Archive for October, 2010

Communicating in difficult times

October 20, 2010

Over the coming days lots of things will be written about the Government’s Spending Review, so this comment will be quite brief.

Whatever one thinks of it, many public and third sector bodies are going to have to communicate to a wide range of audiences as to nature of the likely changes that will come.

Different people will react to those changes in different ways. Some will see it as something that does not directly affect them,  some will see opportunities, whilst some will see it as a direct threat or something to be feared. Often this will be driven by the values they hold.

The days of communicating to just one of these audiences are over. Organisations will need to communicate to them all with a multi-segmented approach. I therefore refer to my earlier posting on the subject here. I think it is even more relevant now.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer at The Campaign Company.

Widening the range of Big Society behaviours

October 18, 2010

Robin Clarke of the Office for Public Management (OPM) wrote recently about the role of Behaviour Change in building Civil Society under the Big Society banner. It very much reflects what TCC have been saying in recent months.

Two interesting points arise.

Firstly the article refers to ‘barriers to participation’:

“this seems to make an assumption that the public are eager to take on a more active citizenship role and all that is preventing this is some form of local red tape.

The former Labour MP Tony Wright makes an interesting point about this in a recent paper for the IPPR think tank, Where next? The challenge for centre-left politics. Writing about how the Big Society chimes with Labour’s social democratic history he says:

‘ … people will not all become citizen-activists overnight, nor should they. At a practical level, people are busy parenting, working and caring, often struggling to keep afloat; they will only have time and energy for civic activity if good support systems are in place, and if the activity itself seems worthwhile.’

Big Society is competing for people’s time in a crowded market place. Stepping back and removing barriers will probably not be enough to nudge people from being consumers and passive recipients of public services to becoming active citizens.”

The danger of this attitude is that it assumes that participation in the Big Society is all about intrinsically motivated forms of participation, such as serving on committees. Many people will not participate, because that sort of activity might not accord with their values. The answer is to recognise that many activities like parenting and caring are Big Society activities and should be recognised and rewarded as such. Rather than seeking to substantially change the people, we should develop approaches that accord with their needs and what motivates them as they are. This is an important debate, which I will come back to in considering further the World Wildlife Fund’s new report Common Cause which is all about working with cultural values

Secondly, where I think the article is on much stronger ground is when it describes a behavioural model for the Big Society based on the excellent Institute for Government report Mindspace. An approach that seeks to Enable, Encourage, Engage and Evaluate makes sense as it encourages bottom-up initiatives and the article recognises the changing role of local government here:

“Rather than telling communities how and when they can play an active role and tightly controlling access to the public space it becomes more of an equal partner by lending its knowledge and expertise to local communities who help define public spaces.”

The article also importantly makes the point that TCC would strongly agree with:

“behavioural theory repeatedly emphasises: how people behave is often influenced by who the messenger is and how the message is delivered.”

I would just add that the best messenger is one that shares similar values to the recipient of the message as they are more likely to be properly listened to. Too often organisations make the mistake of assuming everyone has intrinsic values like themselves and then communicates in too narrow a wavelength. The good news is that learning to communicate to different values audiences is something that a number of local authorities are beginning to put into place.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for the Campaign Company.

Citizenship: Relationships, Transactions and Security

October 8, 2010

Prime Minister David Cameron in his Party Conference speech this week made a powerful point that:

“….citizenship isn’t a transaction – in which you put your taxes in and get your services out. It’s a relationship – you’re part of something bigger than yourself, and it matters what you think and you feel and you do.”

I suspect for most people reading this article, whatever your politics, are likely to broadly agree. Your probable  inner directed values are very likely to make you agree with that quite reasonable sentiment. Just like me, you might also see those relationships made up of a rich mix of strong and weak social and institutional ties.

However there are some people, perhaps with more outer directed values, who will feel that a transactional approach to citizenship is actually a good thing. They may be busy people, not looking for a relationship but results,  so they can get on with the very busy lives they have created for themselves, mainly through their own efforts. The “personal choice” agenda in public services was just made for them, but too often in public policy debates it was overlooked that for others such an agenda might be seen as a threat or something they would lose out from.

Others with more security and safety values may enjoy citizenship in terms of relationships, but might not see this in terms of formal committees, big concepts, or important meetings and instead see those relationships in terms of one to one very local relationships with people they trust and are familiar with.

The point I am making is that conceptions of what citizenship actually means may differ. No concept is wrong or incorrect. All are equally valid.  They are just different and I have written both generally and more specifically as to how one can apply multi-segmented messages where there might be difference in values perception.

The conclusion from all this is that there is a need for a wider definition of Citizenship that reaches out to all values groups, whether the person wishes just to transact or indeed relate to either the local perspective or the big picture.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for The Campaign Company.

Society: Big, Good or just Civil?

October 7, 2010

David Cameron yesterday in his Conference speech returned to the theme of the Big Society. However the term remains contested with Ed Milliband in his speech the previous week talking about the Good Society.

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.

Perhaps Phillip Blond writing in the Observer has a solution?

He writes: “Civil society is the new centre-ground of British politics and it is the only alternative to a repetition of a past none of us want to revisit.”

He might have hit the nail on the head when he used the phrase Civil Society, which is also an academically recognised term too. Indeed the Government already formally recognises this with the Cabinet Office having a Minister for Civil Society.

Perhaps the best approach is a for a group of respected non-partisan organisations to come up with a branding and terminology which is acceptable to the widest possible number of people? In the spirit of localism it should also be encouraged and allowed to develop in its own way at neighbourhood level, whatever people choose to call it. It can be “Big” and “Good” and politicians will of course go on using the terms they prefer, but fundamentally it will surely be about the expansion of civil society irrespective of the economic circumstances. For the good times as well as the bad.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer at The Campaign Company