New research programme on levelling up and social infrastructure

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A new programme by Power to Change and the British Academy will help to better understand how social infrastructure approaches can contribute to the government’s levelling up agenda.

May 25, 2022

A new collaborative research programme, focused on levelling up and social infrastructure, launched today. The project is funded by Power to Change and the British Academy and led by the Institute for Community Studies and the Bennett Institute for Public Policy at the University of Cambridge. The project will be supported by a cross-sector advisory board, chaired by Dame Julia Unwin.

The research programme will help to better understand how social infrastructure approaches can contribute to the government’s levelling up agenda which has pledged “to renovate the social and cultural fabric” of areas in the UK where regional disparities are greatest. It follows a recommendation from the British Academy’s Shaping the Covid Decade report (2020) to “strengthen and expand [the] community-led social infrastructure that underpins the vital services and support structures needed to enhance local resilience, particularly in the most deprived areas.” It also builds upon Power to Change’s 2021 report with the Cares Family on Building our social infrastructure: why levelling up means creating a more socially connected Britain.

As part of this programme, Power to Change will fund a project to develop a community-led definition of social infrastructure, and will focus on the key question ‘how do communities across the UK relate to social infrastructure?’ The project will investigate the perspective of citizens through regional workshops, interviews, and case studies. It aims to deepen policymakers’ understanding of social infrastructure, rooted in the evidence of what matters to communities about their locality.

Alongside this, the British Academy funded project will explore policy interventions that have strengthened or impeded the development of social infrastructure overseas to outline lessons for UK policymakers. Researchers will engage with international policymakers and produce case studies to demonstrate successful approaches and highlight opportunities relevant to the UK.

The programme will inform the ongoing debate on what works to strengthen social infrastructure and build social capital, through a series of roundtables aimed at international and UK policymakers, academics, civil society, the community sector, and local communities over the course of 2022.

Dominic Abrams FBA, Academic Lead on the Covid Decade and Shape the Future programmes at the British Academy said:

“Despite growing recognition of the importance of social infrastructure in driving regional regeneration and recovery from Covid-19, definitions of social infrastructure are contested and there is an urgent need to bring together the existing evidence to understand the types of social infrastructure that enable communities to thrive. This new research will bring together perspectives from across the UK and abroad to draw out key lessons for local and national policymakers. It will explore how investment in people and communities, alongside physical infrastructure, can contribute to the long-term success of the levelling up agenda.”

Ailbhe McNabola, Director of Policy and Communications at Power to Change, said:

“There is growing evidence that investing in social infrastructure at a community level will be the lynchpin to the success of the government’s levelling up ambitions. However, it is important to recognise that what constitutes ‘social infrastructure’ isn’t universal and what will drive prosperity in Grimsby won’t necessarily have the same impact in Redruth. This collaborative research will be crucial to understanding the power of social infrastructure and give the government, local authorities and communities the tools they need to finally level up the country.”