Tag: Big Society

Spotlight on international social media surgeries

Social media surgery at COCAP Nepal

Photo by Mero Report: Social Media Surgery at COCAP, Nepal

Social media surgeries in the UK received lots of attention last Thursday when the Prime Minister recognised the social media surgery movement with a Big Society Award for 2012.

Nick posted about the award and mentioned the wonderful people who have organised surgeries over the last three years in the UK. They’re enthusiastic, generous people who make stuff happen.

While the Big Society Awards acknowledge individuals and organisations across the UK that demonstrate the Big Society in their work or activities, I thought I should mention the surgeries outside the UK. It’s great to see an idea that originated in Birmingham spread to other shores – and I’m keen to hear how the surgeries are working in other countries.

Here are the wonderful people who have taken the social media surgery model abroad and run their own events:

Carolyn Deuchar, a Senior Research Officer at New Zealand Tourism and Research Institute, also likes the idea:

"Am loving this: Social media surgeries to support local community & voluntary organisations"

Do you know other surgeries I haven’t mentioned here?

Updated 12th March 2012: Kultwerk West are holding a social media surgery in Hamburg on 14th May 2012, the first to take place in Germany.

Social Media Surgery movement wins the Prime Minister’s Big Society Award – hurrah!

Big Society Awards 2012 logo looks like a street name plate

I’m very excited to be able to say that the Prime Minister has recognised social media surgeries with a Big Society Award for 2012.

The Big Society Awards were set up by the Prime Minister in November 2010 to acknowledge individuals and organisations across the UK that demonstrate the Big Society in their work or activities. The aim is also to galvanise others to follow.  David Cameron said this about the surgeries:

“This is an excellent initiative – such a simple idea and yet so effective. The popularity of these surgeries and the fact that they have inspired so many others across the country to follow in their footsteps, is testament to its brilliance.

“Congratulations to Nick and all the volunteers who have shared their time and expertise to help so many local groups make the most of the internet to support their community. A great example of the Big Society in action.”

Thank you for such kind words – to which we responded formally with:

“It’s wonderful to have recognition for everyone who has organised a social media surgery or turned up to volunteer their help.  I think the surgeries work because they are simple.  They are very easy to organise, fun to do and not in the least bit intimidating for people who want some help. They give active citizens and community groups the confidence and skills to use social media to campaign, organise and hold power to account.  They’ve grown because of the passion and energy of bloggers and voluntary groups up and down the country.”


The idea of a social media surgery originated with Pete Ashton – who used them with people who were looking for free help from his consultancy supporting arts organisations. We then applied the relaxed approach in a new way, scaling it up and putting together two sets of people – lovely helpers from the Birmingham Bloggers group (started in 2007) with the fab active citizens I’d had met through Read more

The Big Society in Action – notes from another session at the Conservative Party Conference

Rory Stewart MP, Professor David Eastwood, Ben Lucas and Professor Helen Sullivan
Rory Stewart MP, Professor David Eastwood, Ben Lucas and Professor Helen Sullivan

I’ve just come away from a very thought provoking Big Society discussion hosted by the University of Birmingham and Demos at the Conservative Party Fringe.   I think Rory Stewart MP gave one of the most lucid explanations I’ve yet come across.  Here are my notes

Rory Stewart is the new MP for Penrith and the Borders in Cumbria. His constituency has been one of the pilot areas for “Big Society” – he writes about that here:

Big Society isn’t a Sphinx without a riddle or an excuse for no funding or a mystical construct.

It is clearly not about the government per se, the individual or business, probably not primarily about the voluntary sector. It is about community, particularly about local democracy.  To use a Bhuddist analogy the noble truths might be….

  • We have a World dominated by government that is to rigid
  • Solution to this is de-centralisation
  • The path is through something called the big society

Big Society is not an object so much as an activity, not a funding stream or a pot of money.

Concrete example in Cumbria re rural broadband… attempting to install super fast broadband faster and cheaper than government would do it.  14 to 15 billion would be the government cost. In Cumbria we are breaking into the fibre that runs into schools, creating cabinets and encouraging communities to tap into thoise  Farmers can dig their own trenches bringing prices down to 15% and get it done in 2 years instead of much longer.  Here government provides soft loans – access to infrastructure. The government was never going to be able to do this – communities organised through parishes to give them democratic legitimacy can do this.

Ben Lucas of the 2020 Public Services Trust

My concern is that it could undermine the value of the Big Society idea in it by trying to be two things at one time

  • A rhetorical distanceing from the idea that there is no thing as society.
  • Also a way of emphasising relative importance of civic society against the role of the state.

Very strongly support much of what lies behind it.  Some people have interpreted it as just about volunteering – it clearly isn’t.   It is partly about re-thinking the role of the state. Social value lies in the quality of the interaction between the state and the citizen, for example if citizens don’t play their part in improving their health it doesn’t matter how good the local hospital is, public services are essentially co-produced.

One of the area of interest for him is how do you link effective social institutions with effective social networks.  Jospeh Rowntree did a piece of work on communities in recession with high levels of unemployment.  The ones that are more resilient are the ones with more community ownership in the neighbourhood.  Questions…

  1. How do you finance up front social investment in a recession?
  2. Quality of the public realm – how can local authorities not do the obvious things, cutting their non core services – which might
  3. What is the role for the voluntary sector – the real future is the creation of new institutions, local mutual, citizen run.

We need to keep a layer of govt that can coordinate at a city region level.  It’s about a balance between localism and the wider neighbourhoods.

Professor Helen Sullivan, Professor of Government and Society at University of Birmingham going to run

a independant Commission by the University of Birmingham in partnership with Demos.  The Commission will draw together the University’s expertise in local government reform and Demos’ work on capabilities and citizenship in order to contribute to the development of a policy agenda that might effectively and fairly empower non-state actors in society.

There’s no doubt the state has become unfashionable again.  Now regarded as at best outmoded and at worst a block to citizen action and enterprise.  Big Society underplays the vital contribution a well resourced state makes to inequality and key issues, such as climate change.

Fails to acknowledge the inter connection between state and civil society.  Investment has become largely from the state, not private philanthropy.  If the state withdraws then the voluntary sector will not automatically fill the gap.

Re thinking the role of the state

1 Working out more precisely what is meant by the big society, a conversation to be had with the public.  What are reasonable expectations citizens have of the state. People have different motivations for engaging in civil action, often citizens are resisting the state, not doing its will.

2 Taking a localist approach –  this is about the quality of democratic politics.  There’s an assumption that consensus is the norm, but politics and conflict are always present. Local government will need to navigate the tension between communities. How will these relationships need re designing, what does it mean for future raining of government officers. Needs a review of local govt finance

3 Role of the central state.  There is a still a case to say we need national mechanism to address inequalities from local conditions.  For example inequalities over age locally.

Big Society on a Small Budget – can more really be done for less. Notes from a Conservative Party Conference session.

Damian Hinds MP and Michelle Smith of Barclays talking about Big Society
Damian Hinds MP and Michelle Smith of Barclays talking about Big Society

I’m trying to cover as many Big Society sessions on the Conservative Party Fringe as I can get too –  not least looking for any clarity on what it might mean.

The first one was run by The Citizens Advice Bureau:  Big Society on a Small Budget – can more really be done for less. Notes from a Conservative Party Conference session.  The Panel Was Gillian Guy – Chief Executive of Citizens Advice BureauDamian Hinds – MP for East HampshireTherese Coffey – the MP for Suffolk Central and Michelle Smith, Head of UK Consumer and Community Affairs for Barclays UK Retail Bank and Barclays Corporate.

Sifting through my notes there were a number of things that struck me:

Gillian Guy from CAB explained the extent to which they use volunteers

12.5 million people helped on the web.   20,000 volunteers, already represent a good start to the big society. We want public services to be simpler and we want to the voluntary sector and communities to be trusted.

Damian Hinds outlined what he thought are the key elements which will underpin the Big Society…

  • Language and the mood is important – as a government we need to show that we are turning to the right people for advice.
  • Programme of devolution to local councils (when you devolve planning to individual councils you can take more interest)
  • Direct empowerment, right to bid taking over a community facility
  • Free schools programme, people now know that they could decide to make their own school
  • Information revolution, open data the web. – there will be enough people in anyone location to hold power to account
  • Big Society bank to provide extra finance
  • Encouraging volunteering – government needs to get its employees out doing volunteering.

Therese Coffey – MP for Suffolk Central key thoughts included:

  • We need to remove the mentality of the civil service culture.
  • We need to ensure that government does get out of the way.    Some aspects of the equalities act will hamper organisations trying to deliver the big society.
  • De-complexify government.  Need to provide some finance. Unemployed should be expected to go out and do some work in the voluntary sector.
  • The National citizens service is over cautious.
  • The other risk is there is a vacuum at the moment –  can the third sector flesh out some of the vision please – don’t wait for the pilot areas.

Michelle Smith seem to catch the mood of the room when she talked with real passion about how the volunteering done by Barclays staff benefits neighbourhoods and the business and the staff.  For example…

Half of our staff are actively involved in their communities on a regular basis.  We match charitable giving and fund raising and provide time off .  This improves staff retention and  performance, staff who volunteer are A third more likely to be rated A performers than those who don’t.

Worth listening to this interview….