Small transactions – is that what counts?

A friend recently emailed me a link to StreetBank which describes itself as “a site that helps you share and borrow things from your neighbours“. The site explains:

“Communities that help each other are closer, nicer, and friendlier to live in. Streetbank can help make your neighbourhood a nicer place. It also makes sense economically. If there are 100 houses on your road and each of them uses a ladder maybe once a year to clean the guttering, they probably don’t all need their own ladder. One ladder shared between everyone should be enough”

It’s a laudable endeavour, however from our experience of values based segmentation, it is likely that those who are  inner-directed may well see the immediate benefits of this website first. However from a values perspective, it also has the potential for people with different values to eventually adopt this behaviour if it is communicated well:

  • Inner directed – “It’s the community spirited thing to do”
  • Outer directed – “Others will respect me if they see I am contributing to this”
  • Sustenance driven – “It’s what we do round here, looking after ourselves”

Thus such a scheme has a lot of potential in the long-run to help build the resilience of communities across their differing values sets. Indeed unlike much more conceptual schemes such as Local Economic Trading Systems (LETS), StreetBank seems much more simply expressed and one that could be communicated to a wider range of values.

It also made me think that often in behaviour change we might look for the big systems and big bang approach when perhaps it is the small transactions that count? Perhaps the Government is recognising this too? A recent report in the Guardian explained that as a way to tackle intergenerational worklessness, the Government was looking at small-scale changes. It said:

Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, is looking at a radical scheme to change the lifestyles of families in which nobody of working age has ever had a job by improving their basic skills. Duncan Smith is examining a German approach where long-term unemployed families have been encouraged to create a “household culture” with trips to the cinema and evening classes.

Both the above illustrate how one might take theoretical approaches such as Obliquity which I recently blogged about here and apply it a small-scale local level.

Is the key to building good social networks, all those small transactions that we take part on a daily basis? Is that small-scale interaction, built around local reciprocation, supported by a range of local advocates, a vital behaviour that needs to be encouraged much further to assist with a range of positive social benefits? Perhaps it could also assist with “immunising” communities from the worst outcomes of other damaging behaviours as I have previously blogged here?

It is clearly worth testing the ideas above and seeing their impact. Even if they don’t achieve all their direct outcomes, they surely have a practical benefit in building the Big Society. Perhaps Local Council’s should be seeking to promote and encouraging either StreetBank or a locally badged scheme as a bottom-up precursor to developing wider forms of co-production? It might might also help with creating a culture that leads to greater support for Big Society initiatives. Something like Streetbank at a local level would explain those concepts in a practical way that no amount of glossy brochures might achieve. After all if people in the community know who has a ladder they can borrow, surely this could lead to them and the Council to knowing who has the shovels to help clear the snow in the winter?

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for the Campaign Company
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One Response to “Small transactions – is that what counts?”

  1. Small is beautiful? Small interventions and the Big Society « The Campaign Company’s Blog Says:

    […] three years. The approach that Whittam Smith describes is very much in line with what we have said here and here based on our experience of those communities, so his intervention on the subject is very […]

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