How to make Big Society really engaging: divert 1% local public funds to communites

I’m taking much of my Big Society blogging over to the Designing for Civil Society group on SocialbySocial, where I’ve posted some interviews I did yesterday at an excellent round table event organised by New Start magazine and the National Association for Neighbourhood Management. I’ve also set up a wiki to gather resources.

However, I want to pull out one of the most interesting conversations I had after the event – with Tony Bovaird, who is Professor of Public Management and Policy at the University of Birmingham.

Local government doesn’t figure strongly in Big Society discussions about social action … so I asked what councils could do, and what could be done differently.

Tony emphasised that councils can add organising capability and money to the mix of community assets and opportunities – then went further.

Why not take the Total Place idea of pooling budgets in an area another step, and make an officer in every city directly accountable to Parliament for total local spending. And how about taking one per cent of public sector budgets and making it more directly available to the

Let’s also dispose of the idea of grand top-down strategies, beloved of bureaucrats, and focus on how to support a mass of action by individuals.

Tony said that the important thing to realise is that what we do wasn’t planned – we didn’t get here by planning, we got here accidentally. No body else in Europe does it the way that we do.

“Although from where we stand it looks as if it couldn’t be any other way, actually it could be very radically different. So we’ve got to open up to the best ideas from elsewhere in this country and elsewhere in Europe and recognise that there is a big potential. Over 45 per cent of people in this country do something that has social significance at least once a month. They want to do that – and they want to do it with more help”.

My question about Total Place was prompted by a particularly interesting post on the edemocracy blog Total Place: The Missing Element that suggested putting this experiment in budgeting for a locality across agencies, together with experiments in participatory budgeting.

If you added in Tony’s idea for a one per cent shift of spend to community purposes, you could develop a really engaging Big Society game – cutting and creating together. Bring community interests, public agencies and businesses together to figure out how to make best use of the totality of community resources. Kevin Harris and I started a conversation about this the other day, and I’m looking out more ideas about how it could work.

Pretty much everyone agrees we are going to have to do more with less … so let’s get together and figure out how to do that.

Previously: Let’s co-design civil society, before government does it for us

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