There has been a flurry of interest again in the Big Society recently – check out this article or this one in the Guardian proclaiming it’s death, and the suggestion that the church will take over much of the state run functions as part of Big Society that was aired on Radio 4’s Today programme on the 23rd November. The Big Society was always a difficult sell in many ways – asking people to give more and get more involved as times were tough for them personally is never easy, and the natural British scepticism can taint the whole idea as covering up for cuts in the public sector.
Yet underneath this, there are groups working extremely hard to make tBS a reality – see The Big Society in the North for example, and many voluntary groups see real opportunities…if they can find sources of income to enable them to stay open.
In the policing world a piece of work by NPIA has identified a link between people’s sense of social responsibility and their willingness to cooperate with the police. That doesn’t sound anything new, but the research goes further and suggests that simply by treating people in a way that encourages this social responsibility, the police can have a real impact on crime, and for very little cost. Much of this focuses around being fair, friendly, treating people with respect and taking the time to explain the reasons behind decisions, all of which good police officers and staff do on a regular basis (although when I recently suggested to a group of officers that these principles should be extended to prisoners in custody I got some dissenting voices, but that is another story…)
I am encouraged by this police specific research, because it strikes me that there are probably similar gains to be made in other areas of the public sector – the taxman, the benefit office, the council helpdesk, the social housing charity. If all public services had a specific aim to improve social responsibility then tBS may become more likely, even in these difficult times. So if you are a public servant – what have you done today to encourage openness, explain the rationale behind decisions and make your service seem more fair? What more could you do? What will you do differently tomorrow?