No 10 wants to hear about your local digital project

If your community-benefit project would itself benefit from some endorsement from the Prime Minister, there’s a couple of days before the next round of submissions for Big Society Awards.

If, in addition, yours is a digitally-enabled project, you might have a good chance of being featured on the No 10 web site as one of 12 projects chosen each quarter, and getting an invite to a reception with David Cameron. Full details here including the nomination form.

Of course, you might say “wouldn’t touch it with a virtual barge pole” … and I share with others reservations about Big Society as brand and the many contradictions in policy it embodies, while promoting citizen-led action. Past musings here on various things Big Society-related.

However, those who have been to receptions for award winners report genuine, joyful enthusiasm, and about 500 submissions have been received since the awards launched last November. Are the activists being co-opted for political purpose? I think it is up to them, and would like to see the awards as one small way to make direct connection between the very London-centric nature of Big Society promotion and what’s happening on the ground.

I gather from the Office for Civil Society that despite significant interest among community groups and organisations, the number of digital projects is low, and they would like to recognise the contribution that these make.

Of course, it may be those online feel they can do their own promotion without the help of No 10, thanks very much, or that they are a particularly strongly BS-sceptical. Fair enough, although as I wrote earlier this week I believe that the shift of Big Society from a brand with strong political overtones, to big society as a policy framework makes it worth rethinking how to engage.

The award submission are carefully sifted again a scoring system, discussed by a broadly-based panel, and signed off personally by David Cameron – so they do offer a direct route into Whitehall for those with ideas of what they think big/our/good society should be. If you are a sceptic, maybe think Trojan horse … particularly if those submitting projects posted them elsewhere publicly, and we could see who didn’t get an award. That would also offer a more immediate route to publicity, since results aren’t currently announced for some time.

The office handling the awards is called the “Openness Team” and I gather they would welcome suggestions for democratising the Awards without, of course, them becoming open to abuse or making those with marketing/promotion budgets better able to drum up public support.

I’ve copied the criteria below from the guidance notes, and I think some discussion around these, and more publicity for anyone making submissions – if they wish – would offer a constructive way to re-open the debate about whether BS is just re-branding things people have been doing for years, or is something fresh, or a mixture of both.

Here’s the criteria for the awards. As you’ll see, they are open to businesses and councils as well as local groups. Submission by end of next Monday, May 23 :

Criteria

The types of activity that the award will recognise are: -

1 People, groups or organisations that have brought the community together for some common good.
a. This could be a neighbourhood or community group, charity, residents association or an individual who brings people together in a community.

2 People who have given substantial time and money to help others

3 Cooperatives and/or mutuals that are delivering public services.
Individuals, groups or organisations that have been catalysts to new ways of delivering public services.

4 Public sector organisations that are leading the way in
a. Partnership working/commissioning with civil society organisations and social enterprises
b. Encouraging employees to give time and money.
c. Engaging the public in the shaping of public services

5 A business that is leading the way in
a. Encouraging employees to give time and money.
b. Partnership working with a public sector or civil society organisation to support local solutions.

6 A local authority that is leading the way in
a. Encouraging employees to give time and money.
b. Partnership working with a private sector or civil society organisation in support of local solutions.
c. Engaging with local people and involving them in decisions in ways that go beyond normal consultations.

7 A social enterprise/civil society organisation that is leading the way in
a. Getting communities together for some common good
b. Partnership work with local or central government to find local solutions
c. Delivering outstanding impact by involving volunteers

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