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Recently I was at a presentation of data from a Europe-wide study on Philanthropic trends across 20 countries in the EU from The European Research Network on Philanthropy (ERNOP). It is really interesting analysis and I won’t bore you with the details here now, but one result really stood out for me: policies like the Big Society in the UK and Netherlands don’t work because the assumption that governments can cut services and funding at both central and local level, with communities stepping into the gap created by the cuts with alternative funding or volunteer support isn’t supported by the data. The assumption that communities will pick up the pieces and fill the service gaps created by austerity policies is incorrect and not supported by the evidence collected across EU member states.

About eight years ago I did a study on the cost of community mobilisation that included costs to the community of lost time or expenditure opportunities. I even came up with a formula for costing community mobilisation. I still believe that mobilising communities is essential, but am less sure that they should be running their own services when that’s what they pay the local and central governments for in taxes and fees.

What is interesting about the results of the study is that neither the policies, nor the study evidence have taken into account the cost to the communities of being mobilised: time spent volunteering when they could be doing something else, like spending money in the economy, spending time with family and loved ones. All of this time has a value to each person who is being asked to give it up for service to their community. If this cost was known and fully understood, it might make policy makers think twice about trying to move services onto the community.

Have you had any experiences of services being picked up by community or volunteer organisations? Was it good or bad?


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