People Powered Change needs ppchange communications

The launch of Big Lottery’s People Powered Change, which I wrote about earlier and have just attended, generated the usual mixed reaction online and in the room from romantics, boosters and critics.

On the romantics and boosters side we had huge enthusiasm for a BIG vision of bottom up community action catalysed by £5.76 million of funding, including £2.2 million support for 25 social entrepreneurs though Unltd,  £830,000 for the Your Square Mile online system for local communities, and £820,000 for the Young Foundation. NESTA Neighbourhood Challenge gets £2 million. Links below to details.

From the critics we had “nothing new here, people have been doing it for years”, ” real community activists won’t use the technology” and “it’s too top-down, with too little grass-roots experience”, plus “give money to local projects not national programmes”.

We may not know for some years who is right, but at this stage it is possible to see where the challenges lie, and where early action could increase the chances of success.

Big Lottery are saying this isn’t a new funding programme, or a new brand, but rather a platform of support for local action that brings together past work and new contributions from their partners.

As I wrote earlier, People Powered Change is impressive in attempting, for the first time, to bring together funding, advice on social action, a social enterprise challenge and a technology platform with some chance of scale. National infrastructure is needed as well as local funding, particularly since government is cutting support for third sector networks.

The combination of inspirational projects, well informed speakers and fresh funding today was certainly more engaging than most offerings on Big Society from Government.

All credit for this to BFL England director Dharmendra Kanani and CEO Peter Wanless – who spared time in a tight timetable for the interview above with John Popham. We had been gathering questions on Our Society, and Peter agreed to respond.

So – great start. But how to make it all work?

There must be issues of how the various partners will collaborate among themselves – and with others in the field – to delivery joined-up packages of support for the people and projects who need support. After all, it should all be for them.

At the project level, what support will there be in the use of new technologies – and not just technical skills, but the use of a mix of media for community building? We didn’t hear much about that, and the BIG Village SOS programme shows what happens it you don’t provide it. Empty sites.

How will projects share experience, learn from each other, and inspire others? There’s lots of aspiration towards this in People Powered Change, but no evident support. It hasn’t happened so far in Village SOS.

From BIG’s point of view, how will they get good stories from projects that they fund into the mainstream media – or even social media? They can commission films, and these are useful.  However, they leave skills and control with the professionals . In these days of Facebook and YouTube we want to hear from people directly, not via PR channels.

In short, how can People Powered Change promote collaborations, surface the stories, and encourage more conversations? Certainly not just by press releases, reports, launches, presentations and the usual style of corporate communications.

If I may be a little presumptuous, I think BIG needs to loosen up in order to set the style  for partners and projects. Creative workshops, informal meetups, use of social media, all using BIG’s convening power to help build relationships and networks. They’ve made a start. Peter Wanless tweets and blogs, so I guess there will be understanding there. It’s difficult if the CEO doesn’t get it. At the launch Be Inspired Films were shooting lots of short videos for BIG, to go on YouTube … which meant the rest of us could take it easy!

I believe that by making People Powered Change as transparent and engaging as possible to the public, BIG could achieve more collaboration, sharing of experience, and benefits in profile both for themselves and projects.

This could involve BIG and partners blogging about their activities, and being prepared to engage online, as well as running open events. As I wrote earlier about Big Society-related programmes, they could seek the help of the many people now involved in community and social reporting and hyperlocal sites.

BIG might support training and mentoring for those involved in local projects to tell their stories using whatever media they found easiest – whether on the Your Square Mile sites or elsewhere.

I’m not suggesting social media technologies will provide the solution on their own – but they do help the shift from institutional to personal.

For People Powered Change to succeed, it needs People Powered Communications.

We’ll be continuing discussions on People Power Change over on Our Society

Here’s links:

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