Measuring Big Society

CRESH and colleagues from the Universities of Portsmouth and Liverpool, have  a grant from the AHRC Connected Communities programmeto look at The Big Society, a key idea underpinning the UKs coalition government.The aim of the project is to create a ‘blueprint’ for measuring Big Society, and its progress, in local areas across the UK. At this stage, we are only funded to design the measure, not to actually create it. We began the project in January 2011 and have been working intensively on it. We hope to report in May. The project’s aims have evolved a little from our original proposal and are now to

  1. Define what is meant by ‘Big Society’ & what its effects might be
  2. Identify indicators and datasets which could be used to measure it (now, and in the future) at a local level
  3. Propose how to combine these data into a measure of Big Society
  4. Consult with stakeholders and adjust our proposals accordingly
  5. Apply for subsequent funding to actually create the measure

The idea behind Big Society which interests CRESH is that not only do social and community problems get ‘fixed’ without direct state intervention; those involved draw social and health benefits from their roles.  Measurement of community participation, social support, social capital and civic engagement is well developed at the individual level. However, Big Society places a focus on geographically defined communities such as ‘the neighbourhood’ or ‘your square mile’. Measuring and comparing community participation within neighbourhoods across the country is much harder and less well developed.

Existing literature provides compelling reasons for wanting to follow the progression of Big Society over time. The nature and size of social and environmental problems faced varies between communities. Some communities currently have greater levels of civic engagement than others, and some are probably better placed to begin or grow that kind of participation than others. If Big Society is to become a major route through which problems are solved and life in the UK is improved, it is essential that we understand who and where might benefit most, which communities might lead the way and which might need most help in adapting to the new policy. Monitoring where we start from, and where we go, is an essential component of this important change in the balance between citizens and the state.

If we want to learn whether a policy emphasis on Big Society changes participation in our neighbourhoods and communities, we need to know about how people currently participate. We also need to know this in a way which allows us to monitor how things may change.

*Update 1st November

We’ve made a short video to bring together our thoughts and ideas on the topic, and also produced a summary of our blueprint for measuring Big Society. You can see the video at and get the summary Measuring_the_Big_Society_webbrief


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