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The University of Southampton
Economic, Social and Political Sciences

Understanding civic behaviour

Published: 14 May 2008 Origin:  Politics and International Relations

What motivates citizens to engage in the making and delivery of policies that affect their lives?

We know that increased community engagement can increase social capital and have a significant impact on public policy outcomes such as low crime and reduction in anti-social behaviour, more cohesive communities, environmental improvement and better local democracy. But we are constantly told that this is an age of growing disillusionment and disengagement with politics. Is it possible to reverse these trends and promote civic behaviour?

Professor Graham Smith, Professor Gerry Stoker and Dr Corinne Wales from the Centre for Citizenship and Democracy are involved in a programme of research that aims to shed light on civic behaviour.

Using a range of exciting experimental research methods, the project team will investigate the conditions which empower and sustain citizen engagement. For example, by organising a large-scale internet experiment where selected citizens will be given the opportunity to discuss and debate controversial areas of government policy, the researchers will be able to test the extent to which different online forums affect the way citizens engage. The research team will also be using random control experiments to investigate the conditions under which citizens are likely to undertake environmental actions – for example, recycling or reducing the use of their cars.

This large-scale programme of research will run for two years and is funded by a range of bodies, including the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG). As the research progresses, Corinne, Gerry and Graham will be arranging seminars in Social Sciences to disseminate their results and emerging evidence. Watch this space.

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