The nation’s civic health

The Department of Communities and Local Government’s Community Action Research Team has just released a new report, Our Nation’s Civic Health, which brings together a range of different data sources for policy makers and practitioners. The blurb for the report reads:

“This is a summary of the main report, which brings together for the first time, key measures of civic health in order to offer a unique insight into the strengths of modern democracy in England and the connections people have to their communities. It reveals key trends over time and, where possible, shows how civic health varies across the country. It is hoped that presenting this information in this way will help readers understand the complex factors that contribute to how people feel about and engage with their community.”

Upon first impressions, the report – arguably a riposte to the Centre for Social Justice’s accusations that we live in Broken Britain – pulls together data from big government surveys such as the British Crime Survey, the Citizenship Survey and the National Survey of Third Sector Organisations – the latter two being directly relevant to those working in the voluntary sector. Because the report has to pull together data from such a wide variety of sources it will probably be criticised for being selective or for not having anything new to say. But it would be a great shame if that was the only response, because this sort of digest (which I hasten to add we produce for the voluntary sector in the form of the Almanac) is incredibly useful to get a rounded view of participation and engagement.

Some of the most interesting messages for the voluntary sector relate to issues of trust. At a time when there is an active discussion about the relative roles of the state, the market and the voluntary sector, the main report reminds us that voluntary organisations are trusted by a larger proportion of the population (75%) than institutions such as government (34%) and major companies (37%). Compared to other countries, voluntary organisations are trusted by a larger proportion of the population. I think that’s interesting, particularly in the light of findings from ESRC’s Public Services Programme that the public aren’t necessarily keen for charities to deliver some public services: all of which might reinforce support for voluntary organisations’ campaigning role.

My only quibble is the name of the report. I think much of its content is a discussion of the nation’s civil health, not its civic health (for which I read government). This is something NCVO has discussed in previous analysis of policy around participation and engagement. But for now, as a researcher I think it is a good thing that the debates around these issues are informed by a very useful review of the evidence.

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Karl Wilding Karl Wilding, Director of Public Policy and Volunteering, leads NCVO's volunteering, policy, research and campaigning work in the UK and internationally. With lead responsibility for shaping the external environment for the voluntary sector, he blogs about the big issues facing voluntary organisations.

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