The difficulties in making the concept of the ‘Big Society’ fly lay partly in the area of timing – coinciding with the most painful cuts in living memory – but mostly around the very challenging territory of communication.
Unless you are deliberately trying to score political points it’s actually quite hard to argue with the basic principles of The Big Society; the Guardian, for instance says: ‘there’s a lot right with it’. So you can understand why the Coalition had faith in a re-launch. And, given my interest in Presentation Skills – and my passionate belief that construction is at least as important as delivery – I had all five senses on full alert as the re-launch was unrolled yesterday.
Lots of thought had clearly gone into layout, audience mix, logos, lighting and so on. And then the Prime Minister gave us the Big Society message in a nutshell: “What this is about is giving people more power and control to improve their lives and communities”. That’s fine but where is the essential Call to Action – what are we meant to go and actually do about it?
The additional communication challenge here is that it’s not very actually helpful to start pointing to examples of what they have in mind. The Coalition did this with an approach to the advertising industry (which, as Sir Martin Sorrell tells us, doesn’t actually exist any more) which just served to highlight a series of flaws and personal sores in the shape of the disappearance of public sector budgets.
Compare Cameron’s message with Kennedy’s classic inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country”. That is an inspiring Call to Action designed to generate ideas and energy from within and to develop a genuine sense of ‘we’re all in it together’.