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Big Society Voluntarism Harms The Knowledge Base

November 11, 2010

The Big Society so far is no fun at all. It seems to be on-line-style tea and sympathy all round. Almost on a daily basis emails arrive from hard-working, committed contacts, saying their job, role and whatever else is finishing, and they as yet have no clear idea what, if anything, will happen next. And, incredibly short-sighted though this may be, in general it appears no provision is being made by these people’s organisations to retain core knowledge or maintain legacy.

‘Human resource’ is the basis of knowledge
Basically, it’s all off. Much more is being lost than is visible and measured. The unemployment stats are dreadful and will get worse, but they still tell only part of the story. Many people on short-term contracts, or sitting as appointees on committees and councils etc – surely the very essence of the Big Society? – are finding their role is no more (and often without so much as a Thank You, because the organisation which they served has disappeared).

These invisible, uncounted folk, with their more evidently cast aside ’employee’ co-workers, provide a backbone of knowledge and expertise which is easily destroyed and very difficult to replace.

On a smaller scale, observers with long memories may recall something similar happening when the Inner London Education Authority was summarily abolished in 1990. Along with the political baggage which some (by no means all) discerned went much of value.

Naive empty-headedness, or deliberate obliteration?
Is it simply unthinking failure to grasp the underpinnings of our complex civic society, or is it actually plain knowing neglect, which will soon lose the current rich seam of expertise across public life?

It would be good if some of those urging us to ‘work with’ the Big Society were also promoting vigorously the need to conserve the skills and knowledge which are at such serious risk of being lost.

A version of this article was first published on the New Start Blog of 11 November 2010.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Dean permalink
    November 16, 2010 12:58

    I agree that potentialy there is a loss to our knowledge base within organisations but all that means is that knowledge can be redirected elsewhere. In my experience the are still voluntary organisations, social enterprises, charitable trusts etc being set up or reconfigured in another form. The people who start up these associations are bringing teir knowledge with them and repackaging them in another form. I am an example of this. Finding my own interim opportunities all but dried up I have fortunately been able to find work as a consulatant and although contracts are competitive and not as frequent as I would like the outlets are still there.

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