Below the radar in a Big Society

Working Papers 87 and 51

All Change? Surviving ‘below the radar’:
community groups and activities in a Big Society

Working Paper 87 - October 2012

Over late 2009 and early 2010 we undertook a range of interviews with national network groups, practitioners and academics to explore the role and nature of small community groups. These sessions also examined the contexts in which ‘below the radar’ groups became established and their perceived role in the delivery of Government policy. Following the general election in May 2010, further work involving workshops, focus groups and seminars explored the impact of the change in administration on community groups and activities. At this point, prior to the implementation of the Localism Act and the Open Public Services White Paper, the conclusion was that, whilst the emergency budget of June 2010 and subsequent Spending Review in October raised concerns over funding for the voluntary sector as a whole and community groups in particular, it was ‘too early to tell’ what the full impact of change might be.

This working paper draws on a second round of interviews and focus group activity between February 2011 and January 2012 to explore ‘Big Society, a further year on’: how has policy towards ‘community’ changed? What have been the impacts of change? How have below the radar groups and community sector network organisations responded? What might be the implications of current trends for the future?

An earlier paper, below, explored the Big Society agenda early on, and questioned whether below the radar activity could be co-opted to achieve government policy objectives.


Below the radar in a Big Society:
Reflections on community engagement, empowerment and social action in a changing policy context

Working Paper 51 - January 2011

"You can call it liberalism. You can call it empowerment, you can call it freedom, you can call it responsibility. I call it the Big Society" (Prime Minister David Cameron: 19th July 2010).

The 'Big Society' has become a key element of the Coalition‟s Government policy platform, not only on the delivery of public services by the formal and funded voluntary sector but also in terms of communities, more informal third sector activities and individual citizens. Whilst the term itself is recent, and accompanied by the 'new language' of social action, there are continuities between the current Coalition policy objectives and those of the previous New Labour administration: the devolution of powers to the local level, the reconfiguration of services and promotion of community engagement, empowerment and active citizenship.

This working paper explores the debates about 'below the radar' (BTR) community groups and their assumed role in delivering 'big society'. It argues that the motivators for community action are, and have been, ill understood in policy circles. Further, there is and has been little systematic analysis of the power relationship between the state (both locally and nationally) communities and neighbourhoods which can inform meaningful debate on devolution and localism. The paper examines the implications of the new policy environment for small community groups and asks can such activity, which has often been independent of, and operated outside the state, be co-opted to deliver particular government policy objectives?


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