Big Society workshop materials
By Ed Mitchell 30th September 2010
Materials from the Transition Network Big Society workshop
Chatham House gathering to explore and discuss and deepen our understanding of ‘The Big Society’. All content on this page is un-edited and not attributed to any individual. Some of the flipcharts weren’t 100% read-able!
Workshop session 1: Threats and opportunities
National level: Threats and Opportunities
- Power ‘devolved’ to corporations
- Dramatic cuts lead to increasing vulnerability in communities and sharpening focus on acute cuts leads to hollowing out of society IF society can’t pick up the slack – therefore a keen need for social enterprises
- Time scale devastatingly fast
- Association of Transition brand with dramatic cuts
- Narrative about need for smaller state/cuts without reference to financiers
- Backdoor privatization of services if social enterprises don’t fill the gap – lack of support
- Partisan ownership of ‘Civil Society’ leads to long term damage of civil society
- Ownership of communal services leads to commercialization of community
- No underlying critique of Capitalism (apart from Vince Cable playing to the crowds!)
- Centralisation of power
- It’s a game where we don’t know the rules
- Lack of values base that Transition can share but it partly is about localization/smaller state
- Government is running out of money – the only way to maintain public services at same level without community
- Lack of detail, no narrative whereas Transition has a clear narrative
- Is the government ready to engage with our perception of the problems or will they just use us as a vehicle?
- Careful that we don’t assume Transition is the only vision
- Risk of co-option rather than co-operation
- How does Big Society relate to regional planning
- Regional may disappear
- If change of government leads to discrediting of BS concept, where does that leave us if we’re closely aligned?
- Effective national response to climate change may become impossible if state disappears or devolves decisions to climate deniers in rural councils
- Move away from linear thinking – need to be more comfortable with uncertainty – Transition lets it go where it wants
- We can fill in the BS picture with practical evidence from Transition groups
- Transition only way to allow communities to run their own affairs – necessity as the mother of invention
- Maybe we can persuade government to invest in localization rather than disinvest – we can and should be part of the dialogue
- Good to engage – BUT someone else’s agenda
- Possible national response by Transition – national entry into the debate – otherwise others will fill the gap
- Goldilocks shock moment (just the right size shock)? Makes everyone take notice of the need for change
- Need to use Big Society concept – no choice – but not up to Transition to take a decision – need to have response
- What if nothing happens? No money for Big Society Network – can/would we ride to the rescue?
- Shifting from state to locality as an opportunity
- Make the concept accountable – open mind – BUT – arm’s length engagement – build on what’s good
- No sense from David Cameron as to how to expand volunteering when UK is full of it and people are exhausted
- Where communities are strong they will succeed even if BS fails (e.g. Totnes – but what about Tower Hamlets?)
National Level: Threats and Opportunities mindmap
Organisational/Transition Initiative level: Threats and Opportunities (table 1)
- Missing safeguards
- 50% size in one year’s time?
- Speed: need at least one year to adopt
- Inequalities in implementation
- Costs of social breakdown
- Centrally run programmes opportunity disappears under localism
- Subterfuge for shrink the state
- Shock – Burnout – Withdrawl – Anarchy, collapse in social capital
- Ideological wall
- Process = smash it and see what’s left?
- Businesses are ahead in bidding and knowledge and relations to power
- Burning out of activists
- Dis-integration – who is going to do the training for the new circumstances?
- Big Society is going to Big Business
- Hook to dialogue with Conservative councilors, MPs (and others) etc. A way in with their language – (which they don’t understand!)
- Unemployed middle class professionals
- Other service providers – non-profit communities
- Community boards in Wiltshire – greater access for community organizations had training
- Re-establish the case for collective choice at all levels ‘State is me’
- Transition Society must own our own story – Call it ‘The Transition Society’
- Shock = people will listen and radical re-assessment in organizations
- Define this counter-narrative to national government
- Get organized and say what we would need to do Big Society things
- Building alliances with Local Authorities, reclaiming their rights re: planning preferential treatment for community organizations, housing associations etc.
- Shaping local enterprise partnerships (replace RDAs)
- Talk language of business
- ‘Rich’ people-d councils might be better than poorer ones
Organisational/Transition Initiative level: Threats and Opportunities (table 2)
Need to clear about the context for action – peak oil/ climate change or broader sustainability agenda
The issue of scale
Appropriate scale is key (“small is beautiful”, but not always the best strategy, but we do need to push back against the mantra that “big is best” because that this will always tend to favour big business). One perspective is that what’s required, in a low energy/localised society, is a significant downsizing / scaling down – lot’s of different
- Transition initiatives ending up working in isolation, or just a few Transition groups attracting all the founding with the rest under resourced / no access to £
- BS could be a big distraction and take us away from Transition set out to do
- Loss of national targets (such as those set by central govt to local authorities around climate change) could see us go backwards
- Big business will cherry pick the profitable bits (as well as being viewed by public sector decision makers/leaders as being ‘less risky’ and more less effort (in terms of time etc) than small, new. community-led bids)
- Transition groups are not necessarily ready to act and seize potential opportunities (neither prepared or resourced). And, are we willing to move from a volunteering approach to one that that is more ‘professional’?
- Lack of connection between existing interesting initiatives around the country (ie. projects that might fit with the BS agenda)
- Assets that belong to communities get sold to business for short term profit
- It was felt that whilst the main response to the Big Society should be at very much a local level, that there was also value in a more national/strategic response/input
- Use the BS to broaden out the conversation and involve other people/groups etc (use it as an opportunity to come together and look at what’s possible)
- Transition groups can critique what’s happening at a local level in relation to the cuts and where the gaps and needs are
- Seeding new social enterprises as well as the BS agenda offering visionary opportunities (treat it as a blank slate)
- Shape the ‘success indicators’ and decision-making frameworks as well as inputting into policy making/strategy at local authority level
- Act as a catalyst for a consortia approach taking advantage of any growing willingness to contract to civil society
- Opportunity to develop (and co-design) some new delivery models and to democratise community assets
- Housing associations could be an important player, and there is also a key role for faith groups (so long as they avoid going down the fundamentalism route!)
- Local authorities need our help
The general view was that Transition groups (those involved in Transition type initiatives) have lots they could contribute to the BS agenda, not least of which could be in facilitating engagement and consultations, promoting collaboration and bringing diverse groups together. However, the key question remains as to whether there is money to fund such support and input.
Local community level: Threats and Opportunities (table 1)
- Inequality leads to abilities/social
- Hard work
- Do we know our neighbourhoods?
- Business? Rules? Time? Demoralisation?
- Push issues (e.g. climate)
- Show success
- ID assets – education, time, family, knowledge, skills
- Increased communications – common language
- Speed – catalyst
Local community level: Threats and Opportunities (table 2)
- Lack of ability to see what’s coming
- Vulnerable to fall through the net (exploited by private sector)
- Narrowing of the agenda, NIMBY-behaviour and planning
- Democratic process at stake
- Inapropriate groups left to deliver services
- Big Con – no accountability, removal of structures which measure and monitor, loss of valuable acts, depression – more unemployment
- Replacement of government supports with philanthropy/previously enhancing, strengthening, now feels desparate
- Corporates more about for deregulation – less care about community benefit, loss of intermediary
- Cultural communications disappears
- Resentment in local groups as assumption of doing this – ‘curdling of goodwill’
- Lack of time for Transition society to prove itself/prepare people
- Transition as the stronger narrative – makes you feel safe and ahead of others
- Could return ownership of initiatives to local people
- Potential to shape Transition movement to stand up in a vacuum
- Transition can drive projects
- Resilient network can prepare people
- Transition can deliver via key themes? Food, energy etc.?
- Re-invigorate local governance
- Communities to get involved – be part of something
- Choice whether to engage or not!
- Shared vision/opportunity on the road to creating new visions
- Apetite for this evidence-based approach
- Barriers/regulations removed with speed and success (?discretion)
- Community ownership
- Unemployment creates opportunity for people to work for more than one employer
- Gentle pre-cursor to the major financial shock (and other shocks to come)
- Transition Network could create models of how to support communities through the process – share the learnings
Personal level: threats and opportunities
- Activists – level of stress – training for this?
- How can we take on more?
- Lose pleasure in volunteering
- Lose paid work – asked to do same as volunteers
- Feelings of betrayal and anger
- Need for new channels of communication between individuals and council
- Bribing their way in – maybe ‘open source’ planning?
- Vulnerable people at risk
- Government bankrupt?
- Loss of services (e.g. libraries)
- Only accessible to those who fit in (previously mediated through local authority)
- Can’t develop curricula fast enough
- Time needed to unravel state of dependence
- Create new meaning/narrative
- Interconnected levels of scale
- More freedom for retrofit
- Voluntary service exempt from council tax
- What is the role of the state and our relationship to it?
- Other ways than state delivery
- Co-design – friendly societies – do it for ourselves – social insurance – cross class
- Do things not for money
- For individuals – and communities – e.g. community gardens
- New future
- Neighbours talk to eachother
- Skilled people share knowledge
- Older people stay active and working?
- More local input to educational curriculum
- Power over to people with vested interests (could actively disempower)
Workshop session 2: Breakouts (attendee identified and chosen)
What role can we take in improving governance (at local level)?
- Local Enterprise Partnerships (regional)
- Local Authorities, Businesses, Vol orgs, third sector
- LEET – self-elected Coventry to oversee dept. of Mystery plans came out of guilds
- Could concern with inequalities
- Could make more demands on structures – whether they’re working?
- Conversation about place shaping – about how governance structures should look
- Spot the crisis to start the conversation – ‘who wants to do something different?’
- Awakening in local government in context of devolution to different way of working
- Why is democracy so cold a static in this co. No platform for conversation
- New leadership energy emerging
- Locality base – need to relate – need catalyst
- Trust – in Tooting we are trusted – carry out our intentions
- Forest of Dean – helped LA get £2.5Million to do Transition things – involved in design not delivery
- Where are the pressure points?
- Get things in structure plan – mobilize intensely for particular purpose – creative meetings/direct actions
- Awakening in local government in context of devolution to different way of working
Co-operatives / Social Enterprises
Talked about 2 aspects
1. Creating livelihoods
Bottom up social enterprise orgs – coops or whatever
Life cycle – to support from a vol group – transition into a social enterprise – transition into service provider for loc govt .. Needs to be supported through the transition..
Need absolute clarity of guidelines on policy, values,.,. Cindy and Mike volunteered to start looking at.
2. What type of organisations would we partner with
what type of projects would we do? That clarity is one of the building blocks of the narrative.
Unless you’re absolutely clear about what you will & won’t do it’s very difficult.
Partnerships between TTs and other orgs -= dev trusts, M&S groundworks, chamber of commerce, private individual, trusts..
Need better showcases of good Transition projects – e.g. 2 minute videos linking to resources describing
To be the change – showcase
- Creating livelihoods – What does the community need? What type of business
- – Employment
- – – Apprentice schemes
- – Funding commercial model
- Partnerships between Transition Towns and
- – Development Trusts
- – Private sector (e.g. M&S and groundworks)
- – Chambers of Commerces
- – Private individuals
- – Charitable Trusts
- – Co-ordination of approaches
- – Co-ordination of projects
- Clarity of Guidelines/values
- – Local united – diffusion packs – food, energy, transport
Transition Templates for Social Justice
- Transition is political – small p – ordinary people shaping their future.
- Twinning Tis – where it’s flying.. with those where it’s struggling
- Importance of accountability – vulnerable communities
- Transition values – supporting local community – local jobs, inclusion, training – can we impose these as a framework for allocating contracts, rather than just lowest cost?
- Transition stories that have traction around including communities – eg. children, food, celebrations
- Stories of vulnerable communities doing well – living well with less.. needs to be not on internet to reach those it needs to reach – on TV
- Go dating with new people! Partnerships are vital. Working with resources, or those with resources, to reach marginalised.
- Tools for consultation – very important that people with resource for service provision know how to consult in inclusive ways.
Capacity Building at the Transition Network for engagement on a National level
- Either do it wholeheartedly or not at all and get on with what we’re doing anyway
- Engagement is not a linear map! It’s a circle – in the centre: ignore BS. On circle – critique, fill in gaps, get into bed, hold to account, oppose, call bluff etc.
- Must be professional – not 5 minutes on a Monday
- Urgent if we are to change
- Funding for specific posts: Media engagement, Spokesperson, Parliament champion, Policy person
- Network of council level engagement officers?
- Stage one: Transition Network sets strategy, employs BS unit, Writes up policy, sharing with like-minded
- Stage two:
- Obstacles: Time, energy, money, government’s listening capacity, expertise, money – how long it would take to produce a strategy
- Lack of long term commitment
- Variety of definitions of trusts
- Possibilities for educational trusts – problems of updating curriculum to a Transition agenda.
- What about the first Transition Trust School? Potential to deliver local services
- Role of charitable trusts investing in social business
- Role of development trusts needs to be developed
- Fund a 3-6 month role at Transition Network to assess/critique and feedback the Transition version of the BS would look like, and how best to enable this
- Trusts could perhaps shift their funds from less ethical investments into projects run by Transition initiatives (wind turbines, local farms etc.) which offer a good rate of return… Longer term aim for most of a Trust’s money to be locally invested in Transition initiatives…
B will take forward.