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Community capital: the value of connected communities

Parsfield, Matthew (2015) Community capital: the value of connected communities. Bola, Manjit and Morris, David and Knapp, Martin and Park, A-La and Yoshioka, Maximilian and Marcus, Gaia (eds.) RSA, Action and Research Center, London, UK. ISBN 9780901469724

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Abstract

Since 2010 the RSA and its partners at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and the London School of Economics (LSE) have been working with communities in seven locations in England to research and strengthen relationships within communities. The vision of ‘Connected Communities’ is one in which people are embedded within local networks of social support; in which social isolation is reduced and people experience greater wellbeing and other benefits from the better understanding, mobilisation and growth of ‘community capital’ in their neighbourhoods. The Connected Communities programme explored this vision by surveying residents in ward-sized localities, analysing this data for insight into local social networks and wellbeing, and then working with local people to build projects that support social connections. In the wake of severe austerity in public services and no sign of a more generous public funding settlement on the horizon, policymakers are increasingly looking to communities to play a bigger role in contributing to public life. From the Big Society to the NHS Five Year Forward View, the UK government has expressed the desire to see resilient communities that are better able to support themselves and reduce pressures on public services. The Connected Communities programme demonstrates that community-led action and targeted interventions can indeed strengthen local communities, and that substantial benefits can be derived as a result. The process of achieving these benefits, outlined in this report, is difficult and cannot be assumed to arise spontaneously. Instead we call for a strategic approach on the part of public service providers and others who have an interest in developing resilient communities. Furthermore the effects of social networks and the results of intervening to strengthen them are locally specific, unpredictable and non-linear. Overly idealistic or one-size-fits-all approaches will achieve little; but deliberative, intelligent and participatory engagement with communities can generate significant advantages for all involved. Context is key, and bespoke local engagement is required to successfully facilitate the growth of community capital. Social relationships have a value. The activities and research presented in this report demonstrate that through working with communities this value can be grown by connecting people to one another in their local areas. We argue that investing in interventions which build and strengthen networks of social relationships will generate four kinds of social value or ‘dividend’ shared by people in the community: 1. A wellbeing dividend. Social relationships are essential to subjective wellbeing and life satisfaction – indeed, our research suggests that social connectedness correlates more strongly with wellbeing than social or economic characteristics such as long term illness, unemployment or being a single parent. In the course of our primary research we found increases in the wellbeing of participants who strengthened their social networks through community-led initiatives. In a survey of 2,840 people, the variable most consistently associated with having higher subjective wellbeing was ‘feeling part of a community’, and the variables most negatively associated with wellbeing were identifying something or somewhere locally that you avoid or something that stops you from taking part in a community. 2. A citizenship dividend. There is latent power within local communities that lies in the potential of relationships between people, and it can be activated through the methods that we advocate in this report. However, access to this power is uneven, and many people do not enjoy the full benefits of active citizenship: for example 60 percent of people we surveyed at the beginning of our research could not name anybody they knew who had the power or influence to change things locally. Conversely, our method of working with people to reflect upon their social relationships and the under-used assets in their communities and social networks has led to substantial positive effects on personal empowerment, higher levels of civic participation and individual and collective agency. 3. A capacity dividend. Concentrating resources on networks and relationships, rather than on the ‘troubled’ individual as an end-user can have beneficial effects which ripple out through social networks, having positive effects on people’s children, partners, friends and others. This ‘positive contagion’ has been evidenced in those activities which increase the capacity of social interventions to create greater benefits. In all areas there are certain individuals – our previous work has called such people ‘ChangeMakers’ – who are particularly adept at influencing change through networks. Interventions that identify and target these individuals and seek to work strategically with networks around them can generate greater efficiency and carry positive effects through a population more quickly than would less strategic approaches. 4. An economic dividend. Researchers at LSE have supported our research by analysing the economic impact of several of our interventions, quantifying the potential of social relationship-based interventions for notional savings in public finances as well as contributions to the wider economy. There is evidence that investing in interventions which build social relationships can improve employability, improve health (which has positive economic impacts) and create savings in health and welfare expenditure. These dividends can be derived by a managed approach to unleashing the value of community capital. Like other forms of capital, community capital can be increased, reserves of it can be unlocked, and putting it to use can bring about great social, economic and personal benefits. All communities, social networks, and individuals have assets that can help to create community capital and generate social dividends. Here we present models of engagement that can help funders, civil society, public service providers and all those trying to drive social change to utilise these assets to the benefit of people and their communities.

Item Type: Monograph (Report)
Official URL: https://www.thersa.org/
Additional Information: © 2015 The Authors
Divisions: Personal Social Services Research Unit
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
Sets: Research centres and groups > Personal Social Services Research Unit (PSSRU)
Date Deposited: 04 Nov 2015 10:43
Last Modified: 21 Sep 2017 08:18
URI: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/64317

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