The Big Idea – unleashing the power of talking in London

April 7, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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team_picture_large - talk to me London x160The Big Idea: reducing loneliness and isolation through launching an annual Talk to me London Day to encourage people to speak to complete strangers.

Hello! I’m Ann Don Bosco FRSA. Along with fellow co-founder Polly Akhurst, I run Talk to me London, a not-for-profit that seeks to find ways to get people talking in London. Polly and I started Talk to me London because we believe in a world where people should feel able to talk to each other.

It can be hard to connect in a big city like London. It often seems like everyone is in a rush and it can be tricky to strike up a conversation. We think this is not only a shame but that it’s also having a detrimental impact on our society. We see incredibly high levels of isolation with over 25% of Londoners say they feel lonely often if not all of the time.  We see London voted as one of the most unfriendly cities in the world. And we see people brush past each other and not see each other as humans. It’s because we’ve lost our sense of commonality – our community.

We want to change this. And we want to do it through talking.

We believe in the power of conversations. One conversation can make you happier. It can inspire you. It can make you understand another point of view or it can just make you feel a little less alone.

We believe in the power of conversations. One conversation can make you happier. It can inspire you. It can make you understand another point of view or it can just make you feel a little less alone.  Talking is what makes us human and what enables us to connect to each other. We want to harness its power to make London a better place. We’re raising money for a Talk to me London Day in August 2014. The day aims to put the importance of talking and its link to broader social issues such as well-being and community connectedness on the agenda. On the day we’ll use badges, stunts, events, flash mobs and public art to encourage Londoners to chat to people they don’t know.

Talk to me LondonSince launching our Kickstarter campaign just over a week ago, we’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response we’ve had so far. We’ve been featured in Time Out’s blog and Kickstarter’s global newsletter.  And just today a controversial piece written about us in the Guardian has prompted many people to express their opinions on the subject of Londoners not talking to each other. We’ve also received messages from all over the world, such as this one: “I love this. I’ve never even been to London, but I backed this project just now. This is a problem in many cities across the world, and it would be wonderful to start changing our culture.”

We’re now close to reaching our initial Kickstarter target, but ideally we want to reach it as soon as possible and surpass it so we can show how many people are behind this idea – and to prove to our cynical Guardian commentator that Londoners really do want to talk! With more money, we can make the day bigger and better, and truly London-wide.

We have the RSA to thank for helping us get our project of the ground. We worked with the RSA’s Connected Communities team to run a pilot project, Talk to me SE London Week, and we’re now being supported with our crowd-funding campaign through the RSA Catalyst scheme.

How you can help

What we need now is for you to join us. Show that you believe that the power of talking can make us happier, less alone and more connected. Please help us make Talk to me London Day 2014 a reality by donating and sharing our Talk to me London Kickstarter page with your friends. Thank you!

Ann Don Bosco FRSA
Visit the Talk to me London website

Visit our campaign on the RSA crowdfunding page


To get help from RSA Catalyst for your social venture through grants, expertise and crowdfunding visit our webpage.

The Big Idea… More than just coffee!

March 24, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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mark ashmoreHello! I’m Mark Ashmore FRSA and I founded Future Artists where we work under the motto “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible”. I wanted to introduce you to a project that RSA Catalyst is helping me to crowdfund which I think totally epitomises this phrase, so hang on to your hats while I take you on a journey to a wet and windy city in the North West of England…

What if a coffee shop was able to generate £100,000 a year in grants that will enable a community to grow – enabling exploration of the arts and sciences, benefiting health and well being, and being a space to meet, share and create…? That’s our dream, and with your help, we can make this a reality…

Most high streets are full of identikit shops, repeated formula, and the same repeated sequel. When the Manchester rain beats down on its work force and the icy chills of the northern wind blows in, the high street offers little escape. For some, Starbucks and Costa Coffee’s bohemian commercialism is as offensive as the Manchester wet season itself!

The Home of Honest Coffeehonest coffee

Future Artists presents to you the ‘Home of Honest Coffee’, a brand new concept that we’re hoping to bring to the Manchester high street this summer. Introducing a coffee shop that’s designed to truly serve the community, not just with delicious fair trade coffee and locally produced snacks and treats, but also with opportunities for business start-ups and encouragement for network growth. Would you like a brownie with your cappuccino? Or maybe a sandwich? How about a business grant? The Home of Honest Coffee will run as a co-operative charity with profits being donated to schemes set up in the city, giving local creative and educational groups and start-up businesses the chance to thrive and develop in an otherwise unaccommodating economy.

We are fortunate in Manchester to be sharing our city with many forward-thinking ethical companies who are creative in their ways of giving something back to the community. All too often, however, these alternative venues and businesses are shoved to the quirky backstreets, overshadowed by the tax-avoiding giants. Why should the high street be dominated by corporations who care far more about their own profits than the wellbeing of the communities they inhabit?

The power is in every one of us, as we stroll down the high street, to choose where we spend our hard-earned money.

Leading up to this project, we have researched our market by hosting a variety of pop-up events in the centre of Manchester. These have included a street art exhibition, and an honesty café in which customers were trusted to sort their own payment and change. Following the success of these, our ambitions have raised and we now intend to take on the city high streets with something a little more permanent. We want to really make an impact by delivering a high street coffee shop that has community support and local improvement at the forefront of its mission. In order to achieve this, however, we first need a little bit of help and support ourselves.

The Home of Honest Coffee Crowdfunding campaignHow you can get involved

We are hoping to raise capital through Kickstarter and have so far been delighted with the amazing positive responses we’ve been receiving from the general public. Please find our campaign on the RSA crowdfunding area and see how you can get involved.

If you like our idea and would like to see it succeed, help us spread the word! Use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or just talk about us with your friends or family over the dinner table. Our mission is to prove that we can choose what kind of world we live in; the power is in every one of us as we stroll down the high street choosing where to spend our hard earned money.

In addition, to help with our expansion we’re looking to significantly increase the building and catering expertise we have as part of the project team, so if you can share even just a few hours, please do get in touch on the ‘Contact me’ button on our crowdfunding campaign (click on the image to the left).

Join us for an honest cuppa and vote with your brew!

Mark Ashmore FRSA
Visit our crowdfunding campaign on the RSA crowdfunding area

“Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible” – Frank Zappa

To get help from RSA Catalyst for your social venture visit our webpage

Read the RSA’s 2020 Retail report Shopping for Shared Value which argues that building a future retail model which coordinates corporate operations to maximise local social and economic impact will become a key competitive advantage in a decade in which traditional physical stores are set to experience transition and disruption 

EduKit: Innovating Education

March 14, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

RichardRichard Blissett is Co-founder and CTO of EduKit, an online platform that will help disadvantaged students by matching them with organisations that can provide specialist educational and personal development support. Edukit has recently received RSA Catalyst funding. This is a guest blog from Richard. 

Just days before Christmas we received the amazing news that we’d been offered a £2k Catalyst grant to develop a prototype of our ambitious EduKit application – an online platform that will connect schools in deprived areas with youth programmes being run by social enterprises and charities (aka providers). Our prototype is important as it will help us to demo our planned online tool to teachers and students and to collect vital feedback that we will need before we start system development. In addition to this, we had also selected three schools with whom we decided to pilot our approach manually. We were all set for 2014 to be truly eventful – and momentous.

And we have certainly not been disappointed. In early January we handed our system design to our developer Christian, a bright new graduate, who set about turning our vision into reality. After two months of hard slog we have now almost finished developing a prototype which demos the different log in screens i.e. for teachers, school admin staff, students etc and shows the results and analysis that will be available for users. We have also finished our paper pilot during which we matched 29 students (each with interesting, high quality local programmes that they would otherwise have been unaware of) and are just waiting to hear back from schools as to which programmes they will be enrolled for. The feedback from the schools has been exceptional and each has provided us with a testimonial of the service!

The students have been able to access support from programmes that are tailored to their specific needs and we have already connected with local organisations recommended by Edukit, who offer support/services to young people. Some of the students are receiving free, regular mentoring, and for others we are hoping to give them an extensive experience of living and working on a farm for a week. The whole process has been so helpful in finding targetted programmes to ensure the needs of our students are being met.” Debbie Coloumbo, Eltham Hill School

“The matches between providers and our students have been ideal. For a number of our students, having an additional resource to support and engage them has meant that they are no longer at risk and are much more engaged in their education. This is equally true of those in Year 11 as those in Year 8″. Amanda Desmond Assistant Headteacher, Southfields Academy

But what has really surprised us is how much we’ve learnt about how schools work. During just three or so weeks, we’ve been able to find out so much about what their challenges and expectations are and how users will use and value our tool. For example, we’ve learnt that whilst schools are entirely committed to helping their students in whatever way they can, they can usually take far longer than we had hoped to get back to us so it’s best to either organise drop-ins to help them fill in their data or build an very user friendly online system which would allow both teachers and students to easily enter their data. We also learnt about how schools plan their budgets in order to finance external support.

It’s been a great learning experience but we’re not quite done yet, based on the feedback we have received we now plan to build a Beta version of the online service. This will allow us to test the online functionality and onboard many more charity programmes into our database. if you’d like to find out more about our progress so far please contact us at

Watch this space for further updates!

Richard Blissett

Coffee and the RSA

March 12, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

The RSA has a history with coffee. The RSA’s eighteenth century founders first met in Rawthmell’s Coffee House in Covent Garden, and conversations they had shaped the society around them.

The coffeehouses of eighteenth century London didn’t just provide a place to meet; they were the focal point of an active community of pamphleteers, publishers and political activists. Their talk wasn’t just talk – it was a means to action.

coffee meeting

In November last year my colleague Matthew Mezey introduced me to NESTA’s idea of Randomised Coffee Trials – an initiative where staff are randomly assigned a different colleague each week with whom to ‘go for a coffee’. We both thought that something like this would be interesting to to try at the RSA. Still new and enthusiastic (although scared of sending ‘all staff’ emails) I agreed to set it up, and since then about half of the organisation has taken part.

I think one of the reasons it is so needed – and therefore has potential for significant impact – at the RSA is because the physical space in which we work doesn’t afford many opportunities for serendipitous conversations.

Randomised coffee trials are a fantastic way to create a networked structure in an organisation that doesn’t allow for casual staff interaction within its building (no staff room/cafe/lunch room). I have had conversations with people that I didn’t even know existed, and am now able to create a much better picture of how we might work together across teams.” (Nat)

It is much more than fun. It’s starting relationships and developing friendships, all of which makes you better at the work you do.

10 weeks on, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s been instructive to see something so simple working so well. It stays interesting and fresh because the connections provide something different each time:

“I was lucky enough to be assigned to Sharliza, who works in the same area as me (Communications) but in a different department. Prior to that we hadn’t even met, which just goes to show how important these initiatives are. As a result, I felt much more able to call on her for help with a new project, and got some great ideas that I otherwise would have missed.” (Conor)

“I met with Thomas a few weeks ago (who I had never spoken to before) and we realised that we had both studied International Relations at Portsmouth Uni… a few years apart. I now keep an eye on a blog he writes on Conflict, Security & International Relations! RCT WIN!!!” (Mark)

The project has attracted participants from almost every team and pay grade. A director might be paired with the CEO one week and an intern the next.

Through these meetings we become more visible, more known.

Through these meetings we become more visible, more known. As a consequence, we might start to ask more of one another, but those asks are more discerning and the newly founded relationships make it easier to say no as well as yes.

“Going for coffee’ is always a pleasurable thing to do. So mixing coffee with colleagues seems like a fun idea. In practice though it is much more than fun. It’s starting relationships and developing friendships, all of which makes you better at the work you do.” (Georgina)

A few friends have mentioned that they’d like to try something similar at their own organisation. NESTA have some great tips.

From my experience I would add:

  • Organisational buy-in is a big help – we can build these interactions into our working day without feeling like we’re skiving.
  • I’ve found it easy to run, in a not too labour-intensive way, just using an Excel spreadsheet.
  • I decided to send out the matches on a Wednesday so if someone had a week’s annual leave they’d still be able to keep up with their coffees; this seems to work quite well.
  • I think it was right to start with weekly meetings, so as to gain momentum and normalise it, but after feedback that it’s easy to get behind with your coffees we’re moving to fortnightly matches. 10 weeks seems like a good length of time to embed the initiative.

coffeeI’m now starting to think about how the principles behind the Randomised Coffee Trials could be used to the benefit of RSA Fellows. Could we build structured but serendipitous interaction into Fellows’ experiences of the RSA and in doing so strengthen Fellowship? If you have any ideas, let me know. | @becca_mchase


RSA and Clore: investing in individuals to create long-lasting change

February 21, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

Many thoughtsAs part of my role at the RSA, I frequently meet and speak to people who have a personal goal to start their own business or social enterprise…at some point.

Starting up on your own is certainly no easy feat – in fact we often discuss the potential obstacles that lie ahead at the RSA’s monthly Social Entrepreneurs breakfast. However, one thing I have noticed is that the first barrier is not (as you might think) imagined lack of capital; it’s simply getting started.

Seemingly, a number of skilled, imaginative people are just unsure how or where to begin.

It wasn’t until I began working at the RSA that I fully appreciated the value of having a support structure. I thought breaking out on your own was something you should do…alone? I soon learnt that successful leaders do quite the opposite: they join a network, get training and tap into all the help that’s available.

A couple of weeks ago, we hosted an evening event at RSA House for thirty individuals currently undertaking the Clore Leadership Programme which focuses on those with experience working in the Arts, and the Clore Social Leadership Programme which is primarily for people with careers in the social sectors. We were privileged to have a mixture of current Clore Fellows join us for some drinks, networking and an historical tour of the building.

For those who don’t know, the Clore programmes are designed to develop strong leaders in the cultural and social sectors so that more individuals are better equipped to engender positive change in their communities, organisations and the world around them.

Given the electic mix of experience and knowledge in the room a number of interesting conversations were initiated – from discussing the trajectory of the Walt Disney corporation, to the role of art in school curriculums –  Clore Leaders are inspiring and inspired company. For more information about the current cohort of Clore Cultural and Social Leaders you can view full profiles on the respective websites.

We were also joined by Asma Shah FRSA who spoke to the room about her social enterprise Ladies Who L-EARN. Asma demonstrates exactly how transformative the Clore programme can be. With a background in the Arts, Asma was a Clore Cultural Fellow though as she pointed out, you wouldn’t know it now as her current work sits firmly within the social sector.

Upon finishing the programme she joined the RSA Fellowship and by applying to RSA Catalyst, Asma was able to get her project off the ground. Since then she has been able to access further funding, attract more volunteers and ultimately, help more women.

Asma was keen to point out the combination of the Clore Fellowship and RSA Fellowship is a powerful one. This cannot be overemphasised. Asma began working with women in her community who had limited access to the kind of training or social capital that she had gained from joining influential, supportive networks like Clore and the RSA.

The RSA has partnered with Clore Leadership for nine years now and we continue to work together because of our mutual belief that investing in individuals is one of the fundamental ways to improve society.

Part of investing in people is offering them a framework to carry their ideas, so that getting started is never an obstacle.


Alexandra Barker is a Fellowship Development Coordiantor at the RSA

If you would like more infromation about RSA Fellowship or any of people or projects mentioned above, then contact

My journey through ideas in education

February 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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Bethan-MichaelThis is a guest blog from South Central Fellowship Councillor Bethan Michael.

Between June and December 2013 Fellows in the South Central region of the RSA offered their spaces, their time and their minds to the Ideas in Education series. For me, organising this series has been an extremely personal journey and the distance travelled has been considerable, in more ways than one. I’ve been frustrated and excited and stressed and anxious. And I finally know where Winchester is on a map. 

I was convinced that the best way to learn was to do, so the team at John Adam Street helped me to stand for Fellowship Councillor in my region

In 2012 I completed the UpRising leadership programme, which supports a diverse range of young people to access opportunities and undertake real-world learning. Through them, I was privileged to have the opportunity to apply for Fellowship of the RSA. After nine months of UpRising I was convinced that the best way to learn was to do, so I discussed this with the team at John Adam Street and they helped me to stand for the role of Fellowship Councillor in my region. They introduced me to the wonderful team of Fellows that constitute the South Central committee. Perhaps unsurprisingly, my age, gender and background were quite different from those of the rest of the team. This didn’t faze me and it didn’t seem to bother them. They offered me their support, their friendship and their expertise, and I am extremely grateful to have worked with and learned from people I can’t envisage having had the opportunity to meet in any other way.

I am extremely grateful to have worked with and learned from people I can’t envisage having had the opportunity to meet in any other way.

Ideas in Education

In my new role I wanted to do something that would showcase the diversity of existing Fellows’ ideas, and bring Fellows and non-Fellows together in their own communities. The RSA aims to ‘enrich society through ideas and action’, so – in the hope that one would lead to the other – I emailed all of the Fellows in the South Central Region with a call-out for one idea to develop and promote new (or not so new) ways of thinking about education. I received around 50 emails from my initial request. After much discussion, and an enormous amount of work from Fellows, colleagues and me, we held seven events over seven months: the Ideas in Education series.

The events began with The Slow School Movement at Eton College in Windsor; moved to Shenley Brook End School in Milton Keynes to discuss Supporting Social Mobility; traversed to the Jelly ArtPad in Reading to examine Creativity in the Early Years; headed to Winchester to learn about Building Learning Power; trekked to Portsmouth to try out Citizen Science; migrated back to Winchester to explore learning environments and ended in Oxford considering ‘DIY higher education in the global swamp’.

From these events opportunities have emerged, connections have been made, friendships developed and ideas shared. But I don’t doubt for a moment that I am the one who has gained the most from this series, in the form of the opportunities it has afforded me to meet new people, discuss ideas, reflect and learn. When I embarked on my new learning experience trying to deliver a successful series of events, I faced two particular challenges. As the committee members and Fellows who provided me with countless lifts across the South Central region will attest to, both my appalling grasp of geography and my struggle to pass a driving test have been problematic. Both made for some eventful journeys in and out of London and, much to my embarrassment, to my being late to the first event. Luckily, throughout the series Fellows have reminded me that it is from our mistakes that we often learn the most. Thanks to the excellent hosts and speakers there truly was a fantastic energy around the discussions of The Slow School Movement.

I took advantage of the many train and bus journeys to read the authors that Fellows recommended to me during the series. These included Richard Hoggart, W.E. Deming, Richard Sennett, Donald Schön, Paul Goodman and Shirley Brice Heath. Hoggart’s The Uses of Literacy, discussed at the second event in the series, struck a particular chord with me, as I have always felt somewhat ‘anxious and uprooted’ in my own formal education, initially at a bilingual comprehensive in Wales, then a private sixth form in Oxford, and then at university.  My experiences have taught me that education is difficult, requiring reflection and a willingness to challenge your own assumptions, to ‘climb out of your own skin’, as Hoggart says, and be challenged: to undertake personal exploration and be ready to fail and to persevere.

Many of the authors I read on those journeys were already familiar to me. My parents both worked in education, my father in Coleg Harlech, a further education institution for mature students. The discussions around social justice, community, lifelong learning, and the increasing marketisation taking place in education that featured throughout the series were strikingly similar to those I overheard as a child, and those I continue to have with my parents now. When they had five children, they didn’t anticipate university fees. Nor did they anticipate the vibrant town of Harlech would suffer such dilapidation and neglect over time. During the series I went home to take a fourth attempt at my driving test in a location with fewer roundabouts. I failed. I also found more boarded up buildings, fewer jobs and higher rates of child poverty than I did the last time I went back. There was some discussion that the local school will be shut. At Coleg Harlech you can now take a course in willow basket making or wedding flowers, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be offering the second chance, that it seemed to when I was a child, to those whose social and economic background never offered them a first one. Frustrated and angry at the radically changed landscape of the home in which I grew up, I returned to South Central, (finally) passed my driving test, and attended the final event of the series. 

What all of these events had in common is that the Fellows who attended are committed to addressing the challenges that individuals and communities face in the 21st century.

The Ideas in Education series has allowed me the opportunity to share my feelings of frustration, anger, enthusiasm, hope, and ambitions for education with others who have shared with me their own. What all of these events had in common is that the Fellows who attended are committed to addressing the challenges that individuals and communities face in the 21st century. There has also been a consensus that to be truly transformational, socially just and effective, learning has to be broad, real, in-the-world and exploratory.

Although these seven events haven’t brought me any closer to an understanding of how to bring about the level of change I feel is required to ensure this happens, or how to address the challenges that face the communities I have called home, it has given me some ideas.

How do you tell a powerful story?

February 5, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

magic book x120v2One evening over the Christmas break, I found myself at the home of a friend and her partner, both of whom happen to be psychoanalysts. Over dinner, whilst attempting to steer the conversation away from work, we began discussing the role of storytelling in our lives; the social narratives we believe in, the stories we pass on to others and the ones that resonate at a personal level.

The conversation led us to conclude that whilst a good story will always have readers, a really powerful story, will inspire people to act. In the Fellowship department, we often discuss how to make this shift. When there is so much great material available, it can be difficult to know how to piece it all together and the power in a story can easily be lost.

At first glance, social change appears to lend itself well to narrative. For a start, there is natural beginning; if we are trying to solve a problem, first we have to understand it. The starting point has to be-

What exactly is happening here?

This is especially poignant when encountering subjects that people might be uncomfortable talking about. Rachel Clare FRSA is Assistant Director at the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) which deals with the issue of male suicide. According to recent government statistics on mortality rates, suicide is a bigger cause of death in young men than HIV, traffic accidents and assault combined, with 77% of all cases of suicide in the UK every year being male. CALM was born from a simple need to generate greater awareness of the problem.

Once a problem is defined, we have to figure out the best way to solve it – how do we improve the world around us?

Monday night’s Fellows event RSA Engage demonstrated that within the Fellowship there is a wealth of ideas about how we can transition from the beginning to the middle; problem to potential solution. Amongst the seven Fellows who pitched their project at the event, was Richard Blissett FRSA. Richard was recommended for Fellowship by a previous Catalyst winner and in turn decided to apply for funding for his own project. Through RSA Catalyst, his digital tool Edukit is well on the way to helping teachers find the appropriate resources to support disadvantaged students, quickly and easily. For Richard, the how lies in getting the right tools to the right people.

However, for a modest enterprise like Edukit to earn a place in the grander narrative of social change, it must also create a story around itself. Tools will not reach people if it’s not clear why they’re relevant, so creating a strong, individual narrative is critical – it is not enough to be heard, you have to be understood.

New RSA Fellow Emily Farnworth founded her social business Counter Culture on precisely the understanding that powerful stories are the key to changing indiviual behaviour, yet when tackling complex issues such as poverty or climate change, a simple beginning, middle and end doesn’t always cut it.

Emily believes that ‘the only way to solve the world’s biggest problems in a meaningful way is to see all sides of an argument.’ Counter Culture was established to help businesses and charities reach their audiences through a more agile form of storytelling that incorporates multiple and differing perspectives.

This can be achieved in many different ways. Even if you don’t recognise it immediately, brands, charities and individuals are communicating with us all the time without ever needing to put pen to paper. New Fellow David Pope, filmmaker, consultant and member of the British Council’s Creative Economy Pool of Experts, is interested in the storytelling possibilities offered by new technologies because this evolution is creating opportunities for a more diverse range of voices and stories to reach wider audiences.

New mediums can transform the way an issue is presented and the type of people who can tell the story. An example -

In December, Mark Leruste FRSA joined the Fellowship. As well as being an ICF Certified Professional Co-Active Coach (CPCC), he is a Country Manager for Movember, the infamous worldwide men’s health charity that invites men around the world to grow a moustache for 30 days in November to raise awareness and funds for men’s health. This in itself proves that a serious message can be communicated through the power of a moustache.

The RSA's 2011 Movember efforts

The RSA’s 2011 Movember efforts

A story can still carry weight even if the chronology is disjointed or the medium unconventional.

Movember shows that a life-threatening disease affecting a particular demographic can gather mass support using humour and facial hair. If that isn’t re-writing the story, I don’t know what is.



If you would like to find out more about any of the projects or Fellows mentioned above, or would like to know more about joining the Fellowship  please contact


Alexandra Barker is a Fellowship Development Coordinator at the RSA

Strategy Tips – Courtesy of a Global Guru

January 31, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

Last week I went to an RSA lecture by Sir Lawrence Freedman, global guru on strategy.  He was there to talk about his book on the History of Strategy from the beginning up to the modern day.

It was a great lecture and one that makes you want to buy the book at the end of it.  However, as I spied the stack of tomes outside the Great Room my enthusiasm quickly drained, at 768 pages it’s not for the faint hearted.  I added it to my ‘books I’ll read at some point in the future when I’m sure I’ll have lots more time’ and headed back to my desk.

people don’t tend to think enough in advance about what to do if their strategy fails

While talking about the History of Strategy he also gave some insights into what he had learnt.  Two of these were that people don’t tend to think enough in advance about what to do if their strategy fails and that people tend to think of a strategy as aiming to achieve a goal – win the war, become the top selling product, win the election – and don’t spend enough time thinking about what comes next.

While they might seem obvious when stated it immediately bought to mind many examples where people had failed to do this.  The Lib Dems strategy at the last election was to win as many seats in parliament as possible.  If they had put more thought into what might come next, such as forming a coalition, they might have been more careful about making promises they couldn’t keep such as on student tuition fees.  Last week-end Harriet Harman made a plea to Labour colleagues not to think about coalition after the next general election but concentrate on all-out victory.  If this is a rallying cry to inspire the troops, fine, if it’s what she really thinks then she could live to regret it.

people tend to think of a strategy as aiming to achieve a goal and don’t spend enough time thinking about what comes next.

If Gordon Brown had thought more about what would happen if his strategy didn’t work, he might not have banged on quite so much about the ‘end of boom and bust’.  The coalition would have done well to think more in advance about what would happen if the Universal Credit Scheme proved more difficult to implement than they had thought and might have started with the slow roll-out they’re now being forced to adopt.

We’re going through our own strategic review at the RSA.  Given we’re already spending a lot of time talking about it, I’m not sure my colleagues would be too happy if I suggested we set aside time to discuss what would happen if it failed!  The talk set my mind wondering what happens if certain parts of the review aren’t as successful as they could be (fuzzy aims, partial staff buy-in, unclear management structures etc) but has only made me think more about how to ensure they do work rather than planning for the worst.

One thing the strategic review is aiming to achieve is to ensure we take a longer term view so that we think beyond delivering the next project or funding the next fellow to a more extended, coherent set of overall change aims.  This is what Freedman suggests and it is challenging to think further ahead with the added unknowns and complexities that each step further into the future entails.  However the benefit of this longer term thinking to the present has been enormously beneficial for us, irrespective of the eventual outcome.

So one out of two isn’t too bad, as the saying doesn’t go.  And perhaps I will suggest discussing what happens if our strategic review fails when our executive team meet on Monday, if only to see their reaction.


Oliver Reichardt is Director of Fellowship at the RSA, you can follow him @OliverReichardt

Beyond the school gate

January 31, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Education Matters, Fellowship 

As Chief Executive of RSA Academies I travel regularly to the West Midlands to work with our four RSA Academies, in Coventry (Whitley Academy), Redditch (Arrow Vale RSA Academy and Ipsley CE RSA Academy) and Tipton (RSA Academy).  Yesterday I ventured even further north, to speak at the Academies Conference in Manchester.

In a programme that included some essential but somewhat dry topics such as governance structures and admissions arrangements, I was delighted (and not a little relieved!) to have been asked to talk about an area that lies at the heart of RSA Academies’ work: preparing students for life beyond the school gate.  The talk was a timely one, with yet another survey published this week showing that the vast majority of young people don’t feel they received enough information about post-secondary education and careers.  If there is a crumb of comfort to be found in the survey, it is that UK students are not alone – the survey found a consistent pattern across Europe, with the possible exception of Germany.

So, what are we doing in the RSA Family to ensure that young people in our schools are informed about and prepared for the world beyond the school gate?

Well, firstly we’re recognising that Universities and employers are looking for more than just good qualifications, and so we’re helping our pupils to develop a range of skills and competences.  One essential component is the development of leadership skills.  Our annual student leadership conference at the RSA in London are a high point of the school year, and the students themselves are setting the agenda for the year’s work, which has included a series of student voice podcasts, and a student led peer review of the schools in the Family.  Students at Whitley Academy recently participated in a debating competition, and this clip of the winning entry shows just how far they have come.  Our next step is to increase the number of opportunities for younger children by introducing a Family-wide year 8 leadership programme, which will be targeted at children from disadvantaged backgrounds and those who may be lacking in confidence, to develop their skills in this area.

We are also developing a strong partnership with Warwick University, building on their existing widening participation programmes, to increase the number of applicants from lower income families or those who would be the first in their family to go on to higher education. The programme has been informed by children themselves, including those at Ipsley CE RSA Academy.  These pupils convinced the partnership of the need to start working with children when they’re young, and so it will give children from Year 7 upwards the opportunity to meet lecturers and students from different faculties, and to visit Warwick, giving them the confidence to believe that a University education really is for people like them.

And we continue to benefit from the generosity of our Fellows and Royal Designers for Industry who give their time and expertise in various ways to bring new experiences to our students.  The RSA Academy in Tipton have just had their first student provisionally accepted into Oxbridge following coaching and support from Bill Good FRSA who was on hand to support students at a Post 16 evening before the winter break.  Other recent examples include a project with Ben Kelly who has encouraged students from Arrow Vale RSA Academy to think differently about the school’s entrance hall.  The students successfully pitched to the Governors for funding to realise their designs with Ben coming back to school in the coming months to support the conclusion.

For 2014/15 we want to make it even easier to enable Fellows to connect with our Academies, by developing a menu of things that they might offer e.g. a work-place visit, a careers talk, to be a mentor for a sixth form student.  If you have ideas about how this might work, or would like to make an offer, please do let me know.

DIY higher education in the global swamp

January 15, 2014 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Fellowship 

The South Central Region of the RSA has recently concluded its series of events aimed at sharing ideas about education. These events were run by and for RSA Fellows with the aims of:

  • Sharing knowledge and ideas about education
  • Meeting and networking with other Fellows
  • Clarifying existing, and provoking new, ideas for potential projects
  • Sharing information on Catalyst funding which could potentially support the growth of the ideas.

On Thursday 5 December Richard Hayward FRSA gave a presentation and led a discussion in the offices of BGS Architects in Oxford on the alternatives to participation in conventional higher education. This is a guest blog from Richard in which he provides a personal account of the evening.

RichardRichard Hayward introduced a number of basic propositions for debate and ideas drawing on the work of (amongst others) Donald Schoen, Michael Eraut, Ronald Barnett and Michel de Certeau, as well as his own experience with a wide range of UK and overseas universities and his practice in the world over a number of decades.

There was a significant degree of agreement that most universities had developed more flexibility in terms of delivery to meet late twentieth/early twenty-first century demands; issues of equality of access remain contentious.

However, there were also concerns that, in all but the most elite institutions, the regular opportunities for group and individual discourse between academics and students have become more limited. For at least three decades Graham Gibbs has challenged the utility of the unmodified lecture form, yet this persists as a mainstay of ‘contact’.

It was observed that for some students and their tutors, the most memorable learning experiences were enjoyed at the margins of the formal curriculum and timetable, often facilitated by a version of what de Certeau termed ‘la perruque’, by which the individual ‘reintroduces ‘popular’ techniques of other times and other places into the [work] space (that is, into the Present Order).’[1] 

For some students and tutors, the most memorable learning experiences are enjoyed at the margins of the formal curriculum and timetable

Schoen’s work identified many key links between education, discourse and practice (see below), and Michael Eraut suggests that ‘professional knowledge cannot be characterized in a manner that is independent of how it is learned. It is looking at the contexts of its acquisition and its use that its essential nature is revealed‘.[2]  We did not much debate the issues around ‘professions’, knowledge acquisition and the education and value of the ‘talented generalist’.

In a complementary fashion, Barnett has suggested that ‘…consultancy comes to rival research; or, to be more accurate, there comes to be no sharp distinction between the two activities. Knowing-in-the-world (consultancy) not only comes to be accepted as a valid form of knowledge but the distinction between it and knowledge-of-the world (‘research’) is often impossible to determine‘.[3]

During the debate there was significant agreement that whilst universities had generally made positive changes over recent decades to meet some current demands in the world, there is little evidence that most curricula have been effectively ‘internationalized’; doubts were also expressed that they have explicitly done enough to prepare and continue to support graduates to be effective in terms of reflective practice, and explicit life-long learning, essential in the rapidly changing global economy.

Thirty years ago Donald Schoen put down a challenge to a wide range of ‘practitioners’:

In the varied topography of professional practice, there is a high, hard ground overlooking a swamp. On the high ground, manageable problems lend themselves to resolution through the application of research-based theory and technique… In the swampy lowland, messy, confusing problems defy technical solution… The irony of this situation is that the problems of the high ground tend to be relatively unimportant to individuals or society at large, however great their technical interest may be, while in the swamp lie the problems of greatest human concern.’[4] 

in the swamp lie the problems of greatest human concern

As fewer and fewer of us inhabit the ‘high, hard ground’, but struggle in the more diverse swamp, the need for us to  learn to work together in the world is arguably far more pressing than it was three decades ago.

The focus of the discussion moved to examples of  learning  in the swamps of the globe. These learning interventions all employed elements of ‘la perruque’. They also shared a common theme of working with local institutions and people wherever they were situated in the UK or the wider world – always with the ambition of forging long-term links and trusted networks.

The discussion regarding the purpose of universities now, was broad. There was some agreement that they will become more a place for students to visit infrequently; less a place for lectures and more for discourse and conviviality; ideally in some cases a base for life-long mentoring and ‘retreats’. But will research be increasingly be carried out in the world – a question for another time?

The key outcome of the event, was an enthusiasm to pick up and develop some of the ideas discussed, including a means for developing learning-in-the-world, across generational, social-economic class and discipline boundaries, with a focus on learning more about how places serve people and vice versa.

We’d be pleased to welcome others to join the discussion and move as rapidly as possible to a practical application.

Get in touch 

[1] de Certeau (1984) The Practice of Everyday Life, p.26

[2] Eraut (1994) Developing Professional Knowledge and Competence, p.19

[3] Ronald Barnett, (2000) Realizing the University in an age of supercomplexity, p.6

[4] Donald Schoen, (1987) Educating the Reflective Practitioner, p.3


If you’d like to find out more about Fellowship activities in the South Central region please email

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