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Empowered Communities research project

May 2017

The IVAR team have completed the scoping stage of our Empowered Communities project. Here’s a flavour of what they’ve learnt so far, which will shape the next stages of the research.

By Leila Baker, head of research, IVAR

We've completed the 'scoping' stage of the Empowered Communities in the 2020s research into how communities can become more empowered, vibrant and resilient in the next ten years. That's led us to make some positive changes to what we'll do next in the research.

In this blog I want to introduce what we’ve learnt so far, and explain how the people who took part are already shaping what we’ll be asking, who we’ll be asking and where we’ll be going for the rest of the research.

We've not found the research easy, but we have found it exciting and energising. People have strong views, profound experiences and passionate ideas that they want to share.

Some of those people have trusted that our action research process will carry their views, experiences and ideas into the next stage of the research and into whatever Local Trust and others decide to do next. Others have been cautious or sceptical about the value of the research and what it can add alongside other research and inquiries being carried out at the moment. Many have appreciated the opportunity to think deeply about fundamental questions, and explore them from different perspectives. So, we are using what we hear to continuously adjust what we ask as we go along. And we're working hard at figuring out where we 'fit' alongside other research and inquiries.

Survey and interviews: What you told us

We've had such a great response to the short survey we designed to start collecting people's ideas. Responses have been incredibly useful and we'd encourage everyone interested to fill it out. The survey will be open until the end of June.

Add your response to the survey

The top thing people thought would help communities to become more empowered and vibrant in the future was 'devolution and agency in local decision making' – you can read more about that and the other top five responses:

Download the ‘First look at the survey findings’

To ensure a good spread of responses to the survey, we'll be pushing for more responses from people in Wales and Northern Ireland as well as trying to ensure that younger people are getting picked up.

We’ve also held some early interviews and workshops:

Download ‘Themes from initial workshops and interviews’

Scoping findings: Getting into communities

Lots of you have challenged us to get 'into communities' more quickly than we appear to be doing. We're in the process of figuring out which four geographical areas we'll be working with in depth.

We're contacting all of the communities that have already told us that they want to host a conversation about Empowered Communities in the 2020s, as well as putting the word out for more to take part. Resources for hosting your own workshop that can feed into our research are available:

Download the resource pack
Download ‘conversation catcher’ template in black and white
Download ‘conversation catcher’ template in colour

But you don't have to use our resources or even our questions. If you're talking about the future of communities and how people work with and within them we'd love to hear from you and we'll credit your contribution.

Looking at the literature: Focus on diversity

My mum taught me the phrase 'standing on the shoulders of giants' when I was quite little and I have used it often. I make no secret that I think we have to learn from the past and think a denial of this is scary, ignorant and wrong. Learning from the past is quite different from being stuck in the past. In fact it's the opposite, it's a powerful way to do better in the future.

There are bigger studies and inquiries happening right now that have the resources to achieve breadth as well as depth in their trawl of literature from the past. We're going for depth and focus. We carefully selected just seven pieces of writing that we thought would help us focus our research and you can find out about these and our initial observations.

Download the ‘First look at the literature’

Next we'll be narrowing our searches to a few chosen 'topics' where we think we can contribute important insights to Empowered Communities in the 2020s as well as, we hope, other studies and inquiries. We're going to start with 'diversity' by looking at the different reasons why people are motivated to get involved with their community and how that affects what 'community development' looks like.

Shaping our next steps: The questions we’ll be asking

I’ve given you a flavour of what you'll read if you follow the links to these very early reports on what we concluded from our scoping stage. And all of this has gone into shaping the questions we'll be asking people over the next few months. Of course, as we get answers back, those questions will continue to change.

The big fixed research questions are: 

•	How can communities become more empowered and vibrant in the next ten years?  •	How can communities identify and articulate issues and take collective action to address them over the next decade?  •	What might help people imagine what the future will look like, especially given the uncertainty ahead, and give them the tools to shape that future? •	What needs to happen for communities to become more empowered in the future?

The questions we are asking people at the moment include:

  1. Tell us about your route into the work you do with communities?
  2. What do you think motivates people to get involved in their communities?
  3. Most people identify with several communities that reflect where they live, what they are interested in and how they see themselves. How can community development support this?
  4. What's the relationship between someone's feelings about themself and their capacity to get involved in their community?
  5. How do you make empowerment stick so that the changes it brings about in the community last?
  6. How can communities be partners in decisions that affect them? Should communities be expected to engage with decision makers?
  7. What’s your opinion - Can community empowerment help alleviate poverty? Does it ever exacerbate it?
  8. What do you see as the two most immediate issues and opportunities facing communities over the next ten years?
  9. Does community development or other kinds of support still have a role to play in empowering communities?
  10. Do we need money for community development to happen? Who is going to pay for and who might drive community development in the future?

What’s your response?

We are publishing what we hear and learn as we go along so that we can find out how people react. So do get in touch and tell us what you think. To find out about other opportunities to contribute visit www.localtrust.org.uk/empowered2020s. To contact the research team email enquiries@ivar.org.uk

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