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Empowered Communities
in the 2020s

The Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR) has been appointed by Local Trust to carry out research that will scope and support the future of community development.

We will be looking at the contemporary and future value of community development in the UK. Funded by the Community Development Foundation (CDF) and Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), the findings will inform future work to bring about more empowered communities.

Read more about the programme here.



The big questions


The research theme is ‘Empowered Communities in the 2020s: shaping the future of community development’, the research will look to answer the following big questions set by Local Trust:



  • How can communities become more empowered and vibrant in the next ten years?

  • How can communities identify and articulate issues and take collective action to address them over the next decade?

  • What might help people imagine what the future will look like, especially given the uncertainty ahead, and give them the tools to shape that future?

  • What needs to happen for communities to become more empowered in the future? 

This research is about ‘What needs to happen to empower communities?’ We understand ‘empowered communities’ to mean people living and acting in communities who can identify issues that affect or concern them, explore approaches to addressing those issues, and take action to overcome them. This would be not only by doing things for themselves but also by engaging with people and organisations whose actions affect their lives. So why does that matter and why now?

  • Power has become more dispersed: Communities used to go to their local authority but now it can be hard to know who to go to about actions that affect those communities.
  • Withdrawal of the state: Communities will need to do more for themselves and this will be most necessary and difficult for those affected by poverty and deprivation. Many will have weak local economies or a history of underinvestment, noting that some areas with high levels of investment are still very disadvantaged.
  • Divisions in communities: There is a growing gap between rich and poor as well as other divisions or tensions within communities that Brexit has exposed.
  • Community development infrastructure has shrunk: After a period of considerable disquiet about this1, focus has now perhaps shifted to figuring out what can be done. Corporate and public interest in co-design has grown, recognising the need to open up more spaces where people (citizens, services users, patients) can develop responses together.


In short, cuts and austerity are one driver for working out different ways of doing things – with increasing pressure on ‘the public’ to play a role in their own care and wellbeing service provision; increased interest in new and different ways of involving people beyond the so-called ‘usual suspects’; and searching for new ways of financing community building and empowerment (including of course community business). You can read more about the our thinking in our Research Proposal.



Local Trust and IVAR have worked together on Big Local, a programme to support residents in 150 areas around England to use at least £1m each to make a lasting difference to their communities. IVAR has contributed and published ideas about what needed to be ‘new and different’ about the programme when it was being set up. The Empowered Communities research has the potential to take past work on community development further, revisiting fundamentals such as what is meant by ‘resident led’ and stepping outside England to facilitate useful, productive dialogue right across the UK.



Read more about the Empowered Communities research on Local Trust’s website including research data and analysis as it emerges on the project resources pages.

You can also read more about IVAR’s work on Big Local here.

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Learn more about IVAR