Involve’s Pathways through Participation research, with NCVO and the Institute for Volunteering Research, showed that continued access to the right support, resources and opportunities affect people’s decision to stay involved. Critical moments and practical factors were often cited as reasons for a person to stop participating, such as moving away from an area or no longer having enough time. Apart from these factors, a good quality participation experience was the single most important reason interviewees gave to explain their sustained participation.
The relationships that are built in groups are a crucial sustaining factor in people’s participation. The boundaries between people’s participation and their social lives and friendships are often blurred. When groups and organisations work well they provide individuals with fun, friendship, companionship, a social life and a greater sense of (shared) efficacy. But bad experiences led some of our interviewees to reconsider and sometimes entirely stop their participation.
‘I didn’t want to be a part of it because it all just seemed a bit bitchy and backstabby’
Participants spoke negatively about two interconnected elements of participation in groups:
Negative relationships within groups, including groups that are unwelcoming, insular or cliquey and feeling unappreciated, disempowered, disillusioned, frustrated or cynical about their involvement.
Poor group structures and processes, including meetings that are poorly run, tedious and do not result in any action, and the absence of support (including training, access to opportunities, emotional or psychological support).
We identified considerable evidence that people participated specifically in order to achieve something, whether this was preventing a housing development or seeking funds to build a new sports club. Some people demonstrated seemingly endless energy and commitment to the cause, but they also frequently showed their dissatisfaction and frustration when barriers were encountered or change was not possible.
Some interviewees spoke about evaluating the impact of their participation and adapting their engagement accordingly: they wanted to assess how they could best make a difference. Participation needs to fulfil the meaning an individual ascribes to it; they want to see that it is having the impact they desire, for themselves, their networks and communities, or further afield.