The Art of Volunteering

December 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

I recently travelled up to Alloa in Clackmannanshire to support a Fellow-led project named Resonate.  Now, Clackmannanshire (and particularly Alloa) is not an area that receives much attention in Scotland, let alone further afield – until relatively recently my knowledge of it had consisted of the football team, personal attendance at the beer festival and their world leading work in phonics – so it great to see such an inspiring project thriving in that area, making a tangible difference to the people in their community.  Although it ostensibly started off as a community arts project, Resonate acts as so much more now – it is a vibrant, inclusive heart of its community, passionately supported by service users, creative, activists and other brilliant people. I was in Alloa, on this occasion, to provide for support for Resonate as they have been put forward for a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service and Johnny Stewart, the Lord Lieutenant of Clackmannanshire, was visiting the project to assess its suitability.  So a group of us gathered with mugs of coffee and pastries in hand, ready to meet with the Lord Lieutenant and answer his questions about Resonate.

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Help kickstart increased access to arts and gender equality in the UK theatre – All female Richard III production aims to change the conversation

December 10, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Arts and Society, Fellowship 

Fellow Yvonne Murphy guest blogs about her all female production of Richard III.  Read about her plans and find out how you can help make it happen.

I am a new RSA & Clore Fellow and I run Omidaze Productions. I am staging an all-female production of Shakespeare’s Richard III, supported by the Arts Council of Wales and Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff in February 2015 and I need your support. I have launched an RSA Kickstarter campaign because we literally cannot afford to pay everyone we want to be involved and make it happen as planned unless we reach our target and I need your support.

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Creating Restorative Justice

December 10, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

rjw logoRestorative Justice is achieved when the person who has been harmed by a crime is supported by a third party to communicate with the person who caused the harm, to the benefit of both parties, their families and their communities. It is achieved through an impartial communication service, which ensures that the communication is safe, supported, and voluntary. RJ working set up as a social enterprise in Cornwall to provide such a service, and also to tackle the issue of why, in England and Wales, Restorative Justice (RJ) is unknown to the vast majority of people. This affects take-up of the offer of RJ: if it seems like a strange experiment it won’t be so likely to be chosen by victims of crime struggling with overwhelming anger or acute vulnerability. The mainstream population has not yet recognised the potential of this way of working to reduce the frustration, fear, anxiety and sense of powerlessness that are generated when one person harms another. It is not yet normal to request RJ, or to be offered a meeting, as it is in many other countries. Nearby in Northern Ireland over 14,000 Restorative Justice ‘Conferences’ have made a huge contribution to rebuilding community over the last twelve years.

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Boosting protection for the self-employed is a priority. But so too is raising awareness of existing entitlements

December 9, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Enterprise 

There was some good news for the business community in the Autumn Statement. The Chancellor promised to extend the Funding for Lending scheme, which channels low-cost finance to banks providing loans to small businesses. There was also a commitment to carry on with Small Business Rate Relief, as well as to scrap the National Insurance contributions employers have to pay for apprentices.

Yet these measures – as with many that have come before them – tend to focus on supporting businesses rather than the individuals behind those businesses. In other words, they are aimed at making businesses profitable, rather than making self-employed lives liveable. If the Chancellor wanted to give a real boost to entrepreneurship, he would have committed to strengthening social security for business owners – whether that be by helping with insurance, pensions or mortgages.

If anything, the proposal to deepen welfare cuts – which formed the centrepiece of the Autumn Statement – is likely to have as detrimental an impact on the self-employed as those in wage work. This is because many business owners are low-paid and therefore dependent on the state to top-up their income. Our research with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, for example, has shown that 21 per cent of the self-employed are in receipt of Working Tax Credits, compared with 17.5 per cent of employees. Read more

Big Idea: Wikipedia Voice Introductions

Imagine reading a Wikipedia biography, and the subject says hello and introduces themselves. That’s the idea behind a project run by Fellow Andy Mabbett, called The “Wiki Voice Introduction Project” (“Wiki VIP”- geddit?)

“Hello, my name is Andy Mabbett, and I was born in Birmingham, England. I’ve been a Wikipedia editor since 2003 and Wikipedian-in-Residence at a number of institutions, most recently the Royal Society of Chemistry”

- If I said that out loud, it would take around ten or twelve seconds, but in that time, you’d know what my voice sounds like (enough to confirm my identity, if you’d heard me on the radio), a little about me (enough to distinguish me from someone else with the same name), and how my name is pronounced (useful if you’re about to meet me, or mention me in a presentation or on air). In fact, you’d have the canonical pronunciation of my name: mine.

Since we started a project to make such recordings a while ago, we’ve had similar contributions from  Adil Ray, Alice Arnold, Sir Peter Bazalgette, Emma Freud, Charles Duke (one of twelve people to walk on the Moon) and a host of others – including, of course Fellows of the RSA, like Stephen Fry, Howard Goodall and computer scientist Sue Black.

We have contributions in Welsh, Dutch, French, Polish, Catalan, and Russian, too – some people record themselves in more than one language. The contributors include scientists, authors, journalists, artists, explorers, librarians, a peer of the realm, and even many Eurovision Song Contest competitors! Each recording is – like all Wikipedia content – available under an open licence, allowing anyone to reuse it.

How you can help
I want to invite anyone – everyone – who is the subject of a biography in Wikipedia, to provide a brief recording, saying the same kind of things about themselves – or a little more if they care to. Many fellows will have Wikipedia articles about them (but please – don’t write a Wikipedia autobiography; it’s really frowned upon) and can make a recording on their phone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer and email it to me for uploading, or upload it to Wikipedia’s sister project, Wikimedia Commons themselves.

While not every Fellow has an article about them, I bet every one of us has a colleague, friend or relative who does. Some Fellows no doubt work as PAs or agents; they can supply recordings of their clients.

Imagine if we could hear the voices of RSA fellows of the past. Let’s make sure future generations can hear ours.

Andy Mabbett, FRSA

Andy Mabbett

•    View Andy’s blog ‘Pigs on the wing’.
•    See a guide to making a Wiki VIP recording, and more examples
•    Contact Andy by email at

How to talk to spiritual swingers, religious diplomats and intellectual assassins

December 8, 2014 by · 7 Comments
Filed under: Social Brain 

The following 4200 words are a distilled version of our forthcoming report on spirituality, scheduled for publication later this month, and they are also the text of a speech I gave at the final event. On the day, it felt wrong to be so controlled on a subject like spirituality so I chose to speak to the audience more directly, but here is the more considered version of what I planned to say:

Love, Death, Self and Soul:

Spirituality worth fighting for

Jonathan Rowson, RSA, November 19, 2014

The esteemed psychotherapist Carl Rogers said that what is most personal is most universal. I offer my perspective on leading our project on spirituality with that in mind, and start with a simple observation.

Spirituality does curious things to people’s facial expressions.

While running this project over the last two years I have noticed that facial expressions are the preludes to a range – three in particular – of more or less archetypal responses to conversations about spiritual matters.

The most welcome response comes from the ‘spiritual swingers’. Spiritual swingers perk up at the mention of the spiritual but look at you a little too eagerly and intensely for comfort. They are excited by all things non-material that point to a deeper, fuller, more cuddly world, but for them the spiritual appears to be one big unwieldy umbrella; everything from meditation to massages; mysticism to monasteries, moonshine to mindfulness. They’re up for anything, as long its ‘spiritual’.

Slightly more uneasy were my encounters with the ‘religious diplomats’ who look at you warmly but quizzically, because they support your endeavour but can’t figure out whether you are one of them at heart, validating or revitalising their view of the world, or perhaps you are seeking to supplant their established ways with something unhinged that they don’t altogether trust?

But the ‘intellectual assassins’ are the worst. They hear ‘spiritual’ and respond with a look of discomfort bordering on disgust, followed by disdainful frowns. They are the quickest to ask for a definition of the spiritual, but usually with the express purpose of taking it down with words of their own.

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‘Devo met’: an idea whose time has come

December 5, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Social Economy 

This article was originally published by Policy Network

With a series of significant new pledges since his ‘northern powerhouse’ speech in June, George Osborne seems determined to own the city growth agenda. How can Labour get back on the front foot?

Cities are at the heart of a new bidding war between the main political parties. The autumn statement and the Manchester devolution deal, underline the chancellor’s determination to own the city growth agenda. So far we have had major infrastructure, new public service powers, a ‘metro mayor’ and an advanced science institute for the north, all following George Osborne’s ‘northern powerhouse’ speech in June.

Meanwhile, Nick Clegg’s ‘northern futures’ project has been seeking to drive city innovation and Vince Cable has been claiming credit for delivering the new science funding for Manchester. For Labour it looks like an early lead lost, with the Adonis Growth Review and the party’s policy commission, led by Jon Cruddas, both staking out city devolution territory – in the form of a proposed £30bn of devolved funding to combined authorities – that was not subsequently built on. Read more

Have yourself a merry indie Christmas

December 5, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Enterprise, Uncategorized 

It’s Small Business Saturday tomorrow, and small business owners will be hoping for a repeat of last year’s £468 million of sales at special events across the country. It’s a good week to be one of them – as well as the Saturday boost, George Osborne’s Autumn statement extended small business rate relief again and promised a review of business rates for 2016.

shop independent

From @LolaHoadDesign

Since the turn of the century there’s been a 40% increase in the number of firms with less than 10 employees. At the RSA we argue that this growth in self-employment and microbusiness is a good thing, and a trend that should be supported by policy. The RSA’s Power of Small project has found that despite lower incomes and fewer perks, the self-employed are more satisfied and happier overall than most other groups in the wider workforce. It’s an area for high potential growth, although our latest report, Everyday Employers, highlights the need for smarter policy to encourage the self-employed to take on employees. Microbusinesses are also at the forefront of the move to a circular economy. Makerspaces such as FabLab London are providing individuals and businesses with access to sustainable design tools – makers are becoming fixers and simultaneously reducing waste.

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The wrong battle over the economy fought, lost and now the war could be lost too

December 4, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Enterprise 

For a while, a graph called the ‘jaws of death’ did the rounds. It showed how social care expenditure was increasing at such a rate that it threatened to constitute more than the whole of local government expenditure by 2020. Well, yesterday the Office for Budget Responsibility produced a graph that may well come to replace it. Let’s call it the ‘graph of doom’:

the 'graph of doom'

Essentially, the graph shows that the size of the state will be at the lowest level in 80 years. The last time it was at anywhere near this level in the late 1990s, the Conservative Government of the day was kicked out in a landslide election. This change is a consequence of the Conservative approach to austerity which relies on at least 80 per cent of deficit reduction coming through public expenditure cuts.

This is the most significant re-shaping of the British state since Margaret Thatcher came into power in the late 1970s. Yet, there has been next to zero public debate about what this smaller state might mean, whether it’s desirable, and whether this is the democratic choice that we would make when given a range of options. The debate instead has been about whether we should undertake a process of austerity or not. The left of British politics, where one might expect to find the most articulate defence of the public value of state investment and expenditure, has instead locked itself into a battle against austerity. That has given George Osborne his opportunity.

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The 21st C organisation will be small, decentralised and flat. The very opposite of the 20th C organisations that still cling on to power.

November 28, 2014 by · 7 Comments
Filed under: Adam Lent 

Maybe we will look back and see this as one of history’s great coincidences: Henry Ford’s first Model T was manufactured in October 1908; exactly one-hundred years later Bitcoin was launched in October 2008. What’s the coincidence, you may ask.

The Model T paved the way for mass production which underpinned the creation of the vast, centralised and hierarchical corporations that came to dominate the advanced economies. It was an organisational structure which also encouraged politicians to take the same approach to the state with the establishment of large, centralised bureaucracies designed to deliver healthcare, education, social security and a wide range of other services.

Bitcoin is an early and very important embodiment of a counter-trend towards a smaller, decentralised and flatter world which may well be the defining feature of this century just as concentration of power and resource was the defining feature of the last.

The counter-trend emerges in a number of forms. Read more

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