Wednesday 12 January 2011

Big Society; Royal Society

First thing, a meeting of our Big Society Commission. A dynamic discussion. Presentations from Gareth Davies, who runs the Office of Civil Society, and from Ipsos Mori with public perceptions of BigSoc.

Interesting discussion on whether power should be "given up" by central Government or whether in fact we want to enable third sector and community organisations to "grab it". Whether the Government really understands the importance of dissent and community activism? If you are enabling people to control more, then they will often do it in ways Government deeply disapprove. And traditionally state bodies don't like that. Volunteering isn't just about jam making. It's about protest as well. As the Mori presentation made clear more people get involved locally to protest against something than to give back. There is also the striking fact that volunteering levels are strongly correlated to levels of affluence and deprivation. Low levels in poor areas so encouraging more volunteering will not reach the parts that we need to drench.

A clear view on the opportunities for more cost effective and citizen driven services and for a growing sector. Some debate about Maude's anarchism and trying to get a better handle on what the framework for Big Society is and a better explanation of it. The sector has much to gain from the Big Society approach. But the danger is the project is floundering under the welter of cuts and funding challenges we all face. Yet the sector will grow and become stronger in the long term.

We agreed a programme of evidence gathering and consultation, looking for example about the role business can play (and not just as a patronising CSR project).

I started the day with Big Society and ended it at The Royal Society. Sixteen years ago I was on a four week course with the Duke of Edinburgh Leadership Forum. We were all put into teams of 12 and our small band formed a strong bond that continues today. A bunch of people drawn from the third sector, unions, business, academe and the church. Many of us were young then and last night three of us reflected on the fact that we and The Queen will celebrate our Diamond jubilees in 2012.

We met at The Royal Society as one of our number has risen through the ranks of academe to become Professor Dame Wendy Hall, a Fellow of the Royal Society; one of the worlds most distinguished and eminent bodies. Others have similarly prospered: a Union Deputy General Secretary, a top Director in BP, a soon to be Bishop and the Policy Director of DWP. But the amazing thing about the leadership course we went on was the fact that we formed such a strong network and we meet up still! The power of leadership....

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