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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Global Fellowship in Action: the RSA in Brussels!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When? Thursday 25 September 2014, 7-10pm

Where?, 79 rue D’Albanie, B-1060

Who? Michael Bauwens FRSA

About? The emerging P2P paradigm


Housing associations need to be at home in city growth strategies

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

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

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

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

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High speed connectivity – a modern right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What is holding us back?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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RSA Fellows and RSA Academies collaborate: the Weston Beamor jewellery design project

July 15, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Education Matters 

This is a guest blog from Chris Smith, Maths, Science and Technology Lead Practitioner, STEM and IBCC Coordinator at RSA Academy in Tipton.  Chris explains how RSA Academy in Tipton have played a key role in the success of this inter-school competition. 

The winning team from Broadway School with the judges and their teachers

The winning team from Broadway School with the judges and their teachers


Back in January 2013 a number of RSA Fellows met at Weston Beamor in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter to look at how 3D printing is being used by Weston Beamor in the production of their jewellery products.  They wanted to find a vehicle to promote this new technology and extend its use in schools, after numerous meetings it was decided that RSA Academy in Tipton would coordinate a jewellery design competition for the RSA Family of Academies and those looking to become part of the RSA Family.

Whitley Academy, Arrow Vale RSA Academy, RSA Academy and Broadway School were invited to the launch on 21 January 2014 at the RSA Academy.  The brief was to design a lapel pin/badge suitable for the Principals of the RSA Academies to wear – therefore it had to be suitable for both men and women to wear.

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What kind of love do we need?

July 14, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Social Brain 

Love is a fundamental feature of how people seek to create meaning in their lives, but what do we really know about the nature, experience, and history of love; about its breadth and depth and ubiquity? What, if anything, is common to our love of life, love of God and/or love of reason; maternal love, romantic love, love of work, good and bad forms of self-love, love of friends, love of places, love of books, love of ideas, love of RSA public events…

Here are ten of my favourite quotations on love as an appetiser ahead of Thursday’s event at 6pm, What kind of love do we need?, including three from our prospective speakers Devorah Baum, Simon May and Mark Vernon: 

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The pulling ‘Power to Create’ waves

July 14, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Recovery 
dragon boat

The West Kent Recovery Team pulling together in boat three

‘There is nothing, absolutely nothing half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats’ exclaimed Ratty in The Wind in the Willows.

And so it was when a motley crew was pressed into action and took to the high seas (Mote Park lake in Kent), in a quest for riches; while a land raiding party prised gold and silver coins from the dry, land lubbers watching the battles on deep blue (murky green really) take place.

But this was not just any scurvy bunch.

It was led by the infamous Captain Mad Sea Swashbuckler (aka the RSA’s Susie Pascoe according to a random pirate name generator), this rag-tail rabble was banded together from the three hubs (Maidstone, Gravesend and Tonbridge) of the West Kent Recovery Service. This was the first time the trio had connected for a community event.

The crew of 26 was made up of people in recovery from alcohol and drug misuse, staff and peer mentors from CRI (one of the RSA’s partners in the initiative), and of course other members of the RSA’s Whole Person Recovery team, namely able-seaman Jack Robson and the not-so-able yours truly. But to quote Martin Luther King, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now”. Read more

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