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Changing attitudes to participation


Attitudes to authority are changing across society, in what can be termed a ‘decline in deference’. People – especially younger people, used to participating online and having their voices heard and opinions recognised at home and at work – have new, high expectations of participation in all areas of their lives.  New technology is responding to, reinforcing and directing this change.

What are the implications?

For volunteering

  • An increasing number of single issue groups and ‘communities of interest’ online means that people may support many groups for shorter periods, participating intensively in some and little in others.
  • This type of activity (sometimes termed microvolunteering) is likely to replace more traditional long-term concepts of volunteering, making it more difficult to plan ahead or rely on fixed volunteers over time.
  • Some argue that this behaviour is indicative of growing individualism in people's approaches to volunteering: a consumer attitude to helping out that priviledges the individual's needs and preference's over the organisation.
  • This is mirrored by an instrumental approach to participating: taking part for what it brings the individual in terms of career prospects or social network growth rather than the help the organisation gets. This trend may be more apparent in times of high unemployment.
  • People’s desire and propensity to participate is greatly affected by their life stage: how much free time they have and how much inclination to volunteer.  This is nothing new, but organisations are starting to recognise this more, particularly as personalisation becomes a more widespread idea.

For governance

  • Many members, especially younger members, do not feel comfortable with traditional governance formats and do not believe that they are necessarily the best way to work for change.  Consultation, online voting, new meeting styles and fresh democratic forms of governance are increasingly expected.
  • As new forms of public participation in decision-making at a political and national level are explored, the same level and types of participation are likely to be demanded by some members.

For charitable activities and membership services

  • Instead of passively consuming benefits and services, members may want to shape or co-create activities themselves and expect support for this.
  • This ‘co-production’ will change the balance of power and could be a challenge for many organisations.
  • Organisations are also realising that expertise may lie with their stakeholders as much as, or more than, in their own administration. Social media makes it easier to access this knowledge, but it is important to provide genuine debate and co-delivery, rather than simply a ‘consultative process’.

For administration

  • This has also has very important implications in the day-to-day management of membership organisations.  For instance, members now expect quick, personal responses to emails. 

For legitimacy

  • The internet and in particular online communities further amplifies debate, meaning that previously hidden voices and opinions on an organisation – whether positive or negative – will be more apparent.
  • Organisations will have to choose how (and whether) to intervene to ‘control’ their brand or moderate discussions by members and others. Organisations that do not engage with or permit open debate may be seen as less legitimate.

Moving forward

  • How can you explore new ways of engaging with your members while ensuring that is it not just the loudest voices that get heard?
  • Can you provide tailored ways to engage that work around an individual’s ability and preference for participation, rather than shoehorning them into broad categories?  If you have a large membership, are your databases or CRM software up to the job?
  • How can you embrace your members’ desire to take part, and use this to help you deliver your charitable aims?
  • How can you create opportunities for members to engage whilst acknowledging – and enabling them to acknowledge – that responding and participating takes time and resource that have to be brought in or provided by existing staff or volunteers, who are likely to already have busy workloads?
  • In five years’ time will you need to enable members to own and shape the direction of your organisation rather than directing what you want them to do?

Want to know more?

What are the drivers of participation?

Published by: Involve, IVR and NCVO.

Date: 2009

Format: PDF

What is it? A briefing on what drives individuals to participate.

How useful is this? Very useful to think about what factors could be affecting why your members and potential members do or don’t engage.

Other comments: This is part of an in-depth project researching participation, Pathways through Participation.

Understanding participation: A literature review

Published by: Involve, IVR and NCVO.

Date: 2009

Format: PDF

What is it? A comprehensive review of published research and literature on all forms of participation.

How useful is this? Very useful to think about what in terms of what we mean by participation.  Provides a full overview of research in the area and directs us through the maze of publications around.

Other comments: This is part of an in-depth project researching participation, Pathways through Participation.

RSA Networks Evaluation

Published by: NESTA and the RSA

Date: 2008

Format: PDF, video, text.

What is it? An evaluation of ‘RSA Networks’, an organisational change project that aimed to move an organisation from a hierarchical to networked model of membership.

How useful is this? Very useful to think about how much changing members’ participation changes the organisation itself, and how to cope with that. Provides clear recommendations on what paths to take.

Other comments:

Last updated at 13:41 Wed 30/Jun/10.

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Third Sector Foresight

If you want to investigate further the impact issues such as the growth in social media, self organisation or single issue movements might have on campaigning in the future, you might be interested in taking part in our free 'Campaigning Futures' e-seminar on Thursday 28th October. Join us online from 3-5pm.

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