Luck, passion, networks and skills: The recipe for action below the radar?

Working Paper 129 - January 2015

Over the last decade there has been a growing, and sustained, academic interest in social networks in both individual and community wellbeing and their contribution to local quality of life. This has translated into a series of policy initiatives, linked to the concepts of 'communities in decline' community cohesion and democratic deficit. Under New Labour, these included Health Action Zones, New Deal for Communities and a range of other area based initiatives. These themes have been retained by the Coalition Government, though with substantially less resource, in the form of the Community Organiser's Programme, the Centre for Social Action and, within the Cabinet Office, the idea of behavioural nudge at both an individual and neighbourhood level. The underlying assumption of these initiatives is that strong social networks can, by themselves, build community resilience and increase levels of self-help within even the most marginalised communities. 

This working paper critically examines such assumptions. Drawings on the theoretical literature and a series of primary research interviews with members of small 'below the radar' community groups, it questions the nature of social networks within community activity. Further, it explores the interplay, in theory and practice, between social capital and other forms of capital (human, financial, emotional and knowledge) in terms of the creation, development and sustainability of community groups.