Climate change: a call for more beginners

July 30, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Social Brain 

Like a child neglected for misbehaving, global warming is curled up in a corner of our collective social consciousness, crying and aching for our attention. Not all passers-by have ignored its plaintive cries (for recent RSA perspectives, see here, here, and here) but personally I know I am guilty for playing deaf most of the time. This week, via a book recommendation by my colleague Dr Jonathan Rowson, I was able to finally take stock, and give the problem the attention it deserves through a 25-hour immersion over the course of 4 days. The following thoughts are a review of an outstanding book, and partly a chronicle of my own personal attempts to face up to climate change.

The climate problem is not what I thought it was…

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Teaching Sabbaticals: an antidote to the struggling school?

July 29, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Education Matters 

This guest blog is from Teach First teacher Usman Mohammed who spent last week on a summer placement at the RSA

The outpourings of #Govegone sentiments from swathes of the nation’s teachers seem to have woven a rather comfortable “better her than Gove” safety net for Nicky Morgan. This much needed support should help with her primary aims ahead of the elections: to pacify the righteous medieval styled anger of the education mob and to convince them that new policies and pronouncements designed in appreciation of teachers lay just over the horizon.

She has a particular job on her hands, especially in relation to the hard-core sceptics and teachers at more challenging schools. Having completed my first year as a Teach First participant and experienced one of these challenging Inner-London schools, I feel I have seen a good example of what that scorched earth scepticism looks like.

Improving struggling schools (many of which are now located outside of major cities) essentially boils down to sourcing and relocating the best teachers to the most challenging environments. But, as educational “Twitter-garch” Sam Freedman succinctly addresses in his analysis of the hardest problems educational policy has to address, this is an extremely difficult hurdle to jump using only the tools currently within the government’s remit.

Here at the RSA, as part of work we are doing around the teacher licensing scheme and giving teachers a ‘license to create’, we are currently considering both the possibilities and pitfalls of creating a sabbatical offer for teachers in challenging schools. Whilst not an obvious vote-winner, the idea of a sabbatical might just offer a promising tributary for improving teaching and learning across the nation. Read more

Why is housing policy such a mess?

July 29, 2014 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Enterprise 

While we’re on the subject of the blunders of Government (we weren’t but let’s pretend we were), what of the housing crisis? One of the lesser noted aspects of the last few years is a soaring housing benefit bill. This has been pretty striking feature of the last decade or so. In fairness to the current Government the rate of increase has slowed somewhat in the last four years. Yet, the increase is still £4billion per annum or so. This is despite the initiation of policies such as the benefits cap that were intended to reduce the outlay. What on earth is going on?

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The Big Idea: Is this the age of no retirement?

July 28, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

This is a guest blog from Jonathan Collie FRSA who recently set up Trading Times to remodel our opportunities for retirement in the 21st century. Find out about his latest project ‘The Age of the No Retirement’, which is looking for crowdfunding support to make it a reality.

Living longer presents opportunities for all of us - the young as well as the old – for employers, for designers, for innovators. I want to get rid of unhelpful stereotypes, change the language and replace the iconography that incorrectly portray a society that is living longer as one that is old. This issue affects us all. Everyone should be involved, from every sector of society, beyond the typical policy makers, academics and the age-sector organisations.

‘The Age of No Retirement?’ is Britain’s first ever national conference to debate & revalue our opportunities in retirement. Gathering experts, policy makers, key stakeholders and the public we will explore retirement and the opportunities we can provide in an ageing, technological and engaged society.

Our conference is supported by the Department for Work and Pensions, numerous ‘ageing-positive’ organisations and multinational corporations but needs the public’s support if we are to reach our final £35000 crowdfunding target and launch at the Oxo Tower in October.

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Link me, Like me, Follow me……do you need a digital detox?

July 28, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Recovery 

80 per cent of people would rather go without a car, chocolate or alcohol than be without their digital device for a day according to a recent report. Now I don’t know about you but when someone can’t go without something, or suffer acute withdrawal from lack of its use, I’d call it an addiction. Phones

Just as a person might crave their fix, or their next drink it seems that many of us simply can’t go for any length of time without tapping, scrolling, playing or watching something on a digital device. All the time we are feeding that habit and being kept on the electronic leash we are missing out on a whole world of creative opportunity.

Addiction is a relationship between person and substance. Being wedded to a mobile mistress (or master) is no different.  Read more

Making the blob less blobby: Can we close the creativity gap?

July 28, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Education Matters 

It’s a rainy May Wednesday in Birmingham and two 16-year-old pupils, Kobir and Tabassum, are giving me a tour of our new RSA Academy, Holyhead School in Handsworth. With a mixture of pride and humour, they show me round buildings that are far from pristine, but ooze learning and purpose. Inventive with their questions and responses, these young people appear to have the C-factor: the power to create the lives they want for themselves and the courtesy to consider others along this journey.

Despite its enduring presence in staffrooms and classrooms, articles and RSA talks, creativity in education is in danger of becoming a toxic brand. In England, fifteen years since the publication of the seminal All Our Futures report, emerging curriculum and accountability regimes give no incentive to focus on the creative development of young people. The rhetoric driving changes in school behaviour reinforces the message that creativity is a ‘nice to have’ to be developed only after the culmination of – and never at the expense of – knowledge acquisition. As Michael Gove claimed recently, “creativity depends on mastering certain skills and acquiring a body of knowledge before being able to give expression to what’s in you…[for instance in music] you need first of all to learn your scales”.

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All hell is breaking loose as mass creativity becomes the defining feature of this Century.

July 27, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Adam Lent 

Economically, nothing much happened for 130 millennia of human history. Then 250 years ago all hell broke loose. So wrote the economist Eric Beinhocker and he was not wrong.

There were brief explosions of inventiveness, such as during the Roman Empire, but these would come to an end with the fall of the political system that sustained them. Average incomes improved at glacial rates: in the first century AD, most people could expect an income of around $1.20 a day; by the 18th, it had risen to $1.70.

This all changed in the late 1700s. Britain became the birthplace of an extraordinary revolution that would come to transform the world. Modern capitalism was being built on the back of an enormous flowering of commercial innovation: new machines, new products, new production systems, new business structures and new markets came to life. Read more

State or private – it’s the wrong question

July 22, 2014 by · 4 Comments
Filed under: Education Matters 

A recent twitter spat about which of the new set of DFE Ministers are privately educated has got me thinking about whether and how far it matters where the DFE Ministers went to school. My conclusion: state or private is the wrong question.

I’m tempted to leave it there – it’s a hot day and there are other things I should be doing – but let me explain…. Read more

Powerful Freedom

July 22, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Enterprise 

Philosophies emerge to fit the times. The seventeenth century was made for Thomas Hobbes, the eighteenth century for John Locke (and Rousseau in France), the nineteenth century was tailor-made for liberals, and the early to mid-twentieth century for social democrats before a re-birth of classical liberalism in the century’s latter decades. What of this era, a time of creative change and weakening hierarchies?

There are three main contenders. Firstly, is a version of liberalism which emphasises ‘freedom from’ or ‘non-interference.’ At its most extreme, this could become a form of libertarianism but liberalism is mainly a less isolationist creed. It has dominated in the last few decades in the developed world.

The second contender could be a new communitarianism. Michael Sandel is the best known advocate of modern communitarianism. It is essentially the creed of the Red Tory and Blue Labour factions in the Conservative and Labour parties respectively. Communitarianism pursues a ‘common good’ or virtues and seeks to define the world by moral axioms based on these virtues. It may be that this philosophy finds tensions with the ‘power to create’ –the freedom and power to turn your ideas into reality – as community virtue could weigh down on individual initiative.

Yet, the same goes for classical liberalism. It may well underpin a more creative world than communitarianism is likely to feel comfortable with but there’s a drawback. This drawback is power. There is little in the liberal creed to prevent domination of the weak by the powerful or the concentration of power and resources. Coercive or asymmetric relationships emerge between the employer and worker, between different citizens with access to different resources (see modern dollar-driven American democracy), between professionals and those who rely on them, between the state and the citizen, and between big business and the consumer. Liberals such as John Stuart Mill sought to mitigate these effects through utilitarianism which justified re-distribution on ‘happiness’ grounds. So liberalism confronted power imbalances mainly by papering over the cracks.

If we are serious about safeguarding and promoting the ‘power to create’ then there needs to be a new approach for these times that realises the shortcomings of both liberalism and communitarianism. In fact, we need to resuscitate an old way of thinking and apply it to our times. That way of thinking is republicanism – powerful freedom. As Philip Pettit explains in his brilliant new book, Just Freedom, republicanism is defined by a single aim: freedom comes through an absence of domination. And we need to create institutions that safeguard such powerful freedom as opposed to coercive freedom (my words) of classical liberalism.

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Developing Socially Productive Places

July 22, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Social Economy 



Today we publish Developing Socially Productive Places, which explores the relationship between the physical and social aspects of community-building and place-making. We want to challenge and support local authorities, developers, communities and businesses to deepen their understanding of what makes places good for people in the long term. (Social productivity is defined as the additional social value that can be created through better relationships between citizens, society, business and public services.)

During a period when property values are rising in most parts of the UK and development activity is picking up, a key concern of local authorities and other accountable bodies is that economic growth must benefit residents while improving public finances. Many areas face population pressures and ageing infrastructure, and new development is a key driver of change.

Development is one of the most powerful drivers of local political engagement, and therefore the planning process represents a significant gateway to stronger community relations and dialogue on a range of issues.

In the report, the RSA draws on the keynote address made to April’s conference by former housing minister Mark Prisk MP. Mark Prisk outlined the challenge to provide dense development while balancing the need for long-term flexibility and public and private interests. Several examples in the report illustrate how progressive approaches can support socially and economically valuable outcomes at different stages of the development process – from engaging communities in planning to evaluating impact on well-being.

The report argues planning and development can learn from locations like the school gate, which foster social interactions. (Image credit: Jade Cheng)

The report argues planning and development can make more of public space by learning from locations like the school gate, which foster social interactions. (Image credit: Jade Cheng)

The financial crisis of 2008 led to a stalling of many development projects across the UK and highlighted the fragility of relying on corporate financing to change the physical assets in a place. From a tumultuous period of recent economic history, new approaches to placemaking are beginning to emerge, often led or catalysed by community groups, and based on a clear expression of values and outcomes.

Creativity, appropriation, and a rediscovery of the ability of citizens to shape their everyday spaces are highlighting the benefits of emergent and adaptive approaches – with ‘pop-up’ and ‘meanwhile’ temporary uses becoming more common in the mainstream landscape.

We argue transition should be considered a structural feature of the way places will be built, with a new set of tools that deal with this uncertainty.

The report highlights that developing places involves initiatives big and small, temporary and long-lasting. Development does not always have to come from developers. A plurality of approaches is needed. While community-led development approaches can be nimble, large corporate developers can bring significant value, leveraging money, resources and expertise beyond that available locally, and having the ability to operate at speed and scale. This means all types of developers will require a wide range of new competencies: successful place-making requires an understanding of how people, households and community networks respond to and use the opportunities afforded by the built environment.

Socially productive places are neighbourhoods and districts where people are enabled individually and collectively to meet their own needs and achieve their aspirations for issues which matter to them.

Policymakers need to do more to develop frameworks in which communities, developers and councils can sustain long term partnerships. Long-term property value is driven by the long-term economic relevance of an asset. Remaining relevant in the long-term requires places to be adaptable. Managing the forces and harnessing the potential of development through planning requires resources, capacity and coordination. Local authorities therefore have a crucial role in using planning and development to reinforce wider social and economic objectives.

Ultimately the success of a development should be judged by its impact on those who use it, and its ability to contribute to a broader set of social and economic outcomes.  Planning is a frontline public service, which doesn’t exist in isolation from other public sector roles which influence how a place functions. Investing in planning can bring value to other public sector objectives, and pro-actively strengthen relationships between developers, incoming people and businesses and existing communities.

Progress will only be made if both public and private sectors, individuals and community groups, collaborate in new ways. We want today’s report to stimulate conversations up and down the UK about how we can best develop socially productive places.

Jonathan Schifferes is a Senior Researcher and lead author for the report. He is working on the City Growth Commission and you can follow him on Twitter (@jschifferes)

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