Power to the People? The Big Society agenda

Turns out Citizen Smith was way ahead of his time, and would probably be horrified by this adoption of his favourite slogan, however, the new government’s civil  society agenda, the ‘Big Society’, expands existing initiatives to improve society by empowering local communities.  But what does this really mean to the people of Britain and to the VCS in particular?

The Government guidelines outline a number of proposals: an expansion of existing government strategies such as support for social enterprises; strengthening local participation; devolving power from national to local levels; the creation of a ‘Big Bank’ to fund these initiatives; the creation of an annual day of celebration; and the transformation from civil to civic duty by bringing in National Citizen Service and making volunteering part of staff appraisals.  In general the agenda suggests mostly positive proposals for civil society.  However, the ease of implementing these proposals in reality may prove more difficult, and without a massive cultural shift, the ‘Big’ society may never reach governmental statute and Britain may remain little after all.

There are some interesting discussions going on at the moment within civil society about what Big Society actually means, and the implications on society as a whole.  Take a look at what the online community is saying:

Community Links;

Community Care;

Social Reporter;

Third Sector;


Greener Leith;

Living with rats;


Institute of economic affairs;

and, my personal favourite; Side Kicks Studio


Have you have read any other interesting blogs on the subject?  What do you think of the Big Society, and how will it affect your organisation and the people you support?  We’d love to hear your opinions, so get involved in the conversation, by posting your comments below. 

Last updated at 13:37 Mon 14/Jun/10.
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Karl's picture


Third Sector Foresight

The RSA have also been blogging about the Big Society recently, and have some interesting points to make on the topic. How big is big society? How realistic and implementable are the aspirations within the agenda? Could the social networks existing today support this kind of reform? It's worth taking a look at what they have to say.

Jess's picture


Third Sector Foresight

Could the Big Society result in wholesale change or a backlash? Will it be reality, or just rhetoric? There's some interesting discussion on Nick Wilson Young's NCVO blog right now:

. . . if sensitively delivered, this agenda offers the possibility of a genuine step change in how government works and how citizens interact with the state. (Chloe Stables, NCVO Campaigns team)

There's also an interesting piece here:


And if you want to read thoughts on how the Big Society agenda is developing as they emerge, go to the Big Society website where key thinkers from the network are blogging away, including Nat Wei the new Government Advisor on this. It's just getting going but they are running it like a co-op, they want it to be the largest in Britain. People are encouraged to join the network not only to shape the future of the Big Society but also to share ideas and action and as a result they will receive rewards or dividends in the shape of free resources, buildings and advice from Local Authorities for example, as well as discounted goods and services from the private sector.

I'm developing a wiki here http://designingforcivilsociety.wikispaces.com/

and bookmarking http://delicious.com/socialreporter/bigsociety

Kathryn's picture


Third Sector Foresight

Hi David,

Thanks for the link to your wiki. I think that's a really good way of pulling together the thinking about this, as it reflects the way the thinking is quite disparate at the mo.will be keeping an eye with interest!

NCVO has recently published a briefing on the 'Big Society' programme, which summarises the keys themes of this new agenda and provides some thoughts on some of the issues emerging. While we need to remember that this ideology is not addressed to our sector specifically, but to the whole of society, there are many opportunities for the VCS.

It seems that one of the main concerns is about the fact that Government is pursuing this agenda at a time of severe public spending cuts - for example, how do you achieve the increased role of VCOs in public service delivery when there is no funding? With regards to this particular issue, I thought Richard Wilson's blog on how 'Government must act now to save the Big Society' was really interesting.

Jess's picture


Third Sector Foresight

Thanks to Nick for passing me this excellent guest post by Jules Peck for Transition Culture on what the Big Society agenda might mean for the Transition Towns movement, and vice versa. Could we look at Transition Towns for clues about how the Big Society might pan out in practice? If you don’t already know what Transition Towns are – you can find out more about them here.

The current popularity of Transition Towns reflects the wider trend in localism that has been emerging over the last few years, and looks set to carry on rising under the new government’s patronage. But as the Transition movement has already acknowledged, localism movements can only go so far without tackling the social divisions that lie at the heart of many communities. If the government is looking to support, and learn from, those already organising at the local level, they could do a lot worse than take a serious look at Transition’s recent focus on diversity.

If communities begin to organise along more formal lines, do we risk embedding existing social divisions and further excluding those most likely to be hit by cuts? If this is an issue you think might affect your organisation, take a look at our drivers on localism and inequality between local areas.

Join the discussion!

How will this affect your organisation? Have you considered it during your strategic planning? Can you share any interesting relevant links?

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