How and why does participation begin and continue?
Can trends and patterns of participation (in terms of activity and intensity) be identified over time?
What connections, if any, are there between different forms of participation and what triggers movement between them?
How can public service providers, policy-makers and voluntary and community organisations enable and encourage different individuals and communities to participate?
What led to the research?
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.
How does the research add to the existing evidence base?
Previous research has tended to look at participation within a particular type of activity (such as volunteering) or issue (such as housing), usually from an institutional or organisational perspective and at just a snapshot in time. This project builds on the existing evidence base by taking a much broader definition of participation, focusing on people’s experience of participation over the course of their lives, and looking at the connections between different participation activities. By adopting this approach, the project was able to explore the complexities and dynamics of how participation works in practice.
What approach did the project take?
Our approach placed the individual at the heart of the research: in total, we conducted 101 in-depth interviews with people, who reflected on their life story of participation. However, we recognised that participation needs to be looked at in its wider context because people do not operate in a vacuum; their participation is situated in time, place and space. We therefore chose three different areas from around England in which to carry out the research to provide a range of contexts for participation, and enable us to interview a broad range of people. The three fieldwork areas were Leeds (inner city), the London Borough of Enfield (suburban) and Suffolk (rural).
Final report of the project. Based on 101 interviews, it explores people’s experiences of participation, how and why participation begins continues and stops, and the links and patterns in people’s participation.
Summary report. It summarises the findings from the project and our recommendations for future policy and practice.
Research, engagement and impact. This briefing paper 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.