Neighbourhood Challenge promises first #bigsociety funding from @nesta_uk

I’m surprised that the NESTA Neighbourhood Challenge, to be launched on Tuesday, hasn’t attracted more attention – since it promises Big Society funding for local areas.

I don’t have more information than that in the invite (below), but it looks like a programme in which areas will be invited to compete for funding for Big Society initiatives. Shades of Michael Heseltine’s City Challenge programme of 1991? I would be very surprised if this initiative were not planned in No 10.

If so, it looks like a smart move on the part of the government, because not only will it benefit the ten areas who get the funds, but also do something for the Big Society “brand”.

Talking the other day to an academic with a long memory of government support for community engagement, we discussed how to get good publicity and positive word-of-mouth mentions when you don’t have big marketing budgets. His answer: hand out small amounts of money, and make it competitive so people have to be polite about the process if they are to benefit. Be nice about people who are already doing the sort of thing you want to see happen. Help people tell good stories.

I’m not being cynical here: it makes a lot of sense to pilot new approaches, and learn from those before releasing further funds.

I do hope we’ll also see the other two elements of a possible plan: endorsing existing activity by community and voluntary organisations, and more encouragement for the human stories that bring local social action projects to life.

So far government departments haven’t adjusted well to their loss of marketing budgets, and recognised that if you don’t have the money to broadcast you have to encourage others to tell the story for you. The problem, of course, is that you lose control of the “message”.

I hope that in the pilot challenge areas we’ll see some experiments in community-led communication. If there aren’t any hyperlocal blogs or online communities, I hope the excellent Talk About Local programme will help set some up.

When I checked, there were still tickets available for the breakfast launch on Tuesday. Yet another London event, I fear. I hope briefings are planned elsewhere once the programme gets going.

Fortunately NESTA are pretty good at providing full videos of events, and encouraging tweeting, so here should be good coverage. I’ll be along to add to that.

NESTA launch event http://neighbourhood.eventbrite.com/

Talk About Local http://talkaboutlocal.org.uk

Here’s the launch info:

NESTA is launching the Neighbourhood Challenge, a major programme that will demonstrate how to galvanize communities to respond to local priorities. Over the next year, NESTA will work with partners to trial different approaches to community organising and supporting community-led innovation, initially in ten local areas across England.
Please join us on Tuesday 26th October to launch this new programme. At the event, we will consider why community led responses are so critical to the government’s vision of the Big Society, how the programme will be shaped and how partners can get involved.
Speakers will include Nick Hurd MP, Minister for Civil Society, Peter Wanless, Chief Executive of the Big Lottery Fund, Alan Rosenblatt, Associate Director for Online Advocacy at the Center for American Progress and Lynne Berry, Chief Executive of WRVS. The event will be chaired by Nesta’s Chief Executive Jonathan Kestenbaum.

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