What was missing from Ed Miliband’s address to the Google Big Tent event today?
By most accounts he gave a fairly prosaic speech. Miliband praised the internet for breaking down old hierarchies, but then warned it could create its own new monopolies. He applauded the advent of the digital age for levelling the playing field for new businesses, but then lamented the low rates of digital literacy that prevent people from making the most of these new opportunities. It was easy to tell that the whole thing was geared towards the W-moment – explicitly telling Google and Eric Schmidt that it was ‘wrong’ they did not pay their fair share of taxes.
You could argue he should have said more about the capacity of new technologies to overcome our biggest social challenges – namely dementia and other issues associated with an ageing population. You might also say he should have gone further with his important point about teaching our young people to create, not just consume digital products. Yet still, there isn’t much contention here.
No, the most important thing Miliband failed to mention today was the P-word: pornography. Explicit material – once the preserve of shady outlets and the top-shelves of newsagents - has become ubiquitous since the advent of the internet. All a person now needs is a decent connection and a computer – and many young people have exactly that. In a sign of how easy it has become to find such material, research by the security firm Bitdefender found that 1.16 per cent of children had accessed pornography by the age of 6.
The harmful effects of exposure to pornography have been well documented. The Internet Watch Foundation points out that close to 70 per cent of people are disturbed by violent or extreme pornography. Yet the effects of exposure to explicit material go much further than making people feel squeamish or awkward. A recent parliamentary inquiry, for example, noted that young men are now receiving the majority of their sex ‘education’ from pornography, which in turn means it becomes more difficult to promote the use of condoms.
Other research suggests that pornography can damage personal relationships because it gives people unusually high expectations of their sex lives. Only last week, Diane Abbott suggested that the proliferation of pornographic material had been one factor in precipitating a “crisis of masculinity” and a “Jack Daniels and viagra” culture among young men.
What is perhaps more cause for concern than young people watching pornography is them creating it themselves – I genuinely believe this is one of the biggest challenges facing UK society. Research undertaken by NSPCC has indicated that as many of 40 per cent of young people have been involved in sending explicit pictures of themselves and their peers. The problem is particularly problematic for teenage girls, many of whom face pressure from their friends and classmates to join in.
The scale of the challenge is such that the Prime Minister himself waded into the debate, recently describing the problem as “a silent attack on innocence.” The government has matched these concerns with several proposals to limit young people’s access to harmful material, including by working with computer manufacturers so that parents are prompted to restrict access to ban certain sites when turning on new devices for the first time. Others in the business sector have been less forthcoming in their support of such proposals. Google, for instance, decided against implementing an automatic ‘opt-out’ of pornographic websites, in part because it may unintended block innocuous ones.
Time will tell whether moves like these will yield any kind of impact. Whatever the result, the efforts are to be commended. The seriousness of the issue is such that we need as many imaginative solutions as we can get. Indeed, to return to the topic of Ed Miliband’s speech, the issue of tax avoidance doesn’t really compare to it. One is a manifestation of a society that is becoming less empathetic, the other is potentially one of its biggest causes. While Ed Miliband may feel proud of himself for calling out the big corporate guns on their practices, even more courageous would be to get to grips with the taboo subject that is doing the real damage to our society.
Maybe I’ve lived in the big smoke for too long. Or maybe cynicism comes with getting older. So when I picked up my free newspaper last night at a busy tube station before my commute home, and it revealed a blue envelope with the words “open me” hand written on it, I wasn’t so sure what to do.
Looking to my left and then to my right, I thought: is this a joke? Are there hidden cameras trained on me? Maybe the envelope contains some indecent photos. Or anthrax. Or instructions sending me on a bizarre scavenger hunt through the city to save a hostage’s life. So many horrible possibilities ran through my head (and the realisation that perhaps I watch too many Hollywood movies to encourage such an imagination…).
I seriously considered just walking away and leaving the envelope there, but then decided to just go for it and look inside. And what a good decision that was, because what I saw lifted my heart and put a smile on my face.
The envelope contained a pin, a ten pound note, and a message reading “Happy Monday! Whether this Monday was fantastic or miserable I hope this brightens your day”. This surprise gift seems to be the mastermind of an organisation called GiveMondays, which encourages people to start their week off right by doing a good deed or making someone else smile on a Monday. The group of anonymous givers tweet on #givemondays.
This surprise couldn’t have come at a better time. Having grown up in Boston, last week was a nerve-wracking rollercoaster of emotions (fear, worry, anger and relief – on repeat) while watching the news and checking in with friends and family. Of course, their safety is the ultimate mood-booster, but this blue envelope was a nice little addition and great way to start off a new week.
So, to the givers at Give Mondays: thank you so much for this lovely little gift. I will keep the pin for myself; the £10 I will pass on to someone less fortunate later today. And now there are 6 days left to think about what do to pass along this smile next Monday.
A couple of weeks ago we were lucky enough to hold an event at OxfordJam. A three day fringe festival, Oxford Jam runs parallel to the Skoll World Forum, ensuring that all the great and the good in the social enterprise sector descend into Oxford for three days of inspiration, making connections, and learning from all the varied work going on. We held one of our quarterly Social Enterprise Spotlight events there; find out more online about Social Enterprise Spotlight, our case-study of nine social entrepreneurs. Employing the skills and expertise of two brilliant RSA Fellows, the event titled Who do you help and how do you know? set out to look at impact measurement from a more human point of view.
It is important to stop and take a moment to remember why we do what we do.
At the session Steve Coles (Director at Intentionality CIC or as we called him, social impact ‘ninja’) gave us five top tips about what to measure when thinking about the impact you make with your social enterprise. You can find his top tips here. He also made the valuable point that in order to fully understand our impact it is important to stop and take a moment to remember why we do what we do. Which leads me to our other speaker at the event and one of the nine RSA Spotlighters, Becky John.
The Big Idea: who makes your pants?
Becky John runs Who made your pants? a Southampton-based campaigning lingerie brand which started in 2008 and is concerned with two things – amazing pants and amazing women. They create jobs for women who’ve had a hard time, primarily refugees, by producing beautiful underwear from reclaimed materials. We heard Becky speak passionately about the women she helps and the impact they are making, including how one woman has set up her own independent email address without any interference from her family, and another who has decided to stand against tradition and not go through with female genital mutilation for her young daughter.
Many of the things that occur on a daily basis at Who made your pants? are an example of ‘non direct, unintended’ impact, such as their daily lunches together – not something that was planned or originally measured but definitely contributes to the well-being of all the women involved. Becky’s story and desire to help the women she works with is one that may resonate with many social entrepreneurs about why they do what they do. As Becky says on her blog, the reason and idea for Who made your pants?, “came from a passion for equality, a love of pretty underwear and a huge personal change.” Becky’s impact is very clear and her hopes are to continue to positively affect the women she helps and take over the world, “we have come so far since 2008. We want to help more women over the next three years, including making our current team full time and taking on a second team, if not more.”
The reason and idea for Who made your pants? came from a passion for equality, a love of pretty underwear and a huge personal change.
How you can get involved
Who made your pants? has one full time member of staff, Becky, and around ten part time workers (which can change due to the unpredictably of people’s lives). They also have had lots of regular volunteers doing everything from website building to answering the phone and drafting legal contracts. Recently however, a couple of the lynchpins in the organisation have left so Becky is now looking for someone (or some people) to fulfil an office management type role. Becky has written about what she needs so if you are interested, or know someone who might be, you can read about it on her blog. You can find out more about the organisation on the Who made your pants? website and for the Tweeters among us, you can follow her on Twitter @whomadeyour and @beckypants.
More from the Social Entrepreneurs Network
The next Social Entrepreneurs Network event is one of our regular breakfasts held at the RSA House, the last Friday of each month – the next one is Friday 26th April at 9am and will be on social enterprises overseas. You can visit the Social Entrepreneurs Network and find out more online. Our next quarterly event is on 26th June where we’ll be sure to hear more inspiring stories so join the network and hopefully we’ll see you next time.
Sarah Tucker is Fellowship Communications & Events Manager.
You can follow her @SarahTucker10
One evening last summer, for reasons I can neither adequately remember nor explain, I found myself at the ‘alternative’ 300th birthday party for Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in the outdoor courtyard of a former squat in Geneva.
Being neither an expert on Rousseau nor a French speaker, I sat awkwardly through the lengthy speeches from local historians and activists, while an English-speaker patiently filled me in on the history of this cooperative-run apartment block; how it had been earmarked to be bulldozed to make way for a supermarket in the midst of the city’s 1980s housing crisis before being squatted by a band of community activists who had, eventually, secured ownership rights to the building.
Finally the speeches ended, and the party switched to an activity I could understand: eating. Heaps of sausages and vegetable cous-cous appeared as if from nowhere, and people squeezed alongside each other on long picnic tables to tuck in and chat. Any divisions among the group were invisible as private tenants and former squatters alike talked and laughed and kept each other’s glasses filled with cheap red wine. Nobody seemed to object to my presence as an uninvited stranger taking far more than my share of sausages, a greedy Anglo-Saxon unacquainted with their continental and collectivist ways. They explained to me that, while this was a special occasion, they often met as a group to share a meal, and that this ritual fostered the community spirit which enabled them to successfully organise and manage the once dilapidated but now thriving property. I remember feeling a distinct sense of warmth, a convivial and exciting atmosphere as people bonded over the breaking of bread.
This is the kind of scene that Tim Smit, the founder of Cornwall’s Eden Project, has been creating all over this country through his latest brainchild, The Big Lunch. He was at the RSA last night, along with the broadcaster Fi Glover, Linda Quinn from the project’s backer The Big Lottery Fund, and Jonathan Carr-West of the Local Government Information Unit, to discuss what can be learned from The Big Lunch project about community building.
The title for the evening’s event was ‘Where Does Responsibility For Community Lie?’, and this is a question that greatly interests me as a project developer on the RSA’s Connected Communities programme. Is it possible for a third party or an external campaign to help build social capital and encourage a community spirit, or can such feelings only be aroused by people acting independently and spontaneously? Does government have a role in creating the conditions in which communities can flourish? What is the role of business and the third sector? And what the heck do we mean by ‘community’ anyway?
Smit and his co-panelists had much to offer on these subjects and much besides. Smit talked about how food, and the British institution of the Sunday lunch, is a crucial element in encouraging people to gain the confidence to knock on each other’s doors and turn strangers into neighbours. This, in short, is what Smit claims an external project like The Big Lunch can do; in his words it can ‘give people permission’ to overcome shyness and take responsibility to act in the community.
Smit said that he hopes that within ten years the pizzazz of ‘The Big Lunch’ branding and publicity won’t be needed, and that a regular, grassroots ‘neighbours day’ will have outgrown the initial project. But he also sees the potential for something much bigger to emerge out of the initial small-talk that occurs over an outdoor dining table. Especially keen Lunch organisers are invited down to The Eden Project for training as social activists and organisers, and are encouraged to develop the confidence to help mobilise communities in new and potentially radical ways. In the modern context of the traditional, hierarchical modes of centralised politics being seen to be losing relevance and influence, Smit says that ‘the potential for a really powerful social force’ lies among horizontally-organised groups of citizens.
Back in the present, Carr-West was on hand to discuss the impact of The Big Lunch to date, following the publication of his report on the project. Headline figures of 8.5 million participants over four years, with 82% reporting that they felt closer to their neighbours as a result, are remarkable, but some of the more qualitative observations are just as significant. Conversations, he said, weave the fabric of communities and allow people to feel better about themselves while also building social capital. He pointed to evidence that an increase in social capital is good for people’s health, it’s good for the economy, and it helps to lower crime. Furthermore it cannot be monopolised – or cut – by governments as it is held collectively in society. And yet the public sector does have a role, he maintained, in helping to connect community activists with one another to run services, provide social support, and enact change, with local councils especially well-placed to facilitate a kind of ‘connected localism’.
All of this may sound like a lot of lofty talk when placed alongside Big Lunch photographs of people wearing face-paint and cutting Victoria sponge cakes underneath lines of bunting. But the culturally ingrained custom, built up over millennia, of people coming together around food in an atmosphere of sharing, warmth and safety, allows for social connections to form. And as the RSA’s Connected Communities programme helps to show, our social networks go a long way to determining our wellbeing, our employability, our health and our ability to get things done in society. And that is something that my erstwhile dining companions in that housing cooperative in Geneva are living testament to.
Gathered together in a snug area of a busy central London pub, people are enjoying a drink and nibbling on some crisps, enthusiastically chatting to one another. So far, so normal. But when you get within earshot of this group, you realise something surprising: they are all talking about things like irrationality, randomised controlled trials, social norms and cognitive biases…
The pub-goers in this scene all have an interest in behavioural science, very broadly defined (including behavioural economics, social psychology, cognitive- and decision science), and are at the London Behavioural Economics Network (LBEN) Meetup , often called Behavioural Boozenomics or Behavioural Boozeday Tuesday by some of the regulars. This Meetup was initiated by Oliver Payne, author of Inspiring Sustainable Behaviour: 19 ways to ask for change, about a year ago, and has proved popular right from the start.
I am a regular – I attend every month and enjoy it every time. I have been pleased, but not necessarily surprised, at the range of people who attend these Meetups. But it occurs to me that I am somewhat biased. Because I love behavioural science, it is hard for me to realise that not everyone else does, or that some people may not realise the breadth of its application.
Two things happened recently which opened my eyes to this. The first was that I invited an RSA colleague to attend with me. My colleague, with a fresh set of eyes and different perspective, immediately remarked that she hadn’t expected such a variety of careers to be represented at the gathering. Her comment helped me to realise my own biased perspective.
The second comment was from someone I met for the first time that night. He is a behavioural finance ‘hobbyist’, and a financial analyst by profession. We were discussing the potential benefits and drawbacks of formally studying (e.g. getting a degree in) behavioural economics or other behavioural science. At one point he asked “But what can you do with it after?!?”
Together, these comments make me think that perhaps it would be helpful to outline the range of careers that could benefit from an improved understanding of human nature, calling on insight from behavioural science.
So, here is a non-exhaustive list of the types of people who generally attend the event, and my interpretation of why they do so or how behavioural insight can support their career:
- Marketers / advertisers: to understand customer motivations.
- Hobbyists: because there are so many great books out there! (my favourite has to be Predictably irrational; the one I’ve just started reading is Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behaviour; and on my wishlist is Blindspot: Hidden biases of good people)
- Market researchers: upon realising that people are great at post-rationalising their own behaviour, can be swayed by group-think in focus groups, and often act differently to their intentions – rendering some, if not much, of traditional market research misinformed.
- Consultants: those making a career out of helping other organisations successfully use behavioural insights to achieve business objectives.
- Policy makers: thinking about how to design policies to promote maximum adherence.
- Financial sector (banks): helping customers understand cognitive biases and psychological barriers to saving, and how to mitigate them.
- Financial sector (advisers): understanding clients’ spending, saving, and investing behaviour.
- Financial sector (investors): understanding their own behaviour, perhaps trying to gain insight into how best to beat the market.
- Communications professionals: sharing expertise of which uses of language and types of phrases can spur someone to action.
- Academics: to discuss theory and methodology, find potential collaborators, and generate ideas for experiments.
At the RSA in the Social Brain Centre we use behavioural insight to inform our exploration of behaviour change –such as replacing car journeys with cycling, changing taxi drivers’ driving habits to improve their fuel efficiency, improving personal savings, and much more.
And, behavioural science can be useful in other areas as well, such as health (where obesity and adherence to medication are big topics), education (where framing and cognitive biases in the classroom, student and teacher incentives, and psychological barriers to collaboration should be explored), and human resources (where incentive structures, relative salary, and motivation are all important). It would be fantastic to have some people representing these various fields to round out the attendee list and extend the already-wide breadth of discussion which takes place at these evenings.
I’d be really interested to hear from readers: Where is behavioural insight most relevant in your career? If you are currently studying (or have in the past) a related field, what career do you hope to go into with it (or how have you applied it to your job now)?
And finally, I hope to see you at the next LBEN Meetup!
This morning I went to the launch of a new report by the Design Commission, ‘Restarting Britain 2‘. I was lucky enough to have been part of the process of creating the report – as a member of the Public Services Inquiry Steering Group, we met every few weeks or so in the House of Lords and interviewed everyone from Government employees through local councils to leaders in the service design field.
Design can make a huge impact in public service but is not commonly used to do so. It is still often misunderstood as being all about posters and soft furnishings, and not seen as a discipline that has potential to create enormous change that is better for the end user and saves money to boot. Good design turns problems on its head and starts with walking in the shoes of the users, not with the problems of the providers. During the inquiry we heard many examples of how great design had created huge organisational change, bringing empathy and kindness into public service, bearing in mind inclusion and access at all times, and, of course, saving vast amounts of money.
Barry Quirk, co-chair of the Inqury & Lewisham Council’s Chief Executive said in his speech this morning that design honours the past, captures the opportunities of the present, and builds the future. Our public services were created in the 20th century (usually the 1950s), are currently running in 19th century buildings, but now need to address 21st century problems and opportunities. He also said that incremental change won’t get us anywhere new; we need radical design thinking to create new opportunities which are heading us beyond the Mayor of London’s 2020 vision to a horizon of 2070.
The other co-chair, Baroness Kingsmill urged us not to let it end here. We now have this fantastic report but what can we do to take it further? We need to change people’s attitudes to design, especially the attitude of the government and decision makers in public services.
I highly recommend that you download the report – it’s an excellent read and very well put together by Jocelyn Bailey and her team at Policy Connect, and declares itself part-polemic, part-manual.
Filed under: Design and Society, Uncategorized
One of this year’s RSA Student Design Awards briefs, ‘Improve Water Environments’ calls for a design (or re-design) of a system, service, product or environment that tackles issues of water pollution. Improving our water environments has huge benefits for people, communities, wildlife and the economy, but it is a complex problem that is notoriously difficult to solve.
On the 21st February, representatives from the Environment Agency and Thames Water hosted a site visit with a group of students to Valentines Park in northeast London to help us get to grips with some of the problems around this important issue.
Valentines Park, home to Valentines Mansion, a manor house built in 1696, has four bodies of water, including a small ornamental pond, boating lakes and a large main lake to the south of the park. The lakes take surface water drainage from all local roads and houses, and are all inter-connected across the park.
Surface water is defined as anything that runs from the roads, roofs, pavements and paths. It is essentially rainwater, which has landed! This needs to drain away to prevent flooding and networks of drains flow this water into our rivers.
Shahnaz Isaac and Karen Douse from the Environment Agency showed us several points throughout the park where surface water enters the waterways, and explained that contaminated water from surface water drainage systems entering our rivers is one of the biggest problems when it comes to water pollution.
This contamination can happen in several different ways:
1) Water waste being disposed of incorrectly.
Examples of this are washing your car with chemical detergents on a road, with the chemicals being washed down a surface water grate, and things like mop buckets and paint pots being emptied straight onto a road. This means that toxic chemicals bypass the sewer system, and instead enter the surface water stream, ending up in our rivers.
2) Mis-connections in properties
Laziness and/or lack of knowledge means that kitchen and bathroom water outputs are sometimes plumbed straight into the surface water system rather than the sewage stream. This water can be toxic for many different reasons – water from your washing machine containing chemicals, organic matter from waste food, and worst case scenario, sewage waste and non-decomposable items such as baby wipes.
It is the job of Richard Pumfrett from Thames Water, who works with the Connect Right programme, to identify properties that have mis-connections and advise them on correct water disposal.
It can be easy to spot potential culprits of mis-connections, of which approximately 2% of the population is guilty, and while we were on our visit, we spotted a property which looked like it could be one in this minority. You can see a large amount of pipes from the house empty directly into the gutter, indicating that contaminated water could be entering the surface water stream.
To test for mis-connections, Richard puts dye in the water at these properties, and then looks for traces appearing in surface water streams and outputs. This is a time consuming and laborious task, as permission is required from landlords to carry out the testing. Sometimes the council has to get involved, which can make the process even slower.
We were also able to see how entire roads can be checked for mis-connections. Manhole covers containing surface water drainage pipes are lifted up, and wire nets inspected for debris. If anything is found down here, like toilet paper (and we even heard of goldfish and mobile phones!) it is an indication of a mis-connection.
We all assume that it is chemicals and non-decomposable materials that are the main culprit of water pollution, but I was surprised to learn that organic matter is also a problem. We were shown a water output which entered into the park through a grate. This grate was littered with rubbish – mostly food packaging – and Karen showed us the resulting grey fungus in the water. This has not been caused by the plastic in the rubbish, but from the decomposing food scraps that remain. Feeding the ducks (of which Valentines Park has many) can even be bad for the water, with excess bread rotting and promoting the growth of the dreaded blue/green algae, which Karen described getting rid of as “a dark art”.
There is in fact a huge amount work being put in to improve the water environments behind the scenes at places like Valentines Park. And this isn’t an isolated case, it is mirrored all over the country. It struck me that the two main issues to be tackled here were behavior change and education (with huge design opportunities for both!). How can we encourage people to take more responsibility for water AFTER it has left their home. We are currently in the mentality that once water has left our house, it is no longer our responsibility, our ‘problem’; however we all want to live in a cleaner world, and see benefits of cleaner water environments among both people and wildlife. We need to start taking ownership and responsibility for some of these issues.
Do you have an idea to improve our water environments? Download the brief here, and enter the Student Design Awards, and you could win a 6 week internship with the Environment Agency, £2,500 and see your design idea developed into a real solution.
Deadline: March 22nd 2013.
Filed under: Enterprise, Fellowship, Social Economy, Uncategorized
As a new member of the RSA’s Connected Communities team, I have been eager to hit the ground running and learn about the potential partner organisations in our various sites across the country. As such I was delighted to be able to attend a meeting in a cosy Lewisham pub on Monday evening, attended by a number of representatives from community organisations in New Cross Gate who are interested in developing new ways of cooperating and helping to build the social capital of isolated elderly people in the area.
- Littlehampton Cafe Bus: a great-sounding project being run near another of our Connected Communities sites
One attendee, Kerry Hagger of Ageing Well, is doing some really valuable work identifying and engaging with particularly isolated people in the local community. High on the agenda for the meeting was to find ways of building partnerships to help take her work to more people and bring broader sections of the community together.
Kerry spoke about a national organisation called Contact the Elderly, to which she has referred clients. Contact the Elderly’s model is that, once a month, volunteers open their home to host an afternoon tea, attended by a group of around 10-15 older people. The group travels to different hosts each month, and so each volunteer only has to host the event on average once a year, meaning that the workload for each individual is minimalised.
We discussed the possibility of establishing a New Cross Gate project based on the Contact the Elderly model, but with a greater emphasis on knitting together the various community organisations and resources already working in the area. In this version, a kind of roving social club could be formed, with different organisations acting as the host each month instead of (or as well as) individual volunteers’ homes. Examples of these hosts could be JOY (Just Older Youth), who organise arts and crafts activities for older people, the Lewisham Pensioners Forum, and Goldsmiths Student Union. The idea is that, as well as becoming part of a regular social club, participants would in effect get a tour of the various other community resources and service providers in the area, thus building their useful social networks, making new friends, and coming into contact with other individuals and groups who can help them.
There is plenty still to discuss and a number of hurdles to negotiate before any such project comes to fruition: how would we transport a large group of senior citizens around Lewisham once a month? Is a volunteer car pool viable, or would we need to look for funding for a minibus? How might we secure funding for a part time coordinator to keep the project together and make sure everybody is in the right place every month? Is there a possibility of establishing a Community Interest Company or Social Enterprise to help to formalise and grow the initiative?
Lots to think about then, but this was a very encouraging early meeting and a highly constructive demonstration of the vibrancy and creative thinking of the community we’re working with in New Cross Gate.
If any Fellows or other RSA supporters can offer any advice or guidance on the funding or logistics of this project idea, or on any other area of the Connected Communities programme, then please contact me, the Connected Communities Project Developer, at firstname.lastname@example.org
When I was a primary school history coordinator (in those heady, deluded days before literacy and numeracy targets swept most other priorities away, and QCA schemes of work did the rest), I had the delightful job of planning a whole-school history scheme of work. One of the many attainment targets for history was for children to be able to ‘distinguish facts from opinions’ by the time they got to secondary school. Given their collective seniority and expertise, I am hopeful that the Education Select Committee has the same ability, even if some of their witnesses struggle with this distinction.
When asked this week by the Select Committee about the Academies Commission’s critique of some aspects of policy, former schools minister Nick Gibb claimed that the RSA had a ‘particular view’ and didn’t come from ‘neutral ground’. This contrasts to others who wondered aloud (via twitter) whether a commission led by an academy provider such as the RSA would ever be anything other than positive about academies.
These claims insult the independence of the commissioners themselves, and the process they led. The RSA’s Action and Research Centre, with the remit to act and think, show and tell, innovate and recommend, will constantly need to navigate healthy tensions between our practice and our research. In combining thought leadership and social innovation, we aim to create a virtuous circle between research and practice. The Commission’s findings will inform how we develop our family of academies model, Working directly with these academies gives us insight to which areas of policy need exploring, and provides us with both inspiration for and reality checks on ideas for practical innovations. And the practical innovations we lead with larger numbers of teachers and schools, for instance through our Opening Minds framework and our area based curriculum, also help determine our priorities for future RSA programmes of work.
At the same time, recent exchanges have caused me to reflect on that slippery word ‘evidence’. When committees or commissions ‘take evidence’, they are really collecting stories, some of which will be facts, others opinions. As Dylan William and others remind us all, evidence is not the plural of anecdotes. Stephen Gorard has distinguished between the legal use of evidence, which aims to push a single viewpoint, and the academic use, which, to quote Chomsky, aims to ‘tell the truth and expose lies’. In thinking about education, only the latter will do, alongside a recognition that most evidence is far less conclusive that we’d like (and the more rigorous the evidence, the less conclusive it will probably be, as Education Endowment Foundation-funded projects are likely to find out in the next few years).
After such a deep, rigorous progress, it’s a shame that admissions ‘gossip’ (as opposed to the carefully considered recommendations about admissions in the report) dominated media headlines. We hope that the RSA’s current project on in-year admissions, which will involve surveys and data collection, may help shed light on wider questions about the impact of academisation on admissions.
Those who still have influence over the future direction of academies have welcomed the commission’s findings and want to engage in serious discussions about next steps, Whatever people’s views on the Commission, lack of balance is not the issue. Whatever Nick Gibb said, the Commission was entirely neutral in its deliberations. Mind you, given Nick Gibb’s dislike of RSA Opening Minds, he would have said that, wouldn’t he?
Just opened a very generous email from Professor Dale Southerton at Manchester University providing links to two important free resources for people interested in behaviour change: