The Civic Society Initiative (CSI), which emerged after the Civic Trust went into administration in April, surveyed societies across the UK. Members said they wish to generate change themselves and be less reactive.
Civic societies want to be more involved in forward planning, campaigning, transport, local schools and business, with a strong desire for a younger profile. They also recognise their negative image. Responses described societies as "fragmented, parochial and unprofessional" and "an organisation for intelligent crumblies".
Planning advice is seen as a priority, with members in the East Midlands and North East wanting guidance on influencing local authorities. This could be distributed through regular briefings and a dedicated website.
The research suggests that a national body with a staff of four backed by a network of volunteers could focus on policy, campaigning, supporting civic societies and marketing. The body would need up to £400,000 a year, with each civic society member levied £3 to ensure its independence. England has more than 1,000 voluntary civic societies with around 250,000 members.
CSI director Tony Burton said: "A revitalised national movement for local civic societies can be in the driving seat of a new politics that respects and responds to community needs and the pride people have in their roots and their identity."