Seeing and doing: learning, resources and social networks below the radar

Working Paper 91

There is growing interest in social networks and their potential for helping us to understand development and change in communities. Equally, there has been substantial investment over the past decade in community capacity building aimed at enabling communities to have a voice in decision making processes, establishing independent organisations to meet local needs, or developing communities’ ability to manage local assets and services. These themes, of voluntary action, community organising and asset transfer, influence policy across both the New Labour and Coalition administrations.

Yet, little is known about how those active in small, below the radar, community groups gain the skills, knowledge and resources they need to meet their goals and objectives. The assumption which has underpinned ‘capacity building’ initiatives, and remains a core element of the Community Organisers Programme, has been that skills are best developed through formal training and education.

This research shows that learning in below the radar community groups has less to do with formal training, and more to do with learning from similar groups and social networks. People learn by ‘seeing and doing’, and social networks are key to identifying and attracting the skills they need.

While it is often assumed that community groups need specialist technical skills to flourish, this research highlights the importance of interpersonal and transferrable skills gained from work or other experiences.

The research is based on a series of pilot interviews with 15 community groups that began their activities as informal or ‘below the radar’ community organisations.

Researcher contacts

Angus McCabe

Jenny Phillimore