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research brief

February 2004

The Aspiring Community


How community organisations are raising
expectations in Britain’s neighbourhoods

About the project


Community organisations occupy an increasingly pivotal place in Britain’s social
policy landscape. By encouraging the active involvement of the users they serve,
they have the potential to provide goods and services that are more trusted and
more responsive to the individual needs and aspirations of citizens than
traditional public agencies. They are also building the social ties and networks
which are recognised as crucial to people’s quality of life: good health, learning,
safe and sustainable neighbourhoods and so on. In the process, they are raising
local people’s expectations about the capacity they have to tackle their problems
and improve their circumstances and surroundings.

Demos is working with the New Opportunities Fund on a project that aims to tell
the story of these organisations and to explore the factors that influence their
success, from models of engagement to funding relationships to accountability
structures.

About the research


As part of this research we are developing a number of detailed case studies of
community-based projects and organisations in different parts of the UK.
Projects have been selected to give as much variety as possible in terms of their
geographic location, local circumstances, size, specific focus and so on. This is not
an evaluation exercise: what we are interested in is learning about the attitudes
and experiences of users and participants in these projects, and understanding
how different factors contribute to successful community participation.

What will the research involve?


To develop the case studies our research will be based on three elements.

Telephone interviews
First, the Demos team will conduct a number of telephone interviews with
project managers and others involved in the project. These interviews will last no
more than 30 minutes. We are open-minded about how many interviews would
be needed: it is possible that we will get everything we need from a single
interview, or it may be that it would be useful to speak to several people. The
purpose of these is firstly, for us to answer any questions they may have about the
research, and secondly for us to find out some background information,
including history, basic facts and a sense of the key issues, so that we are well
prepared for the second part of the research.

Study visit
The second part of the research will involve the Demos team spending 1-2 days
visiting the project. We will use this time to get the views of as many users and
participants as possible, through face-to-face interviews and small group
discussions, and also to spend some time observing the project in action.

Project managers will not need to be present throughout the time we are there,
but we hope that they will be willing to help us by recruiting participants for
interviews and group discussions. Interviews would normally last around 30-45
minutes and involve one or two people. Group discussions take longer (around
1.5 - 2 hours) and would normally involve 5 to 10 people. Of course all those
participating would do so anonymously.

We are keen to be as flexible as possible about the date and time of our visit.
If there is another event or purpose for bringing people together we are happy to
try and slot in with this. Similarly if it is easier for people to participate at a
particularly time of day we are happy to accommodate that.

Survey
Finally we will be producing a questionnaire survey for users to fill out, which
will provide us with some basic information about them and their opinions.
Again, this will be completely anonymous. A Freepost envelope will be provided
for people to return the survey to us. All that we need project managers to do is to
distribute the survey to their user group and encourage them to fill it out.

Outcomes
The case studies together with the rest of our research will be drawn together in a
clearly written report aimed at project managers, NOF officials, policy-makers,
opinion-formers and the media. To emphasise again, the anonymity of
individuals will be protected throughout.

About Demos
Demos is an independent think-tank that conducts research projects into all
aspects of public policy. We are a charity, and work with organisations from the
public, private and voluntary sector to explore ideas that can improve the quality
of people’s lives. We disseminate our work through books and written reports, as
well as through the Internet, events and in the media.

Next steps
We will contact you in the next few weeks to begin making arrangements and
fixing up dates. If you have any questions about the project in the meantime,
please feel free to contact Paul Skidmore, Senior Researcher at Demos on
paul.skidmore@demos.co.uk or 020 7401 5342.