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)

From the ‘Power to Create’ to ‘Socially Productive Places’

July 21, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Social Economy 

When I first heard the term ‘power to create’ I was more than a little lost as to where it was coming from and, perhaps more to the point, where it was going. It was my first day at the RSA and I mainly put this down to my own ignorance. I didn’t manage to make Matthew Taylor’s recent talk but I downloaded it and listened to it later. The key moment for me was when he quoted AI Wei Wei – “Creativity is the power to act”.

In this sense the power to create is the power to manifest change, to act and to have impact in the world – in short, to have agency. Agency is a commonly used word in Sociology and Anthropology, where there has been a constant theoretical discussion on the role of individual choice (agency) and social determinism (structure). Recent work with systems theory has its own solution to the debate and one that understands structure and agency together. Systems theory, originally developed in the 50s, was heavily criticised for being too focused on equilibrium and structural determinism, but since then the theory has been greatly developed and one of the most important aspects of the theory now lies in its analysis of the relationships between parts and how those parts can manifest change to the system as a whole. More recently, systems theorists have coined the term ‘complex adaptive systems’ (CAS) to explain loosely connected parts whose relationships cannot be explained purely through reduction to the parts alone but instead form a system that demonstrates highly adaptable behaviour at both the individual and collective levels. Within systems theory, if we say that a system is adaptable we mean that the parts of the system have the ability to affect the resilience of the system as a whole. Here is where agency, or the power to create, comes in.

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Let citizens spend tax revenues rather than the technocrats at the top

July 20, 2014 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Adam Lent 

This post is jointly written by Director of the RSA Action and Research Centre, Adam Lent, and the Director of Institutional Reform at the RSA, Anthony Painter.

In the last century, the idea took hold that the state should expand to provide the public services and social security that the free market was unable to deliver on its own. The corollary was the need to fund this expansion through higher levels of taxation. But this conception of tax-funded services provided directly by the state is proving deeply problematic in an era increasingly defined by creativity and self-determination.

The problem emerges because the current model of the state was developed in the first half of the twentieth century when technocratic elitism was in its prime. The faith placed in the power of a small, educated set of technical specialists to deliver beneficial outcomes for any and all areas of life was enormous. Read more

Global Fellowship in Action: the RSA in Brussels!

July 18, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

This is the second in a series of blogs exploring the work of Fellows across the world and is a guest blog by Alain Ruche, RSA Connector for Belgium.

With the Fellowship present in nearly 100 countries, and new ideas regularly springing up, we are in exciting times for the international impact of the RSA.  If you would like to find out more or have ideas of your own, please contact Laura Southerland of the International team who will be happy to assist you.

Garage Culturel As the European capital and a vibrant city, Brussels has great potential for growing a dynamic RSA Fellowship network. Since I joined the Society three years ago and became the RSA Connector for Belgium, I have been gathering Fellows at the wonderful Garage Culturel which my wife Olga, now a Fellow as well, is running at our place. With Olaf, the latest newcomer to the group, we have been stubbornly meeting on the first Friday of every month between 18.00 and 20.30 for about 8 months now.

Growing a community of Fellows outside of the UK is not without its challenges – we recently opted for organising a social event mixing Fellows with non-Fellows whom we believe might be interested in joining, or share the same values and interests as Fellows of the RSA. Among the attendees, were several accomplished artists (dancers, actors and a pianist); representatives of international organisations (British Council, Club of Rome), diplomats, academics, NGO professionals, social activists and EU officials – in total, 35 people representing 15 nationalities from four continents. The evening was lively and entertaining as we were able to hire a jazz band comprised of a number of talented young musicians.

We are now thinking of testing another approach with our network in order to invite discussion around important social issues. A member of the group will introduce a topic and initiate a meaningful conversation, followed by socialising for those who would like to stay on. We will adopt the ‘etiquette’ of the world’s cafes: connect, listen carefully, ask focused questions, look for new insights, allow for disagreement but avoid pushing individual agendas. Such a meeting would end with a concrete action that all involved can endeavor to undertake in the short term. We will be starting this new format in September and as RSA Connector, I will be introducing the first topic – ‘the role of culture in international relations.’

Then in late September we will welcome Michael Bauwens FRSA at the Garage to lead a conversation on the emerging collaborative paradigm of which he is himself a world-known actor, as founder of the P2P Foundation.

We remain persistent in our mission to raise the profile of the RSA in Brussels. We believe that we can have fun and meaningful conversations. The Garage is a great place to meet people and connect. I happen also to be a Fellow of the Salzburg Global Seminar and of the Club of Rome EU Chapter, and a global ambassador of Kosmos Journal, but every one of us has useful connections to bring to the table. Recent research shows that connections within local neighbourhoods provide a more powerful means of relating to the world than long distance contacts.

Let’s build on this social capital together and see what emerges from it!

If you are a Fellow based in Brussels and would like to join the emerging Brussels network then get in touch with Alain, at Information about the next meeting at the Garage Culturel is detailed below:

When? Thursday 25 September 2014, 7-10pm

Where?, 79 rue D’Albanie, B-1060

Who? Michael Bauwens FRSA

About? The emerging P2P paradigm


Housing associations need to be at home in city growth strategies

July 17, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Enterprise, Innovation 

Guest blog post from John Coburn at the Housing Association Charitable Trust (HACT).

Whether its George Osborne or Ed Balls, all politicians are talking about rebalancing the economy and devolving more power and money to our great city-regions.  The election campaign has begun.  And there is a welcome consensus on the role that our metropolitan cities and regions play in driving economic growth and in attracting investment and skilled workers. The government announced last week allocation of £5bn of funding through local growth deals.

Evidence submitted to the City Growth Commission and published this week shows consensus on the importance of a range of housing types and tenures to supporting cities to fulfil their economic population. In the Connected Cities report released yesterday, housing is considered alongside transport and digital connectivity as a key component of infrastructure. Crucially, in Westminster, there is growing understanding that new affordable housing is going to be a key ingredient in driving successful local economies and sustainable communities. Housebuilding should be considered a crucial economic  issue too. New housing and new transport connectivity are the only way the labour market can respond to the changing nature of employment demand as our economy involves.

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High speed connectivity – a modern right?

July 17, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Innovation 

This is a guest blog by Katharine Swindells, Volunteer, City Growth Commission.

Over the last decades technology has transformed our lives, the way we work, communicate and socialise. Many of us would struggle to go a day without our smartphone or laptop. And as our technology develops, companies have adapted with us. From bus times to shoe shopping to my burrito order, I can find it all online at the click of a button.

So what happens when you don’t have access to this technology? What happens if you’re trying to make a living, but you simply can’t keep up with the speed of technological advancement. According to the City Growth Commission’s latest report, Connected Cities, broadband speed and availability varies vastly across the UK. Some rural areas have barely a third of the connectivity of the national average, and even in urban areas there are still significant holes in availability of broadband service.

It’s only a matter of years before it will be impossible to operate a business without internet connectivity, and if broadband is too expensive, or isn’t even offered in your area, you’ll be isolated, massively limiting your firm’s growth potentially. High-speed internet needs to be provided across the entire country, and soon.

The problem is that the private suppliers have little financial incentive to offer low-cost high-speed broadband to the farthest corners of the nation, and the dominance of the market by just a few players, namely BT and Virgin, means that they aren’t threatened by competition either.

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What is holding us back?

July 16, 2014 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Enterprise 

Every age has its institutional creativity. There are at least six that have emerged over the last two centuries:

i)        18th and early 19th century. Earl industrialisation including Enclosure and then the Poor Laws designed to move the agricultural labour force to the towns and cities. This was a time of dispossession and uncertainty.

ii)       Mid to late 19th century. Legislation to establish private joint-stock companies leading to longer-term infrastructure investment and risk-taking: Joint Stock Companies Act 1844 and the Limited Liability Act 1855. Suffrage is also widened as capitalism spreads outwards.

iii)     Early 20th. Teddy Roosevelt’s new welfarism and taking on the robber barons with anti-trust. In Britain, the early welfare state is formed. It is well behind Germany in this regard. Suffrage is widened further.

iv)     Mid-20th century. The ‘New Deal’, Marshall Plan, ‘New Jerusalem’, and Bretton Woods. This is what Karl Polanyi has called the era of ‘embedded liberalism’.

v)      1960s. Social movements for change. Equality, student protest, and beginnings of green movements etc.

vi)     1970s. Disembedded liberalism. The collapse of Bretton Woods, monetarism, and ‘Neo-liberalism’.

The above gives us a short and by no means comprehensive account of institutional history. History change is a feature of changes in human consciousness and new technologies. History, technology and consciousness evolve (or regress) together. Where the old institutional forms struggle to accommodate this change, we often experience a crisis which requires a political response.

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Capital, capital, capital: Why there can be no Power to Create without a property-owning democracy

July 16, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Enterprise 

The late John Rawls, a passionate advocate for a property-owning democracy.

The RSA has a new narrative called the Power to Create that will define our work over the coming years.

Simply put, this is about enabling more people in more places to realise their ideas and shape the world around them – or, in the recent words of Matthew Taylor, ‘to be authors of their own lives’. In practice this could mean anything from starting a business, to running a campaign, to shaping the delivery of public services. One of the best examples I’ve come across recently is that of the students at Manchester University, who took it upon themselves to challenge (and offer an alternative to) the neo-classical economic theories that were dominant in their teaching.

We may quibble over definitions and semantics, but I doubt anyone could really disagree with the sentiment behind the Power to Create. The real question is how to nurture this capability. Over the course of the 20th century the consensus was (and still is) that the ability of people to ‘get ahead in life’ is fundamentally determined by the quality of their education – technical but also generic. Blair’s mantra of education, education, education epitomised the widespread view that with a few qualifications and a university degree the world is yours for the taking. It’s one reason why education remains such a politically toxic arena, from the debates over grammar schools to the backlash against rising university tuition fees.

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