Public Spirit

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Sociology


Public Spirit is a proposed new on-line public forum featuring research, analysis and debate on religion and public policy. Public Spirit will provide a space for academics, policymakers, politicians and practitioners from voluntary, community and faith-based organisations to engage with current research and debates on religion and public policy, in a forum that crosses political affiliations and religious traditions, supported by regular off-line events. The proposal for this online public forum emerges from the project 'Muslim Participation in Contemporary Governance' (MPCG) that is jointly funded by the AHRC and ESRC through the Religion and Society Programme. The online forum will provide a mechanism for further disseminating the project's findings to a range of policy, practitioner and civil society audiences, through a series of short articles on specific aspects of the research. It will connect these findings to broader contemporary debates about religion and public policy, by hosting contributions from a wide range of public actors who are actively engaged in these debates.
Issues relating to religion and public policy have generated considerable interest in recent times - with both New Labour and the present Coalition government according particular significance to religion and faith groups in policies on cohesion, integration, equalities, welfare, active citizenship and security and counter-terrorism. The anticipated audiences for Public Spirit include policy-makers, practitioners, civil society organisations (e.g. think-tanks, pressure groups, community organisations and religious institutions) and academics. Guided by feedback from our consultation with 44 such actors, the forum will: provide accessible articles on the findings from the MPCG research; connect this research with views and perspectives from a range of actors; provide accessible analysis and reflections on related research; feature spotlights on evidence and analysis on local areas to inform national debates; host debates that bring together academics, policy-makers, think-tanks, pressure groups and religious institutions to engage with and inform one another.
Public Spirit will be hosted by the Centre for Ethnicity and Citizenship at the University of Bristol, where the project team will be based. The forum will work with an Editorial Board with a membership from the fields of academia, publishing and politics. The Editorial Board will meet to determine and commission the content for Public Spirit and discuss strategies for impact.
In order to maximise the relevance and influence of Public Spirit among wider audiences, we have formed an agreement to partner with the recently formed All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Faith and Society and its Secretariat, FaithAction. This partnership will allow Public Spirit to connect with the actors and audiences engaged with the APPG and FaithAction, whilst providing an additional forum for debate and considered reflection on the issues raised in the work of the APPG.
There is at present no blog or forum that focuses on religion and public policy in the UK (at national and local levels), featuring academic research that is presented accessibly and which is engaged with policy, practitioner and civil society discussants and contributors. Public Spirit will provide a unique forum for Knowledge Exchange. Using digital media, it will make the findings of the MPCG project easily accessible to individuals and groups outside of academia who cannot normally easily access conventional scholarly sources. It will significantly increase user engagement with the MPCG project, as well as other related research, and enable Knowledge Exchange among a diverse range of actors concerned with issues relating to religion and public policy.

Planned Impact

The non-academic beneficiaries of Public Spirit will include: policy-makers and government at local and national levels in the UK; voluntary and community organisations - especially faith-based organisations - that are involved in local governance networks and/or the delivery of national policy agendas at the local level; and the wider public, who will be able to use the forum access to gain insight into current debates about religion and governance in Britain. The forum will help policy-makers to develop an understanding of the significance of local contexts in the delivery of public policy initiatives and the reasons for resistance to specific public policy agendas involving faith communities. It will promote critical scrutiny of policy by allowing those responsible for the creation and delivery of public policy, as well as researchers in the field, to discuss and debate the rationales behind policy initiatives. It will also act as a centre for high quality debate about faith and public policy-making, and encourage informed conversation about how government engages with religion.
From the outset Public Spirit will collaborate with and include contributions by national- and local-level policy-makers, as well as opinion formers in influential think-tanks, pressure groups, community organisations and religious institutions. In some cases, collaborations will draw on relationships with participants built up over the course of the research for the Muslim Participation in Contemporary Governance project (MPCG). In other cases, they will be based on the working relationship developed with the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Faith and Society. These collaborations will facilitate knowledge exchange among a diverse range of political actors and researchers concerned with religion and public policy, and ultimately increase the possibility of the forum - and the research it publicises - having a concrete influence on the implementation of current and the development of new policy initiatives.
In addition to these collaborations, promotional activities will be included in the project's lifecycle that will be designed to reach a broad group of stakeholders. The launch event held at the Houses of Parliament will increase awareness of Public Spirit among politicians and national-level policy-makers. This will be supplemented by publicising the forum at 4 dissemination events planned in central London, Birmingham, Leicester and Tower Hamlets as part of the MPCG project. The forum's activities will also be promoted by electronic means via established on-line networks and mailing lists (such as those of the EHRC Religion and Belief Network, the Faiths and Civil Society Unit and the mailing list for the Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship at Bristol University). Our relationship with FaithAction (the secretariat of the APPG), which is a national network of faith-based and community organisations with a membership of over 1,300, will play a key role in our knowledge exchange and impact.
In order to monitor impact, monthly impact summaries will be created from month 3 of the project lifecycle (when Public Spirit will be formally launched) onwards. The metrics used to assess the forum's influence will include: summaries of web traffic and commentary on articles; records of engagement with the site and the debates it hosts (including written contributions) by significant political figures; a record of public acknowledgment of the debates hosted by Public Spirit in other media; details of any references made to debates or articles on Public Spirit in policy reports; observable influence on national-level policy development or local-level policy implementation; and feedback from forum users. In addition to providing input into the content of Public Spirit, the editorial board will play a key role in developing a strategy for maximising the impact of the debates, as well as promoting the site themselves.
Description Untapped potential: What role can faith organisations play in responding to austerity? Barrow Cadbury Trust, 22.7.16
In an environment where financial exclusion is increasing, the contribution of faith organisations from across faith traditions in 'plugging the gap' is often overlooked according to new research by the Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship at the University of Bristol, Public Faith and Finance: Faith responses to the financial crisis'. The report found that a cross section of faith organisations are mobilising to provide welfare advice and resources such as food aid, grants and providing or signposting to debt advice and ethical lending services. Others are working to raise awareness of the impact of welfare cuts, or leading campaigns to reform financial services.
A recent report by New Philanthropy Capital (NPC) documented more than 43,000 faith-based registered charities in Great Britain including multi-faith, Sikh, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Quaker and Buddhist charities. It goes without saying that the reach and capacity of these groups to engage in social justice varies hugely, a factor also explored by the University of Bristol report, which surveyed the work of a cross-section of 90 faith organisations and carried out thirteen case studies of faith-based initiatives. It found that faith organisations were assisting those suffering from financial hardship, engaging in campaigning and lobbying for the reform of financial products and services, and promoting or providing alternatives to market-based finance to varying degrees.
The University of Bristol report also found that:
•Different faith groups collaborate successfully to provide welfare advice, to campaign and lobby on, and challenge welfare and public spending cuts, and to develop and promote more ethical approaches to finance;
•Faith and secular organisations mobilise faith and ethical values to collaboratively develop innovative approaches to creating more just and sustainable forms of finance;
•Although there are organisational and capacity differences, across faith groups there is motivation and drive to provide welfare advice, support, and financial help in holistic ways;
•Some faith organisations felt they needed more support and guidance on governance, financial transparency and how to comply with charity regulations. The research found this to be a particular challenge for some Muslim charities which, because of negative publicity and a perception that they are 'under the spotlight' fear reputational damage;
•The provision of assistance by faith groups cut across faiths and tended to be provided regardless of religious affiliation.
Exploitation Route The report makes a number of recommendations including the need for faith groups to share learning around welfare and finance issues and the different ways in which they address these at a community level with other faith groups, secular organisations and local authorities. It also highlights the role faith leaders can play in building dialogue with financial institutions and strengthening networks and collaboration with other faith groups, non-faith groups, social enterprises and ethical finance providers. It also calls for all stakeholders to consider how to better support faith organisations to strengthen governance and their ability to meet statutory requirements.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description Drs Therese O'Toole and Katya Braginskaia worked with FaithAction, secretariat for the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Faith and Society, to increase the impact of their Public Faith And Finance research through a series of practitioner-led networking events including the London Faith and Finance Fair held in 2016:
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Impact Acceleration Account
Amount £19,961 (GBP)
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2016 
End 07/2016
Description Resources and Resilience programme
Amount £30,000 (GBP)
Organisation Barrow Cadbury Trust 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2015 
End 04/2016
Description Can public faith help rebuild the link between morality and markets? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact This event was organised to launch Public Spirit and build relationships with Public Spirit contributors and audiences. The Launch Event took place in October 2013 in Westminster. It was introduced by Stephen Timms (MP), and featured a panel debate, chaired by Daniel Singleton (FaithAction), with panellists: Tarek el-Diwany (author of Islamic Banking), Francis Davis (CEO Cathedral Innovation Centre and advisor to the DCLG); Liz Carnelley (Director of the Near Neighbours programme); Jon Cruddas MP (Labour Policy Coordinator). The panel debated the question 'Can public faith rebuild the link between morality and markets?'. It was attended by an audience of 70 practitioners, MPs, faith leaders, civil society organisations and academics. The event featured opportunities to access and subscribe to Public Spirit, discuss its role and potential directions with the Public Spirit team, and raise awareness of the kinds of debates that Public Spirit promotes.

The event enabled us to diversify our links with Public Spirit users outside of academia, and led to contributions to Public Spirit's themed debates.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
Description Faith and Finance Roundtable 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A Faith and Finance Policy Roundtable with the APPG for Faiths and Society was convened at Portcullis House, chaired by Right Hon Stephen Timms MP and featured presentations by the PIs, with a response by Steve Double MP, and from Omar Shaikh of the UK Islamic Finance Council. The project's recommendations were well received; many resonated with MPs' concerns and highlighted issues relating to regulation of Muslim charities, and ideas for collaboration between faith, secular and governmental bodies to innovate ethical and sustainable forms of finance.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Faith and governance: why local context matters 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk brought together a range of speakers from academia and faith based organisations, including Paul Weller (University of Derby); Maqsood Ahmed (Muslim Hands); Rebecca Catto (Coventry University); Shabana Kauser (Salaam Shalom) and and Daniel Singleton (FaithAction), Therese O'Toole and Stephen Jones (University of Bristol). It facilitated discussion among the panellists and with the audience.

The talk stimulated discussion of the significance of local contexts in shaping faith and public policy.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013