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?


  1. Tx. Glad to be reminded to watch that great Pink video again. However, even if web 2.0 lowers the threshold for constructive engagement, a little nudge may well help some people over it, enabling them to discover the sense of purpose that will let them take such thresholds in their stride from then on. Many good social occasions start with someone buying the first round…

  2. What a truly fantastic film – trying to work out now whether I can find a practical application in the office… Pretty much if you let people find a way of achieving without setting too restrictive a framework, they have better capacity to fly…

  3. Hmmm, I think there is something to that – the whole term *could* be to just dress up government cuts in other language. But I’m convinced there is something here, some way that social action can be built without the state, and that’s an idea that should appeal to both left and right.

    As for whether I can possibly advocate all of this – well I’m doing my little bit by writing hopefully thought provoking blog entries, but on the Labour side there’s a fair way to go.

  4. Perhaps the idea is to distract you into arguing about it? Perhaps just set goals and go after them and let them argue with you?

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