Monday, 18 October 2010

The Third Sector in the Big Society


A new report, The Organised Efforts of Society, has been published by the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO). The document gives a comprehensive view on what the Third Sector believes it's role should be within the Coalition Government's Big Society agenda.

The two governing parties have referred to the Voluntary sector's role via new Social Enterprises being set up as part of their 'Right to Request' policy for NHS workers, but there's been little further expansion on just where it fits in. The report from the ACEVO looks to redress this, stating that in the past, Government has seen Public bodies as solely responsible for the population's health.  Now, in line with Big Society thinking , that responsibility should be shared between Public, Private and  the Third sectors, along with the population itself.

The paper demonstrates what a huge resource Voluntary organisations represent to this initiative.

"There are 900,000 voluntary sector organisations in the UK, with a combined annual turnover of £157 billion, a workforce of 1,600,000, combined assets of £244 billion, and the capacity to mobilise over a quarter of the population to volunteer formally at least once a month.”

Put in such a way, it's easy to see the potential, but for that potential to be realised, cross-sectoral collaboration in all aspects of Public Health, from research and evidence gathering, through to policy making and delivery, is vital. The paper lays out how this can be achieved, detailing the challenges that will need to be met by all parties and giving great examples of when voluntary organisations have had real success in relation to the core aims of the Big Society.

For larger voluntary organisations the changes needed to work in partnership with other sectors should be easily achievable, but others may need to step up their game in many respects.

In the realms of Social Marketing, this may be easier said than done. Like in Small Business, if budgets are tight, marketing may be a low priority, conducted by in house teams or worse still, not at all.  If those teams don't exist or don't possess the required expertise, what then?

The proposed 'Big Society Bank' may be able to help, but the purse strings won't be wide open for everyone.

The report suggests that accessing Public funds needs to be conducted in a more businesslike manner than is often the case, with detailed strategies aiming to obtain realistic outcomes, rather than simply assuming the right to a slice of the pie. Social Marketing is an extremely complex field and experts will be needed to provide those plans and inform the campaigns that follow. If a small Social Enterprise is lucky enough to have such expertise in their staff, then great, but what if not? Even accessing funding in the first place may be an impossibility.

It's somewhat of a chicken and egg scenario. Expertise is needed to access the money to employ the expertise.

So what to do?

The Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, has spoken about a new 'Responsibility Deal' between Government and Business, built on social responsibility, not state regulation. Within this, Business should look to re-evaluate it's practices so as to take up it's share in the role of improving society, as well as offering funding and help to campaigns which do the same.

Taking a cue from this, perhaps one way the Marketing Sector can embrace it's own social responsibility is to offer help to those in the voluntary sector who need it. Not necessarily offering funding, but expertise instead. The odd hour here and there from resident strategists at an agency, given for free, could be a great help in shaping the strategies of smaller Social Enterprises, Charities, etc, allowing them to access funding and conduct truly effective campaigns.

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