People United’s work is grounded in making a difference to individuals and communities.  We believe that creative activities have the potential to uniquely support the growth of a range of pro-social attitudes and behaviour (i.e. the motivation to care about and act for the benefit of others – including volunteering, donating, trust, social action and everyday acts of kindness).  We want to investigate whether this stands up to examination; we want to test ourselves, check the variables, read up on alternatives, listen, reflect and analyse.

Our current research programme focuses on our work in Newington, Thanet.  It is in partnership with the School of Psychology at the University of Kent, and is supported by a national research grant from Arts Council England.

The exciting potential of the research project is that we are able to gather a range of data (quantitative and qualitative) that begins to paint a picture of the links between arts participation and pro-social motivation.  We are though aware that this project is complicated: in terms of reach (varied groups of individuals, schools and communities), focus (pro-social motivation and related aspects) and context of the arts intervention (iterative, community-led and changeable).

 As the area of pro-social behaviour is extremely broad, we decided to focus on a number of specific areas identified in our publication, Arts and Kindness (2012).  We are focusing on the following: empathy, moral elevation (being inspired by an unexpectedly altruistic act), connections, self-efficacy (feeling in control of motivation and behaviour) and the value of benevolence.
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 The research involves a mixed methodology.  The University of Kent is leading on quantitative work through surveys and analysis of events, community attitudes, participatory activities and work in schools.  These are often longitudinal in nature and feature control groups in a similar community.  They are also writing a literature review and analysing linked wider data (for instance the Understanding Society survey).  Our qualitative work is led by researcher Joe Bonnell, and focuses on individual and group interviews and analysis of key themes and learning.  We are also exploring creative ways of gathering and interpreting the data.

We are excited about the potential for this research and the findings.  We are aware though that this is only the start; we are gathering evidence and understanding, and slowly painting a wider picture.   It is unlikely that there will be definitive answers or simple conclusions; more we hope that our work kick starts interest and learning about how the arts can play an important role in how society develops.


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Related reading: Blog: In Praise of Complexity
People United’s Tom Andrews, Director of Advocacy and Support, discusses the layers of complexity involved when researching the role of arts in growing pro-social motivation.