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The language of The Big Society can be a big turn-off for citizens

27 September, 2011

LONDON — In their annual review of the values, attitudes and aspirations of the British public launched today, The Futures Company presents the latest thinking on citizens' attitudes towards civic involvement and possible future directions for the Big Society.

The aspiration to get more involved in local communities has increased, but volunteering levels are at an all time low. The Futures Company‟s tracking survey on the consumer attitudes to the economy and personal finance shows the mounting pressure people are under. This is making it harder to get involved – and the need to see a personal "win‟ or benefit from community involvement even more acute.
Josh Hunt, Associate Director at The Futures Company notes “When people talk about what they get out of community involvement, they increasingly talk about the personal benefits especially now as people‟s time and money is squeezed. This is the reality of involvement in the community”.

Many of the barriers to involvement remain high: a lack of time and energy, confidence and perceptions of red tape. What we see more strongly this year is a louder call for permission. People want an open invitation to get involved and to be told how they can make a difference.

Josh continues: “Anything that facilitates involvement was highlighted as a good initiative. While there is a "civic core‟ who will get up and go searching for opportunities, most of the population will only get involved when an opportunity is put in front of them.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing policymakers is the danger than citizens are turned off by the rhetoric around the notion of the Big Society. The Futures Company‟s research indicates that people strongly oppose the idea of any form of mandated community involvement or coercion – whether from government or from business. This feeling was clear after the August riots when the Big Society label was rejected by those involved in the community clean-up operations. From a citizen point of view, the sentiments behind the Big Society are relevant and powerful, but the language used is wrong. There is much government – as well as others – can do to tackle the significant barriers, but the words used to describe these initiatives will be as important as the actions themselves.

For further information, please contact:
(UK) Karen Kidson on +44 (0)20 7955 1833 or email  

About The Futures Company
The Futures Company is the leading global foresight and futures consultancy, formed in 2008 from the coming together of The Henley Centre, HeadlightVision and Yankelovich. Through a combination of subscription foresight services and bespoke research and consultancy, we create commercial advantage for our clients by helping them to take control of their futures. By exploring the future needs, motivations and behaviors of consumers, and the broader dynamics shaping the marketplace, we unlock the future of consumers, brands, categories and companies.

The Futures Company is a Kantar company within WPP with teams in the UK, US, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and India. 
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