The Big Society – falling on deaf ears?

One of the things TCC have stressed in recent years is that if you are communicating to the general public, an unsegmented message increasingly means you reach some people, but not others. In these more stringent times, that simply will not do! My TCC colleague Charlie Mansell, for example, recently blogged about the dangers of unsegmented messages around the current issue of financial reductions.

That weakness might be something that could be partly excused if it were different groups of people missed out each time and organisations at least got to everyone in the end. However the research we have conducted for a number of local authorities and other public and civic organisations, leads us to believe that far too often it is the same group of people. Some of the latest research was debated at a recent conference where Phillip Blond, the Director of the Think-Tank ResPublica was the keynote speaker and who warmly commented on the findings.

Readers of this blog will be aware that we have in recent years argued that values based segmentation is proving increasingly useful in seeking to understand what actually drives and motivates people to act the way they do. In other words it adds depth to  traditional geo-demographic segmentation, which might simply tell where certain positive or negative social behaviours occur more frequently.

We would argue that one of the key reasons those same people fail to be heard is that they hold values around security and safety when the organisation delivering the message is often either speaking in the outer directed values of “choice” or perhaps more inner directed values of “participation and engagement”.

Thus the challenge we identify  is not simply a technical one around people being “hard to reach”; it is much more about wrongly communicating to some people quite regularly. No wonder they might feel disaffected or distrustful of institutions. It is thus far more a “hard to engage” problem.

As well as the issue of finances we increasingly believe there could be a significant communications challenge over the issue of the Big Society, which the government sees as helping a wider range of stakeholders: individuals and communities to take on responsibilities formerly just the preserve of the state. As the coalition agreement on the Big Society states:

“We want to give citizens, communities and local government the power and information they need to come together, solve the problems they face and build the Britain they want. We want society – the families, networks, neighbourhoods and communities that form the fabric of so much of our everyday lives – to be bigger and stronger than ever before. Only when people and communities are given more power and take more responsibility can we achieve fairness and opportunity for all.

“Building this Big Society isn’t just the responsibility of just one or two departments. It is the responsibility of every department of Government, and the responsibility of every citizen too. Government on its own cannot fix every problem. We are all in this together. We need to draw on the skills and expertise of people across the country as we respond to the social, political and economic challenges Britain faces.”

The Government, and particularly Civil Society Minister Greg Clark, is beginning to recognise the need to have to communicate the Big Society to a wider audience than just think-tankers and journalists.  Nevertheless, as Ben Toombs at the RSA has recently commented there is still much more to do.

There has been some progress in this area as a result of Greg Clark’s recent speech on the subject which was recently blogged in detail by my colleague Charlie Mansell here. However it is still very much unclear as to whether this message will be effectively communicated to a wider range of values sets as well as at all levels, especially a local one.

Over the coming weeks, I will be looking at the issue of communicating the Big Society in much more detail and suggesting ways in which messages and the messengers that may appeal to one audience with more sympathetic values could be made more relevant to those with other values.

Jonathan Upton is Chairman of the Campaign Company.

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2 Responses to “The Big Society – falling on deaf ears?”

  1. Patrick Tyler Says:

    Communication is the key element in achieving change from existing service providers and deliverers, even now after several weeks from the Big Society launch, statutory providers are reluctant to release the strings and allow communities and neighbourhoods to manage themselves.
    The unelected are reluctant to allow the electorate to embark on what the elected have decided is the way forward.

  2. Society: Big, Good or just Civil? « The Campaign Company’s Blog Says:

    […] Can any consensus be achieved on the elements that both government and opposition will subscribe? I have written before about the term becoming politically contested in the same way as phrases such as “Privatisation” or “Poll Tax/Community Charge” were, as has TCC Chairman Jonathan Upton here. […]

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