Explaining the Big Society

People are still saying they don’t understand what the Big Society is about, despite attempts to explain it from the likes of David Cameron, in his conference speech yesterday, and Lord Nat Wei in his blog. Julian Dobson has been raising the level of debate, and there has been some high quality to and fro on the Big Society in the North Forum.

Still people are saying they don’t understand it. I really don’t think the mainstream media are helping on this. I was struck by this quote from an article in the “Evening Standard”:

….ours is a nation that pokes fun at those who do try to make a difference. From Dad’s Army to Citizen Smith to the Vicar of Dibley, we mock those who attempt things for the common good.

http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23885680-enough-talk-about-the-big-society—its-time-for-action.do

There was also an item on “Newsnight” a few months ago which just set out to ridicule the whole thing.

So, I’ve had an idea. “The Apprentice” has just returned to our TV screens, with teams of obnoxious, self-obsessed, self-promoters, scratching each other’s eyes out in an effort to avoid the fatal finger of the blessed Lord Sugar. Why not adapt this format, so we have teams of people wanting to do good for their communities competing to implement the best (Big Society) community initiatives? And, to make it more effective, I think the activities of each weekly programme should take place in the same community, so it is possible to measure the impact of the actions, and demonstrate how one community can grow a series of projects which engage local people and grow community capacity.

I am not sure if the “you’re fired” element would be appropriate in this variant of the format. But, then again, perhaps it would. If you’re not effectively doing good for the community, then you’re out. Step aside and leave it to those who CAN do it.

The main benefit of this is that other communities would be able to see the Big Society in action and transfer the lessons to their own neighbourhoods.

Any TV producers up for this?

Affordable Training in an Era of Public Austerity

I’ll start this post by referring back to an earlier rant of mine about public sector funding cuts and staff development, in which I argued that the “unconference” format offered a way forward for public sector organisations to source cost-effective training as it becomes increasingly difficult to afford expensive courses and conferences.

Meanwhile, I’ve for some time been complaining about the number of unconferences in the public and voluntary sectors that are organised at weekends. I’ve got kids and I like to see them occasionally. The response I often get, particularly from local government people is – “we can’t do this stuff in work time”.

But, as I say, I firmly believe that these kinds of events are affordable CPD in an era of public spending cuts.

This morning I’ve been engaged in another Twitter debate, because Hyperlocal GovCamp West Midlands (#hyperwm) yesterday was organised as one of the first experiments of holding a public sector unconference on a week day, and it seemed to go well. So I suggested that this puts to rest the notion that it has to be done at weekends. I received a series of responses to this saying that not everyone can get the time off. BUT, I don’t understand why it is seen as “time off”. It is CPD, training, and it’s free apart from travel costs. Surely employers should be waking up to this as an alternative to expensive conferences and training courses.

Perhaps we need to organise an unconference for Local Government Personnel Managers to show them what they’re missing out on.