The Big Society Debate
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The Big Society Debate

A New Agenda for Social Welfare?

Edited by Armine Ishkanian and Simon Szreter

The book is divided into two sections, history and policy, which together provide readers with a historically grounded, internationally informed, and multidisciplinary analysis of the Big Society policies. The introduction and conclusion tie the strands together, providing a coherent analysis of the key issues in both sections. Various chapters in this study examine the limitations and consider the challenges involved in translating the ideas of the Big Society agenda into practice.
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Chapter 11: Can we ‘Nudge’ Citizens Towards More Civic Action?

Liz Richardson


Liz Richardson INTRODUCTION At its heart, Big Society is an idea about a more civically active society. Potential roles for citizens are varied and range from individual acts of socially responsible or collectively orientated behaviour, such as recycling more and acts of compassion to neighbours, through to voluntary organisations running public services. The term civic activity encompasses many things including exchange and reciprocity between citizens, e.g. time credit and time bank schemes; charitable donations of time and money and philanthropy; mutual aid; community self-help; lobbying and campaigning; involvement in decision making; voting and standing for election; community self-management; informal and formal volunteering; and civic governance. Leaving party politics to one side, there are some social scientists who have agreed with these broad normative aims and some who are less comfortable. Many policy-focused political scientists have a commitment to the creation of a well-functioning democracy and vibrant civic life, regardless of their views on the policies of the government of the day (Crick, 1964; Stoker, 2006). If these are good goals for public policy, then the critical question is whether it is possible for sufficient civic activity to be generated and sustained, in order to meet the demands of policymakers or, indeed, the desires of political scientists. Taken as a whole, there are stable, long-run trends in overall volumes and levels of different sorts of civic activities in the UK and elsewhere (Richardson, 2005). Policies to increase or deepen civic activity often require governments to make policy interventions. Some interventions have...

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