The coalition have launched their civil society programme at an event in Downing Street with community activists and leaders from around the country. http://www.number10.gov.uk/news/topstorynews/2010/05/big-society-50248
The new proposals aim to create a climate that empowers local people and communities, building a big society that will “take power away from politicians and give it to people”.
These are exciting words for people working in public engagement and for people who are passionate about participative democracy. However, there will be many challenges ahead if it is going to be more than rhetoric.
Most of all there may not be the capacity nor the desire at a local level for people to get more involved. This means that organisations will need to devise more innovative and interesting platforms for people to participate. Some people will be willing to attend a public meeting, others will only engage on line or through social media. Some people may sign up to join local campaigns. Others may just attend a focus groups. So the challenge for those organisations working to deliver the Big Society will be to learn about the methods that work well for different audiences and to make sure that people are offered a variety of channels through which they can engage and influence decisions.
So the Big Society could be something very exciting, but like many grand gestures like this the devil will be in the detail. We shall see.