Tuesday 29 January 2013 - press release

Research by the Third Sector Research Centre has looked in depth at how third sector practitioners on the ground responded to the idea of the Big Society. It finds overwhelming scepticism about the agenda.

Respondents were highly critical of the language and ideas behind the Big Society. Positive comments were few and far between. Among other things, it was seen as confusing, challenged by the reality of everyday life and a contradiction in the face of public spending cuts. Some saw it as an illegitimate co-option of existing community and voluntary activities.

Big society was seen as something politicians, policy officials and media commentators talk about, rather than being related to real life on the ground in communities and the voluntary sector.

However, the research notes that despite this scepticism, respondents were aware of potential opportunities and often sought to ‘position’ their organisations and activities alongside and in relation to the ‘Big Society’

Rob Macmillan, who led the TSRC research, said ‘Politicians and policy makers are often encouraged to set out clear narratives explaining their vision for the direction of society. But they should tread carefully. If these stories fail to offer compelling and realistic scenarios, they are in danger of being derided or dismissed. The fact that voluntary organisations engaged in the Big Society narrative despite their scepticism highlights their engagement with public policy – but politicians and policy makers need to engage with the sector in ways which make sense in everyday life and at the frontline.'

The research paper, Making sense of the Big Society by Rob Macmillan, is based on evidence drawn from the Real Times longitudinal study of third sector organisations and activities. The research follows a diverse set of fifteen core case studies of voluntary organisations, community groups and social enterprises over a four year period. The overall purpose of the study is to gain a more in-depth and realistic understanding of how third sector organisations work in practice over time.

For more information contact:
Naomi Landau, Knowledge Exchange Team
020 7520 2421