Digital drives civil society strategy

Written by Julian Blake, Editor at DigitalAgenda

The UK government has outlined its vision to empower and invest in society in the first civil society strategy in 15 years – and puts tech-for-good digital innovation at the heart of efforts to boost participation and charity growth. Julian Blake reports.

p01Civil_Society_StrategyThe first civil society strategy in 15 years, published on Wednesday, will “build stronger communities by bringing together businesses, charities and the public sector”, the government has pledged – highlighting “new ways to harness the power of digital and technology for public good”.

The 122-page strategy proposes reforms across the public and private sectors to build a fairer society, and pledges to put “people, communities and charitable organisations…at the centre of decision making”.

The strategy follows on from last year’s industrial strategy, and complements plans to grow Britain’s economy and boost productivity, says the government, by building “a more connected society”, where everyone can play their part in a fairer, healthier and more prosperous country.

A statement issued with the strategy defines civil society as “organisations and individuals working to create social value, enriching lives and building a fairer society for all”.

Minister for sport and civil society Tracey Crouch said the strategy would focus on “five key foundations of social value”: people, places and the public, private and social sectors.

The strategy sets out measures (set out below) designed to boost digital services and skills of charities and the public sector, as well as digital innovations to boost access to finance.

Tech for good is identified as one of the strategy’s 15 key missions. “The government will explore what more can be done to harness the power of technology in addressing complex social issues, such as tackling loneliness, healthy ageing, online safety, and digital inclusion,” it says.

The strategy highlights the work of the Centre for Acceleration of Social Technology (CAST) in supporting charities and social enterprises – including Age UK and Breast Cancer Care – and says the government will work with CAST and others “to explore how best to build a responsive, resilient, and agile social sector”.

Jeremy_Wright_MPElsewhere in the strategy, a new ‘innovation in democracy’ pilot scheme in six regions will “test creative ways for people to take a more direct role in decisions affecting their local area”, including citizens’ juries. It suggests aiding mass participation in decision-making on community issues “via an online poll or app”.

Digital secretary Jeremy Wright (pictured) said: “Our plans stand side by side with the industrial strategy, supporting its drive to grow the economy, while creating an environment where people and communities are at the heart of decision-making. These ambitious plans will harness the expertise of volunteers, charities and business to help people take a more active part in their local areas.”

Civil society strategy – digital measures

  • implementing measures from the Digital Economy Act to support civil society organisations and their beneficiaries in accessing high-quality, fast, digital services
  • investing £1.1m through Arts Council England to create a Digital Culture Network
  • committing Arts Council England to work with Heritage Lottery Fund to create a digital maturity index for the cultural sector, to enable organisations to understand and benchmark their own digital capability
  • continuing to work through the Digital Skills Partnership to help civil society organisations to build their skills, boosting collaboration between the government, civil society, and business to tackle the digital skills gap
  • Office for Civil Society to work through the Digital Skills Partnership’s Digital Enterprise Delivery Group, specifically chairing the taskforce focused on building digital confidence in charities
  • continuing to support the establishment of Local Digital Skills Partnerships, which bring together stakeholders from local government, civil society, and business to address digital skills gaps and increase digital inclusion
  • supporting the development of an effective Charity Digital Code of Practice for charity leaders and trustees
  • working with sector partners to deliver a #DigitalTrustees campaign to promote digital confidence on charity boards
  • exploring what more can be done to convene and facilitate partnerships between experts in tech and experts in civil society
  • exploring what more can be done to harness the power of technology to address complex social issues, including but not limited to tackling loneliness, healthy ageing, online safety, and digital inclusion
  • exploring how to increase access to capital beyond seed stage for social tech ventures
  • working with sector partners to explore if more could be done to segment and categorise social tech ventures
  • exploring how it could improve access to markets for social tech ventures
  • reviewing the extent to which government is procuring social tech solutions as part of its service delivery. As part of this it will also explore the role of corporate partnerships in the tech for good ecosystem
  • looking at how government can support the development of fintech applications that provide investors with direct sight of the social and environmental impact of their investments.

The strategy was formed following an open consultation and has been developed across government.

Funding for for disadvantaged young people (£90m) and financial exclusion (£55m) will come from a total pot of up to £330m from dormant bank and building society accounts. The government says the pot will be used to help the homeless, disadvantaged young people, local charities and other good causes in the UK over the next four years.

Civil society strategy: building a future that works for everyone

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