What do we mean when we talk about control?

03 November 2016

In this piece, Juliette Hough, Associate Researcher at New Economics Foundation, discusses control and what it means to local communities.

The amount of control we have over our lives is vital to our health and wellbeing. Increasing the control held by communities experiencing disadvantage and health inequity is essential if we are to achieve a fairer society.

Juliette Hough, Associate Researcher at New Economics Foundation

But, in order to understand how communities can best take control, we need to look closely at what control really means.

New Economics Foundation has been exploring collective control – the control that people have when they come together, discover shared interests and take collective action. Where the right conditions are in place, the possibilities for people to transform their lives and communities, by taking control collectively, are immense.

So how can communities strengthen the control that they have? To help us understand this, we have developed a model of collective control.

We propose that:

  • To have control, we need both actual control (the external conditions that make control possible) and perceived control or sense of control (belief about how much control is available).
  • Genuine collective control leads to social action and positive change.
  • Control works dynamically - where a group achieves positive changes, this will both change the conditions within the community for the better and increase the sense that change is possible. Where positive change doesn't happen, control can be eroded and stress, exhaustion and disappointment can set in.

We have identified five main components of control:

  1. Money and resources - access to assets, such as money and places to meet.
  2. Social connectedness - social connections within and across different groups in communities, a sense of belonging and trust, social support and solidarity.
  3. Knowledge, understanding and skills - social and political knowledge and understanding (for example, around the causes of inequalities, local power structures and possible routes to make change) and the knowledge and skills to take action.
  4. Influence - having one's views listened to and respected by those in power.
  5. Confidence that we can make or influence change - a belief that we collectively can make or influence change.

A dynamic model of collective control:

People's Health Trust's dynamic model of collective control

We created this model as part of our work with People’s Health Trust, which aims to find out more about collective control - what it means, how it can be fostered, and what difference it makes. The model is informed by a review of the literature as well as in-depth interviews we conducted with professional and academic experts and local people living in areas that experience disadvantage.

New Economics Foundation is currently embarking on a four-year evaluation of Local Conversations, a funding programme run by People’s Health Trust which aims to increase individual and collective control in communities experiencing disadvantage, as a way of helping to reduce health inequalities. This evaluation will enable us to test and refine our model of collective control, as well as add to the growing evidence base around the impact of collective control.

Juliette Hough, Associate Researcher at New Economics Foundation


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