‘Connecting the grid: Big Society lessons from a networks survey of community engagement and co-production in the regeneration of east Manchester’
‘Connecting the grid: Big Society lessons from a networks survey of community engagement and co-production in the regeneration of east Manchester’ - Beth Carley (Cathie Marsh Centre for Census and Survey Research, University of Manchester)
Writing in the RSA journal in winter 2010 Andrew Adonis, a former New Labour policy adviser and minister, observed that many strands of David Cameron’s Big Society have been a familiar part of the public-service reform narrative for many years (Adonis, 2010). In light of ongoing ambiguity about how this latest vision will play out in practice, this paper provides empirically grounded insights into the grassroots operation of the localist/ civil society agenda under recent Labour governments, using new comparative case study data from two deprived urban communities in Manchester, one of which was subject to the centrally mandated, but community-driven, New Deal for Communities (NDC) regeneration initiative from 1999-2010.
Across both the academic and policy literature many have evoked the networked structure of civil society, but few have subjected it to systematic analysis, either analytically or empirically, as Baldassarri and Diani note in their 2007 paper on civic networks in Glasgow and Bristol. This paper takes up that task to provide primary evidence of what Maloney, Smith and Stoker (2000) refer to as ‘the interpenetration of the state and civil society’, using data from 58 structured social networks interviews with representative of residents’ associations from the former NDC area and an adjacent area, which did not receive any comparable level of regeneration funding, to quantify the structures of opportunity and constraint on civic activism and co-production which may be created by social policy.
Interviewees were asked to report on the relationships members of their residents’ association have with local public and third sector agencies, alongside questions on the characteristics, and level of activity, of their association, and their own perceptions of the efficacy of the local state and the extent to which they can influence it. Quantitative and qualitative methods, including graphical visualisation, are used to analyse the structure and nature of a hierarchy of relationships, from simple information exchange, to co-production, and co-creation, through the involvement of residents in the governance of local agencies. Using this rich data source, which brings together networks measures, key explanatory variables from standard survey questions, and open-ended accounts of the benefits of state-society relations in this setting, this paper aims to shed a unique neighbourhood-level light on the big question of whether civil society can be stimulated through top-down policy interventions and what factors may mediate success or failure in the challenging environment of deprived communities, where the dependency of society on the state is greatest.