Networking Big Society – or maybe some knowledge gardening

In my last two posts here and here I’ve written about the Government’s idea for the Big Society, which aims to ….

  1. Give communities more powers
  2. Encourage people to take an active role in their communities
  3. Transfer power from central to local government
  4. Support co-ops, mutuals, charities and social enterprises
  5. Publish government data.

… and suggested that while there is a lot now underway,  there is no Big Plan and it is also unlikely that we will see a Big Process aimed at creating any shared vision for what’s needed to move from aspiration to achievement.
I haven’t been writing particularly critically – not just because I’m working part-time for the Big Society Network. For the best of Big Society ideas to succeed they have to be filled out and realised bottom-up, not through Government-orchestrated programmes.
On the other hand, little will be achieved if people can’t explain Big Society to each other, can’t find out what’s happening in different places, or learn from each other’s experiences. Of course, an enormous amount of that is happening already, if not labelled Big Society, orchestrated by scores of very able community and voluntary sector networks. Just take a look at the membership of the Community Sector Coalition, for example, and the work of the 450 organisations who are members of the Development Trust Association.
But while Big Society is in part more of the same social action we have seen for decades, it is also aiming at far wider engagement, and ways of doing things better, aided by social technology. How might that be achieved?
The Big Society Network has produced two briefing documents: one on the aims of the network – here:

The Essence of the Big Society Network

And one on the Network’s vision for mass engagement, called Your Square Mile.

The Essence of Your Square Mile

The two documents were circulated after a meeting last week to brief community and voluntary sector networks on the Network’s plans for a series of events around the country this autumn. The first is in Stockport on September 9.
Your Square Mile is a highly ambitious plan to use some of the techniques for mass engagement and support for social action made possible by combining big events, exciting offers, and social technology. Paul Twivy BSN CEO knows a lot about this approach from his work with, among other things, Comic Relief and The Big Lunch.
What’s also needed, I believe, is work to build on and support that of the existing networks I have mentioned, and the hundreds of others who received insufficient recognition in most early Big Society announcements.
That’s important for at least two reasons: firstly, it is a pretty obvious place to start. These are the experts. Secondly, initiatives like Your Square Mile can succeed in engaging more people … but where will they then go for advice and support?
As well as the improved social technology infrastructure needed for Big Society, we need more and better networking.
Or as Nick Buckley said in a tweet “I’d settle for a #bigsociety ecosystem”.
I’m not suggesting it is up to Big Society Network alone to develop that ecosystem … to network the existing networks, and engage more people.
Following the briefing meeting I mentioned, many of those present expressed an interest in the idea, and so I’ve set up a group on social tech and Big Society networking over here. If you are interested in networking Big Society, or some knowledge gardening, do join us.

One comment

  • September 2, 2010 - 9:36 am | Permalink

    I agree that efforts to build the Big Society will, necessarily, include efforts to utilise existing networks and build stronger, more diverse networks.

    From our work at the RSA we have found that a large number of people do not know anyone they could turn to if they wanted to change something locally.

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