What can social leadership learn from design?

Building a neural net of wishes and sharing experience at the #RSARDIsummerschool filmed by Dr James Furse-Roberts

This week I returned from the 2013 RDI Summer School; an immersive, collaborative design experience created by the RSA’s Royal Designers for Industry. Held over four days at Dartington Hall, Devon, the Summer School brought together designers and others from diverse, cross-disciplinary backgrounds who could learn from each other and be inspired and empowered to think differently and creatively. During the event, the eminent designer and creative leader Michael Wolff RDI shared his favourite quote by the author and poet, Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Having worked on six summer schools with the Royal Designers, I have observed that each event has had a dramatic or life-changing impact on those who have attended. Some of the designers leave with renewed confidence and are emboldened to take more risks, or start their own businesses. Others decide to change the way they work, become more open to collaborating, or begin a new altruistic pathway.

As we developed the 2013 Summer School, jointly directed by exhibitions and interior designer Dinah Casson RDI, and engineering designer Chris Wise RDI, we proposed the inclusion of more ‘wildcards’ in the cohort; participants who were not designers but were somehow touched by design. They might be commissioners, teachers, or civil servants. Could the summer school be as educative and transformative for them as it had been for designers?

The wildcards that were selected this year all shared a connection with the public realm; a healthcare researcher specialising in quality improvement initiatives, and a regeneration manager of a local council to name but two. Here follows a personal account of the Summer School from wildcard Owen Jarvis, a social entrepreneur and Clore Fellow, who is exploring how social leadership can learn from design:

“During my Clore year I’ve been considering how can social leaders make better use of design-thinking in shaping social and public services.

The Summer School involved a series of curated activities to allow us to meet, network, and collaborate away from work. Challenges were introduced for small groups around themes such as “us and them” and explored meanings and expressions of emotions and how these can be used as inspiration for work. These culminated in the sharing of findings, performances and art works on the final morning, with many groups working through the night to finish on time. Pleasure, creativity, play, discussion, reflection and work were delightfully intertwined for a very rich weekend.

The Royal Designers were incredibly open and generous in offering support and mentoring. Often provocative, they demanded honesty, sharper thinking and attention to detail and standards in exercises. Challenges and insights were received and respected in turn. As we moved from discussions to making objects and performances the magic started to happen. The final pieces were surprising and engaging and remarkable given the short time we had together.

So what can be taken away with reference for the social sector? Many of the challenges designers face are familiar and not specific to their profession. How big do you get before you lose the essence of what you are, how do you attract and keep talent? How do you avoid selling out to the agenda of investors in the process of growth? Over the weekend we were called upon to move away from these important but day-to-day issues to ask other broader questions.

In the same way the social sector comes back to a question of social impact, designers are also constantly returning to a question of quality and attention to detail in the pursuit of beauty. This raised some important questions for me. What is in the beauty, design and elegance of a social service and in achieving social change? Is there an aesthetic? How can organisations be designed in their own right to be things to admire? In addressing these questions, do we make a greater impact?

‘Life can be evaded, death cannot’, our final session considered. Everyone faces some apprehension and anxiety in presenting views, ideas, creations. We feel surrounded by judgement yet our real adversary is our own self. Talent that doesn’t fulfil its potential is a tragedy.

The Summer School has been one of the most extraordinary learning opportunities of my career. It has reminded me of the courage needed to step-forward and step-out and embrace the risk of failure. This has lessons for us all to reach our potential and live life fully. That is also a mark of leadership.”

Melanie Andrews is the Manager of the Royal Designers for Industry at the RSA

You can follow her @Melanie_Andrews

Event twitter hashtag #RSARDIsummerschool

Curiosity, collaboration, and cats

September 12, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship, Social Brain 

“I think a lot of what people call intelligence just boils down to curiosity.”                                         – Aaron Swartz


A quick straw poll around the office revealed that when people think about curiosity, the first things that pop into their heads are: cats (presumably killed by their disposition); children asking “why?” ad infinitum; or mad professors.

curious cat by chez andre 1

image by chez andre 1

But there is more to curiosity than that. And to help people explore the concept, three RSA Fellows have collaborated to start an organisation called The Curiosity Bureau.

I had the pleasure of meeting up with Becca, Tom, and Anton last year after the publication of the Social Brain team’s report The Power of Curiosity: how linking inquisitiveness to innovation could help address our energy challenges, and when the Bureau was just starting.

In our report, we explain the many sides of curiosity.  Curiosity can be more perceptual and tactile, when you want to touch, smell, hear something, or can be more about information and knowledge acquired through books, for example.  It can be directed an answering a specific question, or it can be more exploratory, jumping from thought to thought, making connections between  various ideas.

Curiosity is an important driver of innovation, in at least two ways.  Curiosity is a valuable ingredient of divergent thinking, or coming up with many different possible options and ways of interpreting a problem, which is helpful in generating creative solutions.  It also provides intrinsic motivation, helping the innovator to persevere through difficult or slow-going phases of developing the solution.

Becca, Tom and Anton help others to explore curiosity through a range of services, including events.  Since our first meeting, they have kindly kept us updated with the progress of the Curiosity Bureau, and it seems that they have certainly been keeping busy: the Bureau hosted a popular tactile curiosity workshop this summer, and they are expanding to Bergen, Norway.  And we were pleased to hear that a recent piece in the RSA Journal has provided them with some further inspiration and provoked thought about the relationship between empathy and curiosity.

We’re always pleased to see when RSA Fellows’ ideas cross over with those we’re exploring through our research – and especially so when they’re putting them into practice in creative ways.  We’d love to hear your comments about what curiosity means to you, and/or about how you are connecting with Fellows on a scale small or large.


Curious about the Curiosity Bureau? See their website.

Curious about the RSA Social Brain Centre and our recent work?  Visit the Social Brain webpage or subscribe to this blog.  Curious about RSA Fellowship? See the Fellowship webpage.

The work of the Action and Research team depends on the generosity of Fellows and funders; find out how you or your organisation can support the RSA.


Nathalie Spencer is a Senior Researcher, Social Brain.

Sam Thomas is Project Engagement Manager, Fellowship.

FRSA London and the Fellows Artists Network: Reboot and the Jubiloo

September 6, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

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 Picture of the queen inside Jubiloo and shot of the London EyeFRSA 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.

Toilet rollls and a portrait of the QueenResponses 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.

For more information about Fellowship visit  http://www.thersa.org/fellowship or if you would like to know more about the Reboot events or the Jubiloo please email fellowship@rsa.org.uk

Join a history of enlightened thinking

August 20, 2013 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Fellowship 

What do you say to people when you talk about the RSA? Do you mention a great lecture you’ve seen, a Fellow you’ve met or perhaps share an animate online? It’s easy when you’ve got an example but sometimes when you’re on the spot, it can be difficult to in articulate all the many aspects of the RSA’s work. It’s a multi-layered, multifaceted organisation that is governed from a huge house which can feel like a bit of a labyrinth -  so where do you begin?

RSA pamphlet: ' Welcome to the RSA the home of enlightened thinking since 1774'Here in Fellowship we’re pretty clued up on the benefits of joining the RSA’s 27,000 strong network; we can tell you about the Four Ways to Engage, all the House facilities and how our Regional Programme Managers can help you find like-minded people in your area. But, we also know that when you join an organisation it is important for your commitment to have meaning that goes beyond having a place to meet and free Wi-Fi. You need to have a clear idea about what those four letters – FRSA, represent. There are thousands of organisations out there to join and thousands of worthwhile charitable causes.

What makes us different?

elightened thinkingWhen you join the RSA you join a rich history of enlightened thinking. As the Changemakers handbook demonstrates, the RSA is here to facilitate people thinking differently about social challenges. Back in 1754 when the RSA was founded, the people of Britain were facing the dawn of the industrial revolution; a period that saw great technological advancements and equally, many unforeseen problems.

What is remarkable about the RSA and its Fellows is thaelightened thinkingt they began to find solutions to global problems long before buzz words like social justice and sustainability were on the national political agenda. In 1758, an RSA Fellow suggested providing an award to whomever could devise the best plan for the establishment of a charity house to shelter women whose poverty put them at risk of prostitution. Just under 20 years later, we offered an award for inventions that could reduce smoke emissions.

It is easy to underestimate the importance of having a social space to share ideas.

In 1852, the RSA organised the trial of the first public Water Closets but unfortunately, few people were inclined to use them and the campaign was deemed a failure.  The idea was temporarily laid to rest but then dug up many years later and, where would we be today without public lavatories?

Sometimes, planting an idea is enough.

This is how I prefer to explain the RSA’s significance to people who are interested in getting involved. By joining our network you are continuing the history of Fellowship: a group of people who are not only willing to think more broadly than the majority, but who have proven many times over that they have the tenacity to pursue their ideas and turn them into practical solutions for the public good.

Find out more about Fellowship http://www.thersa.org/fellowship

If you already a Fellow but know someone who would be a great addition to the Fellowship, why not nominate them?


 Alexandra Barker is a Fellowship Development Coordinator at the RSA

It’s time for teachers to take curriculum control!

August 11, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Education Matters, Innovation 

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.

You can follow her @Plamennap and at Plamenarium.wordpress.com

Sharing our way to prosperity (Part 1)

August 6, 2013 by · 4 Comments
Filed under: Enterprise, Social Economy 

Sharing is popular again. It’s been 25 years since Harry Enfield mocked 1980s greed and individualism as his Loadsamoney character – a cockney plasterer. Now, a quick and exciting route to riches is promised by the sharing economy. Airbnb, its posterchild, is worth $2.5bn (£1.5bn) and Silicon Valley is buzzing again. Does sharing represent a scalable opportunity for a socially productive economy? This blog grounds the sharing economy in some context, and is followed by Part 2, analysing of who profits from sharing.

San Francisco, October 2011, Source

San Francisco, October 2011, Source

Since 2008, our dominant economic and financial structures have come under increased scrutiny, from many directions. Many argue that existing systems have delivered material wealth at great environmental cost, contributing to (or even relying upon) growing inequality at many scales, and that as we get wealthier, wealth is increasingly an ineffective means of delivering well-being. As the public sector started talking about “doing more with less’ and “sweating the assets” politicians and business consistently urged the public back on to the treadmill of buying more stuff a generation of social entrepreneurs said “let’s use what we have better”, and were spurred to develop their own peer-to-peer circuits for production, distribution and consumption. They were driven by objectives which ranged from getting rich themselves to meeting their neighbours to minimising overall consumption, and we now have a carnival of applications which connect individuals to one another to exchange in new ways.

The sharing economy in a tweet: “#whyishare is making MORE, for LESS and with NEW people”.

The sharing economy is how we describe this system which widens access to goods, services, assets and talents, through arrangements of collaborative consumption, a term first applied in 1978 to car-sharing. The sharing economy is a bunch of new ways to connect things that aren’t being used with people who could use them. It often does this through internet-based applications, and therefore does this radically better than previous systems in achieving higher utilisation of the economy’s ‘idling capacity’. According to Professor Clay Shirky, “the world has over a trillion hours a year of free time to commit to shared projects”.

In 2011, the RSA hosted Rachel Botsman and Time magazine said collaborative consumption was one of ten ideas to change the world. Now sharing economy initiatives are squaring up to entrenched businesses, and regulators and tax collectors are becoming interested.

Rachel Botsman defines three types of collaborative consumption: product service systems (like Barclays bikeshare in London and Netflix, where you rent for short periods rather than owning), redistribution markets (like eBay, Freecycle, Gumtree, where you sell or give away unwanted stuff) and collaborative lifestyles (like Landshare, Streetbank, and Couchsurfing), where people swap skills, time and other assets.

Like efforts to build a circular economy the sharing economy often promises environmental efficiency. Reducing waste appeals to our moral sentiment (waste is a feature in two of the seven deadly sins) while sharing means we get access to more, and perhaps put individualistic materialism (the envy and jealousy associated with coveting thy neighbour’s goods) in the back seat. To paraphrase Neal Gorenflo, the idea is that instead of keeping up with the Joneses, we are inspired and enabled to collaborate with the Khan’s, rent our under-used assets to the Cheng’s and get tips from strangers on how to hack, fix and rejuvenate objects at a makerspace with shared tools. We meet new people (online and offline) and make a living in new ways, while using money less, hoping to reverse declining social capital.

Sharing can get really creative: through Waze (which Google just bought for $1bn), drivers share their live data on traffic to help others travel more efficiently. GoGenie shares information about disabled access. Carrotmob organises campaigns for people to vote with their money, giving businesses positive incentives to make sustainable investments. On TaskRabbit, people bid to perform chores and…tasks, while Instacart specialises in matching your shopping list with someone to do your shopping and deliver it to you.

Of course, sharing goes way back. We’ve always been sharing, bartering, lending, gifting, and swapping. Collaboration has been our primary competitive advantage as a species. Before we had money, we had a gift economy – “you owe me one” – rather than a barter economy. Within modern capitalism there have emerged a range of redistributive institutions such as co-operatives (800 million members globally) and credit unions. Good 360 has taken $7bn in corporate donations over the last 30 years and distributed them to charities. We often lose sight of the fact that efficient resource allocation is what the (old) economy is fundamentally driven to do, but often fails. The sharing economy might be best conceived as a system to address market failures in personal consumption; to share market information, lower transaction costs and lower barriers to entry, therefore expanding the market of buyers, sellers, donors and recipients.


Usage of key terms, indexed, 1955-2008

Usage of key terms, indexed, 1955-2008, Source

In contemporary society, what some have dubbed the core economy – the unpaid care, support and nurturing we provide for one another – structures our lives as much as the monetary economy. Sharing mechanisms have long supported the core economy, through informal networks and more formal institutions: 28,000 people have collectively pooled their skills and support at 300 local Timebanks across the UK, on the basis that an hour of my time is worth an hour of yours, and there is potential for institutions and business to do the same – e.g. Hackney Shares.

We are at a moment of hyperbole, so there is a risk that new tech applications divert our attention from the breadth and heritage of sharing structures in society, and the risks of failure. Many sharing platforms struggle to reaching critical mass in activities which represent a natural monopoly based on a network effect, so efforts are now being made to build infrastructure to consolidate the sharing economy – comparison websites and sector-wide initiatives (…is this meta-sharing?). But the growing consensus is the sharing economy could be as transformative as the industrial revolution; and Natalie Foster says sharing “will be the defining economic story of the 21st century.”

The sharing economy is beginning to look like a panacea: an all-conquering system of innovations which can drive can drive economic growth and social outcomes. It’s more complicated than that, and Part 2 on this blog discusses profiting from a sharing economy.

Jonathan Schifferes (@jschifferes) is a Senior Researcher and leads on the 2020 Retail project for the RSA.

RSA Student Design Award Winners: the next generation of socially responsible designers

June 27, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Design and Society, Innovation 

A self-repair washing machine, a bee-friendly neighbourhood scheme and an app that provides more active and scenic routes for commuters are among the 16 cracking projects that won in the RSA Student Design Awards this year. 150 people came together at the RSA last week to celebrate the 2013 winners, take part in a spot of speed networking, and hear keynote speaker Kevin Owens talk about his experiences as Design Principal of the London 2012 Olympics.

Now in their 89th year, the RSA Student Design Awards is an annual competition that rewards students for coming up with innovative design-led solutions to today’s big challenges. Each year the RSA works with industry and university partners to develop a series of briefs focused around social, environmental and economic issues. We work closely with universities – in the UK and internationally – to support design students in applying their skills to research and respond to these problems. Their finished projects are then judged in person by a panel of experts, and winning students receive prizes that include cash awards, paid internships, and a complementary year of RSA Fellowship.

This year’s briefs addressed a range of pressing social issues, from improving workplaces and commuting to reducing waste and water pollution. There’s a full list of winners on the RSA Student Design Awards website, and our online exhibition will be going live soon – but for now, here are some snippets about a few of the winning projects:

  • Chris Redford from Sheffield Hallam University won a paid internship at branding agency Springetts for his ‘Tinker’ project; a radical stripped-back domestic washing machine that is designed to be repaired by the consumer without the need for a technician.

Chris Redford

“I got the inspiration for my repairable washing machine from thinking about the number of times we dispose of entire products – especially large consumer appliances – when there might only be a single failed component. My design exposes the user to all the components so they can learn about its function and hopefully feel more confident about attempting to fix it.

  • Charles Anderson, who has just finished a degree in Graphic Design at Kingston University, won a paid internship at the Environment Agency for his scheme to reduce water pollution in the UK.

Charles Anderson_DIP

His project, ‘Dump in Polystyrene’, is a service design solution for breaking down and recycling polystyrene that would otherwise be sent to landfill.

“Since my childhood I have constantly been aware of the litter in the river and the influence it had on the local environment. Through my project research I learned about how water-borne animals mistake polystyrene for food. It clogs up their digestive system which starves the animal. Polystyrene also breaks up and releases pollutants into the soil formation. This project is about reducing polystyrene waste down to a manageable size. The current size-to-weight ratio targets mean that local councils can’t recycle it – so I designed a process that meets these targets.”

  • MA Design students Nicole Shadbolt and Meredith Thompson from Plymouth University each won a paid internship in Waitrose’s Graphic Design team.

The Hive

Responding to a brief asking for ideas to help people live more sustainably, ‘The Hive’ is a community improvement scheme focused on developing bee-friendly communities and educating people about the importance of the UK bee population.

Rebecca Ford is the Assistant Manager of the RSA Student Design Awards.

You can follow her @RebeccaPFord

Ideas in Barry Part 1

June 10, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

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.

Andy Green

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


@BarryKucha .


Andy will be providing further updates on the Barry Ideas project over the coming months.

After homo economicus, is homo biomedicus next?

May 13, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Recovery 

A trained psychologist myself, I took great interest in today’s call of the British Psychological Society for a departure of the biomedical model of mental illness. And, to my delight, so did other colleagues – read a great blog post from Social Brain’s Emma Lindley here, where she writes that we might be right now witnessing a bona fide revolution that may change mental health services so radically, ‘they will be unrecognisable to the children of my generation.’ As Emma points out, the debate is as much driven by differing concepts of human nature as it is by politics, and the struggle for professional relevance and power. It is the latter aspect that I want to focus on in this blog post.

The RSA has long taken an interest in professions and their future (including this project  in the early 2000s), and is currently managing an independent review of the Police Federation. Further international projects with other professions may follow soon.

Interestingly, even though Psychiatry is the younger term, it is the arguably the older science, and literally means ‘the medical treatment of the soul’, whereas Psychology means ‘study of the soul’. Psychology and, specifically, its subdomain Clinical Psychology, have always had a hard time standing up to their medical cousin. Part of the reason for that one can find in the etymology; isn’t medical treatment is just so much more tangible than mere study? Thus, in more than one hospital of the world (including one I interned in a long, long time ago), Psychologists have not been much more than overeducated sidekicks to doctors. This may change soon.

The main reason for this is that over the last decade, and particularly since 2008, Psychology has arrived in the scientific establishment. It did so by using a strategy applied by underdogs since the advent of mankind: collaboration. (And, of course, the emergence of discipline rockstars like Steven Pinker has helped.)

Not having enough leverage itself, Psychology entered functional marriages with up and coming disciplines like neuroscience and traditional ones like economics, a process that led to the creation of new interdisciplinary fields like behavioural science. A prominent victim of this process was homo economicus – the notion that humans are wholly rational and narrowly self-interested. Homo biomedicus (not an official term, my inadequate creation), the similarly reductionist paradigm underlying present day psychiatry that acknowledges only the physical side of human existence, but leaves aside the social and psychological aspects, may very well be next.

There are two reasons to be concerned about the potential revolution of mental health services given that professional battle lines are drawn:

Firstly, while for Psychology there was the possibility of a non-threatening complementary relationship in the mutual interest with economics or neuroscience, with Psychiatry it is different. Here the question is ‘who runs the show?’, or, if you will, one of professional hegemony. Still, one hopes that the critical voices on both sides steer the process away from the zero-sum-game it is in danger to become, which certainly would leave everyone worse off.

Secondly, the homo biomedicus model is not entirely wrong, just as the homo economicus model is not completely off the mark. The concept has its merit and adequate areas of application, and it will need to be taken into account when designing future services based on a richer, more complex understanding of man as Homo biopsychosocialis that is embedded in a capabilities-based approach. Throwing out the baby with the bath water would be just as wrong.

Josef Lentsch is Director of RSA International – follow him at @joseflentsch

RSA Student Design Awards: Going global

April 23, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Design and Society 

Today I had the pleasure and the privilege of being a judge at this year’s RSA Student Design Awards (SDA). The competition issues briefs to young designers to demonstrate how the insights and processes of design can solve 21st century problems.   The brief I was on the jury for, created in partnership with Yorkshire Water, was to design innovative solutions to help individuals and communities value water more. There were quite a few amazing entries, which made the shortlisting process challenging, but in the end we arrived at a very strong list (congratulations to my colleague Sevra Davis who heads the SDA programme, and to Robin Levien RDI who did a great job in facilitating the discussion).

The main themes of the entries were metering, and how to make better use of rainwater or grey water. Apart from some genuine insights I gained from going through the folders (how much water goes to waste only to heat up the shower!), I was delighted to also see entries from Hong Kong, the Czech Republic and Cyprus. In fact, SDA is becoming more international every year. Last year, with Eva Besenreuther for the first time one of the winners came from abroad.

As I am writing this post, the first ever RSA-US Student Design Awards are about to stage their annual lecture in New York at the Cooper Union this Friday (congratulations to David Turner FRSA and the whole team on this terrific Fellow-led initiative). The keynote will be delivered by Kevin Owens, Design Principal of the highly successful London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. On Saturday then, the big day, there will be a whole host of high-calibre speakers at the RSA-US SDA event itself, which will be followed by a reception. If you’re quick, perhaps you can book a spare seat.

Which brings me to another first for the RSA: Starting this autumn, in collaboration with Genovasi Malaysia we will run the first ever RSA Genovasi Malaysia awards as part of the SDA programme. As part of a consortium including Pearson, the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, the HPI School of Design Thinking in Potsdam and Singularity University, we will partner to reward craft, ingenuity, insight, communication and social benefit of the designs of a new generation of Malaysian students.

And we are currently exploring further countries to add to our list together with the RSA Fellowship. Next year the SDA programme, which started in 1924 and is the oldest design competition of its kind in the world, will be going strong for 90 years – what a better way to celebrate than for RSA Student Design Awards to go global.

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