Last night we ran one of our regular Front Room focus groups to probe a little into what, if anything, people think about the Big Society.
We’ll cover that session in more detail as part of a broader look we are taking on what the Big Society means for corporates, charities and consumers.
Meanwhile, the discussion prompted me to think about how fixated everyone’s becoming with the language.
Whether talking to the man on the street or so-called informed colleagues and acquaintances, the semantics always seem to come first.
Is it the Big Society or the (lower case) big society? The small society? One big thing or lots of little things?
Is it about encouraging individual responsibility and rolling back the dependency culture? Is it about “empowering” (politicos take note: that expression doesn’t poll too well) the people locally or passing the buck?
I don’t know for sure what the answer is to these questions, but suspect it might be a combination of some or all of the above, or none of them.
I think the point is that I don’t know that it matters. There’s something afoot in the relationship between business and society, and there has been for a long time.
So the semantic debate moves onto political pedantry, as we’ve been reading this week. In framing the Big Society, is Cameron simply trying to appropriate the credit for what well-meaning corporates and caring consumers have been doing all along?
I’m not sure that matters much either.
We’re hearing at Davos this week, if we hadn’t already noticed, that we all need to get used to some “new realities”. The world has changed.
Relationships between consumers (or the electorate, depending on your starting point) and institutions have changed too. We need to get used to that.
Amid all this, isn’t the point to get past the semantics and to stop kicking the political football back and forth?
Regardless of the Big Society don’t these new realities tell us that the relationship between consumers and institutions will never be the same again. People have simply stopped taking what they are told at face value.
Instead they rely more on each other and have more confidence in their own convictions and, put simply, they demand to be involved and engaged.
Consumer-powered communities are blossoming all over the web, so it is hardly a big stretch to see them working in the physical world, at a local level. It would follow that there’s a role for real-world organisations to provide the organisational glue that comes from the social networks on the web.
In this context it is hard to see the value in debating whether the Big Society is simply old-school Corporate Responsibility in new clothing, or not.
Isn’t the point that there is a climate which is receptive to change (whether it likes it or not) and so there are new opportunities for businesses, government (local, central and its agencies) and the third sector all to do what so many already claim.
Really to get to know and engage with the people that matter to them and to show some leadership by helping those people get involved, which they are more than willing to do.
Forget the semantics. As a brand strategy, there might just be something in that.