth residents who talked to attending UEA staff and students. There emerged a few key clear themes from the day, and it is obvious that UEA needs to put more work into civic activity for the whole region rather than concentrating efforts on just the Norwich area.

Key Themes:

  • Sharing Knowledge and bringing UEA out into the local area (outside of Norwich).
  • Improving Diversity in our local region.
  • Community Future and taking community concern and community future into mind.

Next Steps

  • Better promotion for UEA’s outreach work so they know what’s being done currently and can suggest effective improvements.
  • UEA to hold more events like Open Space in order to listen to local community voices more and consider their views.
  • To live in a region which is proud of itself and well-connected to the university as well as each other.

Venue: Kings Centre

Our first open space event was held in Norwich 27 November 2021. Here are the key topics participants discussed wanting to be the point of UEA’s civic focus.


Participants highlighted the need for more university resources in the local community and how we could use them to benefit local life civically – one job for our team now is to help people understand university income streams and where and how its money is spent so that we can collaborate effectively with our local people!

Inequality issues

Participants also discussed what civic could mean for racial and gender issues, and inequalities linked to place, social class and educational attainment (and the crossovers between them).

Place bias

Another key theme was asking: how can we make future civic activity less Norwich centric? This leads to questions such as what space is there for the local community in further-afield areas to come and share their ideas with UEA? Setting this up is vital in order to carry out continuous, useful civic activity throughout the whole of the region rather than just in Norwich.


Finally, it was highlighted that a key area UEA could be more focused on, in terms of civic activity, was increasing safety within the local community.

This covered ongoing struggles with COVID-19, women’s safety, and people from minority backgrounds. How could a civic agreement benefit these groups of people who face safety threats?


UEA has a lot it could be doing in the local community. Although we are already highly involved, listening to what local people want from us has given us a clearer vision for future activity. The more we listen to our people and place, the more useful we can be to them as an anchor institution.


If you're from the Norfolk/Suffolk region and would like to share your ideas with us on how UEA’s civic activity could benefit you and your local area, register your interest for one of our upcoming open space events.


The purpose of this event was to share how anchor institutions were being used to create social and economic value in localities such as Preston and Wigan, show what work was already being done in this area at Norwich City Council, and gauge interest in establishing or exploring an anchor institutions network across the city. It was arranged by the Norwich Good Economy Commission Norwich, with speakers from the Centre for Local Economic Strategy, Wigan Council and Norwich City Council. Catherine Waddams, Professor Emeritus at UEA, chaired the event.


Welcome to our open space.

All our events are held using the open space meeting method.

This is a form of meeting where the agenda is set collaboratively and the outcomes are all recorded organically and instantly.

Our animation shows you how it all works.


To gather our community’s ideas on what 'civic' could mean to them, we use the open space meeting method.

Gathering participants into a circle, we give the group a question to answer together.

The question for the events are: “What could a civic university mean for you and your community?”

Next, the community sets an agenda by coming up with all the topics and questions that they want to discuss at the event. This means that nothing is decided in advance and every topic to be discussed has been provided by one of the participants.  

Once the agenda is set by the circle, talking groups come together to hold their discussions around each question, and these discussions are written up live on a big projector screen and saved as a record of the event.  

The open space is governed by one overall law: if a participant feels they aren’t learning in their discussion group, they should move somewhere they can. 

Open space meetings have four rules which are used to do run the event:

  1. whoever attends are the right people
  2. whenever it starts is the right time
  3. whatever happens happens
  4. when it’s over, it’s over.  

Participants must be prepared to be surprised! 

After all the topics have been discussed, we regroup into a plenary circle and share concluding thoughts and feelings on the event.

Open space meetings bring participants together through this shared, friendly and democratic experience.