People working in voluntary organisations and local government are downbeat about the government's hopes that the big society will produce a marked increase in active citizenship.
This was one of the main findings of a poll about the big society, carried out by Third Sector and Local Government Chronicle, which attracted nearly 1,200 respondents from readers of the two magazines.
The survey was designed to gauge reactions to the big society among those likely to play a large part in advancing its aim of stimulating greater community involvement in the design and delivery of local services.
Only 9 per cent of voluntary sector respondents thought the main effect of the big society would be an increase in citizen action, and only 11 per cent thought it would bring greater opportunities to set up voluntary and community groups. The figures for these scenarios were similar among respondents from two types of council - principal councils, and town and parish councils.
Nearly 60 per cent of sector respondents thought instead that the main effect would be "little change, with fewer council services and no increase in citizen activity".
Council respondents were less downbeat here, with 47 per cent of those from principal councils making this choice, and 38 per cent from local councils. They were also more hopeful than voluntary sector respondents about closer relations between the sector and local government, and more optimistic about the capacity and will of principal councils to share planning and delivery of services with the sector.
The survey also indicated that people in both the sector and local government approved of the idea of the big society, but did not have a clear idea of what it meant and were interpreting it in various ways. There was agreement that its two main elements were "more social action among citizens" and "more public service delivery for the established voluntary sector".
But many of the hundreds of comments left by respondents were complaints about a lack of definition. "It's a bit like heaven - different things for different people," said one.