Opinion

Where the Big Society has got it wrong (and what this could mean for Brand Britain)


UK PM David Cameron is still trying to sell the Big Society concept, which has, understandably, taken somewhat of a battering in recent weeks.

However, I think there’s a fundamental flaw in the concept. A flaw which, with a rebrand and a minor change, could be removed and the concept left free to redefine how we work together to recreate Brand Britain.

According to Dictionary.com, “society” is:

    1.an organized group of persons associated together for religious, benevolent, cultural, scientific, political, patriotic, or other purposes.
    2.a body of individuals living as members of a community; community.
    3.the body of human beings generally, associated or viewed as members of a community: the evolution of human society.
    4.a highly structured system of human organization for large-scale community living that normally furnishes protection, continuity, security, and a national identity for its members: American society.
    5.such a system characterized by its dominant economic class or form: middle-class society; industrial society.

Some interesting points emerge.

“organised groups”
“large scale”
“system”

We all understand, fundamentally, what is mean by society. Society is big. Society exists, even if previous iterations of the Tory party didn’t believe in it.

But, staying with the word for the moment, “society” itself is also taking a hammering. Today’s BBC headline reads:

“Broken society is top priority”

As much as we read about the Big Society, we also read about the “broken society”. The word is becoming linked to bad stuff as much as it is being linked to good.

And that’s a problem.

On the flip side of the coin is the conceptual society.

Do we choose the society that we live in?

As a resident of the UK, I demonstrate passive acceptance by not emigrating (at least yet). I demonstrate an active part in the society through voting and by contributing my taxes and so on.

But I haven’t overtly chosen the society that I live in. I have not made a conscious and cognitive effort to live within this society.

To me, society means government and governance, systems and procedures, formalised groupings of people set with formalised agendas and aims.

Not, I suspect, what’s meant by “Big Society”.

And I wonder if this is true for many other people as well.

Coming back down to earth, I read a Tweet last week concerning the London Riots. It ran something like this:
(apologies, I can’t find the original tweet)

The riots show us broken society in action. The cleanup shows us the Big Society in action.

I beg to differ.

Society didn’t step in to clean up London. The community did.

The formalised structures that represent “society” gave way to the community of people who wanted to make a difference and get their city back.

If people don’t see themselves belonging to “society”, I’ll be willing to bet that they see themselves as belonging to a community.

That community might be geographic. That community might be interest based. That community might last for a day until the last shards of glass are swept up and disband, or it might stay forever.

So the rebrand that I would suggest, would urge, the Government considers is to scrap the Big Society. Delete it from their hearts, minds and letterhead.

Instead, it needs to be replaced with the Big Community.

The Big Community works. It’s inclusive. You and I are active parts of it. We can relate to the community even if we can’t relate to the society in our every day actions.

Community has a beating heart in its people. Society’s heart is in structure and formalisation. In things, not hearts and minds.

We choose our communities, we are thrust into our societies.

I choose the Big Community as the future for Brand Britain. I wonder what the politicians would do, if asked?

Where do you stand on the issue? Is the difference between society and community too subtle for most people to grasp? Or do you believe that in this one, “simple”, rebrand lies the true beating heart of Brand Britain?

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