PR 'fundamental' to success of Big Society, says CIPR chief executive Jane Wilson

The CIPR's chief executive Jane Wilson has claimed the Government's attempts to communicate the Big Society have met with little success and PR will be 'fundamental' to the concept's success.

Speaking out: Jane Wilson
Speaking out: Jane Wilson

Writing as a guest contributor on the CIPR President’s Blog and speaking on CIPR TV,  Wilson said: 'The Big Society is currently a philosophy rather than an action plan, but the transfer of power it would bring if it becomes political reality creates several communications challenges and the public relations profession will be fundamental to its success or failure.

'This is about all things local - and central government may not be the best place from which to communicate the substance of the idea. The Big Society is a message that must resonate outside Whitehall and in the communities that will be at the cutting edge. The results of the Government's efforts at communicating it so far do not seem to reflect this.

'The Big Society is preparing us for Government to play a smaller role, particularly in the provision of local public services. Local government, the private sector, individual volunteers and communities themselves will be expected to step in and provide more to meet local needs. People will need reassurances about the provision of the public services, as well as information about the framework that will bring all the actors together.

'But as the idea takes hold, local communities could become increasingly sophisticated information consumers and communicators will need to raise their game to reflect this. Localism will not only be better managed through locally-focused communications, it will require PR practitioners to be social analysts and problem solvers with a range of skills at their disposal.'

An unprecedented response from CIPR members when asked for their views highlighted many of the emerging themes in the communication of the Big Society idea. Members were concerned about the lack of evident core policies and the need for practitioners to develop skills to meet the challenges and to help others to benefit from the possible changes. They also voiced a reasonable amount of cynicism about the possible motivation for the policy.

The decision of Liverpool City Council to pull out of the Government’s Big Society pilot programme is a further example of the controversial nature of the policy.

Claire Cater, group director, Big Society and behaviour change at Bell Pottinger, who joined Wilson for the CIPR TV broadcast, added: 'Three things are clear. One – engage the communicators or lose what could be a great opportunity. Two – stop making Government the face of Big Society. It’s about the people – so it’s their voices and stories we need to hear. And three – the language must change. Our research showed the public relate to ‘community’ not ‘society’. Community is closer to home and isn’t that what localism is all about? Liverpool’s reaction this week is a case in point.'

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