Our Theory of Change: Stronger communities – an evidence-based approach

Theory of change diagram for the Resource Centre

Theory of Change diagram. Click to see higher quality PDF version

We work in a lively and diverse city. We also work in a divided city. While the surface image of Brighton and Hove is of an affluent and bustling place, beneath this surface there are many communities – both of place and interest – with members who face multiple problems.
This is reflected in the 2010 Index of Deprivation, where Brighton and Hove ranks 66th out of 326 authorities and 12% of the city’s areas were within the 10% most deprived in England.

Our Theory of change document (PDF, 105kB) brings together what we have learned from decades of experience, with up to date research evidence, to describe how our day to day work contributes to our overall aim.

What is the change we want to see, and why?

We want to see strong, sustainable, inclusive community life in Brighton and Hove. We want to see this because evidence shows that strong communities make the people who live in them happier and healthier.

What is necessary for this change to happen?

We believe a necessary component of a strong community is a vibrant ecosystem of small self-directed community groups. This belief contains an assumption – that bottom up change is more effective than top down developments – that is now so clearly true that it hardly needs evidencing.

On the importance of strong communities

‘The positive effects of people belonging to social networks can include: low crime rates, less grime, better educational achievement, and better health. A number of these affect whole communities, not just those involved in the networks or groups – everyone benefits from less graffiti and safer places for children to play.’
The Local Wellbeing Project, 2008: Neighbourliness + Empowerment = Wellbeing, p40

On the importance of small groups

‘The research findings show that smaller local charities combine three distinctive features in how they support people and communities, which sets them apart from both public-sector providers or larger charities:

  1. Who smaller charities serve and what they do: through plugging gaps left by other organisations; being the ‘first responders’ to people in crisis, and for creating safe, familiar spaces where people can receive practical support or be quickly linked to other local services because of the charity’s local networks. Examples in the research included the experiences of homeless people and refugees who were not being helped by public services but got the support they needed from small and local charities.
  1. How smaller charities work: building person-centred relationships with clients for longer; being known for their ‘open door approach’ and understanding of local issues, and for being quick to make decisions because of flatter management structures. and reflecting more closely the diversity of their local communities through their staff and volunteers. Examples in the research included charities providing mental health services that were more welcoming and engaging for people who were turned away from public services because the issues they were facing were too complex or didn’t fit those organisations’ missions.
  1. The role smaller charities play in their communities: using their well-established and far-reaching networks to act as the ‘glue’ that holds communities together. Examples in the research include charities helping communities cope better with funding cuts and service fragmentation.

This combination of distinctive features in smaller charities is greater than the sum of their parts and offers additional benefits including: individual value for their clients, such as building confidence and self-esteem to help them prepare for and secure employment; economic value through charities buying goods and services locally and added value through recruiting more volunteers than larger charities and bringing in new funding from trusts and others which typically can triple the income they received from the public sector.’

Lloyds Bank Foundation, June 2018

New research finds ‘Size does matter’ when addressing complex social issues across England and Wales

How does our work support this change?

All of our work is focused on making small groups more able to do what their members want. We work directly and practically with these groups to strengthen them by providing equipment that they tell us they need and information that has proved valuable to them over time. Our advice work is centred on helping groups overcome problems as they encounter them. We offer a collective solution to problems which groups encounter individually.

In particular we work with groups which have less access to support: those in areas of social housing or composed of BME or disabled activists. These groups in particular benefit from our practical face-to-face approach.

On a practical and face to face approach

‘Where support is needed, the greatest need for smaller voluntary organisations and groups is face-to-face support, often one-to-one and often out of hours – in particular to suit volunteers. Many BME organisations find it particularly difficult to communicate their needs and get useful information, especially (but not solely) where no member speaks/reads/writes fluent English. Again, local and face-to-face support is most helpful here. This came through strongly in both the primary and secondary research.’
NACVA, 2016:
Commission on the Future of Local Infrastructure, p25

‘Seeing and doing for most groups was a physical activity whereby they visited a person or a group who could teach them what they needed to know. … It is interesting to note that in developing and using those networks the focus tended to be upon the person helping them, rather than their employing organisation.’
Third Sector Research Centre, 2012:
Seeing and doing: learning, resources and social networks below the radar, p11-12

What is the evidence that our work is effective?

The heavy use of our services is the first and clearest indicator that groups find our help effective: more than 800 groups use us more than 2,700 times in the average year.
This is underlined by user feedback: in our most recent survey (July 2018) 82% of users said we were the only place they could get the equipment they need and almost two thirds (64%) reported we were the only support organisation they used. Almost all groups rated our services as excellent.

What are the factors that make us effective?

There are three key factors underpinning our effectiveness:

  • We have a close and long-lasting relationship with user groups. This is particularly strong with marginalised groups in the city who make up our membership and elect our management committee. This keeps us tightly focused on the needs of small groups.
  • We are a listening organisation with a culture of learning from user groups while supporting them. This means we are constantly monitoring our effectiveness and building on what works.
  • We have an experienced, stable and committed staff team with the range of skills groups need.

Taken together these mean we have the focus and ability to learn what small groups need to be effective and the skills and confidence to provide it in a form that is useful to them.

Published July 2019