The traditional approach to research consists of interviews or surveys that end up becoming written reports. By contrast, our evaluation of Big Local, a programme of resident-led change across 150 communities in England, is using a wide range of media to record, visually and orally, what is happening in real time in 15 communities over a period of 10 years. This multimedia dimension has never been attempted before over such a long time span.
Funded by the Big Lottery Fund and managed by Local Trust, Big Local is different from previous area-based initiatives in that it is long-term and there is no annual spend. Instead, money is drawn down against an agreed work plan as and when required, there are no annual performance targets and, crucially, the initiative is resident-led. Local people determine their own needs and how funding of £1m over 10 years can be used to make their communities into better places.
The evaluation, called Our Bigger Story, includes a diverse range of films recording activities and physical change in each area and is a visual record of how people feel and think about their communities over time. There are currently 34 Our Bigger Story films on the ourbiggerstory.com website. Each area also has its own timeline where Big Local partnerships can upload their own materials to show what is happening and how things are changing - not only videos, but also animations, podcasts, photographs and written material.
This ambitious and unique evaluation is led by the Third Sector Research Centre at the University of Birmingham, working in partnership with the web designers Creative Media, an independent film maker, Paul Morgans, and a researcher, Mandy Wilson. By 2026, it will form a unique visual and written record of how resident-led change works, the challenges this involves, and how, over a decade, those 15 Big Local areas have changed.
Angus McCabe is senior research fellow at the Third Sector Research Centre, University of Birmingham