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  • Harry Hobson & Marnie Freeman

Findings from our research on local engagement during the lockdown

We’ve just published research-findings about the different ways that people engaged with local community activity during the Covid-19 lockdown in the UK.

We carried out ethnographic research in London and Glasgow. We were seeking insights into two questions:

  1. How the different types of local-engagement may evolve or be sustained as lockdown eases?

  2. Its impact on social cohesion in neighbourhoods, across 3 axes: social identity, local participation and mixing across-lines-of-difference?

In this blog post we share some of the top-line findings, but do read the whole report, or at least dig into people’s stories… for example, why Julie organised BogRoll bingo in Glasgow; Lenny talking about what makes volunteers come out of the woodwork, Fluti in Newham helping some isolated old-people but running low on patience…

The full report is here (click this link to see it on google-slides) and you’re welcome to download and share it within your networks. And we’d like to say thanks to the team at Social Engine whom we worked with, and also to the brilliant Unbound Philanthropy who provided funding for this research.

Here’s a summary of the key findings:

Four Types of Engagement

We saw a wide range of experiences and motivations around local engagement, and we disaggregated it out into 4 types:

The types aren’t mutually exclusive; some people engaged in 2 or more of these ways

The Forces that make people engage and the opposing "Fading-Forces"

What were the drivers that motivated people to do more local-engagement? Here are 6 main drivers we saw:

  • Desire for safety and security in response to personal threat

  • Kindness, altruism, recognition that others require help

  • Instinctive desire to fix & rescue

  • Pride in neighbourhood and the collective response

  • Reciprocity and surrogacy (looking after this person as though it’s my auntie.. And hoping someone’s doing the same for her”)

But these drivers compete with forces which lead to engagement declining. These fading-forces are mainly functional and practical, as the reality of daily life kicks back, and people stepped down from the initial “scramble to help and be involved” and reassessed their contribution in a more dispassionate way. So these forces included:

  • Task-completion.. “Job done” or “worst is over”

  • The helper’s own needs become more prominent, especially as economic downturn kicks in

  • Less time or bandwidth, as partial-normality resumes

  • Questions about ongoing roles and responsibilities as the emergency-phase subsides “shouldn’t someone else be doing this now?”

  • Initial impulse to help overtaken by burdensome commitments, or lack of bounded-responsibilities

Factoring in these positive and negative forces on the different types of engagement, we reckon that the two types of engagement that are likeliest to endure are those that are based on “human-relationship” more than in “task-doing”. So:

Forecasting how engagement will fade.. and the role of Connective Infrastructure in shoring it up

Therefore, we expect to see a gradual decline in levels of local engagement as the country moves beyond this first Covid epidemic:

And so the key recommendation from the project is that Councils and other local stakeholders should act to "bank" the surge in care and engagement.

Our view is that the best way to do this is through building "Connective Infrastructure" that undergirds the shift in sentiment.

And here at the Neighbourly Lab, we’re exploring how Connective Infrastructure can be built around the interface between essential-workers and local-users. More on that soon.


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