…mission to be – in partnership with government, business, and the voluntary sector – an action-orientated remover of barriers to mass civic engagement where people live – enabling the change we want to be.
He also wants what The Guardian described as
an army of community organisers that will become the “catalyst” for communities to band together and challenge the apparently arbitrary decisions made about public services in their name. “I want them to be the glue bringing community together. They will be financially independent of government. They will be able to have different views from government. There can be healthy debate and this can build social capital. [Organisers] I hope will end up as trusted as the local GP,”
In 2008 I wrote a post musing about the idea of a sort of Territorial Army for government. I was thinking about the implications of a growing band of self organising citizens being able to do more of the stuff government does. I was thinking how this might mean we need government which is more flexible, better able to shrink or expand quickly. Here is just some of what I was chipping away at:
I first found myself thinking of the role of government as a “pilot light” at a Department for Communities and Local Government event on digital inclusion. Most government bodies are prone to consider themselves as somehow permanent but what would they be like if they got their collective heads around being only sometimes on? The pilot light on the boiler that hums quietly away, then sparks into life when things get a bit chilly.
That, of course, is very Keynsian and at the moment [in 2008] government is turning itself to full roar and bunging on all 4 rings on the gas cooker in an attempt to get some heat back into the economy.
What is interesting though is how we habitually structure most government on an assumption of permanence. That means that when we need more government we struggle to find the capacity and when we need less we are clumsy at shrinking, often reluctant to scale it back and put the excess capacity to useful work elsewhere.
It wasn’t a complete set of thoughts and the comments on that post were both encouraging and cautioning.
Dave Briggs wrote:
There is no doubt that there are a number of civically minded people in the private and third sectors who have a sufficiently strong interest in government – and specifically *good* government – that they would be willing to make themselves available when required.
You hit it on the head when you mentioned culture, though. To bring in the reservists, those in charge have to be able to spot that they haven’t the ability or experience to get things done.
While Andy Sawford of the Local Government Information Unit wrote:
I love your idea of reservists. Will explore this with the LGiU team.
I still think the idea of government as (in some circumstances) a pilot light which can roar into action when needed is relevant. Perhaps more today than we could predict in 2008?
Government reservists might also help change the way citizens and government relate to each other.
The Big Society – half in half out.
We do need government to change itself and fast. Might government reservists now be a way for active citizens and government staff to understand each other better, work together more closely and wrought change?
If many of the people in these community organsiations can also have the opportunity to work as a government reservist, on a similar model and pay structure as the Territorial Army, how will that change relationships between government and citizen?
- What will government learn from reservists?
- What will reservist learn from government
- Would people do it?
- What does it mean for public workers losing their jobs?
- Could this be applied more intensively in neighbourhoods (as part of the next stage of Total Place ) – with super reservists being deployed for longer stretches to tackle particular problems
- What might this idea break?
- What new things could emerge from it?
Apologies for lumping all government in as one – some of the answers require a “it depends” – but just asking