Big Society and barriers in government

I’m on the train home from the Big Society network launch in London this afternoon. A strong and varied group of people brought together to consider, be sceptical about and challenge the notion of the Big Society.

Here I just want to share a few notes I made after joining John Houghton of Shared Intelligence and the National Association of Neighbourhood Management.

Breaking Down Practical Barriers

People in the main bit of the conflab:

John was inviting us to consider the sort of barriers that government can create which frustrate engaged (or partly engaged) citizens when they try to do what they consider is the right or useful thing. We talked for a while before I started making notes – but my ears pricked up when Alice mentioned

Meanwhile licenses –  (we have been working on this site and material to capture  learning from Community Asset Transfer in Birmingham – and have also been talking to Birmingham Social Investment Trust about mapping local government owned resources). Alice explained a little about the idea as a form of “You can use a piece of temporarily redundant land based on good behaviour,” which is summarised as this from the Development Trusts Association:

The Meanwhile Project is making interim use of all kinds of buildings and land easier by working with government, landowners and local projects. This includes providing financial support and business planning advice for organisations involved in local meanwhile projects; the recently developed Meanwhile Lease for shops and other town centre buildings; and an awareness raising campaign to highlight the potential for meanwhile use.

There was also discussion about access to useful information which included the points:

  • Big barrier – we can’t find out easily enough.
  • The process of micro volunteering to create information or gather data can be quicker than expecting government to change.

The combined power of pro bono professional work

Rohit Grover was there from Professionals for Good – an organsiation which is seeking to coordinate the pro bono work done by various professionals to increase the impact it has – an intersting idea in an neighbourhood.

Government Reservists

I shared my idea of a TA for government as a means of helping engaged citizens understand government better and vice versa. Paid reservist work inside government.

Allow staff to be enthusiasts

Clearly this should always be the case, but Steve Bridger talekd about how organisations can stifle the enthusiasm and understanding for what ought and could be done – over emphasising what is required to be done. Ideas that emerged from this thought include:

  • Government requires staff to do more than what the rules say – performance review
  • The barrier of a blame culture.
  • The system –  empowered to suggest.
  • The role of government –   to provide service and to act as a catalyst and enervator in places –  they cant do that within a set of rules.
  • Rewards –  Employees benefits trust.  Co Operatives.
  • Time as a currency – community dividend.

Total Place

We all talked a little about Total Place with Alice, John and Nick outlining some of their experience. Area we highlighted include

  • We need Mission not vague vision (put on the moon etc – I keep meaning to write more about this)
  • Get practical not  issues but things.
  • Whole systems thinking – (a contribution from @leashless was which balance sheets does it appear on?)
  • Small success
  • Neighbourhood Mutuals
  • Your Square Mile – put the broken stuff in public.
  • Government as a mediator
  • Tricks  – cheap no legislative change.
  • Barriers – are question agnostic.  No ways to ask questions – often around conflict.
  • Who doesn’t government go to where the questions are, not where the process takes it

Other who’ve shared their thinking from the event (before or after):

Chain Reaction

the need for The Big Society Network to not ‘reinvent the wheel’ and to recognise existing projects and networks;

Tim Davies

It’s important to challenge architects of the Big Society Network to avoid institutionalised age discrimination. If a mutual is to be created – make sure anyone, however young, can be a full voting member: no arbitrary restrictions preventing under 18s or under 16s from being involved.

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