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Final report to be launched on 13th September

The Pathways through Participation final report will be launched on the 13th September, which is now less than a month away! This will be the culmination of this two-and-a-half year research project into active citizenship, led by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) in partnership with the Institute for Volunteering Research (IVR) and Involve, and funded by the Big Lottery Fund.

The project has explored how and why people get involved and stay involved in different forms of participation over their lives, building on the existing evidence base by examining participation from the perspective of the individual and exploring the links between different activities and episodes of participation throughout people’s lives.

Along with the final report, we will also be publishing a project summary which will set out our key findings and recommendations for future policy and practice. You can sign up to our newsletter (via the box to the right) to have the report emailed to you, or else check back on here on the 13th September to download it.

Pathways to Turkey

Our project literature review – Understanding Participation - can now be read in Turkish!!

It has been translated by TEPAV (The Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey) for the State Planning Organisation, funded by the British Embassy in Ankara. You can find it here.

It’s great to see that the project is achieving truly global reach.

Exploring workshop participants’ experience of participation

At the participatory workshops in our local case study areas we asked participants, upon arrival, to think about  their own participation. These are the questions they were asked:

  • What does participation mean to you? Enfield workshop
  • When was the last time you participated and what did you do?
  • What is the single most important influence on how you participate?
  • Is there a link between the activities you have been involved in over your life? If so,
    what is it?
  • What keeps you from getting more involved in the things that you’re interested in?
  • When in your life did you participate most?

Their responses were then displayed on the walls of the workshop room. The responses for the Enfield workshop have been written up in the appendix of the report (p15-18). They provide a vivid picture of a range of participation activities and issues, and really resonate with some of the things interviewees told us when talking about their own story of participation.

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Learning and action workshops and the ecosystem of participation

Over the course of March we held a series of learning and action workshops in our three field work areas in Enfield, Leeds and Suffolk. These workshops were designed to help us to explore our emerging findings and their implications with representatives from the public, voluntary and community sectors. The workshops were divided into 3 main sections, exploring the ‘what?’ (our research findings), the ‘so what?’ (the opportunities and challenges they present) and the ‘now what?’ (actions to help take advantage of the opportunities and overcome the challenges). In my last post I wrote about the first two steps in this process at the first workshop in Leeds, in this post I’m going to focus on the ‘now what?’ stage.

A group populating their tree with action leaves

In order to help participants think about actions that they could take forward – whether individually, through their organisations, or collectively – we developed an exercise called the ecosystem of participation. Each group (working on a particular opportunity or challenge) were given a paper tree and a short amount of time to explore the deep causes of the issue (e.g. the ‘roots’), identify the resources or assets already available (e.g. the ‘branches’ and ‘birds’) and explore the vision (e.g. the ‘sky’) that they were ultimately aiming for. Each group then populated their tree with actions, which took the form of green leaves. The picture to the right shows a group working on their tree, and the diagram below shows a representation of a group’s completed tree.

Representation of a group's finished tree

Tree mural with priority - gold leaf - actions

Towards the end of the exercise, the groups were asked to identify their three priority actions (which became their golden leaves), present these to everyone and group them onto a large tree mural.

A number of participants commented on the power of working with others interested in similar issues to them – but who they might never have met otherwise – to think through these challenges. Groups at all of the workshops developed some great ideas for action, and we hope that these will be put into practice.

If you would like to find out more about the learning and action workshops and their outcomes, the presentations and workshop reports from Enfield, Leeds and Suffolk can be found in the resources section of the website.


Leeds learning and action workshop report

I wrote a brief post last week about the learning and action workshop we held in Leeds on 2 March. There is now a report summarising the discussion of the workshop available in the resources section of the website here.

The workshop included a short presentation of our emerging findings (which can be found here), followed by discussions covering what participants felt to be the most important issues raised by the research,  and what they felt the implications, challenges and opportunities were for themselves, their organisations, the local area and national policy.

These are a few of the things that particularly stood out for me. Participants spoke about:

  • the need to build a positive image of participation (for example, overcoming negative stereotypes of volunteers);
  • the need to recognise and respond to people’s different motivations and aspirations for getting involved;
  • the need to make participation more attractive and accessible to hard to reach communities;
  • the importance of sustaining participation, as well as triggering it; and
  • the need to recognise that leaders and lynchpins can act as a barrier to participation, as well as an enabler.

The comments, questions, challenges and discussions at these workshops will be invaluable as we continue to analyse our findings and begin to write the final report. If you live or work in Leeds, there is still time to sign up to the second workshop on 30 March. At this, we will further explore the local and wider implications of the research findings, identify specific actions that participants agree to undertake in Leeds, and identify wider actions that are needed to support participation. Please contact me for further details:

Suffolk learning and action workshop

Further to Tim’s post on the participatory workshop in Leeds, we held a full-day learning and action workshop in Suffolk on the 10th of March. It was really great to see such a diverse mix of people from the voluntary and statutory sectors come together to discuss shared challenges and aspirations relating to participation in the county. Although many of the participants and the organisations they were representing face difficult times ahead in terms of budget and job cuts, in general there was a feeling of optimism and pragmatism in the room. People came up with some nice ideas for concrete actions they could take to improve the way they engage with volunteers and the wider public. The workshop presentation is available here and the report will be available soon.

Leeds learning and action workshop

Last Wednesday we held our first learning and action workshop in Leeds, one of our three fieldwork areas. With a group of representatives from the local public sector, voluntary sector and community, we discussed our emerging findings and their implications. The session was extremely productive with lots of interesting discussion, which gave us – as well as I hope the participants – lots to take away and think about. You can find the presentation used at the workshop here.

A second workshop will take place in Leeds on 30 March, but for now the discussion has moved online to Anyone is welcome to join the discussion group on how and why people get involved and stay involved in their communities and beyond. If you live or work in Leeds, there are also still some places available to participate on 30 March. Contact me at if you’re interested.

Local learning and action workshops

In each of our three areas we are organising some learning and action workshops to present our key findings.  At these workshops, participants will learn what the research has found about people’s participation and explore what the findings could mean for their work. 

The workshops provide a key opportunity to influence the current debate on how people get involved in their communities – and what organisations and policy makers need to do to better support it, as the views and opinions of participants will feed into the final project report and recommendations.

There are still a few places left in each workshop, so if you are based in Leeds, Enfield and Suffolk and would like to attend please contact: 

Mayor’s Interfaith Conference workshop: How do we unlock and sustain participation?

The key messages of our paper ‘Strengthening participation: learning from participants’ were presented at a workshop run this week by Involve, at the Mayor’s Interfaith Conference, examining the question: How do we unlock and sustain participation? After the presentation we asked participants to develop some ideas about how civil society organisations, local government and national government could each encourage and support people to participate, keeping in mind 5 key areas:

  • People’s motivations;
  • Confidence and perceptions;
  • Information and knowledge;
  • Social networks and spaces to participate; and
  • Key community gatekeepers and leaders.

I facilitated the discussions focusing on voluntary and community sector organisations, which raised some interesting ideas.  I had recently blogged on the Involve website about the need to design participation to fit with peoples’ motivations and day-to-day lives, and a number of the suggestions from participants were very much linked to this idea. These are just a few of them:

Motivation – voluntary and community organisations should ensure that they keep their members motivated by managing their pathways/trajectories through participation in order that people can move between different roles and do not have to stay in the same place.

Collaboration, not competition – voluntary and community organisations should collaborate with one another rather than compete, sharing ideas and learning, and encouraging participants to work with other organisations.

Communication – voluntary and community organisations should make sure that they communicate with groups in an appropriate way, ensuring that language does not intimidate people. 

Networks – voluntary and community organisations should focus on linking people, as well as encouraging existing participants to bring others into groups.

Linking to local priorities – voluntary and community organisations should ensure they understand the needs of their communities and identify what matters to them.

It will be interesting to see if similar ideas are mentioned in the participatory workshops we are holding in our three case study areas in March.  I’m looking forward to helping to develop these ideas and others further.