Below the Radar

This research explores the role, function, impact and experiences of small community action groups or organisations.

These include those working at a local level or in communities of interest - such as women’s groups or refugee and migrant organisations. TSRC is interested in both formal organisations and more informal community activity.

Below the Radar

Our research is informed by a reference group (contact Angus McCabe for further details) which brings together practitioners from national community networks, policy makers, and researchers, as well as others who bring particular perspectives on, for example, rural, gender or black and minority ethnic issues. The fifth reference group, and conference, 'Still below the radar: a celebration' took place on 5 July 2013.

Key questions

  • What do below the radar (BTR) groups, activities and organisations look like? 
  • What is their role and function and how do they operate?
  • What are the motivations of those involved in BTR groups and activities?
  • What is the life cycle of BTR organisations and what activities do they conduct?
  • What is the impact of more informal community action and organising?

Current work

Below the Radar work in the immediate future, with continuing support from Barrow Cadbury Trust, will explore the role of faith based organisations in diverse communities and the impact of policy and economic change on small charities. Other plans for the immediate future include papers on rural community/citizen organising, and community based responses to destitute migrants.

Five further briefing and working papers are now available - on learning within below the radar groups;  the impact of policy changes on community organisations; the rural Black and Minority Ethnic community sector and the role of faith based organisations in responding to changing community needs.

Previous Research in TSRC (2008 - 2013)

In TSRC phase one we completed a review of the literature on BTR activity along with base-line interviews with key community sector informants. We also worked with the Real Times research team to explore, in depth, the nature and function of small community groups and activities and how these change over time.

Using primary research sources, we have produced a working paper on the distinctiveness of community based organisations, along with a review of BTR groups in a big society, a report on grassroots voluntary arts, and working papers exploring the changing nature of refugee community organisations and the Gypsy, Traveller and Roma third sector. Research into the role of Gypsy and Traveller tenants and residents groups, and their potential to address social exclusion, has been published. In addition a series of discussion papers are available which highlight current issues for BTR and other small community based organisations.

We have also undertaken a ‘micro-mapping’ of community activity in two areas of England. This is informing our longer term work with BTR groups across the country, and is already generating other community mapping exercises in both rural and urban communities in England. A practical manual on how to map small grassroots community organisations will be available shortly.

Four further working papers are now available - on learning within below the radar groups;  the impact of policy changes on community organisations; the voice and influence of black and minority ethnic organisations; rural community organising; and emotion in policy making and grassroots groups.

Working papers

Paper 139: Community Action and Social Media: A review of the literature by Kevin Harris and Angus McCabe
Working Paper (PDF)

Paper 137: 'Belief in social action: exploring faith groups' responses to local needs, by Angus McCabe, Heather Buckingham and Steve Miller with Marcianne Musabyimana
Briefing paper (PDF) | Working paper (PDF)

Paper 136: Blending, braiding and balancing: combining formal and informal modes for social action by Alison Gilchrist, Plowden Fellow
Briefing Paper (PDF) | Working Paper (PDF)

Paper 130: 'Black people don't drink tea...' The experience of Rural Black and Minority Ethnic Community Groups in England, by Phil Ware
Briefing paper (PDF) | Working paper (PDF)

Discussion Paper G: Co-producing knowledge with the Below the Radar communities: Factionalism, commodification or partnership? A Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Case Study (January 2015)
Discussion Paper (PDF)| Summary (PDF)

Paper 129: Luck, passion, networks and skills: the recipe for action below the radar? by Jenny Phillimore and Angus McCabe (January 2015)
Working paper

Paper 103:“Very small, very quiet, a whisper” - Black and Minority Ethnic groups: voice and influence, Phil Ware (July/October 2013)
Briefing paper | Working paper

Paper 96:Doing emotion, doing policy; the emotional role of 'grassroots' community activists in poverty policy-making, Rosie Anderson (May 2013)
Briefing paper | Working paper

Paper 91:Seeing and doing: learning, resources and social networks below the radar, Angus McCabe and Jenny Phillimore (December 2012)
Briefing paper (pdf) | Working paper (pdf, 465KB)

Paper 87: All Change? Surviving ‘below the radar’: community groups and activities in a Big Society, Angus McCabe and Jenny Phillimore (September 2012)
Briefing paper (pdf, 194KB) | Working paper (pdf, 537KB)

Discussion paper E:Exploring social media as a tool for knowledge exchange: the #btr11 experiment, Amy Burnage and Roxanne Persaud (September 2012)
Discussion Paper Summary (pdf, 342KB) | Discussion Paper (pdf, 1MB)

Paper 85: Moving beyond ‘refugeeness’: problematising the ‘refugee community organisation’, Teresa Piacentini (August 2012)
Briefing paper (pdf, 332KB) | Working paper (pdf, 686KB)

Paper 84: Hearing the voice of Gypsies and Travellers: the history, development and challenges of Gypsy and Traveller tenants and residents’ associations, Andrew Ryder (September 2012)
Briefing paper (pdf, 196KB) | Working paper (pdf, 535KB)
Discussion paper (pdf, 548KB)

Paper 71: Little big societies: micro-mapping of organisations operating below the radar, Dr Andri Soteri-Proctor (December 2011)
Working paper (PDF, 825KB)

Paper 68: The role of grassroots arts activities in communities: a scoping study, Hilary Ramsden, Jane Milling, Jenny Phillimore, Angus McCabe, Hamish Fyfe and Robin Simpson (December 2011)
Briefing paper (PDF, 127KB) | Working paper (PDF, 636KB)

Paper 63:UK Gypsies and Travellers and the third sector, Dr Andrew Ryder (July 2011)
Briefing paper | Working paper

Paper 58: The Black Minority Ethnic third sector: a resource paper, Lucy Mayblin and Andri Soteri-Proctor (June 2011)
Working paper

Paper 51: Below the radar in a Big Society? Reflections on community engagement, empowerment and social action in a changing policy context, Angus McCabe (Feb 2011)
Briefing paper | Working paper

Paper 33:Understanding the distinctiveness of small scale third sector activity, Jenny Phillimore and Angus McCabe (May 2010)
Briefing paper | Working paper

Paper 29: Below the radar: a summary review of the literature, Angus McCabe, Jenny Phillimore and Lucy Mayblin (January 2010)
Briefing Paper | Working paper

Paper 28: The growing workforce in the voluntary and community sectors, Domenico Moro and Stephen McKay (February 2010)
Briefing paper

Paper 8:Exploring below the radar: issues of themes and focus, Angus McCabe and Jenny Phillimore (August 2009)
Briefing paper 

Case study:
The rural social economy: Surviving the credit crunch, Angus McCabe (January 2009)