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Spreading the Pathways word

Although the Pathways project officially ended with the launch of our final learning event and associated paper back in October, I’ve continued to be involved in spreading the word about the project and sharing the findings, mostly through speaking at events and doing workshops, a few of which I’ll talk about here.

Back in December, I was invited to speak about active citizenship at the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) annual conference. Princess Anne is a patron of the charity; she attended and shared her early experiences of volunteering through knitting squares for blankets for people in need in the Brownies. The Pathways research found that uniformed organisations like Brownies and Boys Brigade or Scouts were common entry points for participation, and I was pleased to be able to make this link in the presence of HRH!

In January I did a workshop at the National Union of Students (NUS) annual strategic conversation – a time when the NUS gets together to explore how students’ unions can demonstrate their impact on students, institutions and the wider community. The NUS is interested in widening the participation of students in unions, and my workshop focused on the Pathways findings that tease out the motivations and barriers to participation.

We’re currently working on an academic article – more news on that in the summer – and the findings of the Pathways research continue to inform my other research work and interests, for example some current work looking at the impact of volunteers in children’s centres which I hope to present on later this years at the VSSN/NCVO Research Conference in September. I’m also looking forwards to linking up with international colleagues and to presenting on a panel with the Chair of the Pathways Advisory Group, Marilyn Taylor, at the International Society for Third-Sector Research (ISTR) conference in Siena in the summer.

Pathways through Participation goes international

During the duration of the project,  people contacted us from a range of different countries about what we were doing and our publications. And international interest has continued. 

Nick at IVR wrote a paper with Irene Hardill, from Northumbria University, for the annual conference of the Association of American Geographers that took place in New York in February.

The paper called ‘Creating space for voluntary action: understanding unpaid voluntary work in distressed communities in the UK’ is based on the Pathways findings and research carried out by Irene also using life story interviews. It looks at the Big Society agenda and government’s ambitions to increase volunteer involvement in public service delivery and explores the likely impact on gender roles within the home and informal care within communities.

For a copy of the paper, please contact Nick directly. 

In July, Ellie will be presenting the Pathways findings at the 10th international conference of the International Society for Third Sector Research (ISTR) in Siena. She will be presenting her paper ‘Narratives of active citizenship: how people become and stay involved in different types of participation over their lifetime’ as part of a panel session on the role of the third sector in building and facilitating active citizenship. The other presenters for the session are Marilyn Taylor (who chaired the Pathways advisory group), Sue Kenny and Jenny Onyx (both from Australia).

What’s happened since the launch of the final report

We thought it would be a good time to update you on what’s happened since the launch of our final report in September 2011.

Over the last few months we have received invitations to present the research at various external conferences and seminars including events organised by Community Matters, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, London Civic Forum, NIACE, NUS, UnLtd,Voluntary Action Leeds and the Home Office. We were also asked to present our findings at the BIG headquarters at an internal lunchtime seminar.

Our publications have informed a number of recently published reports, for instance:

We’ve also written a number of short articles to summarise the main findings of the project including one for the People United website and another for Engage, the NCVO magazine.

Copies of the summary report and briefing papers

We have spare copies of the project’s summary report and the following three briefing papers:

Informing and influencing policy

Local engagement in democracy

Volunteering as a participation pathways

If you would like to receive copies please email us your name and postal address.

Pathways through Participation: evaluation report

An independent evaluator – Sally Downs – was commissioned to carry out an evaluation of the Pathways through Participation project for the three partner organisations and the Big Lottery Fund, our funder.

Sally’s report looks specifically at key lessons from the research process, and the stakeholder engagement and communication strategy, and examines the project’s outcomes at the time of the evaluation.

Her findings, which we will use to inform our future research projects, reinforce to a large extent the key messages in the last briefing paper we produced on research, engagement and impact.

Where next for localism and co-production?

On 15 March 2012, Involve co-hosted with Consumer Focus a seminar exploring ‘where next for localism and co-production?’ The event brought together a group of 27 individuals from national government, local government, the voluntary and community sector, the social innovation field, academia and think tanks to explore some of the challenges and opportunities for localism and co-production in the coming years.

As well as some case studies of localism and co-production being put into action, the seminar drew upon two pieces of research:

  • Pathways through Participation, and
  • Hands Up and Hands On’ – a new research report, launched at the event, by Consumer Focus.

The ‘Hands Up and Hands On’ research explores citizens’ attitudes towards greater localism and their appetite for greater involvement. The findings provide some reasons to be optimistic, with a sizeable number of people (28%) saying they’d like to have more input into local services. But it also highlights the need to understand and acknowledge how this differs across communities and be realistic about what the level of involvement is that people want.

It’s findings on why people do and do not get involved are strikingly consistent in many respects with our Pathways through Participation findings. For example, it too found the importance of ‘personal connection to an issue’, ‘social connection to others who are involved’ and ‘circumstances’ to involvement being triggered.

In terms of why people are not contributing more, it picks out five reasons:

  • They don’t know about opportunities – at best only 1 in 6 people felt well-informed about existing opportunities, and in some instances that fell to 1 in 10.
  • They don’t have the time – this is compounded by the concern that they’ll be drawn into doing more than they want.
  • They don’t have faith in local authorities – they feel disempowered from engaging with local government structures and don’t feel they have a voice.
  • They don’t want to participate with the “usual suspects” – they are concerned about cliques who forward their own views rather than engaging in others.
  • They don’t believe that their involvement will make a difference – perhaps because of a previous unsuccessful experience.

The ‘Hands Up and Hands On’ report is well worth a read and can be found here:

A report of the ‘Where next for localism and co-production’ seminar can be found here:

Research, engagement and impact

The main purpose of the Pathways through Participation project was to improve understanding of the multiple dimensions of participation and to increase the evidence base on people’s experience of participation over time. The project also always intended to encourage the use of its research findings to influence practice and policy so that more appropriate opportunities for participation could be developed and made available to a greater range of people.

We have just released a short briefing paper – research, engagement and impact – that reviews the project’s approach to research and stakeholder engagement, highlights how the project set about linking research to policy and practice, and critically assesses some of the research methods and tools that were used. The paper also reflects on some of the challenges of conducting research and summarises the key practical learning from the project for future research.

Informing and influencing policy

The third learning event that we organised  following the launch of our final report looked at the implications of the research findings for national policy agendas, focusing particularly on the giving of time and money and the decentralisation of power. The write-up report of the event and the presentation slides are now available to download as is the associated briefing paper – Informing and influencing policy.

The two other briefing papers that have been produced – local engagement in democracy and volunteering as a participation pathway – can be found in our resources section.

Local engagement in democracy

On 18 October we launched our second of three briefing papers summarising the findings and implications of the research. This one focused on Local engagement in democracy, and specifically what the research tells us about the:

  • Language and image of local engagement in democracy
  • Practice of local engagement in democracy
  • Accessibility of local engagement in democracy

The briefing paper can be found, along with the briefing papers on volunteering and national policy implications, in the resources section of the website.

Launch event

The launch event was hosted by Stella Creasy MP in the Houses of Parliament and was attended by over 40 people from a range of public, and voluntary and community sector organisations. We have produced two reports of the event: one in PDF format that you can download and print, and one in blog format that you can read and listen to online. The e-report includes audio and slides from the presentation, audio and transcripts of the three speakers’ reflections, and audio and summaries of the group discussion. The last post in the e-report links to some excellent blog posts that were written after the event by Mark Parker, David Wilcox, Tessy Britton and my colleague Annie Quick. The blog format also allows you to leave comments – so please feel free to share any thoughts, we’d love to continue the conversation.

Volunteering as a participation pathway

We recently released a briefing paper focusing on the implications of  our research findings for volunteer management. The paper is aimed primarily at small, medium and large volunteer-involving organisations as well as volunteer centres and other volunteering infrastructure organisations at the local, regional and national level.

The paper was presented at a workshop on 26 September, led by the IVR (Institute for Volunteering Research). Notes from the small group discussions that took place at the workshop have now been written and are available to download here.

We are running two more  workshops in October. For more information and to register:

Local engagement and democracy
Tuesday 18 October 2011, 4.00 to 6.00
Houses of Parliament, London

National policy agendas
Friday 21 October 2011, 10.00 to 12.30 (followed by lunch)
NCVO, London

Invitation to attend workshops

Following the launch of our final report, we are organising several workshops in October to present our key findings and look at the implications of the research for policy and practice on two specific topics: the first event focuses on local engagement and democracy, the second on national policy agendas.

These free workshops will provide an opportunity to discuss the implications of the research and consider how this knowledge can be used to encourage the development of opportunities for participation that are better suited to people’s needs and aspirations.

For more information on these events and to register:

Local engagement and democracy
Tuesday 18 October 2011, 4.00 to 6.00
Houses of Parliament, London

National policy agendas
Friday 21 October 2011, 10.00 to 12.30 (followed by lunch)
NCVO, London

Pathways through Participation final report launched!

Today, 13 September 2011, the Pathways through Participation project team launched its final report. The project started 2.5 years ago and is now reporting on its findings.

Both the final report and the summary report are available to download from the resources section of the website.

Follow #pthwys on Twitter for updates from the launch and to contribute to the debate. As ever, we greatly value your feedback, so please take some time, if you are able, to leave us comments on this post.

To whet your appetite, here is the foreword to the report:

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), the Institute for Volunteering Research (IVR) and Involve are pleased to publish this important new report about how people participate in society. Pathways through Participation is an ambitious research project that aims to improve our understanding of how and why people participate, how their involvement changes over time, and what pathways, if any, exist between different types of activities.

The project emerged from a common desire across our three organisations to create a fuller picture of how people participate over their lifetimes. It builds on work completed at NCVO on active citizenship, adds to IVR’s research into volunteering by exploring it in relation to other forms of participation, and extends Involve’s research and practice in empowering citizens to take and influence the decisions that affect their lives. National and local governments have grappled for decades with the challenges of how to encourage people to be more active citizens. Their reasons have varied over time, from improving public services to reducing public spending or enhancing democracy. Recent policy developments around localism, the Big Society, outsourcing public services, encouraging charitable giving and the role of the voluntary sector have made questions about participation more topical than ever.

This report provides the practical intelligence that will enable voluntary and community organisations, public service providers and government at all levels to better support and develop participation. It is only through hearing people’s personal stories, and focusing on their individual experience, that the complexities and dynamics of how participation works in practice can be fully understood. We interviewed over 100 people across three localities – their stories of participation provide the powerful body of evidence drawn on in this report.

This research shows that people participate in a myriad of ways, depending on what has meaning and value to them. They participate as individuals and collectively. Their reasons for participating are sometimes altruistic and sometimes it is to achieve something more explicitly for themselves. We have found many stories of how life enhancing participation can be, but also of its negative effects. Participation can be a core part of people’s lives or something they do once in a while. It doesn’t happen in a bubble but connects to different aspects of their lives. And it is shaped by their circumstances and capabilities, as well as the personal, practical and political opportunities and barriers they face.

We hope that policy-makers, practitioners and researchers will find this report useful in developing a richer and fuller understanding of how and why people participate, and what makes them start and continue (and stop) participating. Beyond promoting understanding, we hope that this report will help institutions and organisations find ways in which they can support and encourage opportunities for participation that better meet people’s

Sir Stuart Etherington, NCVO
Simon Burall, Involve
Nick Ockenden, IVR