A couple of views on the Big Society
Two commentators have made some interesting points on the Big Society in the last couple of days, which I thought I’d share here. Sheffield-based regeneration writer Julian Dobson blogs about the Incredible Edible Todmorden project, which features in a book published today on what’s termed the ‘Civic Economy’ and demonstrates everything the Government wants to the Big Society/small state formula to be.
Meanwhile, policy heavyweight Matthew Taylor blogs about the tensions between state and individual models for action, or supporting community initiatives versus the ‘rampant statism’ which is seen to stifle such activity.
Evidence suggests that most ordinary people don’t understand the Big Society or – worse – see it as cover for cuts. If this is to change, those responsible for delivering it need to be clear about the vision and frame it in ways that people understand.
I didn’t attend a street party yesterday (there wasn’t one where I lived). I didn’t even watch the wedding of live on TV (my daughter had a trampolining lesson to attend at 11.30am), although I caught plenty of it afterwards. But it wouldn’t be right for me to blog about anything else other than the marriage of Will and Kate this morning. Here are the three of the key things I picked up from yesterday’s media marathon.
1. Big Society beat talk of party pooper councils: There were warnings beforehand (including from the Government) that faceless local bureaucrats would stand in the way of people having a party (which I had blogged about when the engagement was announced). But seemingly, and thankfully, parties sprang up all over the place (usually with a journalist on hand with some commentary about how this signified the entire country was in a park or at a street party somewhere). And so the media in Cornwall, Gloucestershire, Swindon and other areas duly obliged with such coverage. There was still some talk about whether cash strapped councils got into the spirit of things. But with most people willing to chip in and sort out the parties themselves, this was a good example of the Big Society at work.
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I blogged last month about an inspiring community-led scheme in High Bickington, Devon, which has brought villagers together to deliver badly needed housing and workspace for local people.
I was delighted this morning to read the two-page write-up Planning magazine had devoted to the project, following a visit and some interviews organised at the site a few weeks ago.
The link is not yet up on the website, so I can not provide this. But the coverage highlighted the project’s ‘local’ credentials, which predate the Government’s localism and Big Society agendas by the best part of a decade.
It’s great to see the project, and the role of the HCA in its delivery, recognised by the industry. I will try to provide links to the coverage when they are available!
Bottom up sweet spots for the Big Society – Matthew Taylor’s blog
Taylor writes about examples of the commercialisation of the Big Society, where businesses get involved in activity that benefits customers. He calls this area of action ‘the sweet spot’. Others may see it as rebranded Corporate Social Responsibilty (CSR), which has been around for years and is proved to be beneficial to businesses that do it properly. Scepticism aside, this is what good business and the Big Society should be about.
Debates about the meaning of the Government’s Big Society plan highlight some fundamental communication challenges for its supporters.
The most pressing obstacle can be seen in recent survey results, which suggest that most people do not understand the what the Big Society stands for. This has led some critics to suggest that it is being used to shield big cuts, rather than represent a policy shift that puts local communities in control of their destinies. The CIPR is currently debating this issue with its members. The dilemma has led the Government-supporting Sun to acknowledge that David Cameron ‘still has a mountain to climb to sell the Big Society to baffled Brits.’
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The CIPR has had some valid things to say this week about the ‘Big Society’ and the role communications could play in enhancing the public’s understanding of this idea.
The institute’s CEO Jane Wilson has blogged about the subject, arguing that local communicators and leaders are better placed to build support for the Big Society than Government.
This debate continued on CIPRTV, which looked at (amongst other things) communications challenges posed by the perceived connection between the Big Society and public sector cuts. Members were invited to join the debate on Twitter and were emailed by Wilson before the debate started.
This is below and worth a look for anyone with an interest in the issue.
A series of workshops and debates are planned on the issue, and a couple of member colleagues are supporting this activity by writing some blog content.
Coming just before today’s difficult coverage for the Big Society, it’s a timely debate from the institute and one that members should get stuck into. The Big Society would benefit from their input.
I blogged recently about how localism needs effective community engagement to work well.
A newsworthy report by Deloitte this week has highlighted this as one of the main challenges identified by local authority chief executives, who are expected to be at the forefront of the localism drive.
Deloitte interviewed chief executives of 15 local authorities, who collectively manage a £7.4bn budget and employ more than 100,000 people, about their views on localism and the Big Society.
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