Networking Big Society programmes for all our communities

Big Society-related plans to support community action, announced recently, provide a challenge for those involved to share learning across their programmes and more widely.

I think this also offers a big opportunity for people working at local and national level as community reporters, social reporters – or in any other role with a commitment to make the most of social media for networking and collaboration.

I’ve done a roundup of the main programmes over on the Our Society forum, where I’ve been writing a lot recently, with others, about how we can make the most of current interest in community action while avoiding the politics of the Big Society brand. My blog posts are here, with more at

The recently-announced programmes that I’ve summarised here are training for community organisers, NESTA Neighbourhoods, and areas to be supported by the Big Local Trust. They are each led by major civil society organisations: the Development Trusts Association, National Council for Voluntary Organisations, and the Community Development Foundation.

The programmes will, potentially, release a host of stories, insights and experiences that would be hugely useful to those in other communities. Knowing the organisations involved, I’m sure that there will be excellent formal systems for management and evaluation, and probably stacks of toolsheets, kits and other materials.

But will they make the most of the opportunities provided by social media to share across networks, using blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other tools now being widely adopted? Or will they set up new dedicated systems for each of the programmes, with little scope for sharing? Will they help people to actually talk to each other?

I hope it is the former option, but it may not be easy. I don’t know about the arrangements in these programmes, but all too often funders are unfamiliar with the possibilities of open systems, and nudge organisations towards Yet-Another-Website.

I’m hoping to make a contribution through my work with Amy Sample Ward and Andy Gibson at Social by Social, where there’s some 500 people with an interest in the use of social technology for social impact … and we have the NESTA-funded Social by Social book to back it up.

I’m also excited to be working with the National Association for Neighbourhood Management on a European programme to promote the use of social media in multi-cultural neighbourhoods. It’s with the Media4Me network, that I wrote about here.

Around the country there is now wealth of talent in the local use of social technology – including Will Perrin’s Talk About Local network of hyperlocal sites, Networked Neighbourhoods being developed by Hugh Flouch and Kevin Harris, and Social Media Surgeries organised by Nick Booth of Podnosh and John Popham. That’s just to mention a few friends …

Fortunately we all know each other more or less well … and I think would be prepared to do what we are variously promoting at local level: look at the assets that we have within our networks, and make the most of those rather than inventing something new.

What’s needed, I believe, is some co-designing of ways to join up the networking that will take place in the various programmes, to support local community and social reporters, and to provide training for community organisers and others.

As a first step it would be a great help if one of the big players in the field – maybe NESTA or Big Lottery Fund – expressed some enthusiasm for collaboration, and maybe hosted a get together, ideally with some prior mapping of who’s who in the field. Or NCVO, who have in the past convened excellent social media events.

And/or we could build on some of the great ideas about networking that are emerging on the Our Society ideas platform … and organise our own get-together. Isn’t that what Big Society is meant to be about?

One comment

  • February 21, 2011 - 8:17 pm | Permalink

    David. Really welcome post. You are *totally* correct. All I’d say – as someone involved in one of NESTA Neighbourhoods – is that all of these programmes embrace a diversity of public and private organizations with a very wide diversity of techno-philia and phobia and systems and rules that either support or hinder their use of and collaboration via online media. Any support from you and your comrades in bringing everyone forward together would be *very* welcome.

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