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
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.
Over the summer I went to Fellows’ network events in Nottingham, Cardiff and Leeds to discuss RSA Catalyst – the programme I manage supporting the new and early stage ideas for social innovations that RSA Fellows come up with.
I kept the events simple: firstly, I tried to get people thinking about new solutions to tackle social problems by talking about Catalyst-supported ventures and our criteria; then I asked local Catalyst-supported ventures to present; finally I gave those people with new ideas a structured platform for sharing them, in order to get attendees to give advice and start collaborating with them.
- Apply for Catalyst via www.thersa.org/catalyst; (two attendees of events already have, with one successful in getting a grant, the other shortlisted and encouraged to reapply once they have tweaked the improved their ideas in certain respects).
- Use the presentation I created to run similar events at more of the 60 places across the UK and internationally where Fellows meet regularly. The presentation, now up on the Fellows’ resources page, walks you through how to do this.
The Catalyst projects we heard from were:
- Our Leicester Day; who recently ran their second annual gathering in the main market square for all communities, local clubs, societies and charities to share what they do with the local community and get more participants
- Inklusive; who create sustainable employment for people with disabilities by remanufacturing, refilling and reusing printing cartridges rather than them ending up in landfill
- New Endings; brings together residents, artists and town planners, to re-imagine dead-end streetscapes
- Solderpad; A website for people to collaborate open-source on electronics
the main aim of the evenings was to hear and help new ideas being developed
But the main aim of the evenings was to hear and help new ideas being developed. Here are 6 ideas that were bubbling up at the meetings:
- Urban growing/housing Turn farmland in Lincolnshire into a town that grows more edible food than it does currently as farmland whilst building affordable housing – more details or contact
- Teaching support to start new peer-to-peer and online networks for and between new teachers, piloting in Cardiff and Bristol – contact
- Unemployment/advertising Council-owned land puts up advertising hoardings of local businesses that take on long-term unemployed and also advertise local charities – more details or contact
- Affordable housing a advice service for community groups across the UK to start Community Land Trusts, a way to generate affordable housing – more details or contact
- Education tours of a cemetery for children to learn about the history of Bradford through its former inhabitants – more details or contact
- Prisoners/photography Train prisoners to take photos in visitors centre to give a link during their time spent inside – contact
Where can I see Catalyst projects? “What if I want to expand a project to Cardiff?”
I’ve now put up a list of all ideas awarded a grant on the Catalyst webpage. Those projects at the top are the ones that the panel believe are most readily-scalable to other locations since they’ve been awarded an additional £5,000 Catalyst grant.
Why is Catalyst resource prioritised on those things that have “yet to be tried out”?
Taking on board feedback about the lack of clarity in this part of the criteria, last month the Fellowship Council Catalyst Working Group (the Fellows and senior staff who decide on grant awards and process changes) changed the criteria from prioritizing ideas that have “yet to be tried out” to ideas that “are totally new or applying something in a new setting”. This reflects the fact that we have supported ideas that are local responses to models proven elsewhere. For example, We Are Bedford is an empty shops project that focused on the inaccessibility of arts to the majority of Bedford residents and on the difficulty local arts and crafts businesses have in selling their products.
Why did Catalyst support Solderpad (see above); what have solder boards and a for-profit company got to do with a social problem?
after being asked ‘Where can I see Catalyst projects, I’ve now put up a list of all ideas awarded a grant on the Catalyst webpage
As always it was a pleasure to meet other Fellows of the RSA and I hope I’ve persuaded them and now you, the reader of this blog, to either apply for Catalyst or run a similar event using the presentation. Please leave me a comment if you have any questions or feedback.
It’s been ages since I posted a blog here on our Fellowship pages but this doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy. Whilst we all bask in the olympic glow I am currently thinking about three key areas of improving the Fellowship offer, specifically from a regional (and in some cases national) offer namely; Regional Development Plans, Innovation and Volunteering.
The RSA has recently gone through a major period of governance review; the outcome of this is the creation of new regional/national teams across the UK bringing together a core team of Regional Chair, relevant Council member and Programme Manager. These working teams will have mixed approaches and styles but all will be focused on one objective over the next few months – the preparation of Development Pans for their relevant area. These plans will be outline proposals project development, local activity, objectives - all led by Fellows. It will be interesting to see how some areas overlap and others differ in their approaches and respond to local priorities. I hope to encourage all Regional/National Chairs to post guest blogs here and provide an overview of their vision.
Innovation is a theme close to the RSA mission. I think it will be a topic appearing more frequently on these blogs. Recently we have been running Catalyst roadshows and the need for case studies of practical and innovative projects that have received Fellows support and resources remains the number one request. Today, I provided a Fellow in the North West some examples of community-based projects as case-studies for a new community wellbeing project in Cheshire. I found myself recommending Social Spaces and the work undertaken by Tessy Britton FRSA and Laura Billings FRSA to collate local community projects and share positive stories and ideas for others to adopt, replicate and refine.
Which of course leads me to volunteering. This is an area that I am keen the Regional Programme Team (which I lead) take an active role in developing further with Fellows. Fellows are volunteers and we need to ensure that we use this valuable resource wisely, effectively and most importantly to mutual benefit. Whether its mentoring a young entrepreneur or simply advising on Fundraising for a potential project the connection Fellows share through knowledge, expertise and skills is the most valuable resource I know. So dear reader (hello Dad!) could you please signpost me to the examples you know about volunteering management and mobilisation. I want to hear how volunteer engagement works and learn why some organisations are so successful.
I have a personal objective to ensure the RSA improves its understanding and development of all volunteers. So over to you – please let me have your suggestions.
Deputy Head of Regional Programme
Another day, another divisive education headline. Whilst there is much to question within current education policy, there are also potentially new areas of opportunity opening up. The policy context of greater school autonomy, and emerging clarity about the future of the National Curriculum from 2014 (and the space to develop a ‘whole curriculum’ outside the National Curriculum), could be a key moment of opportunity for teachers and localities to reclaim the curriculum agenda.
As highlighted in the recent research of RSA Education colleague, Louise Thomas, the role of teachers is already changing to incorporate greater responsibility for curriculum development. However, as Louise outlines, there are significant challenges in ensuring that teachers are provided with enough support in overall curriculum development, in addition to the current focus on teachers’ subject knowledge.
The paper also proposes a particular focus on promoting the skills required to develop competency-based curricula in schools – especially where it relates to the needs of the local community – addressing the need for students to acquire, not just knowledge, but also the skills to apply it within the framework of their wider learning, future employment, and life.
In the context of these developments and challenges, the RSA Education Team is exploring ideas for creating a national professional development programme, which will aim to foster a new generation of curriculum designers, ready to make the most of the emerging opportunities. As such, it will add to the professional capacity of the teaching workforce as a whole and the capacity of schools to operate as autonomous, collaborative organisations. The programme will blend the learning and principles from two RSA programmes (RSA Opening Minds and the Area-Based Curriculum), as well as from curriculum design programmes globally, to create a high quality professional development offer that improves educational opportunities and outcomes for pupils.
That’s the idea but what do you think? Are there models out there that you think we should incorporate? What is the key to successful CPD? What are likely to be the key concerns for teachers and schools? Over to you…
Last year we published a pamphlet called How to be Ingenious, which explored the effect of very resource-constrained environments on innovation – how such situations can sometimes cause innovation to thrive but at other times throttle it. We drew on examples of bricolage, technology races between countries, the Indian concept of jugaad, and interviews with people we thought exemplified the ability to devise ingenious solutions in different domains: an expert in theatrical improvisation, a software engineer and a survival instructor.
Given the state of our global economy (and ecology), the topic of resource-constrained – or ‘frugal’ innovation – is enjoying focus in public and private sector. The Innovation Unit’s blog pointed me to David Cameron’s tribute to the ‘Delhi drive’ to succeed: “When you step off the plane in Delhi or Shanghai or Lagos, you can feel the energy, the hunger, the drive to succeed. We need that here”. The Economist proclaim that frugal innovation will ‘change the world’. The subject has attracted recent business books (Jugaad Innovation) and one fascinating magazine (Makeshift).
Examples of ingenuity in the public sector exist, but how could they be better supported? Matthew recently blogged about the importance of clusters and networks to innovation, which are arguably even more critical to successful innovation in resource-constrained environments. Chatting with a colleague about the shift from top-down ‘best practice’ to more devolved practice and more ’micro-innovation’ to solve problems, we wondered whether an online platform could collect and showcase examples of ingenious or frugal solutions to common problems: perhaps a kind of Instructables for the public sector?
This post was originally posted on Project Dirt, where we are building a cluster for all the community-led environmental projects in Peterborough.
Here at the Citizen Power Peterborough* project we’ve been working with community groups that have ideas which could make Peterborough a greener place. One way we’ve been doing this is by running workshops that allow people to develop their ideas and meet others, then help them apply for a Citizen Power grant that will allow them to test that idea on the ground.
So far we’ve funded further development of a well-loved community garden in Paston and a group who are in the process of assuming responsibility for a section of ancient woodland in Bretton. The latest decisions on funding were made at an event last Friday, when eleven individuals and groups applied for grants to allow them to put their ideas into action.
The three judges were environmental innovators Pam Warhurst of Incredible Edible Todmorden and Hermione Taylor of The DoNation, together with Councillor Sam Dalton – the member of Peterborough’s cabinet with responsibility for environmental issues. The judges heard from each group, who pitched the idea of their project for the chance of a grant.
Among others, the judges heard from one group who wanted to replicate the success of a Cambridge paint upcycling project in Peterborough. Rather than sending paint straight to landfill, they planned to collect waste paint from local recycling centres, store, sort and redistribute it to community groups and families.
A group of students from Peterborough Regional College presented a plan to convert old unused bicycles into safe and usable bikes. The improved bikes will be available for college students to buy at low weekly cost over the course of a year – making travel a more active and healthy experience, as well as being better for the environment.
The judges also heard from another individual who wanted to demonstrate the effectiveness of alternative energy systems like hydrogen power to people at public events. He planned to use an education fuel cell to power a low-energy projector, at the same time demonstrating and explaining the physics behind the post-oil future.
In the end, the judges opted to fund all eleven projects for amounts between £300 and £500 each. Each project will be creating a profile on Project Dirt (if they don’t have one already), so in time you’ll be able to keep track of their progress through the Peterborough cluster on Project Dirt.
Well done to all involved!
* Citizen Power Peterborough is an initiative from the people of Peterborough, the RSA, Peterborough City Council and the Arts Council, East
The full list of winners:
- Peterborough Repaint Scheme from Kevin and Fiona
- The Backyard Food Group Shop from Sophie
- Green Backyard Woodskills from Renny
- Rake and Bake Gardening Club from Parents United
- P£anet Bikes from Peterborough Regional College students
- Pond & Frogs project from Peterborough Regional College students
- An Introduction to Hydrogen Fuel Cells, HHO and Alternative Energy from Jordan
- Bike workshop from Dominic
- Slow Sewing from Lorena
- The Little Miracles Peterborough Sensory Garden from Michelle
- The Olive Branch Community Garden & Allotments from Mark
How often do we ask ourselves: is what I’m doing truly working? It’s a simple question and one which makes intuitive sense to ask if we ever intend to learn from our mistakes and improve the impact of our work. And yet despite this it is something we tend to ignore time and again. Both at an individual and institutional level, many of us are reticent to the idea of evaluating the policies and practices that shape the effectiveness of our public services and which dictate their value for money. Indeed, these days it is quite rare to hear or see the term ‘evidence-based policymaking’.
For youth services at least, Project Oracle is attempting to change all of this. The initiative was set up by the Mayor of London’s office to help smaller organisations that are working with young people evaluate their programmes using ‘rigorous and internationally recognised’ standards. The way it works is that once organisations have signed up they are provided with free advice and support on how to assess their work, and are guided through different ‘levels’ of evaluation that gradually become more sophisticated. The Project has the added benefit of creating a sound structure for collecting and disseminating cross-comparable data that everybody in the sector will find meaningful – at least in the capital.
While attending a recent seminar at NESTA to learn more about the project, I heard a number of interesting points being raised about the obstacles to undertaking evaluation schemes and the subsequent difficulties of making use of the data once it gets collected. Many of those attending, for instance, said they feel as though there are cultural differences between people working in the voluntary sector and those in the academic/policy world; academics may insist on gathering quantitative data but service practitioners find anecdotal evidence far more useful. Another key issue raised was that although many funders are willing to pay for the evaluation of an organisation’s operations, only ever a handful actually commit to providing the resources for the implementation of recommendations that emerge from the research.
While all of this is no doubt interesting and useful, it felt as though the conversation side-stepped one of the biggest impediments to the initiation, the quality and the utility of evaluation schemes. This is the simple fact that many of us have difficulty in accepting defeat and apportioning fault. Whether a frontline practitioner or a senior manager, taking part in an evaluation process may open up a Pandora’s Box of knock-effects, which at best may lead to the radical restructuring of the organisation and at worst the termination of projects and ultimately job losses. Vested interests aside, there is also the challenge to service users and colleagues who may find themselves in the uncomfortable position of saying, albeit honestly, that someone’s efforts and practices are ineffective. It is one thing to acknowledge failings in our own work, but to highlight the caveats in someone else’s takes some courage.
The reason why this is doubly important is because there has rarely been a greater time when we have had to identify failure in our work and be open to new approaches. Whereas in previous years public service innovation was characterised by the sharing and adoption of universally recognised ‘best-practice’ approaches at home and abroad, the next stage is arguably going to be an era of localised, radical experimentation. In other words, it is likely that organisations providing public services will be encouraged to become their own ‘innovation labs’, testing different methods and practices until they land on the thing that works best for them. In practice, this could mean a school experimenting with different ways of teaching maths, or it could mean a GP consortium trying out innovative new health treatments with their patients.
Wherever this new wave of experimentation and rapid evaluation takes places, it will demand that service users, practitioners and those in senior management have a certain type of mindset which is comfortable with ambiguity and not afraid of failure.
It could be said that in the future there will be two sides to the coin when it comes to public service transformation. The first is that success depends on learning what works and adopting these approaches; the second is that we learn what doesn’t and ensure that these styles gracefully bow out. To date, it seems we have focused too much on the former at the expense of the latter.
The financial crisis and the resulting fiscal crises have put capitalism in the spotlight. In an era when public spending is being tightened, a question often asked is how can the private sector help alleviate social problems? So I thought this would be a good opportunity to turn people’s attention to the Future Quotient, FQ, a new idea from a Volans report I recently read, co-authored recently by Fellowship Councillor Charmian Love FRSA.
I think this collection of people and organisations that bring the interests of future generations into our decision-making today can inspire new ideas for businesses and social enterprises
To help define it Volans identifies 50 people, projects, organisations and states that have a strong Future Quotient. With nods to a diverse set of emerging business models – like biomimicry, collaborative consumption, open-source and freemium – it is an interesting collection. (If you think I’m in danger of buzzword overload, I urge you to familiarise yourself with the links.) I think this collection can inspire new ideas for businesses and social enterprises. And obviously we will look to support any ideas our Fellows have through our Catalyst programme – of which Charmian is a member of the working group that decides grants.
One of the organisations featured that everyone will have heard of is B&Q (and their parent company Kingfisher). They made it in because they actively seek input from the next generation to work out how their values compare to their business model. They do this by getting the children of employees to give their impressions of their parent’s work.
B&Q run DIY free classes… helping people mend and repair their homes at less cost to themselves and to the environment as well as improving B&Q’s trade
I also wanted to mention the way the report engages readers in its findings. Alongside The Future Quotient report, Volans, with the help of MindTime, invites readers to participate in a quick survey. This both engages the reader in the topic – giving me some questions to remind me what it meant to be future-minded – and provides them with more data – about the FQ of its stakeholders by age, sector etc.
This is relevant for us because, as Matthew Taylor states, “nearly all our major research and development projects are now designed to engage Fellows.” One example of how we do this already is the RSA Fellows’ Profit with Purpose Network who are collaborating with our Enterprise programme.
Bringing nearly thirty social entrepreneurs supported by RSA Catalyst together with Fellows leading social enterprises and from social enterprise intermediaries meant that there were many opportunities for good things to happen…
I’ve already blogged about some of what happened on the day here, but wanted to give a further update after collecting feedback from the Catalyst winners about the event over the past few weeks. What were some of the achievements of the day? How could we (and hopefully other Fellows looking to put on similar events) make it better in the future?
Firstly, we watched relationships grow as people had the opportunity to informally network, as evinced in this graphic mapping the connections made by a sample of the Catalyst venture leaders:
There were also specific collaborations started during the afternoon. This photo shows Richard Butler FRSA swapping cards with a lawyer who specialises in advising on different legal formats project like his venture could adopt. In the background, a Catalyst-supported venture in Cardiff is meeting another Fellow who gives charities and social enterprises access to empty spaces. They are now pursuing access for the venture to a 3space in Cardiff.
This opportunity to strengthen relationships and encourage collaboration was talked about by my colleague Vivs Long-Ferguson on her recent post evaluating recent Fellows’ events.
But in addition to this, the afternoon aimed to help those Fellows leading Catalyst supported ventures to overcome specific challenges they were facing areas on the day itself – over and above any connections and collaborations started on the day. We used information gathered from our survey of Catalyst projects that have delivered the outputs promised with their grant to assist with this. Kate Welch OBE FRSA leads a venture currently based in Durham working with prisoners to build outdoor living products. And here she is having a one-to-one talk with marketing professional to build a plan for getting their projects or services to market.
It is always impossible to make the event perfect for everyone in the room. For example, those who had read all of the event brochure on the train to the event were frustrated that people took too long introducing themselves; those who hadn’t read anything felt things moved too quickly.
Another example is that we couldn’t get all the expertise there on the day that people had requested in their survey – the requests were wide-ranging. We are looking at covering some of this through follow-up with the individuals in question.
One interesting suggestion that came in after the event was to split the room up according to different common threads between the projects, rather than letting people select their workshops. This might go as follows: a social impact workshop might be more productive where the beneficiaries of the social venture were similar; funding workshops might be more productive to be discussed among social ventures that employed similar means of achieving their impact, or were at similar stages of progress.
There were also suggestions that as well as hearing from successful social entrepreneurs from the RSA’s Social Entrepreneurs Network and Skills Bank, we might turn the focus on one or two of the Catalyst projects for a part of the afternoon.
This is all really good feedback that’ll go into the planning of next year’s Catalyst event.
Meanwhile, I will finish with some of the extremely positive feedback: comments on the presentation from Albert Medal Winner Albina Ruiz ranged from “very inspiring” to “mind-blowingly brilliant.”
Thanks to the RSA’s social media reporter Matthew Mezey, we have videoed some fantastic interviews of Catalyst venture leaders. So in the New Year we hope these will offer a good chance to share the progress of Catalyst projects more widely.
You can find out more about RSA Catalyst and apply for grants and support at www.thersa.org/catalyst