A group of four young women hugging

All Together Now – The Challenge report on how to become more socially integrated

All Together Now – how we can overcome the ‘people like us’ problem?

Richard Bell, The Challenge’s head of public affairs, policy and research, tells of his hope for a more integrated society on the day that a new report, All Together Now, is launched.

Today at The Challenge, we are launching a new policy report, All Together Now, which explores our ‘people like us’ problem and what we should do about it.

Download the full report here.

The ‘people like us’ problem

Our what problem? Well, today’s Britain is more socially mixed than at any point in history but research tells us that Britons from different faith, ethnic, socio-economic and age groups aren’t actually mixing with one another very much.

Social segregation is the result of a complex cocktail of political, social, economic and cultural trends. But it’s also at least in part a matter of how we’re wired. We have evolved to gravitate towards those who we perceive to be in some way like us. Sociologists refer to this tendency as homophily and it affects countless decisions that we make on a daily basis – from who we sit next to at school to where we shop; from where we live to who we date.

The individual bearing of each of these decisions on the cohesion of our communities and society is, of course, limited. Cumulatively, however, these choices impact significantly on levels of social integration – the extent to which we feel connected to one another as citizens, neighbours, colleagues and friends.

As our country has changed and the diversity of our society has intensified, our ‘people like us’ preference has taken its toll. Social trust has shrunk as we have come to see less of ourselves in one another. The effects of increasing discord and atomisation can be felt in the growth of ‘us versus them’ politics, rising anxiety and loneliness, and stalled social mobility.

Can things change?

At the heart of the work The Challenge does is one big idea: these trends are not irreversible. Division needn’t be our new default and social segregation needn’t go unchallenged. We’re hardwired to gather in tribes but who belongs to our tribe need not – and should not – be determined solely by the circumstances of our birth or by our cultural inheritances.

But coaxing birds of a feather to spread their wings isn’t straightforward. Social fault lines run deep and encounters with people from other walks of life can impact positively or negatively on our perceptions of and feelings about difference, depending on the conditions under which they take place.

Over the course of the last year, we’ve sought to identify the elements of The Challenge’s approach that underpin our track record of creating positive and powerful social mixing experiences – the key ingredients of our segregation squashing secret sauce.

By drawing on our experience of designing, delivering and rapidly growing programmes, which have brought together 175,000 young people from different backgrounds to meet, mix and connect, we’ve pinpointed nine techniques and practices that we believe are crucial in supporting people to build better, more fulfilling and trusting relationships across social divides.

These ‘design principles’ were summarised in the government’s recently published Integrated Communities strategy but the release of All Together Now marks the first occasion where we’ve set out this thinking in detail.

Where do we go from here?

Through our report, we explore how the National Citizen Service and HeadStart programmes have been consciously moulded not only to bring young people from different walks of life together in a shared space, but also to create the active and intense common experiences from which shared identities spring. These programmes have additionally been designed to enable participants to walk a mile in one another’s shoes and to foster sustainable bonds.

Promoting meaningful mixing may be a science of sorts – but it isn’t rocket science. We believe that these neurological hacks and methods could be blended into the design of many of our civic institutions and public services without necessitating dramatic reforms.

If we are to build a Britain where leading an integrated life is the norm, social entrepreneurs and policymakers must adopt a deliberate, methodical and evidence-based approach to encouraging people from all backgrounds to look beyond their dissimilarities and see how much they’re alike. We hope that this work will prove valuable to them as they engage in this vital task.

Read the full press release here.

Follow Richard Bell on Twitter and LinkedIn.