Category Archives: citizenship

Defending civil society against Big Society commentary

Although the Conservative Big Society ideas got some early support from social activists, this was swallowed up in the general political knock-about, and also challenged by those doubting how far people have time and enthusiasm for volunteering and other forms of involvement. This rather muted the appeal of the Big Society Network, who aim to appeal across all interests, whoever is elected. It also made it difficult to have a non-partisan discussion about the benefits of greater citizen involvement. It’s obvious we are going to see big cuts in local services whoever is elected, so we had better get thinking – as I’ve just reported on this event.

The response of Big Society Network co-founder Paul Twivy and others has been to invite social entrepreneurs and other supporters of the  broader ideals for civil society to sign a letter for publication this weekend.  read more »

Voluntary sector 'ultras' gear up for post election campaigning

I’m interested to see that the National Coalition for Independent Action is taking on its first member of staff (details below). Just another voluntary sector post? Not really, because Coalition members have been campaigning for some years against the Government contract and funding culture which, they believe, has drawn many nonprofit organisations into a close and unhealthy relationship with the State, where their independence is compromised by tight targets and monitoring.

All rather relevant in the context of Conservative proposals for The Big Society, with its “radical revolt against the statist approach of the Big Government that always knows best”. Hmmm, any similarity of concern? Here’s NCIA, who acknowledge they are sometimes known as the “hypercritical ultras of the voluntary sector“: read more »

Big Society Network founders share their passion for social action

The Big Society Network has been quiet since its launch on the same day as the Conservative Big Society plans, which then became the centrepiece of the Tory manifesto. The Network aims to be non-partisan, despite sharing a name, so it must be difficult to figure out how to promote their plans for a 15 million-strong mutual society to support social action wihout getting too caught up in the election fray. (background on the Network here)

The Network founders, Nat Wei and Paul Twivy, have now taken some first steps towards wider engagement with posts on the Network blog about their personal passion for the project.
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Is the Big Society appealing? Now there's some stats


The polling organisation Ipsos MORI have drawn on their extensive past research into people’s enthusiasms and motivations to give insights into how far citizens may want to join the Conservative plans for a Big Society, (previously covered here). Or anyone else’s call for more volunteering.

The chief executive of Ipsos MORI, Ben Page, is quoted as saying: “I don’t know what the Conservatives’ own polling and focus groups are showing, but our research shows that while people like the idea of the big society they are too busy doing other things to make it happen.

“It is not clear that the public wants to accept Mr Cameron’s invitation for greater involvement and local control”.

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Making the best of the Big Society debate

After some “whatever happened to the Big Society” comments last week, I think we’ll hear more this week from David Cameron because the Conservatives need some serious “time for a change” narrative to reclaim ground from Lib Dem advances, following Nick Clegg’s Leaders’ Debate performance. It has started with a Big Society versus Big Government speech today, where Cameron says he is going to “redouble the positive” in the election campaign.

“The old top-down, big-government approach has failed in Britain”, he said, adding that even if you still believe in it there isn’t any government money left to try it with: “Gordon spent it all, it’s all gone”.”So we need something different, and that is where our big idea comes in. The idea of building the Big Society, the idea of saying: if you want change, then we have all got to pull together, work together, come together, recognise we’re all in this together, and that’s how you get change.”

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Time for the Big Society Network to start networking

We didn’t hear anything from David Cameron about The Big Society in last night’s TV Leaders’ Debate … which prompted David Barrie to tweet “Has all the #bigsociety stuff been negotiated out?
48hrs ago, it was the new revolution”. Maybe there wasn’t the right question from the studio audience to provide a peg … but things have generally gone quiet since the seminar on March 31, and the centrepiece statements in the Conservative manifesto. There’s been rather more fun from the spoofs. (see also my update below: should the Network stay with the BS brand?)).
After the initial announcements I found people engaged in neighbourhood action and community development rather bemused to find their work so warmly embraced by the Tories. Cautiously welcoming, but pointing out that the real test would be in how far the fully-developed policies take account of the messy realities. You can get so far with Saul Alinsky-style campaigning, and volunteer-led initiatives, but to make long term improvements in services you also need to work with local authorities. We didn’t hear much about that. read more »

More about The Big Society Network

As I wrote the other day, the Big Society Network was launched immediately after the Conservative Big Society seminar … both with speeches from Tory leader David Cameron.

At the seminar Mr Cameron promised “a neighbourhood army” of 5000 professional community organisers “that would give communities the help they need to work together and tackle their problems”. This produced some approving noises from activists and disapproval from right of centre Tory organisations, as I wrote here. The Conservativehome blog has followed up with a challenge to the critics and powerful support for the idea of providing a “voice for the voiceless”. read more »

Getting back to Government Is Us

We’ll hear a lot of high-level policy discussion about Big Society versus Big Government in the run up to the general election – due to be rekindled by the Tories next Wednesday, I hear – but amidst wonky talk of localism it’s easy to lose touch with what that can mean in reality. A meeting last night with Jim Diers, from Seattle, brought some down-to-earth optimism. read more »

Volunteer, activist, agitator …

Kevin Harris offers some discussion of the relationship between active citizenship, volunteering and community action … suggesting we need to explore the nuances of different roles. I agree – especially as funding cuts will reduce state provision and social media may stengthen local voices. Message: don’t take us for granted.

Social tech and civil society: not so very different from banking

Are nonprofits really much different from private companies and other organisations in the way they use – or don’t use – social technology? Not as much as they may think.

That’s the conclusion I reached in an interview at the end of today’s UK Carnegie Trust seminar about social technology and civil society associations – which I wrote about here. read more »