These days everyone seems to be in favour of community, cohesion, inclusion, engagement and so on at local level. Me too.... but how do you know if you've got it, and whether the work you may be doing is making things better or worse? Kevin Harris in Indicators of strong communities alerts us to some work published by the UK Government's Neighbourhood Renewal Unit that I think could be very significant.
The paper proposes how to measure 'community strength' against five main indicators. Interesting enough to researchers, but more generally significant, I suspect. This work may give some insights into the way government sees community development these days, and where policy and funding priorities will lie.
As Kevin reports:
There are five core indicators, which are presented as if carrying equal weight (although personally I favour the first two and am less concerned to see weight given to the last)
* Governance - percentage of residents who feel that they can influence decisions affecting their local area
* Cohesion and inclusion - percentage of residents who feel that their local area is a place where people from different backgrounds can get on well together
* Volunteering - percentage of residents who affirm that they carried out voluntary work in an organisation once a month or more in the past year
* Voluntary and community sector - percentage of VCS groups and organisations affirming growth in activity over the past year in terms of (i) financial turnover and (ii) volunteering
* Services - Proportion of services in selected public service areas delivered by VCS organisations on behalf of the local authority.
Each has additional recommended indicators, an explanation, example, and actions associated with them. Quite a lot of work has also been done on methods and questions for collecting the data, with a case study included.
Kevin goes on to question the way that some of the indicators are framed:
And does it have to be 'volunteering' and 'voluntary work'? What about ‘community activity’ (or even community involvement)? Turning up on a cold wet evening and sitting in a committee meeting, maybe without saying anything to anyone, is probably community activity to most people but not voluntary work.
I think there are a lot of other issues worth discussing. Suppose people are broadly happy with their neighbourhood, and aren't too worried about getting involved ... and most of their neighbours are from similar backgrounds. Is their neighbourhood weaker than one with greater diversity and concern about the way the council is doing things? Maybe strength has something to do with how far people an organise when necessary.
I'm personally rather sceptical about the extent to which you can measure "community strength" in quite the ways suggested. Where do the indicators come from ... are they drawn from work on the ground, reflecting people's perceptions of what matters in a community, or are a rationalisation of current government policy enthusiasms? Why is there no press release, or encouragement on the NRU site to discussion? Maybe that will come ... at least they are published and Kevin's vigilence has given us a chance to start our own discussions. That wouldn't have been so easy a few years back.
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