There seems to be a fundamental misconception at the heart of the ‘debate’ about Cameron’s Big Society ideas. This misconception is fed both by the discourse used by the Tories themselves, and the media reaction. Take this piece in today’s Guardian for example – councils are wondering whether some sort of reward scheme might prompt people to do more volunteering. It probably won’t work, as giving payment (or quasi-payment) for something that should be a selfless task is a sure recipe for not motivating people. Tory policy makers should read Daniel Pink on that, or watch this excellent RSA Youtube film that’s based on his ideas:
Going further, is there some sort of civic engagement that is just waiting to be tapped?
The press coverage of Big Society is dripping with scepticism about this. But I’m not so sceptical – if use of the internet is to become an integral part of the Tories’ plans. As Clay Shirky argues in Here Comes Everybody, the net allows activities that were previously unviable (under the Coasian floor as he terms it) to actually happen. Essentially the dramatic decline in transaction costs made possible by the internet makes social collaboration possible even in areas where it could never previously have been envisaged. It’s explained more here, 3rd paragraph. Is it just understanding that is beyond the imagination of our politicians and press?