Local authorities should identify and mobilise the key individuals who are already making a difference to their local communities rather than spend large amounts of time and money encouraging greater numbers of people to volunteer, according to a report published by the RSA.
RSA Changemakers concludes that local authorities and public services should be realistic about people's capacity to volunteer - and that more could be achieved by making better use of the small number of key individuals who are already making positive change happen.
The report argues that the government should:
Allocate a proportion of Big Society Bank funding to pay for a long-term initiative to establish ChangeMakers' Networks across the country
Integrate ChangeMakers into the Community Organising Scheme and the National Citizens Service
Establish a national mentoring scheme linking civil servants in Whitehall with ChangeMakers working on the ground
Support and actively encourage ChangeMakers to bid for public service contracts
Commenting on the report, RSA Researcher and author of the report Benedict Dellot said:
"Given the space, the necessary skills and the right kind of encouragement, people would be far more willing to get involved in shaping their communities and public services. But we have to be realistic about the numbers of people currently doing so, and begin to acknowledge that it will take a great deal of time to grow these numbers to 'Big Society' levels.
"The challenges facing local areas is so great, and the time they have to tackle them so short, that it has become necessary for local authorities and public services to work with the grain of the assets that are already available to them. I can think of no better assets than the 'ChangeMakers' across the country who are currently working, often under the radar, to improve their communities, whether that is an active local police officer, a leading light in the business community, or a community activist dedicated to his or her cause."
As part of the RSA's major Citizen Power programme of work in Peterborough, nearly 240 of these 'ChangeMakers' were identified and their connections to one another mapped. Among those detected were social entrepreneurs, members of the clergy, artists, head teachers, police officers, businessmen, charity workers and housing officers.
ChangeMakers were found to be rooted in their communities, have an impressive repertoire of capabilities, and have an appetite to apply these skills to address local issues, from tackling anti-social behaviour, to promoting environmental sustainability, to improving public health.
The RSA is now in the process of developing a structured "ChangeMakers' Network" in Peterborough which would bring all of these individuals together through on-going events to share ideas and advice, and to support one another's work.
RSA ChangeMakers found that much more could be done by local authorities to harness the experience of the private sector and other local people who may be retired or work in front line jobs.
The Big Society will struggle to make a practical difference to people’s lives unless there is greater clarity regarding the role of the state, as well as improved ways of measuring the capability of communities to get involved with local decision making, according to two reports from the RSA.