Attitudes towards community responsibility

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Recent years have seen a change in attitudes towards community responsibility. The majority of citizens now believe that taking care of oneself is the best route to raising standards for everyone (see individualism). [1] Increased personal mobility, globalisation, advances in technology and the time and energy deficit have meant that traditional geographical ties between communities are looser. As a result individuals experience less of a sense of responsibility for those in their local community. Will your workforce or beneficiaries be impacted by this? What implications might a development in 'communities of convenience' have for your work?

What are the implications?

  • An increase in policies around citizenship and active citizenship and volunteering as the government tries to re-engage the public in their communities.
  • Volunteering increasingly on the Conservative agenda as a way of addressing societal breakdown.
  • Changes to policies around local governance.
  • The potential for a decrease in local community volunteers as individuals feel less of a sense of responsibility for those in their community - the community is often a gateway into volunteering. (See numbers of volunteers).
  • A shift from traditional geographical communities to more temporary communities of convenience where individuals choose to reside.
  • Stronger bonds to where people work and socialise, and as a result looser ties and responsibility to community and family. (See family networks).
  • The emergence of a ‘responsibility gap’ – where more vulnerable people may fall outside the care or responsibility of their family, community, VCOs or other governmental institutions.
  • Growth in online communities as the internet facilitates communities that are built in different ways. (See virtual communities)

Moving forward

Changing attitudes to community responsibility may impact on numbers of volunteers.

  • How much do you know about why volunteers choose to volunteer with you? Are these reasons changing?
  • Can your organisation keep volunteers who move away from your area still engaged in your work, perhaps in different ways?
  • If levels of volunteers decrease, what marketing and recruitment strategies can your organisation put in place?    
  • Do you have the systems and processes in place to manage a more transient team of volunteers?

Changing attitudes to community responsibility may impact on traditional support structures and changing need for your services.

  • How can your organisation be relied upon as a source of support as geographical community ties change?
  • What role does monitoring and evaluation play in your strategic planning? How could an understanding of changing need help you to develop more effective services in the future? You could think about this in two ways:
  • Opportunities to improve: Should you need to change how you work or be more responsive?
  • Opportunities to innovate: Should you serve new or different users?

If you need some guidance thinking through how to respond to this driver, have a look at our pages on planning. You need to bear in mind some of the issues here and on our other drivers to feed into your planning.

And of course you can join for free to get our ebulletin which will help you think through all these elements of facing the future with confidence.

Want to know more?

Unkind, risk averse and untrusting - if this is today's society, can we change it?

Published by: JRF

Date: 2008

What is it? A think piece looking at the movement toward individualism and the decline in social solidarity and community responsibility.

How useful is this? This think piece examines the decreasing altruism within society and communities.  It suggests that stringent checks and requirements born out of fear (exacerbated by the media) have created a risk averse environment that makes it harder and harder to help others, causing us to withdraw into ourselves.  It touches upon the lack of clarity on who is responsible for whom – confusion that is leading to a responsibility gap in care for elderly and disabled relatives.  Increasing diversity fuelled by globalisation has lead to widespread xenophobia and distrust of even economic migrants, prejudice that when coupled with prevalent intolerance of those with mental health and learning difficulties is, this piece suggests, causing a shift in attitudes to our communities and the responsibility we feel toward it.

Care and support - a community responsibility?

Published by: JRF

Date: 2008

What is it? A viewpoint report examining the decline of community solidarity and the subsequent isolation of social care that has entailed.

How useful is this? This report looks at how the ongoing weakening of civil society has distanced social care from mainstream involvement. It suggests that the current individualistic young generation are more stressed and less financially secure than previous decades leading to a decrease in informal carers, and when coupled with rising levels of older and disabled people presents a severe impending issue.  Government response revolves broadly around linking attitudes of individualism and unconditional claims on the state to individual obligation and responsibility, as well as increased community empowerment; however they have so far lacked focus. It looks at initiatives such as “timebanking” (a successful community contribution encouragement programme) and suggests what may change in the future to better connect those in need of care to the community, the government and the third sector.

2007-08 Citizenship Survey: Empowered Communities Topic Report

Published by: Department for Communities and Local Government

Date: 2009

What is it? An in-depth National Statistic topic report examining public attitudes to local and national decision making, levels and methods of civic engagement, as well as trust in institutions.

How useful is this? This report looks at opinion toward public decision making on both a local and national scale, including perceived ability to influence decisions as well as desire to do so.  It examines how these attitudes alter depending on various factors including religion, sexuality, wealth, social standing etc and also illustrates how they have changed over the past few years.  It looks at levels of trust in institutions such as local government, national government and the police and how these correlate to figures on decision making.  The report goes on to examine “objective empowerment” firstly as levels of civic engagement (including community activism and participation) and then volunteering (formal and informal) and charitable giving. Figures suggesting work commitments creating a barrier to formal volunteering are of particular note, as are the comparison of levels to previous years.

Other comments: The 2008-09 edition of this report is expected to be released in mid 2010.

Changing UK

Published by: BBC News

Date: 2008

What is it? A detailed and interactive section on the BBC News website examining the findings of a BBC commissioned report into the changing sense of community across the UK.

How useful is this? This collection of articles and videos provides in depth analysis of the findings of the Changing UK study.  It looks at how over the past 30 years there has been a substantial increase in social fragmentation, a loss of “social glue” and widespread feeling of not belonging – all of which have resulted in people feeling “less rooted” to their communities.  It explores reasons for these changes including increased wealth and mobility.  The “streets apart” article looks at the difference in public attitudes and activity between those areas with a strong sense of community and those without, presenting a strong link to participation and responsibility to others.

Other comments: The video highlights provide a good overview of the section while providing some interesting and engaging case studies from around the country. The physical “Changing UK” report can be found here.


  1. HenleyCentre Headlight Vision, Planning for Consumer Change, 2006 [back]
Last updated at 15:46 Wed 23/Feb/11.

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Kathryn's picture


Third Sector Foresight

The Pathways through Participation project has flagged up on their website a bit of research from the JRF. The research looks at how residents on two traditionally white estates participate within their communities. I'd be interested in hearing how you think the findings of this report (I won't spoil it for you by telling you them!) impact on this driver, around attitudes towards community responsibility?

Hi there Kathryn,

Interesting questions raised here around community responsibility. I think research such as the JRF work on Bradford’s estates, and projects such as Pathways through Participation can really help to explore not only the possible reasons for changing attitudes towards community responsibility, but crucially begin to help policymakers and practitioners shape solutions.

The JRF work, in illustrating residents’ perceptions and understandings of their communities, demonstrates the diminishing sense of community responsibility that you speak of, but also tells us a bit more about why. I found it interesting that the researchers found that ‘community’ still had meaning on the estates, however the physical appearance of the estates, fear, disrespect, and a sense that the outside world perceived them as ‘lowest of the low’ all contributed to reduced sense of community and thus responsibility for others in it. Interestingly, the residents also spoke of tokenistic consultations in the area, disregard for residents’ knowledge and opinion, and disillusionment about participation in the community, all of which arguably impacts on local attitudes of collective responsibility. It’s certainly understandable (and we’ve heard it plenty of times before!) that if people do not feel they are given the responsibility to make a worthwhile impact when they give up their time, then they are unlikely to continue to volunteer that time and energy.

The Pathways through Participation project on the other hand, which is exploring how and why individuals participate throughout their lives, is beginning to get an understanding of differing perspectives of ‘community responsibility’ from three different case-study areas (inner-city, suburban and rural communities). As the fieldwork continues the research team will attempt to unearth how individual attitudes to responsibility compare and translate into action, or indeed non-action!

Look forward to hearing more,


Join the discussion!

How will this affect your organisation? Have you considered it during your strategic planning? Can you share any interesting relevant links?

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