Published on 31 January 2023
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Community perceptions of social infrastructure

by Nora Zia, Jenny Barke, Owen Garling and Richard Harries

‘Social infrastructure’ is a phrase often used by policymakers and academics to refer to those spaces – both physical and digital – that people use to come together. In its 2021 report, Backing our Neighbourhoods, Power to Change, the independent trust that strengthens communities through community business, made the case for a more coherent strategy for developing social infrastructure at the neighbourhood level, and followed this up in 2022 by commissioning the Bennett Institute for Public Policy and the Institute for Community Studies to explore community definitions and understandings of social infrastructure in England.

The central method applied was peer research. Sometimes referred to as community research or user involvement, this is where people use their lived experience and understanding of a social or geographical community to help generate information about their peers for research. In this case, the aim was to solicit the views of people who use social infrastructure. However, rather than asking directly what they thought about social infrastructure, the peer researchers co-developed a set of questions in more everyday language. At the end of the process, participants were asked to define what they thought of as social infrastructure.

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