Archive for March, 2011

The state of Public Involvement in the Big Society era

March 31, 2011

Yesterday the non-partisan Hansard Society published Audit of Political Engagement 8, their annual survey of political and community engagement, for which nearly 1,200 people in Great Britain were interviewed.

This is a useful litmus test regarding how people engage and is the first of this series to be conducted at a time of public expenditure reductions. It should be remembered that in the 80’s and 90’s local election turnout was relatively high over issues such as  cuts, Rate-capping and the Poll Tax. Thus it was reasonable to assume that public interest in politics would be higher in the current circumstances.

It was also the first survey to be conducted during the era of the Big Society programme. In the 80’s and 90’s, whilst political interest was high, cuts then did not seem to lead to a large amount of extra volunteering to take the strain as places such as parks and other public spaces lost their visible staff and some services were reduced.

What were its conclusions of this report in this new era?

  • Interest in politics and knowledge of political events had both increased since last May – a record 58% of people claimed to be interested in politics, a 5% rise since last year, whilst 53% claim to be ‘knowledgeable’ about politics in general (up 2 points).  However, this was not matched by an increase in political engagement beyond voting or civic activity.
  • Most people in Britain are unlikely to get involved in their community despite wanting to engage more with local issues. Only one in ten definitely intended to do voluntary work in the next two years. While 69% of people said they were interested in how things worked in their local area and 51% felt getting involved could make a difference, only one in 10 said they were certain to do so in the next two years.
  • Whilst the public’s knowledge of Parliament has increased, satisfaction has decreased. 44% were ‘knowledgeable’ about Parliament (7 point increase), however 27% were satisfied with Parliament (6 point decrease) and only 30% agree that ‘Parliament is working for you and me’ (8 point decrease)
  • 46% say they are knowledgeable about how things work locally and 49% believe things work well locally (compared to just 30% who believe things work well nationally). 51% say getting involved locally can change their area (compared to just 30% who say getting involved in politics can change the way the UK is run)
  • Motivation to volunteer and get involved seems to be rooted in a sense of personal self-interest. People are more likely to get involved in their local community ‘if I felt strongly about an issue’ (40%), ‘if it was relevant to me’ (33%), ‘if I had more time’ (28%), and ‘if it affected my street’ (25%).
  • While the research suggests people think volunteering can have more impact locally than nationally, people are generally less aware of what is happening on their doorstep than they are about national issues and controversies.
  • The findings suggest the Big Society must avoid “political associations” to succeed.

In demographic terms those most likely to put themselves forward were parents aged under 45 (particularly those aged 25-34), were from a high-income group, have children; and they tended to vote Liberal Democrat.

Dr Ruth Fox, director of the Hansard Society, said:

“People say they are interested in being more engaged locally but, on the whole, are not willing to actually commit to activities. They are not very altruistic. It is self-interest that motivates them to action – when an issue affects them or their community in a personal way.”

‘This raises interesting questions for the development of the Big Society. A clear focus on the local and the personal is where the Big Society has the greatest chance of succeeding. The concept needs to avoid political associations, focus on the local and personal, and emphasise ‘community’ rather than ‘Society’.

Perhaps Ministers will keep using the term Big  Society as a national brand, whilst more community oriented terminology is used at the local level by Council’s who will know doubt note this report’s contents. We have blogged here, here,  here,  here and here about the communications challenges the Big Society faces. We would also argue that values based engagement enables one to define a much wider range of Big Society behaviours relevant to the value of each target community. We have commented further about that point here.

The Hansard Society survey also identified what it described as engagement profiles:

  • Onlookers: (20%) – happy with political system but no urge to get involved
  • Unenthusiastic: (15%) – broadly content but not very interested in more involvement
  • Already active: (14%) – strongly engaged and interested in doing more
  • Willing localists: (14%) – not actively involved but willing and likely to do so locally
  • Apathetic: (14%) – disengaged without being negative and not seeking any involvement
  • Alienated: (12%) – have strongly negative views and little wish to get involved
  • Exaggerators: (11%) – say they want to be more involved but may well be over-stating their intentions

The Audit identified ‘Willing Localists’ (14% of the population) as the key target for the success of the Big Society. They are not actively involved in a wide range of community and socio-political activities but seem the most willing and realistically likely to become involved in the future.

Whilst this segmentation is interesting, how transferable or multi-dimensional is it to other areas of public policy?

I recently commented on the segmentations used for the Searchlight Educational Trust “Fear and Hope” report on cohesion and the World Wildlife Fund “Common Cause” report on climate change and made a point, which I quote full below that I think can be applied here too:

“However there is also a danger that these identity segments will come across as somewhat one-dimensional as it responds to just one policy challenge, rather than testing that segmentation against a wider range of policy issues.

“We thus need segmentation that is not only dynamic, but is also built on a long-term database, tested across a large range of personal values and public policy areas, so we can track the small changes that lead to the bigger shifts in attitudes. This is why TCC utilises segmentation on the basis of the values which we believe lay underneath identity and which are driven by fundamental personal needs and the level of motivation and self-efficacy in achieving them. They are collected as part of the British Values survey which has been collected over the last 38 years.

“When those values are clustered in identifiable geo-demographic groups and are studied specifically on this one issue they may well become the sort of identities shown in this report that are then reinforced by local social norms and social proof. However those identities may not automatically translate into similar groups for other areas of policy – such as attitudes towards the Big Society, action on Climate Change or outlooks towards the public spending reductions – addressing as they do, just the issue of multiculturalism.

“In order for segmentation to be robust and effective in tackling a range of issues within any targeted community it needs to be able to address a much wider range of overlapping public policy challenges.

“There was perhaps a similar sense of one-dimensional outlook when it came to the recent World Wildlife Fund Common Cause report which addresses both values and identity in the context of the challenge of climate change, and which has been previously covered in some detail in this blog.

“The big question for the authors of both these two reports to consider, is could their different approaches be translated for use in the other policy area?

“With values based segmentation and its tried and trusted data collected over a long period as well as being part of a wider surveys collected as part of the World Values SurveyTCC uses a system, that is not just operable for one challenge, but which also applies across the public policy sphere.”

My fundamental point is this: do we really want a separate segmentation for every single public policy issue?

The danger of the three different segmentations I have now shown above, is they may illustrate some interesting groups of people, but they do little to address issues in the community which are not just about engagement or not just about community cohesion. In the end those issue are a complex mix of many factors and we do not have the luxury either the time or resources of looking at each of them separately.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for The Campaign Company. If you want to see what your own primary values set is, why not take the simple Values Questionnaire here.

The role of public sector social marketing in a challenging financial climate

March 18, 2011

Michael Hallsworth of the Institute of Government and the author of the behaviour change guidance, Mindspace, recently wrote an article in Public Services magazine arguing that at this time of change “Public sector social marketing, has a role in cutting costs, decentralisation and creation of the Big Society“.

No doubt some of the issues he raises will also be looked at in more detail at the World Social and Non-Profit Marketing Conference on 11/12 April, where TCC will be tabling a number of research papers.

Hallsworth very clearly sets outs the challenges social marketing faces at a time of significant cuts to Government communications and marketing budget. Today, for example, the Government announced fundamental changes to Government Direct Communication and the role of the Central Office of Information (COI), with the report calling for a more strategic approach to direct and paid-for communications.

Hallsworth, in his article, speculated that:

“…the Coalition Government appears to believe that marketing is something properly done by the private, not public sector. Indeed, it is striking how positively the Government welcomes social marketing by the private sector, seeing it as a key element in the fight against obesity, for example.”

Since the article was written, we have seen some evidence of this with the launch of the Government’s Public Health Responsibility Deal earlier this week which we blogged about here.

Whilst government support for behaviour change is very strong, it seems the fear of accusations of nannying, means instead of direct communication or engagement, the government is now seeking to “Nudge” others, such as other private sector or voluntary organisations  to do the nannying of people for it! As Michael Hallsworth comments:

“We all know that behavioural economics has captured the imagination of policy makers recently. And, through the popularity of Richard Thaler’s and Cass Sunstein’s book, Nudge, the Government has caught the bug as well. There’s an opportunity for social marketing to tap into this popularity. Currently, though, the perception that social marketing is communications suggests it is based on ‘telling people what to do’, rather than nudging them in certain directions. Yet the best (but not all) social marketing uses much of the same theory as nudging; it just packages it in a different way.”

Whilst this approach may be a rational response to current financial situation, Hallsworth makes a similar point to the one we made in our blog posting that local interventions should be the way forward:

“…many of the most effective campaigns take place at a local level (Knowsley Primary Care Trust’s Pitstop programme produced impressive reductions in death rate inequalities). So there is a need to show social marketing goes with the grain of current changes in government structures.”

as well as this point about local empowerment through skills training of advocates at the most local level:

“…helping non-state actors use social marketing techniques can be seen as a crucial step to achieving the Big Society as a whole – which, of course, itself requires significant and widespread changes in behaviour.

“But perhaps the most immediate gain from embracing the Big Society is that it moves social marketing away from perceptions of nannying.  Rather than solely being something that is ‘done’ to people by the Government, social marketing becomes a skill that government can help others to develop and use – for the good of all.”

Indeed this approach might also respond rather effectively to the Government Communications Review’s main point that:

“It is proposed that activity will be concentrated in fewer areas of focus and to targeted audiences, so that Government communications is more effective and so that the Government is not aiming multiple messages at the same audience.”

The point about targeted audiences is important. As we have regularly stressed here, people’s differing values means they often do not all respond to unsegmented messages. Whether it is driven by cost imperatives or not, a more targeted approach to messages, derived from research insight, is needed to ensure government public information communications are actually listened to and then acted upon by the people they are aimed at.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for The Campaign Company. If you want to see what your own primary values set is, why not take the simple Values Questionnaire here.

Is the Public Health Responsibility Deal Big Government rather than Big Society?

March 15, 2011

Perhaps one could have predicted how the Public Health Responsibility Deal would be reported today.

On one hand the Government welcomes 170 food and drink producers and retailers signing up to a series of pledges. On the other hand we see news reports that many of the big health charities are not prepared to commit to it at this stage as they claim the self-regulated retailer approach does not go far enough in setting challenging targets.

An important question for the Government and commercial producers and retailers is whether some of this attempt at voluntary positive behavioural change by organisations will be  just seen by the public in very cynical terms?

In August we suggested an alternative approach for business involvement in public health, which would be much more localised, saying:

Recent research has shown that building relationships are vital to well-being as a report on recent research by Brigham Young University in the Guardian on 27 July explained:

“A life of booze, fags and slothfulness may be enough to earn your doctor’s disapproval, but there is one last hope: a repeat prescription of mates and good conversation.

“A circle of close friends and strong family ties can boost a person’s health more than exercise, losing weight or quitting cigarettes and alcohol, psychologists say.

“Sociable people seem to reap extra rewards from their relationships by feeling less stressed, taking better care of themselves and having less risky lifestyles than those who are more isolated, they claim.

“A review of studies into the impact of relationships on health found that people had a 50% better survival rate if they belonged to a wider social group, be it friends, neighbours, relatives or a mix of these.

“The striking impact of social connections on well-being has led researchers to call on GPs and health officials to take loneliness as seriously as other health risks, such as alcoholism and smoking.

“We take relationships for granted as humans,” said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychologist at Brigham Young University in Utah. “That constant interaction is not only beneficial psychologically but directly to our physical health.”

What this implies is that a company working in food retailing may want to avoid directly funding nutrition or anti-obesity campaigns which might be seen as cynical or a conflict of interests. It is instead about companies building relationships and social networks and changing the  context through which behaviour happens, which then helps people make better informed personal choices.

Building deeper authentic relationships are exactly what business marketing and branding is all about nowadays. Constructing stronger social networks within poorer communities helps contribute to changing the contexts by which negative behaviours such as obesity develop and are reinforced. This creates levels of sustainability that can actually lead to increased profits as companies respond to the new or better behaviours that are developed and reinforced; and compared to the public sector have the market insight to respond to them more quickly and effectively.

As the Guardian report indicates, irrespective of the specific intervention, it is the social network itself that contributes to individual and community resilience and motivation. Thus focusing on the network building rather than the direct intervention could be better value for money for the public sector, but also for the private sector too. Indeed this more flexible approach is something the private sector might more easily deliver than a public sector, committed as it would be, to specific interventions and specific outcomes.

The irony of the Responsibility Deal is that for all its non-regulatory Nudging it actually comes across as rather top-down Big Government. This means they perhaps missed a genuine Big Society opportunity here.

There is still a danger that the new Public Health agenda and its Outcomes Framework could continue to miss this Big Society opportunity of more localised interventions as we have further blogged here.

Thankfully, the current consultation (until 31 March) on the Public Health White Paper and its Outcomes Framework still enables an opportunity to feed these approaches into the debate on how preventative behaviour change is delivered and measured.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for The Campaign Company. If you want to see what your own primary values set is, why not take the simple Values Questionnaire here.

“The Big Society” or “A Big Society”?

March 10, 2011

Most Council’s will have now met to set their budgets. Many will have made commitments to review services in order to make specifically totalled savings in the coming year, but may have not finalised the full detail of those savings. Thus there is still likely to be further debate to come as decisions are made to consult further over the detailed implementation of service changes. TCC is working with a number of local authorities in improving staff communications with the public in these difficult times.

In the aftermath of the budget debates, the Big Society is likely to be used as a term of both abuse and as a rallying cry for change, depending on where people stand on it. It will clearly be a contested term over the coming year.

Perhaps one of the problems is a narrative framing issue. Is the Big Society an outcome or a process, or is it trying to be both?

In other words is it “A Big Society” that one seeks to achieve, or is it “The Big Society” – a programme of action, leading to an eventual outcome? Have means and ends actually become merged under just one term?

In order to explain what it means to its critics, the government has sought to put meat on the bones of it. However is Big Society the right term for this actual process? In order to increase wider support for widely supported concepts like mutualism, are initiatives more akin to the Join the Revolution relaunch of the Co-operative this week more the nuts and bolts of the development of any form of Big Society?

Should it actually be an outcome rather than a process? Is turning it into a future aspiration actually a strength rather than a weakness? Have the media and even people in the same Party as the Prime Minister been expecting too much definition and thus contributed to the pressure to be seen to deliver the specifics on it, at a time when that is incredibly difficult?

After all it in effect started off as a slogan: “Big Society, not Big Government“. It is important to note that there was never a U.K. Government programme called “The Big Government“. Depending on ones views as to how far that concept exists or existed, such a description was surely an emergent property of specific government programmes and actions? So why should we expect the Big Society to be any more formal than the phrase Big Government?

“A Big Society, not Big Government” is therefore something that people who believe in it, might then be able to aspire to and set out their longer-term vision for, in order to make their case more amenable to those who are very likely to be sceptical after recent budget reductions.

From TCC’s understanding of values perspectives, setting out “A Big Society” vision might inspire some people to act as advocates for a wider consensus or bigger picture that more people could feel comfortable with. This might include the bottom-up co-operative mutualism rooted in local communities that I have referred to earlier.

The danger at present is the development of “The Big Society” as a process is likely to feel threatening to the values of others, thus any vision struggles with difficulty against the strong negative advocacy made against the process as a result of budget reductions at both national and local level to the voluntary sector.

There is nothing wrong with aspiring to ends. Many of our political movements from all sides of the political spectrum have developed out of shared visions for a better society. Perhaps at this stage we need more of that and less attempts to raise short-term expectations in an era when hard economic realities are bound to lead to many disappointments.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for The Campaign Company. If you want to see what your own primary values set is, why not take the simple Values Questionnaire here.

Community Cohesion is still a key issue

March 4, 2011

In May 2010, just after the General Election, we argued that Community Cohesion matters more than ever, saying:

“What does the General Election tell us about community cohesion? The failure of most smaller parties to win elections might indicate mainstream political debate is completely in the ascendant. However with a post-war record of 12% of voters voting for a range of parties other than the main three, do some communities really feel more cohesive after the elections, despite the actual results this time?

“It’s important to recognise that election results are just a snapshot of people’s opinion at the time and that the causes of disaffection and anger that lead to low cohesion are more deep-rooted than the issues raised by politicians seeking votes. In the end those are the symptoms, not the real causes of local disaffection. More crucially some elections may lead to some people now feeling they are completely unrepresented and become even more disengaged.”

There is no great evidence that the situation has improved. Indeed the Barnsley Central by-election result last night, shows this disaffection with mainstream politics still exists.

The recent Searchlight Educational Trust Fear and Hope report, which was recently commented on here, shows there are strong emotions such as fear being expressed by some groups, which hardly indicate cohesive communities.

In addition, recent polls show that 47% of the public still see Immigration and Asylum as the second most important issue after the economy. We have also seen the continued rise of organised groups expressing fear of Muslims in the UK, which reflects trends in other parts of Europe.

The current turmoil in the Middle East may be seen by many in the UK, who hold certain values, as a democratic awakening. However it may also be feared by others in the UK, who hold different values, for its potential domestic impact on their livelihoods and because they perceive they will be subsequently treated unfairly in comparison to others.

There is a potential danger that strong emotions and attitudes about this might not automatically be heeded by some working on the public policy agenda due to the Values Gap which has been previously referred to here. However TCC is pleased that there is a greater recognition of the need to address the issue in the right way and has worked with over 40 local authorities on gathering insight and delivering engagement with some of their most disaffected communities around cohesion issues.

As local authorities move past the challenges they have recently faced with their budgets they will now be looking at tackling a range of issues in the aftermath of the changes they have made. Communicating with their local communities to reassure them over issues such as fairness will be important to the cohesion agenda in disaffected communities. The May 2010 blog posting made the following comment on the way forward, which is still relevant today:

“It requires early engagement now, through greater insight, better language and more involvement of frontline staff and lay people in communicating emotionally resonant cohesion messages.”

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for The Campaign Company. If you want to see what your own primary values set is, why not take the simple Values Questionnaire here.

Measuring identity through people’s values

March 1, 2011

The Fear and Hope report produced by the Searchlight Educational Trust got a lot of media coverage yesterday, especially over the hardening of extremist attitudes through the rise in what it terms as ‘identity politics‘.

The report confirms the point made in this blog in May, that achieving community cohesion is still a very significant issue. as well as endorsing other points made in this blog recently. For example, the following quote from the report covers the issue of social class:

“Drivers of political behaviour are the subject of intense academic debate. It is clear that social class has lost much of its importance in determining voting behaviour. This is not the same thing as saying class is irrelevant. The alternative view which states ‘valence’ issues as the major explanation of voting has its own limitations. ‘Valence’ includes image and party reputation. It is a retail form of politics but in itself is unsatisfactory.

“For the purposes of understanding what forms attitudes several assumptions have been made.

“Firstly, class is weakening as an explanatory factor for peoples’ values, attitudes and voting behaviour. Secondly, while ‘valence’ factors are significant in terms of voting, they have less of an impact when it comes to cultural dispositions and social attitudes. Therefore, attitudes in relation to culture, identity and nation are formed on the basis of a complex interplay of:

  • class
  • personal experience
  • life circumstance
  • media

“The central contention is that a politics of identity – where people congregate around the clusters or segments outlined above – has risen alongside a traditional left-right, class-based political axis.

“Without understanding these clusters of attitudes towards issues of identity, an understanding of British politics is not possible. As class weakens as a means of understanding social attitudes and political change, and the old left-right dynamic of British politics weakens with it, there is a search for dynamics driving political change. The ‘tribes’ outlined here are intended as a contribution to that discussion.”

It is good to see the point made again as to whether measuring attitudes and opinion simply by traditional socio-economic classifications is enough nowadays,  which was an issue covered on this blog recently.

In making its case, the Report then uses detailed polling data to segment the community into what it describes as 6 identity tribes:

  • Confident Multiculturalists (eight per cent of the population)
  • Mainstream Liberals (16%)
  • Identity Ambivalents (28%)
  • Cultural Integrationists (24%)
  • Latent Hostiles (10%)
  • Active Enmity (13%)

These groups are set out in much more detail in the Report here.

Having explained the descriptions, the Report then tries to group them in terms of how they express their values over multiculturalism, looking at them in terms of three broader political outlooks towards the issue. It says:

“We can see that, broadly speaking, the new politics of identity splits as follows:

  • Liberal 24%
  • Mainstream 52%
  • Hostile 23%

“These divides constitute a new political understanding through which personal, community, economic, ethic, national identity, and global issues and attitudes can be understood. A person’s location on this spectrum is no longer accurately described by their socio-economic class alone. For example, voters of the DE social group split 5%-14%-30%-19%-10%-21%”

These are generally useful points. However it is also important to note that people’s values are very deep-seated and derived from all their needs and for thus whilst attitudes to immigration may be a strong part of some people’s world view, they are unlikely to be a strong factor for others.

The Report uses these identity segments it has identified to examine a number of key domestic policy issues. A full set of those survey questions asked as part of the research for the report is here. From that polling, the Report indicates there are a number of recurring themes. These are similar to many of the themes TCC identified in its community cohesion research with more than 40 local authorities over the last four years. The Report says:

“By applying the attitudes of these ‘tribes’ to a series of questions focusing on standard of living, race, immigration, nation, identity, community, values, and religion, a number of themes emerge. The following are particularly noteworthy:

  • Optimism v pessimism; security v insecurity.
  • Economic change and identity.
  • Englishness, Britishness and identity.
  • Changing minority attitudes.
  • Social capital v social dislocation.
  • Working class fragmentation and dislocation.
  • Negative attitudes towards Islam and Muslims.
  • The refraction of individual issues through the prism of identity politics.
  • A potential political vacuum on the right.

“This analysis is a challenge to central and local Government, political parties, the media, campaign groups and community organisations. A different political dynamic calls for a different approach to policy, communication, organisation, and prioritisation. This report concludes with a series of practical recommendations for a response to the new politics of culture, identity and nation.

“The core message, however, is that this changing political dynamic cannot be ignored. As happened with the controversy over immigration, this new dynamic is real and it is not going away. The question is rather: which response will gain the most traction. If it is to be the political mainstream and not the political extremes then a swift set of responses is required. The choice is between a politics of unity or a politics of division. It is between hope and hate.”

The report is absolutely right to identify a “changing political dynamic” that is “real and not going away”. The research that has been conducted here is a step in the right direction, showing that one needs to delve deeper than socio-economic classifications that were first developed in the UK for research purposes as long ago as 1921. However there is also a danger that these identity segments will come across as somewhat one-dimensional as it responds to just one policy challenge, rather than testing that segmentation against a wider range of policy issues.

We thus need segmentation that is not only dynamic, but is also built on a long-term database, tested across a large range of personal values and public policy areas, so we can track the small changes that lead to the bigger shifts in attitudes. This is why TCC utilises segmentation on the basis of the values which we believe lay underneath identity and which are driven by fundamental personal needs and the level of motivation and self-efficacy in achieving them. They are collected as part of the British Values survey which has been collected over the last 38 years.

When those values are clustered in identifiable geo-demographic groups and are studied specifically on this one issue they may well become the sort of identities shown in this report that are then reinforced by local social norms and social proof. However those identities may not automatically translate into similar groups for other areas of policy – such as attitudes towards the Big Society, action on Climate Change or outlooks towards the public spending reductions – addressing as they do, just the issue of multiculturalism.

In order for segmentation to be robust and effective in tackling a range of issues within any targeted community it needs to be able to address a much wider range of overlapping public policy challenges.

There was perhaps a similar sense of one-dimensional outlook when it came to the recent World Wildlife Fund Common Cause report which addresses both values and identity in the context of the challenge of climate change, and which has been previously covered in some detail in this blog.

The big question for the authors of both these two reports to consider, is could their different approaches be translated for use in the other policy area?

With values based segmentation and its tried and trusted data collected over a long period as well as being part of a wider surveys collected as part of the World Values Survey; TCC uses a system, that is not just operable for one challenge, but which also applies across the public policy sphere.

Nevertheless, despite the caveat on dimensionality, the Fear and Hope and Common Cause reports are useful evidence that as well as understanding socio-economic class we do need to understand public behaviour and attitudes more deeply, by gaining insight into values too.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for The Campaign Company. If you want to see what your own primary values set is, why not take the simple Values Questionnaire here.