Getting more out of your residents

Marketers often tell businesses that their existing consumers are their greatest asset. In the public sector you are more likely to hear staff bemoan the fact that ‘residents or patients are our greatest problem.’ Of course, the dynamic of the public sector is very different from the private sector. High needs families without any money are not top of the target list for the private sector, unless of course, they are working for the public sector.

Nevertheless, your residents are likely to be a much under-utilised asset. Unleashing this asset was one of the principles underpinning the Big Society and The Campaign Company recently conducted research into Liverpool resident’s views of the Big Society and volunteering. What motivates different people to volunteer? Are there ways to tap into the potential of communities to do more for themselves?

62 per cent of Liverpool respondents told us ‘they do not know what the Big Society is.’ Depending on your point of view the fact that most people were oblivious to the concept is either good or bad news.

The research used a psychographic approach, based on the British Values Survey. This segments the population into three main values groups and twelve sub-groups. The three main groups are Settlers, who are socially conservative and focused on a desire to belong, Prospectors, who primarily focused on status, and acquisition, and Pioneers who are more altruistic, and positive about change and diversity. When it comes to The Big Society the differences are stark. Taking only those who expressed a view on it, Pioneers were in favour, but Settlers split four to one against. This confirms further the challenge of a Big Society Gap that the recent Civil Exchange Big Society Audit 2012 identified.

The Big Society is a….

Chart 1: Attitudes towards the Big Society by Values Group

And it’s not just on views of the Big Society that differences between people are stark. What motivates an individual to volunteer time is complicated but that does not mean we have to leave recruitment to pure chance. Much of it is circumstantial, either a cause is ‘close to the heart’ because it has personally affected someone or simply because of the stage of life someone is at. For example, people with children are more than twice as likely to want to volunteer for children’s or youth groups as those without.

But values matter too. Settlers are more likely to volunteer to keep their area safe. Pioneers are more focused on global causes or helping the disadvantage gain access to their rights than the other groups, and Prospectors on things that help the disadvantaged gain opportunities.

It is not just the cause that matters, how you ask the question, and even who asks the questions, are critical too.

Pioneers are much easier to engage, want to do something ‘interesting’ and often want a say in the proposal. Settlers need lots of reassurance that they have the necessary skills. Prospectors, even unemployed ones, often see themselves as busy, so make the volunteering convenient for them.

The biggest mistake that many council’s make is to conflate civic engagement with volunteering. Getting people to do good things for their community is not the same as engaging them to have their say. Prospectors particularly, just need to be asked in the right way. When they are angry about something your residents will let you know, in the meantime it’s worth using your greatest asset to good effect.

Nick Pecorelli is an Associate Director at the The Campaign Company. If you want to see what your own primary values set is, why not take the simple Values Questionnaire here.

The Campaign Company works with councils to understand their communities and motivate people to change. They use this values approach to develop an understanding of how a target audience sees the world, as well as a variety of other innovative approaches, including social network analysis.

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