Don’t dare call us ‘big society’

One year on from David Cameron’s launch, Scotland still doesn’t seem to have fully embraced the “big society” concept. It’s not that we’re a nation of dullards who cannot grasp such lofty ideas. It’s not because we think the government ought to control every element of Scottish life. And it’s overly-simplistic to cite Scotland’s perceived disdain for all things Tory. As Antonia Swinson, CEO of Scottish Social Enterprise Coalition, puts it we’d rather “leave the English to their spirited debate about whether the ‘big society’ represents inspirational and long awaited reform” while we get on with the business of actually “shifting accepted norms of Scotland’s public service delivery in whatever way we can”.

Swinson’s comments may be blunt but party-political they are not. She’s not saying we need to specifically steer clear of Tory rhetoric, but rather that, as we’re geographically and politically miles away from the big society Westminster beach ball, us Scots can concentrate on developing a meaningful model of civil society. Whether we call it big society is neither here nor there.

Civil society, in its true sense, has had something of a resurgence and social media is allowing that to happen. While councils and other public sector bodies have been slow to react to the growth of social media, networks of citizens linked by a common cause have grown up organically. Social media is taking the place of the town hall by providing a space to share ideas and make things happen. Non-profits are beginning to realise that they can move beyond clicktivism to genuine activism if they spend time building a movement online.

As Rosie McIntosh, Oxfam Scotland’s media and new media officer, puts it: “I hear talk of apathy, but I don’t see it. People care. People speak out, even on issues that are never likely to affect them directly.”

Oxfam Scotland’s Citizen Journalist Network has allowed the charity to think about campaigning and communicating in a new way. It’s not about them telling people what to think and do, it’s about ordinary people speaking up about the poverty and injustice they see in the world. Citizen journalists are Oxfam’s eyes and ears on the ground and that’s incredibly valuable. Importantly, the standard of the writing and the complexity of the arguments that are presented through the network aren’t your usual Daily Mail keyboard warrior fodder. The effort put in by each citizen journalist in the network is anything but clicktivism.

Similarly, animal protection charity OneKind have been building up a movement of like-minded individuals loosely connected through Facebook and Twitter. OneKind’s supporters have had their say on big issues; they sent some 6500 emails to MSPs asking for a ban on snares after OneKind simplified the process via social media channels. When people were outraged by Edinburgh Zoo’s plans to cull three healthy Red River Hog piglets Onekind launched an immediate Twitter campaign against the zoo, using the #savethehogs tag. Within hours the tag had been used thousands of times and the zoo made a u-turn on their decision.

It’s not just big organisations using social media to redefine big society. Some of the best examples come from small community groups influencing real change at a local level. When the council ran a budget consultation which many locals perceived as skewed, Greener Leith, a local residents’ group, responded with an alternative online poll. Greener Leith have also used social media to crowd source ideas to help people leave their cars at home — leading to the local council investing hundreds of thousands of pounds to make it happen. In a similar vein, the North Kelvin Meadow Campaign and Cumbernauld House Trust have successfully used social media to bring together local residents in an attempt to, respectively, save local green space and a historical building from developers.

Be Good Be Social, Scotland’s first social media gathering for charities, social entrepreneurs and community groups has become a showcase and laboratory for these successes. What’s clear from the Be Good Be Social discussions online and at the events is that real movements emerge naturally. Civil society action comes from the grassroots. It can’t be imposed from above by a Westminster policy. While David Cameron might like to claim it as his legacy, we know that, in Scotland at least, a thriving third sector is in our hands. Just don’t dare call us big society.

Comments welcome over at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/voluntary-sector-network/2011/apr/05/redefining-big…

Scottish Charity Awards 2011 – nominate your charity or person of the year

Scottish Charity Awards 2011 open for entries

charity awards dinner

The Scottish Charity Awards recognise excellence in the Scotland’s third sector. This year, it is more important than ever that organisations demonstrate their value to the public, funders and government. If you believe that your organisation has achieved something special this year then enter now.

Deadline for entries is 8 April 2011.

Find out more about entering:

Ride your mountain bike longer, faster and safer

If you’re looking to dramatically increase your mountain biking skills, safety and confidence I cannot recommend Kenny Wallace’s BikeSkilz workshops highly enough. A day at Glentress with Kenny and my cornering, speed and general belief in my ability to stay on a bike developed enormously.

So…watch the video and make a booking. You’ll enjoy your biking more than ever.

PS: I’m not being paid to post this, I just think Kenny is a nice guy who has an amazing ability to change the way people ride within a day.

Fair Share Trust in Scotland: Lessons learned

I’m proud to have sat on the national grants committee for the Big Lottery Fund Fair Share Trust – managed by the Scottish Community Foundation the Trust has helped channel over £6m to local projects, with an emphasis on making a real difference in local communities, helping build lasting connections and networks.

The Fair Share Trust has now come to an end in Scotland and I think some of the lessons learned from the programme are invaluable to anyone interested in raising community capacity.

As is detailed in ‘Fair Enough…lessons from the Fair Share Trust in Scotland’ (below), the Trust “went beyond grant giving. In each neighbourhood a panel made up of people living or working in the area determined the local priorities and advised on funding. This local knowledge and involvement ensured communities maintained ownership of the FST programme in their area and produced the added benefit of building social capital, the dynamic mix of skills, knowledge and resources in a community that will sustain the impact of the programme long after the funding has been spent.”

The fact that almost three quarters of projects funded by Fair Share Trust in Scotland are continuing in some way beyond the life of the programme is testament to its success.

Voluntary sector aims to bring people together online – The Herald

Voluntary sector aims to bring people together online

  • Lauren Currie
  • Feedback: Lauren Currie, co-founder of Mypolice social networking site.

Stephen Naysmith

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26 Oct 2010

Police who tweet, charities using Facebook or taking on citizen journalists – these are just three ways the third sector is embracing social networking.

Online tools are changing the way the public and voluntary sector interact with supporters and the public and an event in Edinburgh tomorrow night will explore advances in the field.

Be Good Be Social will feature talks and workshops from third sector social media experts including Oxfam Scotland, OneKind (previously known as Advocates for Animals), and police feedback website Mypolice.

Ross McCulloch of Third Sector Lab, organiser of the event at The Melting Pot, said, “This is a chance for charities, non-profits and social entrepreneurs to get together to share ideas about how to make the world a better place using social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogging. This isn’t just marketing – it’s about bringing people together in online spaces to make a real difference.”

Oxfam Scotland is pioneering the concept through its citizen journalists scheme, which launches this week. The charity is recruiting supporters to be active on the internet, posting comments, blogging and rebutting critics.

When they advertised the roles, there were more than 100 applicants. Contributors will be given guidelines on how to represent Oxfam and help the charity amplify its views.

Spokeswoman Rosie McIntosh said, “For busy people who don’t have time to come in and volunteer or work in our shops, they might re-tweet something or write their own blog. Oxfam and lots of other charities love speaking about themselves, but that is not what social media is about.”

Meanwhile Lauren Currie, co-founder of Mypolice, said many police forces understood the need for a conversation with the public, but found some social network sites too much of a free-for-all. “Mypolice is designed for the public, but the police still have an element of control. The site will help police understand why the public feel the way they do much better and help them target resources more efficiently on the problems that really need it.”

Mr McCulloch added “Some people are worried about the technology element of social media, but that’s really not what’s important. We’re interested in looking at how we can use the internet to give people a voice.”

 

Visit www.begoodbesocial.org.uk.