Neighbourhood Economics Lab

Experimenting with the Doughnut
An organisation connecting neighbourhood-scale actions and aspirations with planetary-scale challenges through creative engagement, reimagining possibilities, and building new systems


Conventional economic theory and practice are untenable because they ignore planetary boundaries, neglect social needs, and are confined to outdated ideas of financial growth. Despite this predicament, and in resistance to it, how might community groups working together on the neighbourhood scale not only provide for themselves and each other, but also create new systems that are generous, pluralist, non-dogmatic, and inclusive by design?  


Such was the question that the urban co-production lab, Impact Hub Birmingham, asked in a project running from 2015-2020, from which the community group Civic Square emerged. Drawing from the British economist Kate Raworth’s 2017 book, Doughnut Economics, Civic Square envisioned a “civic infrastructure for the future, places built and owned by people actively working on them, and a truly participatory culture”.1‘The Final Year’, CIVIC SQUARE BIRMINGHAM CIC <> [accessed 5 October 2022].

To realise this vision, Civic Square focused attention on one neighbourhood: Ladywood in Birmingham, England. Neighbourhoods offer a scale to make sense of social justice and climate breakdown in a way that links spheres of everyday life, systemic issues, and alternative futures. Civic Square refer to these spheres as: Ordinary Matter, the physical and social infrastructure of connection “that we can touch and feel in our daily lives”2CIVIC SQUARE, ‘Renegade Economists Assemble’ DEAL <> [accessed 5 October 2022].; Dark Matter, the structures of ownership, regulation, and finance governing action; and Dream Matter, the creative, extraordinary but also possible visions of futures that are at the heart of its transitional programme.3CIVIC SQUARE, ‘Neighbourhood Doughnut Digital Launch’, 7 December 2022 <> [accessed 7 December 2022].

Civic Square initiated collaborations with both Raworth’s Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL) and Dark Matter Labs, a design and development agency working in response to climate breakdown. Using their combined expertise in economics, public policy, architecture, organising, education, and more, the collaboration developed several neighbourhood-scale social infrastructure projects that foreground collectivity and mutual support.2 Collectivity requires creating physical spaces for coming together and, perhaps more importantly, tools for peer-to-peer learning that allow genuine co-production, not just participation. Civic Square’s collective co-production projects have included after-school workshops to help young people articulate visions for their neighbourhood rooted in climate action; weekly community garden events and walkshops; and portrait workshops that use physical and digital canvases on which people visualise their neighbourhood and its needs. Civic Square describes this varied set of approaches as avoiding 

“dictating strict courses of action in hugely troubled and transitory times, but instead creating a set of interconnected frameworks and applying them in unique, creative, and contextually-relevant ways that are openly available to be adapted, improved, pulled apart, reapplied, and spread quickly, working in a constant state of beta”4‘CIVIC SQUARE (2020—2030)’ CIVIC SQUARE BIRMINGHAM CIC <> [accessed 5 October 2022]. 

Despite its commitment to the local, Civic Square recognises that neighbourhoods are connected with larger systems and structures, and that its actions in Ladywood have the potential to inspire and inform elsewhere – especially since it shares its resources online as creative commons and open source material. Putting Doughnut Economics into action, Civic Square transitions “from divisive and degenerative by default, to distributive and regenerative by design”.5Kate Raworth, Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist (London: Penguin, 2017). Their design is both imaginative and achievable. As Raworth put it: 

“I wrote a little quote about the power of the pencil – and then Civic Square grabbed the pencil and started literally redrawing the world.”6Zahra Davidson, ‘Co-designing learning journeys for Neighbourhood Economists, with CIVIC SQUARE’, Huddlecraft, 7 December 2021 <> [accessed 5 October 2022].


External links

Civic Square—grew out of Impact Hub Birmingham [no longer active]. Read more about closing Impact Hub Birmingham here 

Kate Raworth’s own agency Doughnut Economics Action Lab—close collaborators undertaking a series of interconnected research projects including working with local authorities on implementing doughnut economics principles 

Dark Matter Labs—also long-term collaborators using a data-driven and systems analysis approach to complex problems via root cause analysis