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The Council on Social Action

Who we are and what we do

social_action.gifThe Council on Social Action brings together innovators from every sector to generate ideas and initiatives through which Government and other key stakeholders can catalyse, celebrate and develop social action.

We consider ‘social action’ to include the wide range of ways in which individuals, communities, organisations and businesses can seek through their choices, actions and commitments to address the social issues they care about.
The Council on Social Action makes recommendations to government and to others in its capacity as an advisory body, independent of government.

Council on Social Action members

David Robinson, Community Links
Kay Allen, Royal Mail
Oli Barrett, Connected Capital
Shankari Chandran, Allen & Overy
Olga Heaven, Hibiscus
Geoff Mulgan, Young Foundation
Julia Ogilvy, Project Scotland
Rob Owen, St. Giles Trust
Tim Smit, Eden Project
Kevin Steele, Inspired Campaigns
David Thomlinson, Accenture
Sophi Tranchell, Divine Chocolate Ltd.
Paul Twivy, Communications Consultant
Julia Unwin, Joseph Rowntree Foundation
Peter Wheeler, Investment and Philanthropy Specialist

Twelve Snapshots

The Council on Social Action first met in December 2007. Here are four topics from our work programme and, two years later, twelve outcomes.

At the first meeting the PM challenged us to imagine a society where we might all have a one-to-one relationship, someone to turn to, through out our childhood years and thereafter in times of crisis or transition….

Our report on this subject in November 2008 made 44 recommendations. We have subsequently pursued them all.  31 are now either completed or underway.  We made eleven more last month, four are underway already.

To further develop the ideas on the ground two “Leading Community” pilots will begin work, with independent funding, in spring 2010

And “extra time funding” has been secured from our three corporate partners to chase through and further develop all our one-to-one recommendations for another twelve months

At the first meeting we considered the challenge of sustainable funding……

A pilot for the “sustainable law centre” built around the one-to-one relationship between client and adviser is now being developed in south London by the Ministry of Justice and a group of independent trusts and city law firms.

Much work on developing the Social Impact Bond is close to generating the first pilots. It has taken a lot of effort, several partners and a long time but could transform the funding of preventative work and early intervention.

And it has led to further work on developing and sharing other alternative funding models and to the new “Alternative Funding” ning.

At the first meeting we talked about bringing together people, ideas and opportunities………

More than 1200 people from 20 countries have attended the first two Chain Reactions. Much larger numbers are connecting, collaborating and committing to new ideas for social action in the thriving Chain Reaction on line community.

The Catalyst community awards for social technology have unearthed and profiled hundreds of inspiring stories demonstrating the power of technology for catalysing social action.

We have developed the idea of a National Talent Bank to promote and support employee volunteering amongst those with more time to share as a consequence of recession

And the Big Lunch, a twinkle in Tim Smit’s eye at that first meeting was served at more than 8000 street parties last July.
And at the first meeting we discussed the importance of not just doing things but also generating new thinking  and long term structural change……..

One-to-one is now a “common core skill” in the cross government children’s workforce training strategy, considered in procurement and a featured priority for all new policy in the DCSF “Making Policy” guides and tools.

And our eleven publications have included many more examples of the advice we have offered and the projects we have led. They have covered new ground on “willing citizens”, on “collaborative commitments”, and on the implications of our one to one learning for the reform of public services. Our two commentaries have reflected on what we’ve learnt through out the process as well as on the outcomes.  These are available for download below.


The full series of Council on Social Action papers is available for download:

The Programme of the Council

Person First

At our first meeting the Prime Minister challenged CoSA to imagine a society where everyone feels they have someone to turn to, especially in times of challenge and transition. CoSA has worked with government departments and experienced practitioners. We have been the catalyst for new relationships, identified policy and delivery options for government, and put in motion a series of initiatives that we think will take this work forward in powerful ways. We reported on this work after our first year in our papers Side By Side (CoSA paper No.2) and Side by Side: Implications for Public Services (CoSA Paper No.3).  

At the second annual Chain Reaction event, CoSA launched two papers following up on the ideas and recommendations in these reports.  The studies look at the transformative power of relationships which put the “person first”, and the enhanced value of public services that are able to see the person first and then the problem. People of Influence (CoSA paper No.9) looks at how we could, and why we should, create a society in which everyone has someone to turn to in times of transition or crisis, and makes new recommendations of how this could be achieved, including introducing a Leading Communities programme. In Time well-spent (CoSA paper No.10), CoSA has undertaken extensive research on the value of one-to-one relationships in the provision of legal aid. This provided evidence that one-to-one relationships provide not only better outcomes, but financial savings. There are powerful lessons and opportunities for replication in these approaches across public services and the third sector.

National Talent Bank

On July 21st, the Prime Minister announced the Government’s support for a new, innovative scheme, which shares the talent between the private, public and third sector.

As part of the Government’s comprehensive approach to tackling the recession the National Talent Bank will get more people volunteering during the recession.

The National Talent Bank, developed by the Prime Minister's Council on Social Action in partnership with DCSF Talent and Enterprise Task Force and with support form BiTC and TimeBank, will act as an intermediary between companies who are reducing their working hours, frontline volunteering opportunities  and third sector organisations who are best placed to deploy this newly-available talent into effective use in the community.

We want to work with partners and employers who share our determination to seize the moment. Contact for further information. 

The Council on Social Action (CoSA) first met in December 2007. Since then its work has included the following themes:  

Social technology – The use of technology to support and stimulate social action. We launched the Catalyst Awards, which celebrate simple and effective web-based solutions for social issues.

Social leadership – The role of collaborative, value-driven leadership in driving social change. Chain Reaction is a two day event bringing together 500 social leaders from from government, business and local communities

New models for financing social action – We have been exploring alternative ways to fund prevention and early intervention, in the form of the Social Impact Bond.

Collaborative Commitments – A new way of developing powerful collaborations between private, public and voluntary sectors. We commissioned a ‘think piece’ from The Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility to develop this further.


Chain Reaction

chain_reaction.gif 2009 saw the second annual Chain Reaction event held in Canary Wharf, bringing together participants from across the public, private and third sectors to connect, collaborate and commit to social action.  Participants include social leaders, community activists, policy makers, business leaders, CSR practitioners, ministers and young people. The aim of the event is to share learning and to generate new ideas for social change locally, nationally and globally. Learn more on the website about how people came together to ‘connect, collaborate, commit’ for social change: [External website].

Chain Reaction is a project of Community Links [External website] and forms part of the programme of the Council on Social Action. Chain Reaction was supported by the Department of International Development [External website], the Department of Communities and Local Government [External website], Prospectus [External website], IBM UK [External website] and Triodos Bank [External website] with additional support from many other organisations including the Office of the Third Sector, Accenture UK [External website], Serenity IT [External website], iPhelion [External website] and Business in the Community [External website]. View the full list of supporters here [External website].

UK Catalyst Awards

catalyst.gif The UK Catalyst Awards ceremony was held on 24th July 2008 marking the first anniversary of the Prime Minister's speech announcing the Council on Social Action. The UK Catalyst Awards was set up “to recognise everyday heroes who use technology to make a positive impact on the world around them.”

This initiative is a collaboration between the Council on Social Action, Make Your Mark [External website], the Office of the Third Sector, UnLtd [External website] and Polecat [External website] and was sponsored by NESTA [External website] and BERR [External website].

Read more about the awards on the UK Catalyst awards website plus links to all the winning websites: The UK Catalyst Awards [External website].

Further information

For more information on the Council on Social Action or to get involved in the Council's work please contact us on:

Links to the Prime Minister's speeches on the Council on Social Action