Civil society is defined as a community of citizens linked by common interests and collective activity. In February, the government launched a consultation to inform a new strategy setting out how it can work with and for civil society to tackle challenges and unlock opportunities to build a stronger society now and in the future.
We’re big advocates of civil society at Good Things Foundation, and together with the Online Centres Network, we have a keen interest in supporting people who are socially excluded to live fulfilling lives and to help strengthen the communities they live in. This means we’re keen to ensure that the new Civil Society strategy represents, and takes into account, the views of those who are ensuring its success.
The inequality gap in the UK is huge, with 14 million people living in poverty, 9 million people lonely or isolated and 11.3 million lacking basic digital skills. Everyday staff and volunteers from Online Centres work to make sure those most in need can play a full role in society. With funding becoming more and more scarce, consistent support – from government and others – is vital.
Critically, any Civil Society Strategy needs to marry the huge benefits digital can provide, with the importance of community, and of face-to-face support, in building a strong civil society that benefits us all.
We worked with Online Centres to develop a response to the Government’s consultation, which you can see in full here, along with a number of recommendations, which I’ve shared below.
DCMS, Good Things Foundation, charities and the tech sector should work in partnership to grow the understanding of the role of digital in driving impact across all social outcomes. This is not just about digital skills but also leadership. We should aim to deliver culture change, where digital is no longer a bolt-on but is understood and used as a core element of any public benefit delivery.
DCMS, central Government, local Government and businesses need to connect the power and the money with the voices that need to be heard, involving excluded people and hyperlocal organisations to co-design public services and public benefit solutions.
DCMS needs to understand that policy often undermines the efforts of civil society. Central Government rarely prioritises civil society when considering the key players who will help policy succeed. The Civil Society Strategy should commit DCMS to not just convening other Government Departments to ensure that core public benefit programmes succeed but also intervening where it is clear policies from other Departments are ignoring or negating the needs of civil society’s efforts to deliver public benefit.
DCMS and all partners should develop a Partnership Charter that all organisations working in partnership can commit to. The government could further develop the face-to-face and digital systems and structures which enable hyperlocal civil society organisations to connect and tackle problems together, through network organisations like Good Things Foundation and others.
The government, large funders, businesses and local authorities should work together to ensure we have a funding environment that can support a strong civil society. Funding isn’t always reaching the organisations, and the people, who really need it. Through a cross-sector working group, the government should work with large funders to ensure that funding actually reaches those who can use it for greatest benefit.
Civil society is a term that probably few people have heard of – after all it is a term popular with government ministers, academics, aid workers and the likes – but it’s so vital in ensuring we thrive as a nation. I really hope Government will consider our response in helping to shape a stronger civil society, working with partners like those in the Online Centres Network, to create a better world for everyone.