It was a pleasure to be asked to speak on a panel debate at the Citizens Advice Service AGM last week; on the Big Society, ‘people power’, and using communications and social media to tell stories about our work in the third sector.
It was a very interesting session – but so short in the end! We could have debated all of the thorny threads of the issues for hours. The thrust of the questions and comment from the audience were clearly centred around a) the lack of guidance or deliverable outcomes from the Coalition Government in terms of Big Society, b) a sense that the third sector / civil society has long been living and breathing the values of Big Society for decades if not far longer, and so c) where does Government ‘get off’ giving instructions to build volunteer armies and harness community engagement? Most voluntary organisations know this is no simple feat…
One of my fellow panellists, Emmanuel Gotora of TELCO Citizens (part of Citizens UK), spoke of how the umbrella organisation’s task to recruit and train hundreds of ‘community organisers’ had not been equalled in the past 20 years, so it was quite an ask for this to be achieved under the brave new banner of Big Society. Emmanuel suggested that it will be the smaller actions of the many that will help change communities from the inside, rather than formal ‘community organisers’ acting as devolved yet self-appointed leaders.
For my part, I suggested that we try and couch the work we already do, in the terms that current administration are using. If that is to be Big Society, then let’s use the language to help make our work topical, rather than work against the tide. We should also take advantage of the tools for storytelling that social media affords us; from DIY podcasting using audioboo and ipadio, to YouTube, blogs, Flickr, wikis, Twitter and Facebook. These media will also be key when it comes to coordinating volunteers and encouraging supporters to make our messages and calls-to-action viral.
My fellow panellists were Rachel Head, Social Policy Coordinator, Dudley Citizens Advice Bureau; Ben Lucas, Director, 2020 Public Services Trust; Sarah Armstrong, Operational Director of Part Time Volunteering, Community Service Volunteers (CSV); Emmanuel Gotora, Community Organiser, The East London Communities Organisation (TELCO). It was expertly chaired by John Gladwin – Citizens Advice Chairman, and introduced by BBC Radio 4 presenter (You and Yours), Liz Barclay.