Nat Wei, one of the origjnators of the Big Society idea, and now a government adviser, uses his new blog to post what seems to me one of the most significant set of insights we have heard from someone close to policy. Nat says:
* Big Society is like the Internet, not so much technically, but in the way that we do things.
* It is an ecosystem.
* It is about shifting power ....
... "The key test of whether something is Big Society or not is about whether it represents a genuine shift in power, whether the power of information, decision-making, and/or people to us as citizens without compromising on the quality of a given service affected, and without the vulnerable and poor being adversely impacted overall when the measure is taken together with other social justice actions happening at the same time".
Thankfully, while politics and the Big Society are intertwined because it represents a vision and a debate about the kind of country we want to build together, I’m also increasingly clear that it is here to stay. This is because the Big Society (or whatever you want to call it) builds on thinking from the internet – it is about a change in the way we operate, about releasing information, power, and people in their streets and institutions, and supporting people to take as much or as little control over their lives from whomsoever currently hoards it – mainly government, but also other large vested interests. Once you have had a taste of the freedom offered by the internet, can you imagine going back to life without it? Yes of course there will be challenges, just as there were with the creation of the internet, with those who would seek to disrupt it, and enterprises that harnessed it that have come and gone – and it had its critics too. But it is here to stay, for better or worse, and generally for the better.
How do all the pieces fit together? Well the different levels are all being developed at the same time, rather like internet servers, browsers, and websites or apps being created all at the same time, or like an ecosystem coming into existence with minerals, and large and small organisms evolving in real time. The governing philosophy is really about creating culture change to move away from the almost literally bankrupt(ing) ideas of the late 20th century about the relationship between citizens as passive recipients of state and non-state welfare and services, to their being more in the driving seat and to change the assumptions about how we should and can live our lives. The policy agenda is about creating specific legislative and non-legislative powers for citizens to take up in every department (“public sector reform”), creating financial, organising, and enduring capacity to enable citizens and citizen groups either directly or with the help of social enterprises to take up those powers (“social action”), and strengthening really local groups with formal and informal powers (“neighbourhood empowerment”). The citizen led approach is about together tackling all the barriers to mass citizen participation at a local level, recognising that these are formidable and finding solutions so that everyone can have good reasons for getting involved, demand and use local powers, and can have repeated experiences of citizen engagement that better fit their lifestyles and expectations and which lead to active involvement in local groups.
No doubt I will have missed out loads of detail and other organisations. Do comment with your thoughts and plugs for other activity underway and organisations involved in any of the above areas, though I cannot claim to endorse everything that is posted as a comment, and comments will be moderated. It goes without saying, despite many commentators and twitterati’s best attempts, that not everything these days that goes by the name “Big Society” is in fact bona fide. Sometimes, the name is evoked to try to protect an organisation that is having its funding reduced (“So much for Big Society”), or to describe an action someone intends to take or is about to take like running a public service (“I’m taking out the trash and doing my bit for Big Society”), or as a synonym with the fight against poverty. Such comments show how many though not all understand the once in a lifetime shift taking place and how wedded many are to the idea that government and large organisations must do and be everything, so much so that you could in fact replace “Big Society” in such comments with the word “government” without changing the meaning. The key test of whether something is Big Society or not is about whether it represents a genuine shift in power, whether the power of information, decision-making, and/or people to us as citizens without compromising on the quality of a given service affected, and without the vulnerable and poor being adversely impacted overall when the measure is taken together with other social justice actions happening at the same time.Read more at natwei.wordpress.com