Understanding everyday participation

This is a guest blog by Catherine Bunting from the Everyday Participation project team.

Participation in culture and sport has long been an area of interest for national and local government and for voluntary and community organisations that work to promote active lifestyles and thriving communities. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport and many local authorities aim to increase cultural participation, believing that it can lead to a range of benefits from improved health and wellbeing to social cohesion to the regeneration of deprived areas. People have never had more choice about how to spend their leisure time and for many, hobbies and pastimes make an important contribution to sense of self and quality of life. But how much do we really know about how people participate, and the value they attach to their different activities and involvements?

These are the questions we’re trying to address through a five-year research project called ‘Understanding Everyday Participation – Articulating Cultural Values’, which is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council through its Connected Communitiesprogramme. The project is a collaboration between four universities (Manchester, Leicester, Exeter and Warwick), working in partnership with 12 national bodies (including NCVO and other organisations in the voluntary sector such as Voluntary Arts) and a range of local organisations. Typically research on cultural participation tends to focus on more formal, traditional activities – we know a lot about who goes to the theatre, for example, or the number of people using libraries. The Everyday Participation project aims to build a broader picture of participation by finding out what people do on a day-to-day basis in their homes, with their families, in their communities. We want to uncover the significance of ordinary, informal activities – dog-walking, skateboarding, the pub quiz – that may not contribute to government targets but are an important part of how people make their lives today.

The main strand of research will take place in six locations: Manchester, Gateshead, Peterborough, Dartmoor, Aberdeen and Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides. In each place we will use a mix of methods to explore the detail of everyday participation: interviews, ethnography, social network analysis, local participation histories and mapping of local facilities and groups. We will examine how participation connects people and communities and how participation patterns shape and are shaped by places. Building on NCVO’s Pathways through Participation project, we will study the relationships between different types of participation – cultural, social, civic and economic. Does one kind of participation lead to another?

We hope that the research will benefit voluntary and community organisations in a number of ways. We’ll be holding workshops with local groups in each of the six locations to exchange expertise and perspectives and to debate the results of the research as they emerge. We will also be developing a series of ‘application projects’, in which our team will collaborate with local communities and organisations to experiment with new forms of policy and practice in response to the research findings. More broadly, we hope that the project will produce a range of new resources for organisations working to promote participation and a fresh, more inclusive understanding of what cultural participation means today.

For more information please visit the project’s website or feel free to contact project lead Dr Andrew Miles at the University of Manchester or Véronique Jochum at NCVO.

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