Civic Exchange is an independent Hong Kong-based public policy think tank that was established in September 2000. It is a company with limited liability and a registered charity in Hong Kong. Its mission is to:
(1) Promote civic education amongst members of the community and for such purpose to conduct research and publicise the results so as to provide objective and balanced information to the public concerning economic, social and environmental issues; and
(2) Undertake research on development of economic, social and political policies and practices to help shape the breadth and depth of public policy debate and so to provide well-founded and reasoned argument on the issues identified above.
What We Are
Inventing A Cooperative Social Enterprise
Every organisation needs a business concept. Civic Exchange’s concept is to create a think tank that can add intellectual capital using a cooperative structure.
The idea of a cooperative social enterprise is new for Hong Kong. In traditional commercial enterprises, the motive is financial return. In a cooperative social enterprise, the motivation is to meet social needs. Civic Exchange is a network of people working together for common goals through the structure of an enterprise.
In 2000, we started working before we had the finances sorted out for Civic Exchange. Indeed, on day one, the co-founders had the concept, a wealth of knowledge, a wide social network of contacts, but little financial capital. Things would have become bogged down if we had looked at things from the financial end first rather than from the work that we wanted to do. It was like starting our journey on a small path that we felt comfortable with before branching out onto the main road. Using commonsense and intuition was essential to keep walking forward.
The idea of a cooperative reflects our desire for people to work together to promote social change. We respect individual ability and believe in its multiplication through working with each other. We want to run an equitable organization, where the benefits produced are fairly distributed. We want decisions to be taken democratically. We believe that we need to remain open-minded and flexible at all times so as to be sensitive to social needs as well as to new ideas.
What We Do
“Thinking”, Research & Dialogue
As a public policy think tank, much of our work is thinking about public policies and how we can help to make sense of complex issues and find better solutions to challenges and problems.
We would like our research papers to help reframe policy debates and help policy makers make the right choices by providing the tools and information they need. Very often, it is important and useful to be able to provide solid background information on specific subjects for general and stakeholder groups so that they could have in one place a comprehensive document about the issue at hand. From that base, it becomes possible to introduce alternative perspectives and solutions. While much of our effort is on original research, we also synthesize other people’s good ideas since there is no need to reinvent the wheel each time. We look for worldwide examples to find good ideas, which may be adapted for local and regional conditions.
We also integrate stakeholder-learning as well as consensus-building workshops as part of our “thinking”, research and dialogue process since it is vital to leverage everyone’s ability to make better choices. These processes also help people to focus and reflect on the most critical issues.
For social change to take place, we need to operate on many levels. Whilst our research papers and workshops are important, it is also essential to be able to put ideas directly to decision-makers in the public and private sectors. Our influence comes through long cultivated connections with public sector officials, politicians, business leaders, NGOs, educators and decision-makers in other fields.
Our strategy is to influence them directly. We have provided private briefings to them as well as to leaders on the international stage. Our work and activities are designed to produce multiple results. Firstly, they enable us to see how things work, or don’t work, in practice, which enables us to give better policy advice on how to do things better. Secondly, the way we design our research projects give us opportunities to work with many organizations, which is an effective way of influencing them. Thirdly, they are excellent public education projects in themselves.
We are often invited to create dialogue processes for specific issues as well as sectors. We apply a set of skills, which we call ‘Sustainability Tools’ designed to enhance communication. Those who wish to involve us understand our mission and strengths and wish to involve us in developing private and public dialogue processes or to use us to generate new ideas for change. These experiences help us enormously to refine our ideas and methodologies. Indeed, they have helped to spark new ones on several occasions.
Civic Exchange has designed and facilitated multistakeholder dialogue processes on transport, urban design, conservation, sustainable development, and competition issues, and has worked with many sectors focussing on specific matters.
We use our research and projects to educate and outreach to a wider audience. A project aimed at decision makers could be simplified and re-packaged for students. For example, Civic Exchange has produced numreous pamphlets on a variety of issues for general distribution.
Student Internship Programme
We have an active student interns programme. We welcome local students as well as those from overseas. We encourage our interns to take up a piece of research that interests them and we act as their supervisors. Their finished work is then published on our website in a section devoted to the interns’ work. We have had some incredible bright, positive and energetic young folks with us during the first year.
Thinkers, researchers and facilitators of Civic Exchange work independently and communicate mainly via the use of modern telecommunication means. They do not have to share the same work space and work the same office hours. Civic Exchange’s office is more like a clubhouse for people to meet to exchange ideas and share experiences. The wireless system enables anyone to go there and plug-in to work.