What the research tells us about participation

Participation: trends, facts and figures

Participation: Trends, facts and figures (2011, pdf, 2.5mb) is a publication aimed at practitioners and policy-makers searching for information on the state of participation in the UK. It draws together trends, facts and statistics from different sources and asks:

  • who participates?
  • where do people participate?
  • what do people participate in?

The publication examines whether there has been decline in participation over the last decades and includes some international comparisons. It looks at specific participatory activities in detail, including:

  • membership
  • giving
  • volunteering
  • timebanking
  • ethical consumerism
  • political participation
  • local governance
  • campaigning, including direct action and protest.

Key findings

  • General election turnout fell from 78% in 1992 to 65% in 2010
  • Between 1979 and 2009, the proportion of the workforce in a union fell from 55% to 27%
  • Household participation in giving fell 33% in 1981 to 27% in 2008 but average donations per donor increased significantly in real terms from £3.29 in 1981 to £8.66 in 2008
  • Ethical consumerism has grown over the last 10 years from £13.5 billion in 1999 to £43.2 billion in 2009 and continues to grow despite the downturn
  • 31% of the adult population provide nearly 90% of volunteer hours, just under 80% of charitable giving, and around 70% of civic participation
  • One in 11 people (9%) have ‘expressed their political opinions online’ while 4% use Facebook and 2% use Twitter to follow a political group or politician
  • 75% of adults in Britain are members of at least one organisation
  • Nearly double the number of timebank members are not in formal employment (72%) compared to traditional volunteers (40%).

Why individuals participate

'Pathways through Participation: What creates and sustains active citizenship?' is a qualitative research project that aimed to improve our understanding of:

  • how and why people participate
  • how their involvement changes over time
  • what pathways, if any, exist between different activities.

It was funded by the Big Lottery Fund and led by NCVO in partnership with the Institute for Volunteering Research (IVR) and Involve.

Key findings

  • Participation was widespread and embedded in communities. We were able to identify people who no longer participated, but we couldn’t find people who had never participated
  • The people we interviewed got involved for a range of reasons; often they had more than one motivation for getting involved and these shifted over time according to people’s life circumstances, needs and aspirations
  • People’s motivations were usually a reflection of their values and beliefs, the people, issues and interests they cared about
  • People’s ability to participate is tempered by access to resources such as time, money, skills, knowledge and experience
  • Participation does not necessarily become more intense and committed over time although activities, roles and responsibilities may change
  • The single most important reason people gave for continuing to participate was having a good quality experience: whether they felt their contribution was having an impact; whether they had a good time and enjoyed being with the people they participated with.

Read the final reports, literature review and presentations on the Pathways through Participation website

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