Below the Radar

An example of process impact


Below the radar research examines small community groups and activities that have few or no paid staff and don’t appear on official lists or registers. The research has been participatory and inclusive, enabling close collaboration between researchers and community groups, and helping to create a community of users. It has helped raise the profile of ‘below the radar’ groups and issues with funders, policy makers and the wider third sector. The term ‘below the radar’ has become widely used and understood in government and the voluntary sector. More about the research

More about the research

"Working with TSRC has brought Voluntary Arts and the organisations we represent into contact with academic researchers for the first time. We have been impressed with how TSRC is acting as a bridge between academics and third sector infrastructure organisations – particularly those, like Voluntary Arts, that represent small, local, community groups across the country. Voluntary Arts supports a vast number of amateur arts and crafts groups which typically tend to feel undervalued or ignored by policymakers, funders and researchers. It has been incredibly encouraging to see how genuinely interested and excited TSRC has become about our sector. This has helped Voluntary Arts to engage with other universities and academics – in the UK and across Europe."

Robin Simpson, Chief Executive, Voluntary Arts


Reference group

The research is informed by a Reference Group, made up of community groups and activists, funders, government representatives and researchers. They help shape the research and share findings with their networks. 

Fellows and volunteers

A large number of research and practice fellows, as well as volunteers, have been involved in the research, many with a background in the community sector. This has resulted in co-production of research on groups and issues including: Gypsies and Travellers, refugees and asylum seekers, the community sector Northern Ireland, social ecosystems and the use of social media. Co-production with TSRC enables this work to be shared with our networks, presented at events and profiled in the media. It has also helped build researchers' academic skills, experience and networks. 

Partnership working

TSRC have worked closely with community partners to share research, including One North West, North West Tenants and Residents Association, BRAP, Centre for Equality and Diversity (Dudley), Wolverhampton Network Consortium, Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Action, Community Sector Coalition, North West BME network, Voluntary Arts and WEA.

Online discussion and social media

The ‘beyond the radar’ project (Btr11#) brought community, voluntary and public sector stakeholders together to discuss how below the radar activities could come together and be supported to achieve a greater impact. It involved on and off-line events and social media activity, working with partners including Barrow Cadbury Trust, the Department for Communities and Local Government, NatCAN, Big Lottery Fund, Globelnet21 and the Guardian.



  • Of three volunteers, two have moved onto post graduate Doctoral studies and one into full time employment.
  • Of practitioner and academic research fellows, one has recently completed a Doctorate, one moved into Doctoral studies from the third sector and one has secured an ESRC Fellowship


  • Collaborative working has enabled the workstream to develop joint research projects. Projects include: The impact of grassroots arts activities in communities, funded by AHRC with Voluntary Arts and the Universities of Exeter and Glamorgan; An evaluation framework for community choirs with Sound Sense and Making Music; Poverty, Ethnicity and Social networks research for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation with BRAP and other partners.
  • The research has enabled training and capacity building, including recruiting and training for community researchers from diverse cultural backgrounds, mental health service users and tenants and residents groups.


  • The researchers have contributed as expert witnesses to Communities and Local Government, Cabinet Office, the Birmingham Commission and Birmingham City Council Scrutiny Committee. Evidence has been submitted on the impact of the recession and policy change on below the radar groups, and the changing relationships between communities, local and central government.
  • Researchers have been invited to discuss methods for mapping below the radar groups with the Department for Communities and Local Government and inform local government activities.

Intended Long Term Impact

Over the past four years the below the radar workstream has attempted to raise the profile and understanding of small community groups. It is our intention to continue this focus and build a body of evidence, not only on the value and role of community activity but also how these groups may be dying, surviving or thriving in a changing economic and political climate. In addition we aim to sustain our work around equalities issues and further develop work with refugee, migrant and other minority ethnic communities.


The research

Twelve working papers and five discussion papers, plus outcomes from a series of collaborative activities and workshops - Below the radar


Press coverage has helped raise issues such aslack of understanding of community groups by government, or the scale of 'uncounted' community activity - at a time when the focus has been on localism and devolving power to communities.