What are the meso-level transformative conversion factors that support participation and voice capabilities in high poverty neighbourhoods in UK?

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

In high-poverty neighbourhoods, participation and voice offer central capabilities and functionings in the development of collective agency and the ability to act in concert to address inequalities. The success of community participation is contingent on critical meso-level conversion factors or resources: the transformative spaces, relationships and approaches which support the flourishing of human capabilities and lead to meaningful locally led participation and change. Meso-level conversion factors at neighbourhood level include a wide range of organisations such as Third sector anchor and issue-based organisations, schools, community and health centres, and the staff and programmes they support. Transformative meso-level organisations need to consider not only effective local participation and voice, but also the distribution of power afforded to local participants through the spaces in which they are invited to participate, and the level of influence given to their priorities for change.
Civic participation in decision-making has become a key UK policy focus in addressing inequalities in high poverty neighbourhoods. Policies such as the Localism Act 2011 and Levelling Up (2022), Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 and Prosperity for All (2017) in Wales, cite the need for public services to be accountable by articulating local priorities and supporting community engagement and ownership. Despite similar socio-economic profiles, some neighbourhoods have been able to benefit from such public sector policies by building collective agency and taking action for change, while others struggle to gain traction for participation. The Covid-19 pandemic has further exacerbated inequalities and highlighted the value of community-based organisations that can adapt and respond to local need.
A range of initiatives such as Community Planning, Big Local, New Deal for Communities, Community Empowerment Networks, Community Rights and Right to Buy and Community Organisers programme, have aimed to build social cohesion through participative decision-making and local ownership. These have produced a considerable academic and grey literature on what works to support effective participation. This paper suggests that for collective agency to be transformational, it needs to be defined according to both redistribution and recognition, so: i) collective agency must be linked to the multidimensional wellbeing goals identified by those with lived experience; and ii) collective agency must reflect the lived experiences of poverty. This aligns with an understanding of social cohesion as a dynamic political, economic and social process linked to socio-economic conditions, rather than simply as a social process, but also supports high poverty neighbourhoods to have a voice in the policy and practice conversations concerning them.
Building on a previous participatory research process that mapped Participation and Voice functionings as a journey from individual to collective agency, this paper seeks to understand the critical meso-level conversion factors that underpin each stage. The journey spans seven Participation and Voice functionings from the Measurement Framework for Equality and Human Rights, which were tested empirically and mapped across the key steps of a multi-site asset-based community development programme, from identifying interests and priorities, building relationships and mobilising activity, to building wider community association and developing a local vision for change.
By reviewing current academic and grey literature on the critical meso-level spaces, relationships, and organisational characteristics conducive to collective capability development, the paper aims to draw together the key features of transformative meso-level conversion factors aligned with capabilities development of participation and voice, and the critical drivers that support the journey from individual to collective agency.
Keywords: participation and voice, capabilities, collective agency

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sept 2022
EventHuman Development & Capabilities Association 2022: Capabilities and Transformative Institutions - University of Antwerpen, Belgium, Antwerp, Belgium
Duration: 19 Sept 202222 Sept 2022


ConferenceHuman Development & Capabilities Association 2022
Internet address

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • participation and voice
  • collective agency
  • capabilities


Dive into the research topics of 'What are the meso-level transformative conversion factors that support participation and voice capabilities in high poverty neighbourhoods in UK?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this