Filed under: Design and Society, Innovation, Social Economy
This post has been re-blogged from the Nominet Trust Website
One of my favourite things is a picture of my Italian grandmother, my Nonna, when she was 20 years old. The war is over, and she is celebrating in a pleated skirt she had sown herself, whilst brandishing a sub-machine gun. Born in 1925 in a tiny hill-top hamlet north of Venice, her lifecycle takes us from the fallout from WWI, the rise of fascism as a political force, the extreme changes that faced Italy post WWII – from latrine outhouses to more cars than children in under 50 years – and the political jokers that we find ourselves with today.
The internet is some sort of magic… but it feels a very prosaic type of magic when you are 60 minutes into a trans-European phonecall trying to explain how to re-plug a router!
My nonna has worn many hats. Her dreams of being a teacher or accountant were scuppered at the tender age of 10 when her father died – malaria handing him over to pneumonia in the end. This daughter of petty bourgeoisie sharecroppers became a scullery maid then seamstress then resistance fighters’ runner then market trader. Despite being very tech-savvy for a woman of her time – good on a typewriter, she had cycled hundreds of kilometres at a time during the war and had learnt to drive very early on as one of the minority of women working after it – the computer and the internet had largely passed her by. Until now.
Now I’m networking my almost ninety-year-old Nonna up to noughties. It’s hard work. She distrusts and finds joy in the internet in equal measure. Each day is a new battle; reminding her where the skype button is, ruefully laughing each time she delightedly exclaims “I can see your face! How funny….” The internet is some sort of magic, granted, but it feels a very prosaic type of magic when you are 60 minutes into a trans-European phonecall trying to explain how to re-plug a router!
London to Milan is a very long way when it is your route to grandma. Whilst I know that she has family, friends and neighbours that support her those 782 miles away, there is always that feeling of guilt when I get up to leave. Beyond my nonna, we all know that more should be done to combat loneliness and social isolation, especially in older people. Scientists have found that feeling lonely over long periods of time can kill you: being emotionally isolated can be as fatal as smoking, and common illnesses that are made worse by loneliness include Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, and cardio-vascular diseases.
We try to do our little bit to help out in the Social Mirror project: Social Mirror is a way of linking local people to local activities and groups, using local knowledge. Social Mirror is a bit like an automatic magazine quiz: you answer questions and, if you need it, social mirror can issue you with local ‘community prescriptions’ based on your interests; anything from a walking group, to a photography class and much in-between!
My nonna is something of an inspiration for the Social Mirror project. Working with the wonderful Sue at the Knowle West Media Centre we have been using the magic of the internet to ‘plug’ mainly elderly isolated people into the magic that is local community. With developer delays and all the usual jazz the project has suffered from some ups and downs, however we all agree that the initial feedback coming in makes it all worthwhile.
One elderly gentleman has even gone from being largely alone to going to multiple walking groups a week. He has been so enthusiastic about the project that he agreed to speak to the Rev Giles Fraser about it for his upcoming series – Communities through Thick and Thin. Be sure to listen out for us on the 15th December, and do tell us what you think!
Original post here
The image has been taken from this Italian history timeline.
Mental health is a major issue affecting the UK population. 25% of people in Britain will experience mental health problems every year. It costs the NHS a great deal and causes billions in lost earnings from sick days every year. Approximately half of mental health issues are ‘common mental disorders’, such as depression and anxiety.
As part of a partnership with Nominet Trust, we are applying our model of social innovation to the issue of mental health, and very excitingly, we have been lucky enough to develop a brief for the RSA Student Design Awards on this topic.
Last week, We Are What We Do’s Creative Director Tori Flower and I helped to run a workshop at the RSA, for 35 students who were working on our brief, to help them use and understand our approach to behaviour change, around the issue of mental health.
Recent trends in psychology have focused not only on treating these ‘common mental disorders’, but also on preventing them. Just as we should live healthy lifestyles even when we are physically well, so as to build up resilience and lower our chances of becoming physically unwell, similarly, psychologists say we should practice certain activities in order to lessen the chances of us developing mental illnesses. This is what our brief and the workshop explores.
We began by looking at the difference between and importance of explicit messaging that tells people what to do, and implicit, facilitative products and services that offer practical solutions and facilitate new, positive behaviours, embed habits and appeal to a mainstream audience. These facilitative products and services enable action, reducing the drop-off between awareness and tangible, sustained changes in behaviour, and help the users of that product or service to make improvements to social and environmental issues, without being nagged into making a change.
Once we’d grasped that, Tori moved on to explore 5 key activities that can build resilience and promote good mental health. These are:
- Spending time with the people you love – friends, family, colleagues, and neighbours
- Being active – doing a physical activity you enjoy
- Learning something – stretching yourself, rediscovering an old interest or trying something new
- Doing something for someone else – being part of a team, helping someone out, thinking of others
- Looking around you – thinking beyond your internal thoughts, appreciating what you’re doing and noticing the world around you
The students were then split into 5 groups, each looking at one of these behaviours and were asked to use our approach to design a product or service that facilitates the positive behaviour, and therefore help people to embed positive mental health activities into their daily lives. We were looking for a solution that sneaks these positive behaviours into a product or service that isn’t overtly associated with improving one’s mental health.
We were really impressed with the energy and enthusiasm in the room and by the innovative ideas the teams came up with in the short period of time we allocated for the task. We can’t wait to see the submissions in Spring next year.
Following Nat Hunters blog, ‘Finding out what Makers really want’, we have spent the last few weeks picking apart all the drawings, diagrams and questions from the our first co-design session down at Makerversity and have begun to flesh out what a digital maker network might look like with a basic prototype.
Last week we once again took over Makerversity to present our prototype to 40 Makers, aged 16 – 50, to get feedback, input and ideas. There was a fantastic mix of people in the room – we were joined by a diverse range of Makers, manufacturers, educators and designers, including students from the RSA Academy in Tipton and several RSA Student Design Award alumni.
Once again the session was facilitated by Tom and Dan from Swarm, whose engaging rapid prototyping exercises (including the rather weird and wonderful ‘recreating the internet in a room using post its’) encouraged everyone to contribute ideas and feedback, which will prove invaluable as we take our prototype to the next stage of development.
One of the most inspiring things about the day was watching everyone working so fantastically well together, sharing ideas and experiences despite age, background or professional practise. Gary England, DT Teacher from St Johns Academy in Marlborough who attended both sessions with 6 of his A and AS Level Students agreed. “The fact that everyone was equal really appealed to the students and they can see that they are playing a vital role in the platforms development… Its not like the decisions were made for them. I think that one of their main thoughts before the day was how it could look on a CV or in their personal statement, but will now have a real interest in the project.”
These two sessions have cemented a couple of things in our minds as we take this project forward:
One is that the idea of a ‘platform’ for Makers of all levels to connect is both wanted and needed. We are now looking to further develop our prototype and secure funding to roll this out on a larger scale.
The second is that this collaborative way of working and designing was hugely successful. Not only do we have new and innovative ideas from all our participants, but we also have the support and backing from 40 of our target audience from the very start of this project.
In this guest post, the team at Makerhood describe their efforts to create a community of makers in Lambeth. Find out more by visiting their website.
When we started Makerhood three years ago our premise was simple: we believed that buying things made in our neighbourhoods was great for us as individuals and good for our local communities and economies.
In Brixton, south London – where our team is based – it was hard at that time to find locally-made goods in its wonderful market or shops. So we thought we could make it easy to find local makers and their work – whether that was jams or jewellery, art or armchairs – by setting up a website.
We worked with the local community, makers, and volunteers to make this happen. The website launched in summer 2010 – and set us off on a journey of great discoveries and new friendships.
In addition to the website, we started experimenting with real-life activities, from exhibitions to market stalls, and from business development workshops to community gatherings. These activities took off beyond our expectations, and have become central to our work.
In April this year we held our biggest event yet, called Making Uncovered – where 16 making disciplines were represented with local makers showing the work that goes into creating something by hand. It was organised by volunteers and attracted around 700 visitors.
Three years on: the Makers’ Club and Lambeth roll-out
Three years on, there is a strong makers’ community in Brixton, locally-made goods are available at local shops and markets, and Makerhood has many wonderful volunteers working together to run the project and put on events.
In 2012 we launched a new project in the adjoining area of West Norwood with the support of the Outer London Fund. It’s been fantastic to see another new makers’ community come together and make new local connections.
“Makerhood has been a very positive experience for me. I have learnt lots by talking to other people and attending meetings. I love the feeling of belonging to a community of artists and creatives trying to change the way goods are made and sold.”
Elena Blanco, Dreamy Me
The Makers’ Club also offers exclusive and collaborative local selling opportunities, discounts from local suppliers, business development events, and local promotion. We remain largely volunteer-led, and we ask for £25/year from makers to contribute towards the project’s costs.
The Makers’ Club has proven popular, and thanks to support from Lambeth Council we are in the process of expanding it across the whole borough – exciting times! From 6 November all makers in Lambeth will be able to join us.
Commerce with a human face
While Makerhood involves many different activities and brings together many people from different walks of life, there is one thing that unites them all: a belief in business with a human face. Makerhood is about exchanging skills, objects, knowledge and resources in our communities.
Business transactions embedded in real human relationships just seem to make so much sense. Knowing the story behind an item you have bought from a local maker is lovely. Organising events with people who share your desire to improve your area is fantastic. Sharing your experience with other local creative businesses makes you feel part of a community, rather than isolated in the tough world of commerce.
It is the inspiration of so many wonderful, talented local people who have become part of the Makerhood community that makes the project what it is. We’re immensely grateful to everyone who’s helped the project come so far.
Do you want to help us grow?
If you’d like to support the project you can do the following:
- If you are outside Lambeth and interested in a Makerhood in your local area, please drop us a line at email@example.com. The more interest we get, the easier it will be to start Makerhood projects in new areas.
- We will be looking for support to roll out beyond Lambeth. So if you’re an investor, a local authority or funder interested in locally-focused social enterprise ventures, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org – we’re more than happy to meet and talk.
- If you’d like to keep up with what we’re doing, sign up to our newsletter on the right hand side of our blog, follow us on Twitter or Facebook.
We look forward to hearing from you.
We leave you with this video from our Making Uncovered event to give you an idea of what it’s all about.
The RSA and Etsy are exploring similar themes in a new project, The Power of Small. Click here to find out more.
Despite having been working on the RSA’s new project around Making for the last 6 months, running events to connect Makers from all levels such as the FutureMaker day back in June and our recent Maker Networking workshops, until last week I had never actually visited a real life ‘Makerspace’.
Makespaces, FabLabs Hackspaces and community workshops are popping up all over the world (if I’ve lost you already, then this great article by Gui Cavalcanti will expain all!) and you may have heard Dr Laura James, the founder of Cambridge Makespace singing their praises at this years President’s Lecture. I have long understood their benefits including encouraging startups, enterprise and collaborative learning, but see one of these spaces in the flesh and you realise it is so much more.
Last week Nat Hunter and I spent a whole day at the brilliant MakLab in Glasgow, Scotland’s first open access digital fabrication studio which is nestled in the Lighthouse, an arts centre in the very heart of the city. And it was FANTASTIC!
At this point, I should make it clear that I am not what you would call a Maker. I am a graphic designer, and 99% of what I do involves me working on my own on my laptop, before sending finished artwork to a printer on the other side of London. Quite often I don’t even get to see the finished thing before it is delivered to the client. No collaboration, no materials experimentation, no hands on craft. All in all, not very ‘Makey’, so I was initially sceptical about what I would take from a very hands-on 3D environment such as MakLab.
We were given a tour of the MakLab by Debra, a volunteer and part-time MakLab employee who makes stunning jewellery from plastic off-cuts in her spare time. She showed us all of the different equipment – a digital milling machine, vinyl cutters, laser cutters, CNC machines, digital embroidery and 3D printers. But it wasn’t so much the machines that got me excited (after all, I’ve never used any of this equipment before so wouldn’t know where to start) but the inspiration that surrounded us. From the material banks of brightly coloured vinyl and glittery Perspex (which I took a particular shine to) to the work samples that were lying around – an incredible skull laser cut into slate, a portrait etched out of marble and an intricate paper-cut wedding invitation as just a few examples – gave me ideas instantly of what I (as a non-maker) could do with this equipment. This sort of inspiration is something that you just don’t get by working in a traditional isolated environment.
The atmosphere was also fantastic. People were working together, sharing ideas and helping each other with the equipment. We met Frankie who started her model making company Finch and Fouracre soon after graduating Product Design from Glasgow School of Art. Frankie was using the laser cutter to help her make fast prototypes for a new paper craft project. Before she discovered MakLab she had to send off the work to be cut. This was costing her both money and time. She told us about how MakLab had changed the way she works. She now takes on bigger more complicated jobs, safe in the knowledge that with MakLabs equipment and support she will be able to learn and apply new skills to her work.
I think the most inspiring thing about the space was not necessarily what was being made, but the collaborative backdrop to this making. Anna Marion, an independent jewellery maker and the resident expert on the milling machine spends a large amount of her time at the MakLab. When we arrived she was busy helping someone turn their digital sketch of Skye’s mountain-scape into a 3D cast, which could be used to make collectable fridge magnets to sell to tourists. Anna saw the potential to collaborate, and by the end of the day it was agreed that she could use the design for rings in her jewellery collection. Conversations like this must happen every day, with skills, inspiration and ideas being shared in an open community environment.
I left MakLab and headed back to London bursting with ideas and itching to get Making. The problem is, there isn’t currently a facility for me to do that. MakLab are running a Kickstarter Campaign to bring a Lab to the heart of London. If the campaign is successful they will open a workshop in Makerversity, Somerset House with the following aims:
“1. We will create a bustling centre for making and digital manufacture in the heart of London. Part workshop, part studio, part laboratory, part learning centre. A diverse environment where differing people, technologies, crafts, and world views come together creates true innovation, empowering people to kickstart ideas into realisation. We are creating a place where some of the most weird and wonderful collaborations occur. Where we offer a model that is fair, affordable and inclusive, ensuring creative and experimental work is not pushed out of the city.
2. We will build learning programmes that empower young people with a modern skillset. An alternate education for young people that focus on developing young people’s skills, attitude and creativity with connections directly into different industries. Our aim is to develop young people who are engaged, proactive, critical and enthused.
3. We will put digital manufacturing in the hands of people who might not ordinarily use it. We see many of these technologies as being transformative, both in a technical sense as well as from a social perspective. We have witnessed first hand how making things with technology can be an incredibly empowering exercise and how it can spark creativity and imagination.”
Sounds great doesn’t it!? I’ve already snapped up my 3 months trial membership for just £30, but the campaign needs more help to succeed. Pledge now, and I will see you down at MakLab London in April. I’ll be the one making something out of glittery Perspex!
There’s been widespread interest in new digital fabrication opportunities for quite a while now – and I’m not just talking about 3D printing a gun or 3D printing your face in chocolate. There are Hackspace, Makespaces, Techshops and Fablabs popping up all over the world, and books about the implications of what is being termed the next Industrial revolution.
Activity around micro-manufacturing techniques is emerging in lots of different disciplines – from educators to individuals to entrepreneurs, to make-spaces to manufacturers – and we’ve been thinking for a while that it would be mutually beneficial to connect all these disparate parties. After our FutureMakers day back in June, people told us how inspiring and useful it had been to connect with communities that they wouldn’t normally have access to. It turned out that the network that we created by bringing people together was the thing that was most valued.
So… that got us thinking. How could we keep those connections going? Could we create a digital platform that supports all the amazing real world activity that’s out there? It made sense to us, but in order to check that we were on the right track, we needed to find out what was needed from our potential community itself.
We gathered together representatives from as many different interests and age groups as possible, to start a process of co-creating a digital platform which will be the mainstay of a network to connect all those working in the making sphere. We held the workshop last Monday at Makerversity, and the fabulous Tom and Dan at Swarm (who are also Good for Nothing), helped us run the event.
We asked participants to bring an image/photo/sketch of something they’d made and/or something they would like to make in the future. 35 people came and brought pictures of boats, sustainable phones, treehouses, crocheted turnips, hard drive cases and objects made from sparkly plastic.
The ideas flowed thick and fast – we started making connections really quickly between people who needed advice about manufacturing, setting up a business, where and what to study, how to make a certain object; 9 times out of 10 there were people in the room who could directly help. Tom and Dan set group tasks which helped us work out what we would like to see from our ideal online network. Maps, profiles, sharing of work, giving of advice, discussion; we started seeing the value of this network before the morning was out.
Hilary, Jim and I are now taking all the drawings, diagrams and questions from the first session and have begun to flesh out what a digital prototype might look like, before taking it back to the group in early November. We’re looking for a few more people with experience or interest in manufacturing to join us, so please get in touch if you would like to take part in helping us to co-create an incredibly useful tool for this exciting emerging community.
Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/redfishnat
Filed under: Design and Society, Education Matters, Innovation
In recent months I have had the privilege of developing new opportunities with the RSA Academies and the RSA’s Royal Designers for Industry (RDI). The aim is to assign at least one RDI to each school every year. As reported by my colleague Georgina Chatfield in her blog post ‘What’s the secret to learner engagement’, interior and exhibitions designer Ben Kelly RDI, recently visited Arrow Vale RSA Academy to set a radical ‘live’ brief.
The initial project for Year 12 product design students was to design a shelving system for the school entrance hall in which to display student’s work. However, as communications developed between Ben and design tutor Paul Taylor, the brief, much to the students’ excitement, became a more daring proposition to completely re-design the reception space.
During the visit Ben shared his design path with the students, from school days, to a career-defining commission to design the Hacienda nightclub in Manchester, and beyond. When discussing the project he challenged the students to “dare to be different”, and to “challenge convention by breaking the rules”.
I joined Ben for the presentations and tutorials and it was evident that the students were engaged throughout, asking searching questions and listening attentively. But could this experience really make a difference to them? Our intention from the outset was that it should.
Following the visit we were encouraged by a report of the day written by two students from the group; Bren Heald and Chantelle Pollit. It was a heart-felt and incredibly rewarding account of the experience from the group’s point of view which they described as “thought-provoking and inspiring”. The group continues to develop its’ design proposal as I type, and Ben Kelly will be returning to the school at the end of term to assess the outcome.
This project is a unique opportunity for the students to take ownership of a space that could redefine the character of their school, and that will enable them to be confident about taking risks when testing their ideas. It is also a valuable example of how designers can contribute inspiration and quality to design education, and also of the enrichment that partnership with the RSA can offer.
Filed under: Design and Society, Social Brain, Social Economy
Did you see the one about Apple Maps mistakenly directing people to drive across the runway at an Alaskan Airport? The coverage provides an indication of how much we’ve outsourced our intelligence to our smartphones, and how we are likely to erode our own intelligence as a result.
An excerpt from the BBC coverage:
“They must have been persistent,” the airport’s assistant manager Angie Spear told the BBC.
“They had to enter the airport property via a motion-activated gate, and afterwards there are many signs, lights and painted markings, first warning that aircraft may share the road and then that drivers should not be there at all.
“They needed to drive over a mile with all this before reaching the runway. But the drivers disregarded all that because they were following the directions given on their iPhones.”
So here we are in 2013. We can carry in our pocket a device which can instantaneously direct us, aided by a network of satellites we’ve launched into space above our planet, between any two points on earth. When there are glitches in this remarkable system, we appear to be losing our ability to engage our auxiliary senses of navigation. We increasingly trust our smartphones, simultaneously giving our innate sensual systems less trust in connecting to our cognitive comprehension. When people put themselves in danger, we vent anger at the technological miscues they may have received. How did people drive to airports before SatNav? We expect technology to be perfect: an upgrade to our own human fallibility.
There is a broader danger associated with the ubiquity of smartphone use. We withdraw from engaging with the places we are in and the people with whom we share them. Mobile technology enables local disconnectedness through providing a ubiquitous connection to everyone we know (and many we don’t), regardless of where we are (or where they are) in the world. As a result, our other communication skills become degraded. Smartphone users are constantly interrupted and distracted, less present in the place and the moment something that a recent Apple ad celebrates. We are unable to switch off – indeed the more technology enables us to work flexibly the more anxious we are to demonstrate to our work colleagues that we are not slacking, as the latest RSA Animate explores.
Comedian Lewis CK recently noted that constant connectivity spares us from the emptiness and sadness (and subsequent tranquillity and happiness) that we find when faced with overcoming periods of being alone. Taking notice of the world around us is one of the five “ways to well-being”.
Just walked into my neighbours house by accident while texting. I only noticed when someone called out and I looked up and saw it wasn’t my flat. Christ. - From Facebook, 26/9/13
With a phone in hand, we are less likely practice mindfulness (recognising our thoughts and feelings). And inter-personal communication skills are at risk of deteriorating as we avoid talking with neighbours or chitchatting with shopkeepers.
As Richard Sennett argues, learning to cooperate with different people, outside of your regular networks, is a key rite of passage to adulthood and civility and is contagious in a population. If that sounds too pretentious, then even on a basic level we’ve got to connect the dots: listening to others talk is the most important aspect of learning in early years. My fear is that the rising rates of social isolation, autism and technology penetration are inter-related. On the tube these days it’s becoming rude not to look at your smartphone: we can’t tolerate the gaze of fellow passengers.
I’m not saying we should give up this powerful technology. Many technological applications support local connectedness (such as Streetbank), while other applications support our offline social well-being (such as the RSA’s social mirror). SatNav gives people the confidence to navigate and explore, and mobile phone cameras empower citizen journalists across the world, but we need to know its OK to switch off and unplug. Smartphone adoption may be the most rapid technology adoption of all time – 45% of under-11s in the UK regularly use a smartphone or tablet. We need to understand the implications for public and inter-personal engagement, fast.
Consider those moments where you pause and think to yourself “this is what life is all about”. Its likely you’ll be mentally present. Think of your favourite streets, parks, squares, or bus routes. We can be entertained us for hours watching what Jane Jacobs calls the “sidewalk ballet”: an urban, social, public experience. At the height of our powers of human perception we can learn silently, discretely admiring the athleticism of streetballers and joggers, the daring of skateboarders, and the technique of a street performer. We develop visual literacy to comprehend the age of our buildings, the fashions of different generations, and the processes which clean our streets. Taking a walk, sitting on a bench or at a cafe, we guess the age of a passing infant, the profession of their parent, or simply where someone got those shoes. And we can mindread, discerning the causes of the argument between two lovers and enjoy from the deduction of awkward body language between two people that this must be a first date.
This role (sometimes termed the “flaneur” – the strolling observer) is a somewhat romantic and privileged notion, but we need to protect the time and space for activity which develops our social skills: reading other people’s faces, body language, tone of voice and emotional signals. Indeed our most skilled public servants – social workers, police officers, nurses, school teachers – recognise that inter-personal intelligence is essential in co-producing desirable outcomes, especially with vulnerable people with barriers to verbal or written communication.
The time each of us has to engage with our surroundings is precious, and the design of the spaces which surround us are often disengaging. Several initiatives have shown that often space the looks like public space is not: subject to surveillance, regulation and restrictions on use and participation. A true public space might include a shared institutional setting where we experience a base feeling of equality because we’re all accessing the same thing.
No doubt we will develop better maps, location-based apps and global 3G coverage, but we need to engage in real places to support the development of our capabilities as social creatures.
Jonathan Schifferes is a Senior Researcher in the Public Service 2020 and Connected Communities team (and does use his smartphone for Twitter).
Filed under: Design and Society, Education Matters, Enterprise, Fellowship, Innovation, Social Brain, Social Economy, Uncategorized
Building a neural net of wishes and sharing experience at the #RSARDIsummerschool filmed by Dr James Furse-Roberts
This week I returned from the 2013 RDI Summer School; an immersive, collaborative design experience created by the RSA’s Royal Designers for Industry. Held over four days at Dartington Hall, Devon, the Summer School brought together designers and others from diverse, cross-disciplinary backgrounds who could learn from each other and be inspired and empowered to think differently and creatively. During the event, the eminent designer and creative leader Michael Wolff RDI shared his favourite quote by the author and poet, Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Having worked on six summer schools with the Royal Designers, I have observed that each event has had a dramatic or life-changing impact on those who have attended. Some of the designers leave with renewed confidence and are emboldened to take more risks, or start their own businesses. Others decide to change the way they work, become more open to collaborating, or begin a new altruistic pathway.
As we developed the 2013 Summer School, jointly directed by exhibitions and interior designer Dinah Casson RDI, and engineering designer Chris Wise RDI, we proposed the inclusion of more ‘wildcards’ in the cohort; participants who were not designers but were somehow touched by design. They might be commissioners, teachers, or civil servants. Could the summer school be as educative and transformative for them as it had been for designers?
The wildcards that were selected this year all shared a connection with the public realm; a healthcare researcher specialising in quality improvement initiatives, and a regeneration manager of a local council to name but two. Here follows a personal account of the Summer School from wildcard Owen Jarvis, a social entrepreneur and Clore Fellow, who is exploring how social leadership can learn from design:
“During my Clore year I’ve been considering how can social leaders make better use of design-thinking in shaping social and public services.
The Summer School involved a series of curated activities to allow us to meet, network, and collaborate away from work. Challenges were introduced for small groups around themes such as “us and them” and explored meanings and expressions of emotions and how these can be used as inspiration for work. These culminated in the sharing of findings, performances and art works on the final morning, with many groups working through the night to finish on time. Pleasure, creativity, play, discussion, reflection and work were delightfully intertwined for a very rich weekend.
The Royal Designers were incredibly open and generous in offering support and mentoring. Often provocative, they demanded honesty, sharper thinking and attention to detail and standards in exercises. Challenges and insights were received and respected in turn. As we moved from discussions to making objects and performances the magic started to happen. The final pieces were surprising and engaging and remarkable given the short time we had together.
So what can be taken away with reference for the social sector? Many of the challenges designers face are familiar and not specific to their profession. How big do you get before you lose the essence of what you are, how do you attract and keep talent? How do you avoid selling out to the agenda of investors in the process of growth? Over the weekend we were called upon to move away from these important but day-to-day issues to ask other broader questions.
In the same way the social sector comes back to a question of social impact, designers are also constantly returning to a question of quality and attention to detail in the pursuit of beauty. This raised some important questions for me. What is in the beauty, design and elegance of a social service and in achieving social change? Is there an aesthetic? How can organisations be designed in their own right to be things to admire? In addressing these questions, do we make a greater impact?
‘Life can be evaded, death cannot’, our final session considered. Everyone faces some apprehension and anxiety in presenting views, ideas, creations. We feel surrounded by judgement yet our real adversary is our own self. Talent that doesn’t fulfil its potential is a tragedy.
The Summer School has been one of the most extraordinary learning opportunities of my career. It has reminded me of the courage needed to step-forward and step-out and embrace the risk of failure. This has lessons for us all to reach our potential and live life fully. That is also a mark of leadership.”
Melanie Andrews is the Manager of the Royal Designers for Industry at the RSA
You can follow her @Melanie_Andrews
Event twitter hashtag #RSARDIsummerschool
Filed under: Arts and Society, Design and Society, Recovery
As Lead Recovery Community Organiser within the WPR programme, one of my responsibilities is to ensure there is a quick and responsive capacity on the part of my team, to meet the emergent requirements of the community of c.600 service users within the west Kent region that we work in. Earlier this summer in June, I had a seemingly random conversation with one of my colleagues from our principle partner organisation CRI – www.cri.org.uk about the prospect of somehow transforming the rather standard and corporate ‘social care facility’ non-aesthetic (that is a space designed and decorated, without any real design-sensibility informing the look, feel and function of the space) at the Tonbridge hub.
I jumped at this opportunity as I immediately saw it as a chance for us to work in a genuinely co-designed / co-produced approach with the service users in the programme. I was quickly able to speak with other colleagues within the Hub, specifically the key workers who are the principle formal point of contact between service users and the WPR programme. From these informal conversations, a meeting was scheduled to explore with service users that had expressed interest in what such a project might look like in terms of the process, timeframe and the outcome(s). The meeting was very dynamic, lively and really good fun. Many of the service users at the meeting commented on how exciting and positive it was to actually feel they were involved in shaping the direction of a real project that would have concrete outcomes and reflect their ideas and concerns. We explored quite a lot of possibilities as to how the design / build project could progress. Some of the ideas were pretty crazy, some of them were rather tame, but a lot of them were really creative and achievable – given the real constraints in terms of money (low thousands) and time (just three months) to get from first meeting to post-snagging of designed, built and installed solution…Heady stuff!
The agreed outcomes of this kick-off scoping meeting were to recruit a team of service users interested in continuing to contribute to the project (about 10) and agree a process – this consisted of a mood board workshop session and a number of visits to some (hopefully) inspiring working-spaces in London that demonstrated a pared-down fairly minimal ‘boot-strap’ / up-cycling aesthetic. It was also agreed that a good move on our part would be to find a partner organisation that could help us to take the project forward. Enter The Glass House Community Led Design! – www.theglasshouse.org.uk We were fortunate that Maja Luna Jorgensen, Strategic Projects Manager with the charity was able at very short notice to be available to help us with design and community engagement input. She helped to shape a schedule of appropriate buildings and locations around London that we could visit for inspiration and insight, into what makes a successfully designed creative working space, able to accommodate multiple uses, designed and built on a shoestring budget that works well and looks beautiful. Not only did she help shape a schedule, but she accompanied us on our first visits and provided us with the very capable input of her colleague Melissa Lacide for our second trip. The first journey consisted of our co-design team visiting the following organisations / locations:
Our second Learning Journey consisted of our team visiting:
All of the organisations, buildings and environments we visited delivered! Where we were hosted by representatives of the organisations, they were friendly, open and generous in sharing their time and some of the backstory of how their projects had developed, and how they’d come to make the design choices they’d made. We were definitely inspired as a team by what we saw and we gained a real sense of the creative possibilities open to us through the diverse examples we got to see across the six sites, in terms of materials, scale, construction methods and feel.
The next stage for us in our design process is to get down to the actual designing bit of the project. We’re all very excited and I know that within the team we have some very creative and considered thinkers and makers. Check back in a month’s time for an update on how the project has developed. By then we should be a good way through the fabrication stage and maybe have even started installing the Pods too.
A big thank you to all the generous staff and volunteers form the six organisations / locations we visited. A big thank you too for the expertise and guidance we received from our colleagues Maja and Melissa from The Glass House.