A new and fair settlement: how to rebalance and repair the United Kingdom?

September 19, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Social Economy 

The Scot’s have decided. After a hard fought campaign by the yes camp, 84% of the Scottish have given their answer –  with the majority of 55% of the electorate proclaiming that the Union is the best way forward for the long-term economic, social and environmental welfare of their country. The roadmap to Devo-Max has yet to be mapped out fully and the devil is most definitely now in the detail. An agreement will be negotiated by November, with draft legislation by January.

The Prime Minister also said this morning in his statement outside Downing Street that a ‘new and fair settlement’ will be agreed for Wales, Northern Ireland and England. The Scottish independence question has brought the West Lothian Question to the fore and stirred a changing face of English politics.  Devolution has been a hotly debated topic across the pubs, living rooms and streets of the UK, creating a new wave of interest in the concept of nationhood and the practical implications for where political and economic power should lie. What does Devo-Max in Scotland mean for England? Read more

The strongest metros: the vanguards for change

September 10, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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blog uk growth

The City Growth Commission takes a predominately economic approach. As Jim O’Neill, the chair of the Commission, rightly points out in his foreword of our latest report Powers to Grow: City finance and governance:

“What happens in the likes of Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds and all of the other 15 metros we defined in our first paper will be more important for UK economic growth than what happens in the rest of Scotland combined”

While the Scottish independence referendum has sparked a new debate in government and across the country about the importance of local decision-making and accountability, the focus on economics is vital when talking seriously about devolving powers down from central government, given the risks associated with devolution, particularly in this age of austerity. Read more

The next American Revolution?

When we look back on the final years of Obama’s 8-year presidency, it will appear obvious that America’s political landscape was in revolution. There is rising anger at injustice and inequality, covering a range of concerns including labour market regulation, policing, housing affordability and social mobility. But the US Federal Government is close to impotent in its ability to deliver the changes citizens are demanding.

Consider that to get through the President’s major policy initiative of healthcare access and affordability, Federal Government was forced to shut down for 16 days while politicians slogged it out in the Capitol Building. The militarised policing of Ferguson has served to draw attention to a federal programme of hand-me-downs: hardware designed for war given for free to local police forces on condition it is deployed within a year. Even the normally mundane business of making debt repayments has been turned into a game of brinkmanship, animated by activists from a group named after the famous tax protest of 18th Century Boston. Read more

Behind Closed Doors

August 19, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Social Economy 

There are many different approaches to doing social research, from the long term, in depth, ethnographic field research that relies on time in the field, to the faster questionnaires that rely more on repeated opinions and comparative analysis. Whilst an ethnographic approach can be illustrative and provide context, at times you just need to knock on a few doors to reach the people you want to study.

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10,000 hours or 10,000 friends? eight perspectives on talent in music

It’s about time we reconsidered what we mean by talent: how it is defined, who gets identified as talented, and how they are developed, recognised and rewarded. Is talent the product of 10,000 hours of devoted practice, or the reward of cultivating 10,000 followers?

Definitions of talent are diverse, and influenced by the company we keep and influences we subject ourselves too. For example, the expectations of our teachers have been shown to have a particularly strong influence on our future success. What we mean by ‘talent’ depends on the networks of information that we participate in.

Our expectations of what talent looks like matter ever more in an age of accelerating access to visual communication tools. In the last decade talent competitions became a new force on our TV screens. As contestants are driven towards established categories for their music product, ask yourself whether David Bowie or Prince would have made it through X-Factor open auditions. A new study from the RSA captures 8 distinct perspectives from the music industry. It is clear from looking deeper into the music industry that talent always has a social context. 

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How networks help us create

August 14, 2014 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Arts and Society, Social Economy 

This is a guest blog by Channelling Talent co-author Siobhan McAndrew.

We generally think of creativity as being down to individual talent, hard work, or even fate. This fits well with an optimistic worldview. To argue that ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ sounds resentful, a product of ‘tall poppy syndrome’.

However, network science using the tools of social network analysis (SNA) has generated rich evidence of how social networks enable, mediate, and generate talent and creativity. The University of Chicago network scientist Ronald Burt studied idea generation in a large technology company, finding that good ideas emerged from brokers bridging different networks, but spread most thoroughly within groups.

An important study by UCLA sociologist Gabriel Rossman with others, using the massive data contained within the Internet Movie Database, examined collaboration in movie-making. Being more connected in the industry is related to success at the Oscars when connections are to the prestigious rather than simply more numerous. In other words, selection into elite networks is critical for individual accomplishment.

Image Credit - US Army via Flickr

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The money to create

August 13, 2014 by · 7 Comments
Filed under: Social Economy 

We’ve talked a lot this year about the power to create. The RSA is focusing its efforts on unleashing the creative powers of all citizens to shape their own lives and society around them. One of the most obvious creative expressions is art. Artists at their best can show us something of who we are, honing our ability to make critical, aesthetic and moral judgements about the world around us. In our increasingly image-saturated information society these skills are invaluable. But what about the money to live on in order to create? Expressing your creativity is rarely a profitable career path.

The way we recognise and reward creative expression is explored in a new study Channelling Talent - with a report and short film, focusing on the music industry, released by the RSA this week. Below, we draw on a piece co-written with Tony Fisher and Joshua Edelman of the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama, first published in Perspectives magazine.

Making art requires money for materials and labour, but the monetary terms that dominate debate about public funding and private compensation are not appropriate for understanding art’s value as a social good…

The Poor Poet by Carl Spitzweg, 1839. Via Wikicommons

The Poor Poet by Carl Spitzweg, 1839. Via Wikicommons

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Developing Socially Productive Places

July 22, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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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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Can an apprenticeship take you to the next level of your career?

In short, it depends – but if you’re a woman in the UK, the odds aren’t in your favour.

Female apprentices are short-changed when it comes to in-work progression. Image found in Bloomsburg Businessweek.

Female apprentices are short-changed when it comes to in-work progression. Image found in Bloomsburg Businessweek.

Earlier today, Ed Miliband unveiled plans to beef up vocational education by introducing new technical degrees if Labour wins the election in 2015. His aim is to increase the number of people in higher level apprenticeships by at least 100,000 and raise the profile of vocational education among young people aged 16-19.

Miliband isn’t exactly treading in unchartered waters – apprenticeships are already central to skills strategies across the UK’s cities. Employers have steadily warmed to the idea of taking on apprentices as the evidence demonstrates returns in terms of productivity and long-term value for money. For example, trainees in British Telecom’s apprenticeship scheme were found to be 7.5 percent more productive than non-apprenticeship trainees. The company also reported it made a profit of £1300 per apprentice per year.

However, there is reason to be cautious about the current vogue of apprenticeships being seen as a panacea, given their poor returns for those hoping to progress while in work. Read more

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  • About Social Economy

    Social Economy: A blog from the RSA's Connected Communities and Citizen Power teams covering topics such as community development and empowerment; civic and democratic renewal; social networks and neighbourliness.
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    Steve Broome, Director of Research, oversees our Connected Communities, recovery from substance misuse, and criminal justice work. He also works to develop our research and evaluation capability, particularly through approaches that reflect our interests in co-production, networks, and systems. Follow @smbroome


    Gaia Marcus, Senior Researcher, works with Connected Communities, is the RSA's social network analysis champion, and leads the Social Mirror project. With a background in youth participation and human rights, prior to joining the RSA Gaia worked as Research Associate for the Space Makers Agency. Follow @la_gaia


    Lucinda Thelwell works for our partner the Knowle West Media Centre as Volunteer Coordinator for Social Mirror, a social prescription project for the Knowle West area of Bristol. Her role includes recruiting, training and supervising the volunteers for Social Mirror, as well as doing outreach work for the project. Lucinda is a Qualified Social Worker with a background in mental health, homelessness and sensory support, and over the last few years she has been working in the voluntary sector developing various social and environmental volunteer projects in the UK and abroad.

    Matthew Parsfield is the Connected Communities Project Developer, and works with Fellows and partners to translate the ARC team’s research into practical, funded programmes on the ground. He has a Master’s degree in social anthropology, and previously worked as a public engagement officer with a professional football club. Follow @MParsfield

    Jonathan works to explore how the built environment affects social and economic productivity. He’s currently researching how future retail models can better serve society. With a background in urban planning and community development work, Jonathan previously worked for nef undertaking social and economic impact evaluation. Follow @JSchifferes

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