What we’ve learnt about enabling social action in socially and economically challenging times
Since 2017 Renaisi has been the evaluation partner for the Place Based Social Action programme. The £4.5m investment in ten local partnerships, over seven years, is funded by The National Lottery Community Fund and the Department for Culture Media and Sport.
The Place Based Social Action Programme supports local partnerships to develop social action approaches, such as volunteering opportunities or support for groups and activities to address the issues that matter to communities.
Renaisi’s role has built the capacity of the partnerships to evaluate change and to capture learning to feedback into programme design; helping the partnerships deliver even more effectively. The ten partnerships, funded for seven years, were made up of voluntary and community organisations, local authorities, and residents across England.
At the end of each phase we’ve written a learning and evaluation report that captures lessons and progress of the places (links below).
The challenges of phase 2
The second phase of the programme ran from 2019 – 2022 and was thwarted by Covid-19 and the cost-of-living crisis. It was also a phase where places learnt a great deal about how to enable social change in a time of crisis.
A lack of diversity in some partnerships was a challenge. Some partnerships are now taking a more active approach to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. In one predominantly white area they are championing the diversity of individuals by creating platforms for people who had not had previous opportunities to input. While in another area, which is more diverse, is looking to set up a BAME network.
What helps social action thrive?
We identified five factors that helped social action to thrive during Phase 2:
- Engaging and listening to the community to ensure action responds to what residents want. This is most effective where feedback loops are created and impact is tangible. For example, some partnerships have hosted activities or events like a community festival or arts project, to engage residents, understand their needs, and mobilise people around issues that matter to them. Other partnerships used existing and trusted services to engage people, such as local mother and baby groups.
- Meeting people where they are, by focusing on accessible topics and respecting individuals’ unique perspectives. For example, partnerships encouraged community members to contribute to social action as ‘experts by experience’. Also important was using platforms that people are familiar with and already using, such as engaging people through WhatsApp not just Zoom during the pandemic.
- Resourcing social action with money, time, advice, and guidance. Having paid staff, such as community organisers, to support social action has been particularly important. Community Organisers in one partnership were able to help residents take direct action by supporting them to take part in a radio broadcast that called on local stakeholders to work together to bring about a collective change in mindset around waste disposal.
- Creating structures, guidance, support, and training. Several partnerships have run social action leader courses to help residents develop the skills and confidence for social action. Other partnerships have supported Covid-19 response groups to transition into longer-term ‘Good Neighbour’ schemes, helping to structure these groups and provide access to external funding.
- Mutually beneficial systems for collaboration and demonstrating the impact of social action to local partners. For example, partnerships were able to pool data and information, particularly during the pandemic, to help organisations reach more people and refer more effectively. Stakeholder mapping, to coordinate and signpost volunteers and services, was also used to build up local intelligence and ensure more joined-up responses.
What this has led to
In Phase 2 partnerships have been able to deliver a huge range of projects to respond to local need, such as community gardens; seated exercise; music clubs; online discos; foodbanks and food hubs; befriending phonelines; and online peer support networks.
Many of these have been led and delivered by residents and in some cases, groups have been supported to build their capacity, access funding, and become standalone entities.
Moreover partnerships have been able to ensure residents have more ownership over provision of services in their local area.
Supporting Place Based Social Action Partnerships in future
As the 10 partnerships move into the final phase of the programme, it will be more important to prove that this approach to building social infrastructure works. We will continue to support partnerships to understand and articulate the change they are creating, which will help them demonstrate their impact and secure new funding.