7. Citizenship and Community Capacity Building
7.1 The notion of an active civil society is deeply rooted in this country, manifesting itself in a profusion of voluntary, community and charitable organisations. In turn they have often been explicitly involved in initiatives aimed at widening opportunities for learning, demonstrating that positive tradition of creative self-help identified by the Secretary of State in The Learning Age.(23)
7.2 In the past, this was evident in such diverse instances as the remarkable achievements of generations of self-taught working people, in the popular movement to establish public and workers' libraries, and in the growth of study at workers' institutes. It was also central to the instigation of public lectures, correspondence courses and to the establishment of programmes of educational extension mounted by the universities, voluntary organisations, women's groups and, especially, the Workers' Education Association. The tradition of fostering active citizenship and self-organised initiative, both at work and in the community, has also long featured as one aspect of trade unions' determination to improve the lot and life chances of their members through learning.
7.3 Today, active citizenship is manifest in the contribution being made by local communities towards their own social and economic regeneration, often in circumstances of radical economic and social change.(24) Local engagement includes people defining their own needs and identifying their own priorities, providing community based access to learning and training, often in collaboration with educational providers. This is mostly accomplished by working through networks of voluntary groups and community-based organisations. Increasingly, these bodies are operating in partnership with statutory authorities, funders and the private sector.
7.4 Research and scholarship in this country and abroad has recently recognised the critical importance of intermediate networks of voluntary and community activity for the promotion of prosperity, well-being and educational success.(25) The development and maintenance of high trust relations and of 'spontaneous sociability' have been variously demonstrated as being essential for the establishment and renewal of social capital, crucial to people's capacity to adapt to social change and fundamental to the continued involvement of citizens in the civic and political life of communities, as well as their economic success.
7.5 This country is rich in its patterns of such sociability. For example, it is argued that almost as many people take part in some form of voluntary activity in this country every year as there are members of the workforce. They not only value their voluntary work highly, gaining some of their greatest satisfactions from it, but also thereby directly benefit the lives of others and local communities.(26) The DfEE's own National Adult Learning Survey underlined the demand for learning linked to community and voluntary activity, especially amongst those people over the age of forty.(27) Many who feel themselves otherwise disfranchised or excluded from the wider political sphere gain their first stake in political or civic engagement through involvement in a tenants group, by joining an ethnic association or through participation in a single-issue group or campaign.
7.6 Such activity connects with people's own priorities, builds up their confidence and self-esteem and gives them a very practical sense of achievement. In many instances, such self-evident benefits are further supported and reinforced through learning with a range of bodies including the WEA, community education, residential colleges, adult learning programmes and various outreach projects. They increasingly figure in the provision of responsive further education institutions. Such valuable learning does not always lead to recognisable academic awards; nor should it.
7.7 This is exactly the contribution to citizenship and social cohesion through learning which The Learning Age envisaged. The next steps in the development of the government's lifelong learning strategy should draw from and build upon democratic traditions of individual and collective self-help. It should support them through accessible funding regimes which can help to embed them, at the same time as avoiding the temptation to colonise activity and stifle enterprise. To some extent, this will require experiment and risk-taking. This should be reflected in the strategic use made of the Adult and Community Learning Fund and in the frameworks of evaluation established to assess its impact, not always measuring effectiveness by means of the usual output indicators alone. The Fund's currently limited resources could not begin to fund the range of learning already in train in voluntary and community organisations (even when eventually greatly reinforced by the resources allocated to the New Opportunities Fund), and so additional resources will also be required.
7.8 Some policy initiatives should be especially directed towards those who are less inclined to participate in voluntary and community groups, or less well-placed to take advantage of them by virtue of their personal circumstances or locality. There is evidence that, against a background of generally increasing participation, there are wide variations between different social groups, with engagement in civil society at its lowest amongst the long-term unemployed. Many older people, especially those living alone are afraid to leave their homes; many who are poor simply cannot afford the financial costs of joining in. Those in remote or rural areas and those unable or disinclined to leave their own homes because of illness or disability will need increasingly to be reached using learner-friendly communications and information technology.(28)
7.9 All of this not only restricts participation, it also denies such people a chance to be heard. Paradoxically, it also reduces such people's access to precisely some of the groups and opportunities which might be of most practical use to them. Without specially designed and sensitive schemes, the most disaffected, isolated and least 'clubbable' in our society will be at risk of continuing to figure centrally amongst the most excluded.
7.10 Much of this kind of work takes time to take root and become self-sustaining. Success depends upon establishing trust, creating self-confidence and a sense of self-esteem amongst individuals and communities and establishing a reputation for delivering tangible benefits. Learning can undoubtedly help greatly with those objectives, but it requires also that resource allocation be made on the basis of input as well as output measures. Funding processes here are about investment for the future, and need to encourage an identifiable element of experiment and local innovation. Some of it is inevitably and necessarily risky business. Those engaged professionally to support community development and capacity building should not so often be engaged on short-term contracts, be at the margins of the mainstream or be resourced only or largely through transient funding. Such an approach will neither embed the benefits nor represent an effective use of money.
23 This section draws on working paper Building Democracy: a community, citizenship and civil society, NAGCELL working group convened by Professor John Field and Paul Nolan.
24 "If citizenship entails membership in the community and membership implies forms of social participation, then citizenship is above all about the involvement of people in the community in which they live...", David Held, 'Between State and Civil Society: Citizenship' in Geoff Andrews (Ed.), 1991, Citizenship.
25 See, for example, Alan Fox 1974, Beyond Contract: work, power and trust relations; Francis Fukayama 1994, Trust: the social virtues and the creation of prosperity.
26 See John Field, "Globalization, Social Capital And Lifelong Learning"
27 See National Adult Learning Survey 1997, op.cit., Chapter 6.
28 We dealt extensively with this and related points in an earlier working paper. See, Changing Technologies: Changing Learners, working group convened by Professor Naomi Sargant, 1998.
KR6 We recommend that government regard initiatives to support long-term and self-sustaining capacity building and community development as main planks of its strategy to promote lifelong learning, combat social exclusion and strengthen democracy in this countr y. To reflect this, government should take steps to coordinate and promote such initiatives which would:
SR14 The distribution of public funding from the Adult and Community Learning Fund, New Opportunities Fund and other sources, intended to support community development and capacity building should be guided by four main principles:
SR15 In establishing priorities for the use of public funds, precedence should be given to:
SR16 In the longer term, steps should be taken to: