Involve (an organisation dedicated to increasing public participation and involvement in decision-making) have published a fascinating new report, Participation Nation. This focuses on ‘reconnecting citizens to the public realm’, which is a slightly think-tanky way of saying getting people involved in shaping and enjoying their own lives, especially where government influences them.
One chapter of Participation Nation (shame about the title, sounds like a parody of a reggae toaster from the 70’s…) looks at what people do with their spare time, and what it calls ‘The timesqueeze generation’. This describes the pressures on time and energy as much more pressing than lack of information, for instance. It argues people fall into 5 categories of engagement, from ‘Community bystanders’ (the 36% Not Bothered) through to ‘Active protestors’ (party members and writers to newspapers). Almost 70% of us are, allegedly, either ‘passive’ or ‘bystanders’.
This is not dissimilar to the pattern of arts participation, with more than half of adults attending only once or twice a year. We need to see cultural consumption in the context of people’s whole lives if we’re to genuinely affect deeply-rooted historical patterns. The DCMS Taking Part survey shows there’s plenty of scope for change, and huge correlation with participation in other areas of social life, as well as with educational attainment and class.
Involve have developed a site giving practical guidance to anyone wanting to increase public participation in their work, peopleandparticipation.net . This is highly adaptable for arts organisations. You can read some Arts Council publications relating to Taking Part here.