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Citizenship Survey releases its latest figures

Yesterday the Citizenship Survey released figures for the year 2010-11.

The survey shows a slight drop in formal volunteering: 39% of people formally volunteered at least once in the last year compared to 40% for the year 2009-10. Interestingly though, the level of formal volunteering  in 2010-11 is now identical to what it was in 2001.

In 2010-11, 34% engaged in civic participation at least once year. The level of civic participation is unchanged on 2009-10 but lower than in any year before then (between 38% and 39%).

Unfortunately, this is the last edition of the survey so we won’t be able to see how the trend evolves.


Encouraging participation: the role of community-based organisations

Community Matters have  produced a new report  Encouraging participation: the role of community-based organisations  that explores the difference multi-purpose community organisations make to formal and informal political participation in their neighbourhoods. It summarises the findings of an 18 month community research project led by IVAR (Institute for Voluntary Action Research) in collaboration with several volunteer community researchers who were based in seven case study organisations.

Rather than just looking at political participation per se, we were delighted to see that the project had adopted the three categories of participation in our literature review (social participation, public participation and individual participation) to capture the full contribution of multi-purpose organisations to community life, social action and political self-confidence. 

The report “suggests it may not always be helpful to divide community activities into ‘political’ and ‘non-political’ types or suggest a hierarchical ladder towards participation. The experiences highlighted in this research indicate that groups which may appear as purely social or leisure in nature can play a vital role in shaping a community’s potential and actual political influence. The experiences highlighted in this research indicate that groups which may appear as purely social or leisure in nature can play a vital role in shaping a community’s potential and actual political influence.”

The findings from the Pathways project which will be made available in September will confirm some of the report’s key messages: many of our interviewees highlighted the importance of multi-purpose hubs in providing spaces for groups to meet, fostering interaction between groups, supporting neighbourhood-level social networks, and linking different organisations and activities.

Measuring active citizenship

The RSA has recently published – ‘The Civic Pulse’ - a report that takes the first steps towards developing a new model for measuring active citizenship, or more specifically ‘the presence or absence of key mechanisms and social assets driving participation’. With our focus on exploring ‘what creates and sustains active citizenship’, I am very interested in the development of this model.

The authors of the report identify that in the current policy, social and economic contexts, and with the loss of the Citizenship and Place Surveys, ‘…local policymakers need a new way of measuring active citizenship which can identify both “civic assets” as well as areas of “civic need” within communities, and which can be used to fashion appropriate interventions to stimulate levels of participation.’

The Civic Pulse model is based on a meta-theory of Republican Liberalism which ‘considers active citizenship to be a social right and civic obligation’ placing ‘particular emphasis on developing the ability of people to shape their own lives and the life of their communities and public institutions.’

The authors draw upon previous measurement models (including WARM, The Vitality Index, CLEAR and The Citizen Audit) to establish four principles for the Civic Pulse model; it must:

  • ‘Get beyond satisfaction and opinions’;
  • ‘Measure subjective drivers of active citizenship behaviour’;
  • ‘Measure more nuanced drivers of active citizenship’; and
  • ‘Look at social assets, not just deficits’.

And they identify three groups of models of participation from which they establish key drivers of active citizenship:

  • Structural models, which emphasise the ‘social norms and resources people have’;
  • Choice models, which consider the ‘informed choices people make’; and
  • Capacity models, which highlight people’s personal skills, knowledge and attitudes.

Based on these principles, models and drivers they establish a framework with five dimensions:

  • ‘Know-how’, including skills and knowledge;
  • ‘Attitudes’, including other-regarding and resilience and wellbeing;
  • ‘Relations’, including horizontal and vertical;
  • ‘Institutions’, including local groups, local services, and the local authority; and
  • ‘Resources’, including income, wealth and education.

Our findings from Pathways through Participation (which will be published in September) support the importance of all of these dimensions to if and how people participate, from intrinsic motivations (including altruism, self-interest and reciprocity) and resources (including skills, knowledge and confidence) to extrinsic resources (including relationships and social networks) and opportunities (including groups and organisations, and local environment and place). The Civic Pulse looks to be a good step towards measuring active citizenship.

Participation and social networks

The RSA recently published another report in their Connected Communities series – ‘Power Lines’ – exploring: ‘How social networks power and sustain the Big Society’. My colleague Sarah wrote a post on the original paper back in September, which argued ‘that deeper and more sophisticated knowledge of social networks in local areas can lead to more strategic and effective interventions to address local problems.’

Social networks are emerging from our research as critical to shaping individuals and the resources and opportunities they have to participate. The RSA’s latest paper has some thought provoking findings that link very closely in places to our work.

‘Power Lines’ is based on an analysis of social networks in New Cross Gate in south London. A selection of the key findings included:

  • ‘Those with fewer local connections in general were more likely to be isolated from local influence’;
  • ‘Being retired, unemployed, and living in certain areas, all made it more likely that people would be disconnected from local influence’;
  • ‘Even within the relatively small area [there was] considerable variation. Some areas had much denser social networks than others’;
  • ‘Poorly connected areas are characterised by a few very well connected individuals, and many poorly connected people. Well-connected neighbourhoods are composed of individuals who have similar amounts of connections as others’;
  • ‘Community networks are resilient when they have numerous connections both internally and externally’.

The report’s overarching argument is that the government’s current approach to the Big Society is focused too much on ‘citizen-led service delivery’ and not enough on ‘utilising and building people’s social networks’. These social networks – the authors argue – ‘largely determine our ability to create change and influence decisions that affect us’.

They suggest that participation is often defined too narrowly, focusing on ‘so-called “active” citizens’, who are regularly engaged in public participation and are often regarded as the ‘vision of what it is to be empowered and to have influence’.  Rather, the authors argue that in order to increase individuals’ access to local power, the focus ‘must first be on fostering overall social connections and neighbourliness’.

This argument, I feel, fits well with both the approach of our research and our findings. It suggests that rather than focusing on trying to increase participation in narrowly defined activities, we must take a step back and look from the perspective of individuals at the factors and forces that shape participation as a whole, of which social networks are a key part. Then, by focusing on building these resources and opportunities, we can begin to empower citizens to feel able to participate – if and where they wish to – and to feel that their involvement will make a difference.

Pathways researcher blogs for Guardian on Giving White Paper

The Guardian Voluntary Sector Network is a great online resource for people who have an interest in the voluntary sector. It offers advice, opinion, a regular online ‘ask the expert’ Q&A session and promotes events. After reading the recent Giving White Paper, I wrote a short article for the Network to share some thoughts about how the white paper misses a trick in failing to make a clear case for why people should give their time and money. I also discuss why micro-volunteering is a great idea, but is unlikely to result in the step change in volunteering that the Government is hoping to see. If you’d like to have a read, it’s available here.

Government publishes its long-awaited White Paper on giving

The White Paper which was released earlier this week announces a range of measures designed to encourage the giving of both time and money and includes: a Social Action Fund and Challenge Prizes around volunteering; a Giving Summit in late autumn 2011; £30m for a Local Infrastructure Fund in order to encourage more effective support for frontline civil society organisations; and a year-long national payroll giving campaign.

Philanthropy UK offers a useful round-up of reactions to the initiatives in the Paper, including from organisations such as the Centre for Giving and Philanthropy (CGAP) and Charities Aid Foundation (CAF). Also worth reading is the blog post  White Giving Paper: good ideas but no game changers by James Allen, Policy Manager, at NCVO:

“The White Paper is full of ideas, many of them good ones, but none of them are really “game changers”. Cashpoint giving, for example, has potential. Opening up mobile technology to giving is important too. Also in the white paper is a progress report on important, though not headline grabbing, initiatives around making the Gift Aid system work better and cutting some of the red tape that presents barriers to many charities. Government is to be commended for its taking up of NCVO’s Funding Commission recommendation on the need to support the sector in investing in and modernising its own support mechanisms – this money is important and will make a difference. There is a gap, however, between the desire to see a new culture of giving and the proposed mechanisms to achieve it…”

To read the full post.

Unshackling good neighbours

The Big Society Red Tape Task Force established to consider how to cut red tape for voluntary and community organisations has just released its report – Unshackling good neighbours.

The report identifies some of the barriers that discourage people from giving time and money to voluntary and community organisations and explores some of the ways in which public engagement can be increased by reducing bureaucracy and red tape. Some of the key recommendations including considering reforms to the law to clarify the liability of charity trustees and volunteers, and displaying prominently information on volunteering in all Jobcentres and emphasising that it does not affect benefits.

Boredom is good for you

This was the surprising title of an article published last Friday in the Guardian which briefly summarised the findings of a study by the University of Limerick  on the effects of boredom and pro-social behaviour. The researchers found that boredom could inspire people to be altruistic, empathetic and engage in prosocial tasks in their search to re-establish meaningfulness. Interestingly a small number of the interviewees for this project mentioned boredom as one of the drivers of participation. Many talked about the need for their engagement to be meaningful.