A vast amount of local community activity is not captured by many traditional surveys of the voluntary sector, according to research published today by the Third Sector Research Centre.
Little Big Societies: Micro-mapping of Organisations Operating Below the Radar, is based on 12 months of fieldwork that attempted to identify all community activities in two small local areas of England.
The research found a diverse range of 58 self-organised activities in and around 11 streets in England that did not appear on regulatory listings and therefore tended not to be included in wider analyses of the sector, the paper says.
Researchers found organisations involved in areas such as arts and music, self-help and mutual support, and social activities, and say their existence has implications for policy decisions.
The paper says many of the groups were not suited to delivering public services but they provided evidence of groups already putting the big society idea into practice.
Many of the groups were members of specialist networks and drew on the resources of other groups and people, such as the time and knowledge of the staff who work in the buildings they meet in.
"All of which demonstrates that these groups do not operate as islands," the paper says. "This could be an isolated coincidence of dense and coordinated community activity; but that seems unlikely – and, if it is not, then some important research and policy implications flow from this."
Andri Soteri-Proctor, author of the report, said none of the activities shown in the report would be captured by the majority of surveys and research data.
"Making this sector more visible to policymakers and the wider public can help increase understanding about their role, capacity and contribution within the wider third sector and society at large," she said.