Yesterday I was at a conference in which representatives from the voluntary sector in south London were seeking understanding about big society. Today I was at something quite different - the launch of a substantial paper on poverty and social exclusion in later life by the Centre for Social Justice.
On both occasions I was struck by a clear common sub-theme in the discussion: people involved in the management and support of volunteers are getting very agitated as their work is getting hacked away and its validity seems not even to be debated.
What seems to be happening is that public sector funding cuts are eroding systematic management of the volunteer force rapidly. This is consistent which what some people see as the big society ethos: process hardly seems to matter any more. Big society isn't bothered how stuff happens, as long as people get out there and do it. Against that, volunteer managers speak from experience when they insist that volunteers need management, support, regulation, training and so on.
I think it's fair to say that a significant proportion of the volunteer force comes from the traditional conservative philanthropic base, not from community action so there's an interesting new political take on this.
But having railed against the over-formalisation of human and social systems for years, even I am starting to feel a little queasy about the wild ride we're all going to have as the free-for-all involvement culture takes over.