What connections are there between different forms and episodes of participation?

Involve’s Pathways through Participation research, with NCVO and the Institute for Volunteering Research, found that there were often connections between the different activities people get involved in. We observed how people followed a range of pathways to move between different types of activity, with one form of engagement often prompting or leading to another.

Some people’s involvement in a range of activities was consistently and consciously joined up: their participation was integrated into their lives. For other people, their involvement is better described as a series of one-off involvements, which were off-shoots of their core involvement (e.g. lobbying to save a service for which they were volunteering). Our findings challenge the notion of spillover, whereby people who are involved in one type of participation, such as volunteering, inevitably get drawn into another type of participation, such as going to a local consultation. There were examples of this happening, but it was neither systematic nor automatic.

The primary connection that links different activities is a strong dominant motivating force, for example, living out certain values or beliefs, being concerned about a specific issue (like educational provision), having an interest (such as cricket or gardening), or wanting to put to use a skill (like accountancy). Almost always there is an enabling factor that sits alongside their dominant motivation, which facilitates the link. Enabling factors include existing institutions such as schools and places of worship, organisations such as tenants’ and residents’ associations and community centres, and key individuals acting to bridge different activities and groups. These enabling factors were all crucial in providing the space, conditions and practical support people need to participate in different ways.

Belonging to a group, be it a formal organisation or a loose network, provided important links to other types of participatory activities, including connecting with local and national democratic structures and decisionmakers. These connections happened through the pooling of knowledge, skills and personal links, which happened more in some groups than others: a tenants’ and residents’ association will more often be in contact with local councillors and officers than, for example, a local sports club, because of their respective aims and objectives. However, where a specific goal is in mind, such as securing more practice space, the sports club members can become important lobbyists and advocates to local and national representatives.