Audit of the big society gets under way

Three organisations combine to find out what's happening on the ground

Caroline Slocock, director of Civil Exchange, who will be helping to carry out the audit
Caroline Slocock, director of Civil Exchange, who will be helping to carry out the audit

An audit has been launched to find out what is happening as a result of the government’s flagship big society initiative.

Three organisations will carry out the project: Civil Exchange, a newly created think tank; Democratic Audit, a research organisation that audits democracy; and DHA, a communications agency.

The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation have contributed £28,000 between them for the first audit.

Caroline Slocock, director of Civil Exchange, said she hoped it would become an annual exercise.

"For many years there have been initiatives by this and the previous government to increase engagement with the voluntary sector, increase philanthropic giving and open up public services" said Slocock.

"We thought it was important to understand what’s been happening in practice."

A consultation document on the design of the audit has been sent to academics, government departments, think tanks and voluntary organisations.

The document does not attempt to define the big society but identifies three key elements of it: community empowerment, opening up public services and encouraging social action and capital.

Each element is broken down into outcomes – for instance, one of the outcomes of "community empowerment" is "more devolved decision-making".

The document then lists research, data, policies and initiatives that can be used to measure each outcome. Interested parties are invited to submit their responses by 28 November.

Slocock said the first audit would draw on existing data, but she hoped there would be sufficient funding in future to commission new research. The first audit might be available early in 2012, she added.

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