Small is beautiful? Small interventions and the Big Society

Andreas Whittam Smith writes today in the Independent about the nature of future government interventions in local communities and how they contribute to the Big Society agenda.  His article is subtitled with the line:

“Small interventions in local communities can have a major impact through contagion. This is pioneering work. There is nothing to go on. It has not been done before”.

Whittam Smith also talks about that new approach in these terms:

“it directs us not to what markets can provide, or what the state can do but to what we as individuals, as citizens, can contribute. This is very new.”

In TCC we have been exploring these issues through our work with local government and health services in local communities over the past 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 welcome.

The other interesting point he makes is how one cannot just talk the talk on such issues. Organisational behaviour has to match noble words. He writes:

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson said a “psychological contract” between police and the public over tackling street yobbery was broken. Officers sitting behind desks often leave members of the public to face petty thuggery alone. He said “police must back up ordinary citizens so they do not feel afraid to challenge nuisance behaviour”.

As we have previously reported on community cohesion work in Barking and Dagenham, one part of the process was for the Council to speak in the same values as the community it represented in order for it to engage with people’s needs and emotions. The other part was for its actions and day to day behaviour to directly reflect those stated values. It’s Eyesore Gardens campaign and support for inclusive St George’s Day Street Parties were good examples of a Council re-establishing a psychological contract with those holding certain values.

It’s therefore very gratifying to read from someone as esteemed as former Independent Editor Andreas Whittam Smith that our day to day activity is a part of some  “pioneering work“.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for the Campaign Company

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