Big Society

This project was a pilot study within the AHRC Connected Communities program. Its’ aim was to stimulate the pooling and discussion of insights from RCUK-funded projects relating to the notion of ‘Big Society’.

The Big Society policy initiative was introduced by the UK Coalition Government and aimed to decentralise many aspects of government services and places a strong emphasis on community-led schemes to improve local services, local environments and the local way of life. Although it has its detractors, proponents and critics alike agree on the core principles: an emphasis on volunteer organisations, reduced bureaucracy so that local champions can enact transformational changes, and an enhanced sense of community. Big Society has clear overlaps with the Connected Communities cross-council research theme in encouraging communities to work together for public good. By drawing together people and research in this area already funded by RCUK, we hoped to:

  1. Stimulate more evidence-based discussion of the concept
  2. Disseminate relevant literature to policy makers and communities
  3. Map out future research challenges

Four invited workshops were held on different aspects of the Big Society idea. These served to bring disparate researchers and policy makers together to discuss relevant research in a creative forum:

  1. The Design of Big Society. How should community-led initiatives be designed and managed? Can we develop a cook-book of design principles for Big Society? How do principles of open, participatory design reflect on Big Society? Led by Dr. Drew Hemment, Lancaster University
  2. Technology and Big Society: What is the role of technology in a Big Society? How can technology best support community-led activities? Is technology always appropriate or necessary for Big Society? Led by Prof. Jon Whittle, Lancaster University and Mr Paul Egglestone, University of Central Lancashire
  3. Inclusion in Big Society: Is Big Society only for those communities that are wealthy enough to afford it, or is it applicable across a broad range of socio-economic groups? How can we ensure that Big Society is inclusive across demographic, cultural and ethnic boundaries? Led by Prof. David Frohlich, University of Surrey and Prof. Andree Woodcock, Coventry University
  4. Financial implications of Big Society: What are the net financial gains? How does Big Society impact on financial forecasting and government economic models? What are the new business models for community-led activities in the Big Society? Led by Prof. Jane Binner, University of Sheffield

The project was led by Jon Whittle from Lancaster University, with Co-Investigators David Frohlich at Surrey University and Paul Egglestone at University of Central Lancashire. It ran for 9 months from 1st October 2010.