Read more about Community21 and our approach


Community21 is a research led social and sustainable design group that explores issues and opportunities that face society in the 21st century - hence the 21!

It is community of practice (COP) which uses collaborative research to co-design and co-produce tools and making methods to support social and sustainable development.

Our approach to research in collaboration

Community21 considers how the collaborative design (co-design) of tools and methods might support community engagement, sustainable development and resilience.

We have co-created projects that have engaged with topics such as (not exhaustive) waste and 'virtuous' circular economies, revaluing the cultural and social value of waste, community engagement and facilitation tools for neighbourhood, grass-roots, community-led planning, fuel poverty, water sustainability and community energy production, intergenerational interaction and community cohesion, youth engagement and citizenship, neighbourhood design, health, well-being and resilience in social care.

This research is undertaken by a team of design and community focused researchers in collaboration with real communities and community facing organisations, including charities, governing bodies, corporate brands and NGOs.

What do we mean by research?

A co-design and development model
Co-design workshop
Students and community members working together

We might think of research as a process of investigation leading new insights that are effectively shared (HEFCE). The issues and opportunities we investigate and the research questions we respond to are identified by communities, industrial and development organisations in collaboration with university based researchers. This aims to ensure that we jointly develop understanding and knowledge that is of practical value and relevance to those who might benefit from it.

We share our insights by making tools and methods openly available for use here on the Community21 website. We also continue to apply, evaluate and develop them through delivery partners. We also publish the results of our research through academic papers in journals and conferences and through exhibitions and workshops.

What do we mean by community?

Community21 works with the idea that community is an entity that we can each identify in our own way. Community can be as much a felt sense as literal thing. Community can be about a place but is usually about relationships between people. Regardless of whether our communities are geographic and related to place or digital (like online social networks), they probably all have perceivable boarders, fringes or edges.

Community21 considers that within this space we individually and collectively have the potential to have a significant influence on the community and can make substantial, positive and tangible change. Despite the size of the topic or issues that face us – within our communities we can be empowered to sustain vibrant and resilient communities. Our research seeks to enhance this opportunity and amplify the value of collective action and collaboration within the scale of 'community'.

Sustainability and resilience?

As an initiative, Community21 originated from a project that considered how we might develop geographic communities (towns, cities and villages) to be more sustainable or resilient. One definition of sustainable development is meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (IISD 2013). Resilience can also have different definitions but one we like is the ability of community members to take meaningful, deliberate, collective action to remedy the impact of a problem, including the ability to interpret the environment, intervene, and move on (Pfefferbaum 2005).

Sustainability is a huge, complex issue or set of issues, which individually we can often feel dis-empowered to do anything about. By working within the scale of ‘community’ we have a meaningful impact and can create tangible benefits. By empowering communities using different tools and methods and by connecting them together Community21 aims to create an inter-community network of knowledge, peer learning and positive action.

This video from 2014 talks about the origins of Community21 and some of what we do – it was a talk presented by Nick (co-founder) to a group of about 60 academics, community practitioners, service providers and community members in Galway in Ireland.

If you are interested in this research – please get in touch.


Nick speaking about Community21 to community researchers and stakeholders at National University Ireland

Community21 researchers and partners present our research findings via seminars, workshops as well peer-reviewed papers and of course through this website and the associated tools (outputs).

Recent papers and events we have presented peer-reviewed research at include:

'Crossing Divides' co-designing ‘tech-tools’ for enabling intergenerational exchange and youth engagement in neighbourhood planning. 4th International Conference on the Geographies of Children, Youth and Families, San-Diego, USA. Gant, N. Duggan, K.2015.

‘Digi-tool’ archiving of the future community. Arts and Humanities Research Council, Connected Communities - Pararchive Conference, Leeds, UK. Gant, N. 2015.

'Encouraging ‘young digital citizenship’ through co-designed, hybrid digi-tools. Research Through Design Conference, Microsoft HQ, UK. Gant, N. Duggan, K. Dean, T. Barnes, J. 2015.

Invitation to present Community21 and youth engagement activities to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

Community21 – ‘Digi-tools’ for the co-design of communities. Design, Social Media and Technology to Foster Civic Self-Organisation, Hasselt, Belgium. Gant, N.2015.

'Designing Resilience' co-design workshop - University of Brighton. 2015.

Authored book chapter; Gant, N. Balneve, J. Adeyeye,K. 'Greening the Green - Community Water Sustainability in the Era of Localism - Whiley Press 2014.

'Co-Creating and Designing Culture and Sustainability: Innovations in Community Mapping from Europe, Canada and Indigenous Peoples', 6th Living Knowledge Conference, Copenhagen, Denmark.Lydon, M. & Gant, N. & Keller, P. & Cronin, N. 2014

Community 'digi-tools' workshop with academics and community members, National University of Ireland 2014.

Workshop presentation 'Visualising Engagement and Sustainability' at Engage Conference, Bristol 2013.

Seminar paper Gant, N. 'Community21 case study', ESRC Seminar Series: Digital Policy: Connectivity, Creativity and Rights 2013.

'Enabling communities as the new planners and architects of their neighbourhoods' at the UK and Ireland Neighbourhood Planning Conference 2012.

Presentation by Invitation of Community21 and Future Village project at the Rural Commission. 2011.

Skip to:

  • Our approach to research in collaboration
  • What do we mean by research?
  • What do we mean by community?
  • Sustainability and resilience?
  • Dissemination

An overview of Community21

Community21 as a creative agency is also a community of practice consisting of creative researchers and stakeholder organisations addressing issues of the 21st Century (hence the 21!)

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Who are we then?

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Community21's toolkit

Practical tools co-designed by communities for communities that engage with a range of 'bottom-up' defined topics

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