I’ve come today to share thinking in the shaping of Dudley’s approach to Big Society, which build solidly on our Community Strategy – hence the link between our strap line my borough, our borough, to our society. The Stronger Communities Steering group met on Wednesday and would like to propose some principles for our approach and share initial thinking around next steps. _________________________________________________________________________ For reference only: Strategic Priority 1 in Dudley’s Community Strategy is around empowering approaches to engagement (in practice this is in it together work). We felt there was a connect between this and the government’s aspirations to give communities more powers through planning reforms and training a ‘new generation of community organisers’ and also policies to publish government data. Strategic Priority 2 is around supporting volunteering. We felt this could contribute to policies around new powers allowing communities to take on and run services and facilities, community organisers activity, a whole policy area around encouraging people to take an active role in their communities, and the government’s aspiration to support the creation and expansions of co-ops, mutuals, charities and social enterprises. Strategic Priority 3 in the Community Strategy is around building resilient communities which can absorb tensions, community cohesion activity being central to this. The government’s ‘Building the Big Society’ document doesn’t touch on these sorts of issues as all.
This is a word cloud I created in wordle, using the entire text of the coalition government’s document ‘Building a Big Society’ which they published on 18 May 2010. This word cloud gives greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text – so this is helpful reminder of what the government was saying.
The first proposal to you from the Stronger Communities Steering group is that our approach is one which recognises that outcomes and activities sought in a Big Society already exist in many parts of Dudley Borough, in our neighbourhoods, local businesses, public sector agencies, voluntary organisations and faith groups. We may be able to do more to link people into the bigger picture, helping them to understand what can be achieved and helping them to think through how best to use their time and energy. But we should begin with what we already have.
Second proposal – that we badge our work Our Society: Big Society in action across Dudley Borough. Our Society, at present, is an online networking space. Set up in early December 2010 – up to 196 members. See value in many of the ideas advocated under the Big Society label – local decision-making, mutual support within communities, strengthening civic institutions and wider civic participation. Believe they belong within a wider context of social action that has a long history and a future beyond the programmes and initiatives of different governments. The Our Society site is a place to be inspired by possibilities and celebrate achievements, share struggles and engage in honest, open discussion. It is also a support network, a learning exchange and a place to promote our activities. It aims to lay the foundations for new approaches to social action. (screen fade – click twice) Set up group on the site called Our Society in Dudley Borough – (see purpose) We are the first locality to set up a group on the site, and I have high hopes that we will be a leader in linking the online Our Society development to offline activity. This week I was invited to join the core group of 7 people behind Our Society, who all work at a national level –2 national voluntary sector networks, a writer and trainer, a social media surgeon and a social reporter. So we are the first locality invited to be a part of the development of Our Society.
Third proposal: That the commitments and approaches in the above DCP documents should guide Dudley’s response and approach to the aspirations of the Big Society. CS Compact CCES
By way of reminder, these are the 5 principles in the refreshed Community Strategy, with the sixth being a commitment we also made given the effects of the recession and budget cuts being passed down by central government.
The Stronger Communities Steering Group felt that three of these principles in particular should guide our approach to Big Society: In relation to tackling inequality there is a commitment in the Community Strategy to support those at risk of discrimination and exclusion, and assist them in influencing the way agencies make decisions that affect them. This becomes urgent now that services are having to be cut, and we know that while many people rely on a range of public services, they rely on them differentially, so the impact of withdrawal or reduction of services is different for different groups and communities, potentially exacerbating inequality. A recent publication amongst the many on Big Society talks about next practice rather than best practice (the notion of genuinely new approaches rooted in practical understanding). We feel that our approach to Big Society should be a partnership one. We would like to recognise and celebrate next practice which is developed and delivered in partnership – perhaps partnership between citizens and the public sector, communities and local business… Our CS principle around involving people embraces engagement and volunteering, both central to Big Society thinking, and both of which we have fantastic work going on already in Dudley around with the Volunteering Counts and wider work supported to date through our LPSA, and in it together which has a rapidly growing offer of engagement training and support based entirely on needs identified among our community networks and public sector officers. Finally the SCSG felt that the commitment to be honest about resources available was crucial.
Here’s another word cloud – this time based on all the comments and key messages recorded at our DCP Big Society event in November. Our fourth proposal is that our Big Society work should respond to key issues arising from this event and other and subsequent related events. I’ll come to thoughts around some of these shortly
Finally in terms of approach, from Dosti I’d like to propose a whole area approach, which builds on the empowering approach to engaging communities which the DCP committed to in in it together. This whole area approach has emerged from the Black Country Take Part Pathfinder which Dudley has been a key player in and beneficiary of. Dudley and Wolverhampton are delivering a range of activities and opportunities which contribute to this whole area approach. These include: Citizens: Take Part learning programme, Youth Participation work with DYC, UKYP etc., We’d like our current activities to influence how we view community organising in Dudley, as the national programme for community organisers is rolled out later this year. Communities: the work done by Dudley CVS, Dosti, our faith based networks and groups, public sector officers supporting groups etc. Tools such as Building Blocks and Voice are practical examples of support. Public agencies: finding ways to deal with competing community demands, recognising the value of community influence and supporting communities and citizens to influence. Supporting and develop staff to have the relevant skills, knowledge and attitudes to engage communities in empowering ways. A willingness and flexibility to continue to change how things are done at all levels.
SCSG feel localism work is crucial and want to bring together a group of officers to start discussing this and then hold events to follow up from these discussions at the BS event. Government barrier busting website - Some local authorities want to deliver public services in new ways. Others are keen to do new things, such as invest in small-scale green energy. And volunteers, community groups and social enterprises of many kinds would like to play a bigger role in local life. But sometimes barriers get in the way. Red tape, rules and regulations stop people putting good ideas into action. I’m not convinced a website and a form develop understanding, but accompanied with a commitment to dialogue, this could be a key role for the public sector. Dudley 293 respondents to National Survey of Third Sector Organisations: 61% of third sector organisations responding have no staff – we suspect it’s many more. 51% have an annual income or turnover of less than £25,000 and for 34% of the total it is under £10,000. Small grants and sometimes simply a room to meet in can be the difference between a group continuing or not. Experience of Community Chest. £50 for stereo for dance group. Young people – nights of activity. These things bind the fabric of our communities. Citizenship learning – brilliant model in Take Part, and locally trained facilitators. We’re happy to talk about any of these and other ideas, and will develop some for your consideration at your next meeting.
Another area we could look at developing, which relates to a couple of these things would be to look for ways for public sector agencies to enable officers to move from mainly being able to access web1.0 sites to being able to use web 2.0 applications – social tools which Big Society activities across the country will utilise and which are increasingly spaces in which people organise and share. The Our Society site is one of these.