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.
This is a guest blog from RSA Catalyst supported West Midlands Fellow John Blewitt. He reflects on the impact of Catalyst and the new Library of Birmingham on his work to connect spaces and people with democratic actions.
Over the last couple of years I have been working closely with the library service in
Birmingham and Worcester and have been fortunate to have become a Library of Birmingham ‘Face’. The Library of Birmingham is a prestigious public project at the heart of the city centre aiming to animate the city socially, economically and politically. Architecturally engaging and ‘iconic’ in the true sense of the word, it is most importantly a major investment and commitment to the public sphere and citizens’ right to the city.
Libraries need to become event spaces for democracy, culture and learning
Public expenditure cuts have led to the closure of many libraries in the UK but these financial pressures have also coincided with a need to completely rethink the nature of public libraries as a public space and place. Mobile digital technologies, tablets and smart phones, the Internet, e-books, Twitter, Facebook and the like are shifting the way we socialize, communicate, access information and learn about the world around us. They offer us all sorts of amazing new opportunities unimaginable only a few years ago, but there are problems.
Some of those problems are well known – lack of skills or access and perhaps a growing passivity that comes with the ease of clicking here to buy, to vote or to think, or watch the aftermath of a hurricane or Strictly Come Dancing. The term ‘clictivism’ has now entered our language. In some ways, of course, it was ever thus and I’m sure there were analog equivalents.
What is really worrying is the sense that civil society needs reactivating. It needs to be given a life that is not completely composed of 0111001001111 and commodified entertainments. There has been a great deal of talk about the need for increased literacy and numeracy, social engagement in volunteering, and a more responsive political democracy and a less disaffected citizenry. The Big Society has come and gone as has the Occupy movement, the flurry of student protests over £9000 per annum fees and the urban riots that targeted mobile phone and fashionable shops.
Public libraries, a space for active debate?
We no longer seem to have spaces and places where we can come together physically, openly and freely to discuss issues and events that are in essence political. Democracy needs an informed citizenry. It needs public spaces and places that are connected to other spaces and to people as citizens who want to learn and discuss issues that are not filtered and framed by News Corporation, Google, or Jeremy Paxman. Public libraries are such places. In fact, they are one of very few public spaces and places left in our increasingly commodified and privatized world where this can occur.
Democracy needs an informed citizenry
I recently used the wonderful Library of Birmingham to run two public events supported by the RSA Fellowship and Aston University. The first was focused on the concept of resilience – a term used with increasing frequency in business, sustainable development, society, urban government and education. How the term resilience is being used was the topic of a book I recently wrote with Daniella Tilbury, which served as the basis of a genuinely interesting discussion on what we humans want to do with our future. People from business, education, charities and from the city came together on the evening of Halloween to deliberate, think and learn. It was a public event, in a public place and it was free. You can get an idea of what was discussed at the event here.
Two weeks later I ran and chaired a larger event held in the Studio Theatre at the Library of Birmingham. The topic was the future of our public services in an era of austerity and ecological limits to economic growth. The Green House Think Tank presented its views as expressed in Smaller but Better? Post Growth Public Services, and a panel consisting of Matthew Taylor (CEO, RSA), Heather Wakefield (Unison), Cllr Stewart Stacey (Birmingham City Council) and Josie Kelly (Aston University) responded energetically. However, it was the questions and comments coming from the audience that produced the most interesting and thoughtful contributions of the evening. The event lasted two hours but could have easily gone beyond. As I was preparing to leave the reasons became for this became obvious. Some departing audience members said to me, “why don’t we have discussions like this more often?”, “what are you putting on next?”, “you don’t get this on the TV” and, from one of the theatre’s A/V technicians, “that was really interesting – most things are so boring”.
Given the opportunity, the experience, the place and space for democratic discussion many people do and will engage with enthusiasm, commitment and intelligence. Far from being disaffected I believe there is actually a hunger for public spaces where public democracy can be enacted. And, public libraries offer such spaces because they are trusted, respected, neutral and, most importantly, PUBLIC. But to prosper in our consumerist digital age they need to remain public, remain relevant and remain committed to public education and public democracy. They need to become event spaces for democracy, culture and learning
As an RSA Catalyst Award winner I am concerned to connect these trusted spaces and places to a range of activities that will help engage people as citizens rather than as consumers, as active learners and as creators and producers of a vibrant civic public sphere. Public libraries are an important but threatened element of our public sphere. My Catalyst project titled Connecting Spaces and Places, recognises the very important physical spaces libraries offer can be complemented by digital technologies but cannot be replaced by them. Thus, public libraries are becoming culturally open ‘event spaces’ and they need to be promoted and used as such if they are to survive as democratic spaces.
The Library of Birmingham has a space, ‘Brainbox’, on the first floor which could conceivably be used for any creative and innovative activity. What it will be used for will be determined by the people using it. No predetermined plan, no strategy, no prescriptions but genuine innovation and free exploration. The RSA funding I received has enabled me to practically encourage people to use and view library spaces in ways they would not previously have done. It has attempted to make real that global call to make real our right to the city.
OK, my two recent events involved talking but talking is doing too as we must all talk democracy to make democracy happen. I intend to initiate other library based events, activities and hopefully exhibitions in the near future. If you want to join me and continue this debate please get in touch via email.
Mondays. Rainy Mondays. Not much to smile about, you might think.
And yet broad grins were breaking out in Tipton town centre last Monday as intrepid members of the ‘Secret Smiling Society’ made it their mission to run around during an afternoon downpour, pulling faces at strangers, telling jokes to shopkeepers, and challenging schoolchildren to race to the bus stop.
This was all part of the ‘Clear Fear’ game, designed by Dr. Martin Webber at York University as a project to combat social anxiety. Participants are encouraged to think about what their ‘superpowers’ would be if they were superheroes, and then to use these powers for good in order to make strangers smile.
Tipton, as one of the Connected Communities team’s seven action and research sites for the Big Lottery funded Social Inclusion and Wellbeing programme, was chosen to help road-test the intervention, with RSA staff joining students and staff from the RSA Academy to play the game as a way of making connections with other local residents. The Connected Communities team will be following up on the feel-good momentum by launching a small community grants fund available for local residents and Fellows to bid for up to £1,000 to spark new projects that bring people together and support mental wellbeing. If you live in the area, contact email@example.com for instructions in how to apply.
In the meantime, the Clear Fear game is looking to go from strength to strength. Martin and his team are currently using the RSA’s Kickstarter crowd-funding page to raise money to create a gamers’ toolkit, allowing individuals and groups to play the game across the country – and beyond.
Martin needs your help to reach this goal. So to find out more about his project, or to donate a few pounds towards the cause, head to http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/982434134/clearfear-game
With your help, the Secret Smiling Society can spread smiles around the world!
This is a guest blog by Mark Power FRSA. Mark is an architect and a member of the Fellows Artists Network.
As I recently discovered at this summer’s RSA Reboot event-Re:Engage, creativity is in plentiful supply within the London Fellowship network. The event focused on how Fellows could use the 4 ways to engage model to find and support each other in their work. It also featured a lightening talk by a member of the cross-disciplinary Fellows Artists Group which myself and a group of other Fellows have set up. Our members range from film-makers to sculptors, architects to writers and we meet seasonally and informally to visit exhibitions, discuss artists, discuss each other’s work and discuss ourselves and what makes us tick. We also encourage creative ways of recording our responses to the Reboot events, such as this stop-motion video which shows the buzz surrounding new connections being made.
Reboot events are organised by the London Region Fellowship Councillor, and are an excellent platform for getting to know other Fellows; getting to know what they do, what they believe in and getting them tipsy on whatever they bring along. However, running parallel to this social exchange, as RSA Fellows we have a more urgent and vital agenda: to engage in the current debate on public funding and support for the Arts, a debate which so often excludes the artists themselves and tends to emphasise instrumental over intrinsic value. We pursue this in various ways, the London Region has supported a range of events including a debate at the ICA a and a celebration of the 160th Anniversary of the Royal Photographic Society, founded at a meeting held at John Adam Street in 1853.
For me, as a member of the Group and architect running my own practice I am interested in the tension between instrumental and intrinsic intents that makes architecture what it is. At the first FRSA Reboot event I showcased our design for the Jubiloo, a marvellous new public convenience temporarily moored on the historic Thames riverbank, 100m from the London Eye; a dramatic image for a dramatic setting.
As a result, I was able to invite a group of RSA Fellows to experience the Jubiloo, which according to Mary from Manchester was ‘the best toilet I’ve been in’. Fellows heard about the rich historical allusions embodied in the floating barge-like image of the pavilion, admired its flush detailing (automatic of course), whilst also learning of its capacity to turn rainwater into greywater. Although the project was funded by a private company who built and now operates the facility, public funds were contributed by Lambeth as part of its efforts toward landscaping and integration in the public realm. The Jubiloo serves as an amenity for the Jubilee gardens and Queen’s walk, both of which are part of the ‘continuous foyer’ of London’s South Bank, hence the public contribution could be justified on instrumental grounds. The formal and material allusions integral to the design which give the building its intrinsic cultural value interestingly, were paid for by the operating company who felt they would attract more people to use the toilets.
Responses to the Jubiloo have been both instrumental and intrinsic; at the launch, the South Bank Community Choir sang “Up, up and away in my beautiful Jubiloo”. In Summer 2012 a specially convened Jubiloo Shakespeare Company performed Act II Scene 2 Antony & Cleopatra “The barge she sat in, like . . .” remembering the Bard’s sighting of Elizabeth I in her golden vessel on this stretch of the Thames.
Looking back at the activities of the last year, I can truly say that the partnership between the RSA London Region and the Fellows Artists’ Network has given me some highly sought-after opportunities to meet and exchange ideas and experiences with other Fellows. I am looking forward to continuing the conversations with Fellows from around the world in our new Artists Group on the RSA social network and seeing what events we can come up with for the London Region Autumn programme.
RSA and The Institute of Education launch a national pioneering movement in curriculum design.
On 15th July, the Benjamin Franklin room became a hive of vibrancy and enthusiasm for the new curriculum era. Forty of our pilot-school teachers arrived at the RSA ready to reflect on their progress and celebrate their graduation from Grand Curriculum Designs. There was laughter, incessant chatter and most of all pride in what they’ve accomplished as the champions of a new pioneering professional development programme and a movement to reclaim the curriculum.
In the first half of the event, teachers enjoyed the role of being students by presenting their final projects to the arriving national stakeholders. They shared and discussed the vision for their curriculum change, their journey, their evaluation criteria, and key learning they’ve obtained from the GCD programme.
The exhibit of their final works throughout the room and their reflections on this developmental process, gave our pioneers a sense of progress and confidence to embrace the freedoms they have!
Just a week after the national curriculum was announced, the National Launch of Grand Curriculum Designs presented a very timely debate about the current space that exists for schools and teachers to design their local curriculum.
National Launch of Grand Curriculum Designs presented a very timely debate about the current space that exists for schools and teachers to design their local curriculum
Chaired by the RSA CEO Matthew Taylor, our distinguished panelists -Liz Truss, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education and Childcare, Russell Hobby, General Secretary of NAHT and Toby Greany, Professor of Leadership and Innovation, London Centre for Leadership in Learning, Institute of Education - presented their views of the national curriculum and took the chance to reflect on the importance of our curriculum design programme.
Some highlights from the panel discussion:
- What drives teacher decision-making in the classroom is ultimately the assessment framework for English and Maths. Thus, we cannot achieve a cultural shift if there is a change in the curriculum but not in the accountability system.
- The national curriculum is only a small part of what a school does. What the national curriculum does is to state the WHAT and leaves the HOW to teachers. Government claims that they are giving more flexibility to teachers on HOW to teach.
- The national curriculum won’t be implemented until September 2014, so the government is ‘releasing’ schools from current curriculum requirement – as to give them an year to create their own school curriculum. This makes it the right place and time for teachers to embrace their freedoms and leadership in owning their curriculum.
- National curriculum is a moral authority and a useful starting point. The level of inspiration belongs to the school. The curriculum is seen as a body of knowledge and a praxis in which it is important to recognise the ongoing social process comprised of interactions, knowledge and milieu.
- There is an issue in that schools are not fully aware what is possible and how they can innovate and use their freedoms. “GCD presents an opportunity for schools and teachers who want to engage in exploring their freedoms and innovative approaches.” (Toby Greany)
- My favourite was Russell Hobby’s use of the Shawshank redemption as metaphor for education system: “… when you have been locked in a prison for long time, you don’t just let this person out in the streets, you put them in a safe place to scaffold their freedoms. For a long time, we’ve been told what to do, to the extend which if we don’t see it in a written document we don’t think it is important. What we can try to do through the NAHT, is to try to take the government at its word and put responsibility back in the profession – to use these freedoms and to fill the gap, and to show that the profession is the voice of ambition, not the government. The profession needs to step up!
Essential questions which sprung from the discussion:
- To what degree is Ofsted the body controlling the national curriculum and the way teaching is delivered? “The government is actually transferring powers to Ofsted rather than to schools.” (Russell Hobby)
- What is a better framework to capture the whole range of attributes, not just hard knowledge, that we are looking to assess?
- With our current methods, we have already reached 80% of students but need to try new methods to reach those missing 20% of children. Is it up to the teachers to use their freedoms and reach those 20 percent?
- What is the legacy that teachers should leave and what is the extra mile that the government will take to assist students? (Alex Bedford)
The Case for Grand Curriculum Designs
Building on the RSA’s longstanding commitment to social progress, Grand Curriculum Designs seeks to guide and empower the curiosity, reflective inquiry and leadership in educators. The core of the programme embodies a process of inquiry, while it also provides content and structured guidance for educators who would like to actively contribute to the life of their students and to develop a progressive vision for their institutions.
Grand Curriculum Designs seeks to guide and empower the curiosity, inquiry and leadership in educators
We are not alone. There is a growing number of online toolkits and university courses that have an interest in teacher leadership and curriculum design. It’s great not to be alone, and we only hope to instill a sense of competition! It is the right time and the right place to foster a movement of cultural change within our educational institutions. We hope to be at the top of the wave, though we encourage more ideas, CPDs and social enterprises that are inspired to use this space to promote change!
We are not perfect… but we have learned a lot.
Having the honour to work with twenty-one pilot schools from across the UK has made us confident that we can inspire and empower many more! Their insights and constructive criticism helped us develop the right balance between content input and activity output…and now we are confident and ready for the national roll-out. We now hope that our curriculum pioneers will ride the wave and help us foster a national community of change!
How do we define success?
This is not just another professional development course! Through this programme, we aim to foster a reflective inquiry, living process and a proactive community. We will know if we’ve been successful when –
- schools start to own their curriculum and internalise key principles
- schools are able to foster and lead a sustainable culture of change and innovation
- educators do not rely on prescriptive measures from either government or consulting/training bodies
- the market competition for curriculum design increases
Our next steps are ambitious…
In the next year, the RSA and the IoE will actively plan, facilitate, reflect, evaluate and engage with schools in order to mobilise a movement and an ambition. We plan to work with schools that are ahead of the thinking curve, but also aim to find the ‘hidden gems’ – the ones that who don’t know how to use their freedoms.
We plan to work with schools that are ahead of the thinking curve, but also aim to find the ‘hidden gems’ – the ones that who don’t know how to use their freedoms.
The programme will be expanding nationally in up to six regions in England during 2013-14, co-led by a small number of selected schools across England, most of which will be Teaching Schools – Stourport High School in Worcestershire, Ashton-on-Mersey School in Cheshire, Fairlawn Primary in Lewisham and Park High School in Harrow, and up to two additional lead schools will be selected.
How to enrol in our November programme:
The programme will be run in London at the Institute of Education, by the London Centre for Leadership in Learning (LCLL) from November 2013. Any school in England can participate in the programme.
To register an interest in enrolling in the programme, contact Tim.Lancaster@ioe.ac.uk
Plamena Pehlivanova is an RSA Education Associate and programme developer at UCL.
I spent yesterday afternoon at the Open East Festival in the new Queen Elizabeth Park. After the joyful but somewhat oversanitised experience of being in the park during last year’s Games, the slightly shambolic nature of the festival was reassuring. The wildflowers, the best surprise of last year’s visit, were less than unkempt, and barely flowering. The McDonalds had disappeared, as had the Gamesmakers. Turnout was probably lower than organisers had hoped, but the Hackney Colliery Band made the £10 entrance fee worthwhile.
Looking from the highest point of the park (a grassy mound where one of the big screens used to be), I finally got my head around the scale of the whole “village”, which mostly lies empty, and understood the task of reclaiming every square metre for use, whether public or private. Squeezed into a corner of the massive 2012 site, Open East served as an ironic reminder that the new Park is not mine, nor anyone else’s, and won’t be for many years. It’s worth comparing these two maps to show how little of the park will open to the public this year.
In terms of thinking about the legacy from the 2012 Olympics and Paralympic Games, I’ll declare an interest as a local resident, and also having worked on the 2012 Get Set education programme last year. I did sign a non-disclosure agreement with LOCOG, but LOCOG has now been liquidated, and anyway my experience working there was entirely positive. Get Set was a brilliantly conceived and executed programme which, though careful not to overclaim, genuinely connected with thousands of schools, a few to the point of deep obsession. Working for LOCOG was, to my dismay, nothing like the sitcom 2012. The company was efficient, often generous if occasionally ruthless, and more focused and clear on its mission than anywhere I had ever worked. Unmovable deadlines do that, I guess.
One year on, it’s time for a sensible conversation about legacy. It’s not worth questioning whether the money was well spent (although my instinct is that the event could have been just as successful for half the estimated £12bn cost). However, last week’s ‘one year on’ coverage has been anything but sensible. The recent government report on the economic impact of the games seemed like Enron-style accounting, based on tangential evidence and uncertain future predictions. The Cultural Olympiad’s evaluation report is an equally dodgy advocacy-based evaluation. Seb Coe’s claim in a TV interview this weekend that the Games’ main achievement so far has been to enable us Brits to ‘think differently about ourselves and our nation’ was, unusually for him, a fuzzy and flabby response.
London 2012′s aim to ‘inspire a generation’ falls at the first conceptual hurdle. Which generation? To do what? Overall, legacy is such a tricky, slippery concept, I’d suggest that we boil it down to two long term outcomes, one national, the other local.
Nationally, let’s worry about sports participation, especially for those who currently do next to nothing on a regular basis that gets them out of breath. Sport England’s active people survey, in contrast to the frothy legacy-speak which surrounds this issue, is a breath of empirical fresh air. This showed a decline in sports participation since 2012.
Locally, let’s focus on regeneration, and whether the park and village deliver long term social and economic benefits, especially in the form of jobs, for low income residents in the most fragile parts of East London. Over the long term, this is measurable, even if causation and correlation can never be entirely disentangled.
The rest is noise; nonsense noise that should be confined to the cutting room floor of the next series of 2012. Surely there’s plans for a one off ‘legacy special’ episode?
Yesterday Detroit became the largest US city ever to file for bankruptcy. The fate of public services for 700,000 residents is uncertain. The statistics we’ve read are horrific: the average police response time is 53 minutes, the city has shut half its parks since 2008, 38% of revenues went to servicing debt last year and 47% of properties didn’t pay their property tax bill. But as Neil McInroy wrote, “feeling the pain is not enough. We need also a thorough analysis of the economic and socio-political forces which cause it.”
In recent years Detroit has led the dubious club of shrinking cities providing post-industrial ruin porn. The images of decay are mesmerising: promising a futuristic glimpse of what a city looks like when capitalism and government fail together. Most accounts assume Detroit’s problems stem from severe de-industrialisation. This is entirely insufficient. The root cause of this is administrative geography: growing suburban wealth has mirrored urban decline. American political geography and property-based tax collection colludes against Detroit: local authorities rely heavily on local property taxes, which are dependent on property values. The rich have literally bought into relatively small well-funded local administrations on the outskirts (see map below). Across the US, such enclaves can protected through “exclusionary zoning”, preventing low-income residents through ordnances which require minimum housing sizes and limits on land use density.
Let’s recap the story but ensure our geographical lens zooms out. Detroit was once metonym for the American car industry (“Motown”). Detroit attracted economic migrants rapidly between 1900 and 1930, including many African-Americans from southern states. Like other American cities, Detroit’s suburbs grew rapidly after World War Two, and mass ownership of cars made that possible. By 1956 the last streetcar line in a 500 mile networks was ripped up and Detroit pioneered the construction of motorways which carved through dense urban neighbourhoods. Those with jobs followed the relocation of companies to the suburbs. Many poor black people were left behind. Social challenges and physical decline have a long and painful history: the Army was deployed in riots which killed 43 in 1967. 80,000 people left the city in 1968.
But in the Metro Detroit region today – the city including its suburbs and exurbs – lives 5.2 million residents spread over 6,000 square miles. The car industry is not dead, and is recovering from its 2009 bailout and still employs 130,000. Half a million people still work in manufacturing in the state of Michigan; many of these jobs are unionised, paying wages typically 75% above the state average. Other sectors are growing around Detroit – science, technology and finance – while one of America’s top universities sits 40 miles west of Detroit. Some companies have recently chosen to consolidate their offices in the city centre, but city residents have remained poor through the decades.
Metro Detroit highlights is the inability of America’s economy, government and social infrastructure to offer social-economic mobility. In the country where people believe most frequently that personal determination can overcome disadvantage, the poor more often than not remain poor through generations. They receive poor public services because their local government is poor. Incomes have stagnated as productivity growth hasn’t been distributed to workers through wages: the minimum wage is far below historical precedent.
Regional inequality is the crucial context for Detroit’s bankruptcy. In short, as the economic geography of Metro Detroit evolved, the geographical administration of government did not evolve with it. The localised nature of the tax base meant the city became stuck in a downward spiral.
One of the negative feedback loops in racialised poverty is the education system. Arguing that education policy and racism in the housing market conspired to segregate the region’s children by race and class, the NAACP won a legal case in 1971 forcing Detroit to form plans with it 53 metropolitan school districts to integrate student. In 1974, the Supreme Court overturned this on appeal by the State and suburban districts.
The physical environment has been blighted with abandoned buildings and subject to mass arson on Halloween: depressing the property market and further depressing Detroit city government tax revenue. Declining prices (50% between 2005 and 2011) mean residents complain their property is overvalued by tax officials and refuse to pay their taxes. The city witnesses a race between blight-fighting bulldozers performing urban excision and investors who seek to land-bank them for as little as $500.
The only big effort in the US to proactively pool tax revenues locally are the seven counties around Minnesota’s Twin Cities. Even here redistribution is limited to 40% of growth in commercial and industrial tax revenue, not residential property tax. There is a precedent for cities in the US to annex nearby land and expand, but state government must consent. Phoenix has doubled in territorial size since 1970, allowing a broader tax base and for the city to profit from rising land values on its rural outskirts. Generally, its been politically impossible to force affluent suburbanites to share tax revenue and expenditure decisions through joint metropolitan government which includes poorer neighbours in the inner city.
Political administrative geography matters greatly in economic development, financial management and social integration. In the UK local authorities are experimenting with cross-borough arrangements and policy and investment based on “functional economic areas”, while new unitary authority status creates challenges and opportunities. The bankruptcy of Detroit calls into question the scales to which our psychological associations extend. Detroit remains the heart of a dynamic city-region. It seems unlikely that lawyers and administrators will be able to draw on that wider wealth in the resuscitation efforts.
It’s been a while since my last blog post, and it’s been a busy 6 months for the Partnerships team!
I have been leading on Fellowship partnerships for two years at the RSA (my ‘RSAnniversary’ was in May), and I’ve seen big changes, big challenges and gained insight into the value of the RSA as a convener of networks. My colleague Adam, wrote a great post in February that outlined our general approach to partnerships, which we strive to keep to whilst allowing us flexibility when working with such a range of organisations – my key aim, is to ensure that we can develop collaborative partnerships that use our resources efficiently and can support the charitable objectives of the RSA and the organisation we’re partnering with.
So what have we been doing?
1. Messing around with a new database…
Don’t worry, I’ll keep this brief! Trying to get to grips with a new database is many things, if not challenging. However, with the implementation of this new system of administrative delights, we’re beginning to recognise the exciting possibilities of having all of our partner administration in one place; easily accessible. This will eventually feed into all of the work we do with our Fellows from partner organisations and how we report on the impact our work is having.
2. Forging some new relationships…
Legacy Trust UK: LTUK’s recent report on the impact of Olympic and Paralympic Games on the country’s next generation, was recently launched at a fascinating panel debate held at the RSA, which was hosted by Jonathan Edwards, CBE. You can watch it here.
Following this, we have begun the process of creating a Fellowship partnership, whereby we hope to connect with the present and former programme managers that LTUK has supported across the country. There are some fascinating projects and we hope that Fellowship can further support them through the skills we hold within our networks.
NCVO: As a champion of the UK’s voluntary sector, NCVO provides its 10,000 members with key advice and support for nearly all areas of organisational operation. We met with NCVO to discuss the natural connection between our organisations, and soon recognised this may be an opportunity to make RSA Catalyst support more visible to NCVO’s members. We are also working to discover how RSA Fellows can get involved with NCVO to offer their expertise.
3. Developing our work with existing partners…
Winston Churchill Memorial Trust: The past two years have seen some great developments with our partnership, thanks to key RSA Fellows and staff that have really driven this collaboration. My colleague Vivs, recently wrote about the advising scheme that is bringing RSA and Churchill Fellows together in Wales, East Pennines and the South West (do have a look at her blog).
We are also hoping to do this in an international way too…
The RSA Fellowship extends across the world to more than 80 countries. In many of these countries we have an RSA Connector. RSA Connectors are a new and growing network of RSA Fellows worldwide; acting as a first port-of-call and a ‘friendly face’ for new RSA Fellows who want to find out more and get involved. As part of the RSA’s continuing partnership with the Churchill Trust, we are piloting a facilitated introduction between selected Churchill Fellows with an RSA Connector in the country they are visiting. We hope that this will be a valued connection, and may help Churchill Fellows link up with contacts on their travels that will enrich their research.
UpRising: In January we ran an event to bring together London’s UpRising participants and RSA Fellows, giving them advice from Fellows and making them aware of the expertise and support that the network can offer. The 36 UpRiser’s in London that attended are working on some important Social Action Campaigns: crime, food waste and affordability, education (behaviour management), partnerships and communication, young translators, safeguarding young women, bringing politics to people and housing.
We’re looking forward to running something similar Bedford and Birmingham for the new cohorts this year, as we had some good feedback from the London group:
So what now?
Updating our partner web page, measuring our impact and looking regionally…
Two immediate areas of focus for me, will be to re-vamp our Partner page on the RSA Website, (which will reflect the lessons we’ve learnt over the past few months and give a clear, transparent picture of how we want to work with our partners) and to start along the journey of impact measurement (now that’s a whole different post right there!) It’s easy to get lost in the smog of emails, phone calls and events, without stopping to reflect and explore exactly who is gaining (or losing) from this, and in what way. As yet, reporting on the impact that our work with partners is having for the RSA, and RSA Fellows in particular, isn’t something that we’ve done. However, it has become clear that this is a really key thing to do, not only to for the various stakeholders at the RSA, but also for staff motivation and learning.
I’ve found that some of our most rewarding collaborations exist because our Fellows have connected RSA staff to amazing organisations, and put a huge amount of effort into driving these relationships forward.
For the moment, there will be a few things that I will be focusing upon to draw success stories from our partners. I’m keen to show how existing and new Fellows are benefiting, so story- telling will be just as (if not more) important than the number crunching. Two immediate examples come to mind; firstly, as I mentioned earlier, through our work with WCMT, RSA Fellows that are getting to use their time and expertise to help with Churchill Fellows’ research across the country. Secondly, a relatively new Fellow that joined the RSA through our partnership with the Emerge Venture Lab, Juan Guerra FRSA, was awarded Catalyst Funding and mentoring from the Fellowship Council for his crowdfunding platform, Student Funder. Juan’s project recently made it to the final 10 from 600 entrants to the EU’s Social Innovation Prize.
One continual theme that runs through our partnerships, is the central role that Fellows play to develop these relationships. I’ve found that some of our most rewarding collaborations exist because our Fellows have connected RSA staff to amazing organisations. They also put a huge amount of effort into driving these relationships forward, and I very much look forward to updating you about the regional/national work with partners in the coming months.
Finally, interested in becoming an RSA Fellow or partnering with us?
Then get in contact with me via firstname.lastname@example.org
Jo Painter is the Partnership Development Manager at the RSA.
Guest blog from Catalyst Award winner, Andy Green FRSA
We have all been involved or taken part in community regeneration and felt the frustration of reinventing the wheel, the same ideas cropping up again like hardy perennials.
We have all had an idea to improve the neighbourhood or the community for the better. Often others have had a similar idea, or want to grow and develop in some way? Ideas need a repository, a positive space, a home to flourish. These were just some of the thoughts that led to creating what might be Britain’s first independent community ‘ideas bank’.
I live in Barry Island, if you have watched ‘Gavin & Stacey’ I’m a real-life incarnation with East End boy meets Barry girI. With a background in creativity, innovation and my experience in running a not-for-profit social enterprise, the Flexible Thinking Forum, along with an interest in open source innovation, crowdsourcing and co-creation – you have the heady mixture of motives that led to Barry IdeasBank.
The aim of IdeasBank is to be more than a website, but also an online resource where anyone can submit their idea to improve their local area. It also needs to engage offline, facilitating face-to-face contact using PechaKucha methodology at its heart. In addition to the online resource we host Barry Kucha events featuring 7 speakers speaking for 7 minutes, encouraging short, diverse ideas on a range of subjects. This approach seemed to personify the essence of the whole venture: although a web site may be at its hub, at the heart of any change in a community are committed individuals with ideas.
Serendipity came during an innovation talk I delivered in Nottingham. In the audience was a software company, Crowdicity, who produced specialist crowdsourcing systems. They recognised the opportunity of providing me with a beta test facility for their new applications.
With funding from UnLtd and RSA Catalyst the pilot scheme for the IdeasBank become a reality. Now, hopefully with further constructive input from RSA colleagues, there is tremendous potential for the Barry IdeasBank to serve both the Barry community and act as a model for implementation elsewhere in the UK, and indeed, around the world.
The fledgling site offers tremendous potential, with many lessons already learnt, yet some key challenges to face. Following a soft launch for the initiative we had our first
‘Barry Kucha’ evening with over 70 people attended the event which included demonstrations of the IdeasBank. So far we have over 60 registered users, 50 ideas submitted and receive between 10-40 visitors a day plus we have a twitter account with over 600 followers.
Andy Green FRSA
Andy will be providing further updates on the Barry Ideas project over the coming months.
This post is by Jemima Gibbons FRSA. Follow her at
Neighbours uniting around a threatened pair of nesting swans, teenagers painting a bus-stop, householders feeling more secure after taking part in a street lunch – these were all stories of positive community spirit told at the Sustainable Communities roundtable, hosted by the RSA in partnership with Kingfisher plc.
While it’s useful to have a trigger – such as a new development or hospital closure, sometimes people simply want to make their neighbourhood a better place to live. This is an idea that Kingfisher has seized on and is hoping to tackle through its Streetclub initiative – an attempt to foster neighbourly co-operation at a local level. Streetclub is part of Kingfisher’s corporate-wide Net Positive plan: a way of enabling the entire company to add value to society as a whole (and not just its share price).
How does business persuade people at grassroots level that they have their best interests at heart?
The roundtable set out to answer some key questions. While there was little discussion around whether or not facilitated skill sharing (through Street Club or otherwise) could be a good way to improve local communities – it seemed generally accepted that it was – attention focused on how to mobilise people, how to engage recalcitrant ‘non-engagers’ and how businesses and other organisations can persuade people at grassroots level that they have their best interests at heart.
But the most important question, and one which remained perhaps to some extent unanswered, was whether or not businesses are really best placed to do this. At the end of the day, corporate investors will have a say. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. As Pepsico’s failed 2010 Super Bowl experiment showed (instead of running ads for soft drinks, it launched a marketing campaign for social causes), a social conscience is all very well, but if it doesn’t give a clear return on investment, a company’s shareholders revolt. Before long, that carefully honed sustainability policy may be recycled – and not in a good way.
To be fair, both Ian Cheshire, Group CEO of Kingfisher plc, and John Compton, Manager, Streetclub, appear well versed in putting forward a clear business case – the case for innovation: “Net Positive is going to unlock future business opportunities for us,” said Ian. “We may be moving away from ‘selling stuff’ to a very different kind of business model”. He added that initiatives like Streetclub made sense because “the more connected with local community, the more successful our stores are”.
“People always ask why B&Q is behind Streetclub”, said John. “Well, if you like your street, you’re more likely to paint your front gate and where are you going to get the paint from?” John also said that Streetclub had been clearly inspired by the collaborative consumption movement – if car companies can invest in carpooling, then it must make sense for DIY chains to be investing in tool-sharing clubs.
But getting the balance right is a problem: once you’ve convinced shareholders than investing in sustainability is profitable, how do you persuade the people who live by your stores that you’ve also got their best interests at heart? We are used to the two things being diametrically opposed. But maybe that’s a Twentieth Century hangover – maybe it really is time for a rethink?
The problem with community-building as a business interest is that businesses are by their very nature driven to monopolise. Most are not inherently collaborative. Streetclub may be keen to partner with other community initiatives such as The Big Lunch and Timebanks – but how keen would it be to team up with, say, a Homebase-led project? John Compton said he saw a future of community engagement led by a handful of players. But there is still a feeling of ‘big’ leadership and ‘big idea’ ownership around all this.
You don’t want to create change, you want to create an environment where change is possible
The participants at this roundtable repeatedly emphasised a hands off, softly softly approach. One interesting idea was that you don’t want to create change, you want to create an environment where change is possible. But do ‘light touch’ approaches favour the already-engaged over the disadvantaged? One theme which has come up repeatedly in academic research is that individuals need support for participation. Most people aren’t at all interested in the managerial aspects of community organising, said one speaker – what they want is control, ownership and a sense of possibility.
Read a summary of the talks and debate here:
Watch the videos below for more reflection on the event by some of its attendees.