It was great to turn on the Today Programme this morning to hear Tracey Crouch, Minister for Sports and Civil Society, talking passionately about the new Civil Society Strategy, and her commitment to working with grassroots organisations to address some of the biggest challenges we’re facing in society today.
The strategy is subtitled ‘Building a future that works for everyone’ – a mission that chimes well with me and my work at Good Things Foundation since our vision is a world where everyone can benefit from digital.
So I eagerly read the Strategy and one of the things that struck me most is the recognition for the great work civil society is already doing, and a Government commitment to doing more to support this. Meeting with a number of Online Centres when putting our consultation response together I heard an overwhelming air of positivity and ambition about what we can achieve together. It is great to see the strategy committing to building on this aspiration.
There’s so much in this strategy to be happy about.
A key theme that comes through is the need to support community organisations, charities, and other organisations with a social purpose to strengthen communities, and to ensure people can have their say about the things that matter to them, combat loneliness, and drive inclusive growth. The Online Centres Network, who are based in thousands of communities across the UK, are already doing this on a daily basis. Tick.
And it’s about putting people and communities at the heart of decisions and decision making. Tick.
The Government will also be launching ‘Innovation in Democracy’ pilots, giving local people more of a say. I’m hoping our #VoiceBoxCafe pilots will get some local people – especially local women – ready and interested in taking part. Tick.
The Strategy commits the Government to a return to grant funding which we know provides greater security, particularly for smaller charities and organisations. We are also pleased to see again the plans to release £145 million of funding from dormant bank accounts to fund activity, particularly around financial inclusion. We know that inclusive prosperity is an area in much need of investment. Tick.
I’m really happy to see the Strategy’s desire to explore how technology can be harnessed to address complex social issues. As you’ll know if you read my blog often – this is something I’m passionate about and it’s right at the heart of what we do at Good Things. The strategy talks in detail about the role of tech for good, and the importance of using technology to solve complex social issues, like loneliness, healthy ageing, online safety, and digital inclusion. You’ll not be surprised to hear that this is music to my ears! Tick.
To do this, the government has committed to working in partnership with experts in both technology and civil society. As an organisation working at the intersection of these two sectors, I’m looking forward to the important role we can play in this. Double tick.
For me, the strategy hits the nail on the head when it says ‘digital technology does not bring progress when it simply creates efficiency. It brings the most progress when it puts the user first, and when digital services are focused foremost on meeting human needs’. We don’t need to get hung up on searching for clever tech solutions and building new platforms – sometimes the biggest impact can be had in using existing, and freely available tools – like using Facebook to bring communities together.
It’s important we don’t think of tech for good as a separate element of the Civil Society Strategy, removed from the people, places and partnerships that make our society thrive. Digital needs to become part of what everyone working in civil society does every day, and for every solution civil society develops, we should always be asking what role digital can play. Tech + people can bring holistic and scalable solutions. How can it be embedded by more civil society organisations more often to help to achieve an even bigger impact? This is something we will keep championing, along with our partners working across the civil society space.
There’s definitely a lot in it to be happy about. As Tracey Crouch said: “Our strategy builds on this spirit of the common good to help create a country that works for everyone. I want people, organisations and businesses to feel inspired to get involved and make a difference. .. Through collaboration, we will unlock the huge potential of this incredible sector, help it grow, support the next generation and create a fairer society.”
As with everything, the actual success will be in the delivery and I will be interested to see how the new strategy develops quickly into tangible action. As a resetting of the relationship between Government, and those driving social action, I think it sets all the right tone. I look forward to hearing more of the detail, and to playing a role to help with that and with the implementation both as Good Things Foundation and as a voice for thousands of community organisations across the Online Centres Network.
The first civil society strategy in 15 years. So, let’s get on with it.