From Eggs to Education: why diversity allows the flock to flourish

October 3, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

In the most recent RSA Journal, I read with interest the piece on competition by Margaret Heffernan – particularly, the part that describes an experiment designed to engineer a ‘super flock’ of golden-egg180x180hens. To see whether increased competition would create higher levels of production, geneticist William Muir pulled the top egg-producing hens out of a regular flock and put them together. After just two generations of this new flock, the results were remarkable – six of the super hens had been pecked to death by the remaining three, whilst the original flock was performing better than ever.

This experiment suggests that if you only value the so-called ‘cream of the crop’ you are probably missing a trick or two. Societies need variety and balance in order to function healthily – you simply can’t have everybody doing the same thing, no matter how valuable it is deemed.

The article got me thinking about our education system and the levels of competition and selection. My own experience saw my peers divided into two camps at age 11: clever, and not so clever. Even for those who weren’t required to take the dreaded 11+, academic pressure remains a dominant feature of school life. Certainly, an element of competition can be motivating, but just as the ‘cream’ ought not to be scooped off the top and isolated at their own expense, nor should the rest feel their particular strengths have no value to society.

Many of the RSA Fellows I’ve met over the past year have been teachers, and all were unequivocally passionate about the difference a good education can have on the trajectory of a person’s life. Whatever the challenges in the classroom might be, Fellows have a wealth of ideas about where improvements can be made that will potentially transform the confidence of their students.

One such teacher is Jo Taylor FRSA, who, having participated in Teach First’s leadership programme, has gone on to co-found Wall Display – an education project which has recently applied for an RSA Catalyst grant.

“As a teacher I saw how much of a difference an engaged parent could make to their child’s aspirations. I also saw how hard it was for parents to be involved in their child’s education. I wanted to create a way for them to see the great things their children were doing.”

With children from disadvantaged schools, parental disengagement can be a big problem because if the parent had a bad experience at school themselves, they may be less inclined to encourage their children to participate. Many of these parents may have become disengaged because they did not perform well in exams, and with the continual emphasis on exams and grades, it’s increasingly important for teachers to find ways to celebrate the diversity of students’ skills and ensure they do not become disenchanted with learning altogether.

Wall Display has addressed this issue by creating an online platform for teachers to share their pupils’ work in such a way that it displays the creativity and individuality of the work whilst pushing it beyond the boundaries of the classroom.

“Students can get really demotivated producing amazing work which nobody ever sees, the idea is that Wall Display provides them with an audience for what they do in school.”

The public can award badges to work they like

The public can award badges to work they like

When teachers post work from students, members of the general public can give badges to work they like and other teachers can offer feedback.

I think this responsive aspect of the project is critical because if your teacher does not like your work, it might feel like theirs is the only opinion that counts. Wall Display’s strength is that it allows an array of opinions to reach the students – an experience which is far more representative of life after school.

Jo spoke about the progress of the project at a recent RSA Engage event, and asked other Fellows to get involved in the following ways:

- Do you know a teacher or school who might like to use Wall Display?
- Do you know anyone who works for Ofsted or an education body?
- Do you know any business leaders who are passionate about education?

If you’d like to know more about Wall Display, help Jo or get involved then you can contact him at contact@walldisplay.org, or find out more on their website: http://walldisplay.org

The RSA has partnered with Teach First for seven years, and we are able to offer a reduced rate of Fellowship for all Teach First participants – contact Alex Barker for more information.

How to Get People Voting Again

September 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

Voter turnout declined steadily for decades until 1997 when it nose-dived, only to turn upwards again in the last two elections.  While a number of factors influence how people vote, such as the perceived closeness of the result, the general trend is downwards and the heady days where over 80% of the electorate voted seems unimaginable now.

Falling voter turnout at General Elections

Falling voter turnout at General Elections

The irony is that the greater the number of people who think there’s no point in voting, the more wrong they become. Read more

Global Fellowship in Action: the RSA in Brussels!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When? Thursday 25 September 2014, 7-10pm

Where? www.garageculturel.com, 79 rue D’Albanie, B-1060

Who? Michael Bauwens FRSA

About? The emerging P2P paradigm

 

Celebrating 100 Years FRSA

June 30, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

In 1754, eleven inquisitive individuals went out on a limb and decided to lend their support to a then unknown organisation that wanted to change the world.

Juan Guerra FRSA wins the Centenary Project Award for Student Funder

Juan Guerra FRSA wins the Centenary Venture Award for StudentFunder

160 years later, on 24th June 1914, those who called themselves members of the RSA, became a Fellowship, in recognition of their shared commitment and personal contribution to the RSA’s vision.

Last week, 100 years to the day, we marked the beginning of RSA Fellowship by gathering 150 of our most engaged Fellows in the Great Room to create positive social impact in real time, and award one of our most successful Catalyst ventures the RSA Fellowship Centenary Venture Award.

Prior to the event, the Catalyst panel selected three projects that had previously won Catalyst grants and had since made significant progress using the funds and support provided by Fellows. Each of the three finalists then gave a persuasive four minute pitch to the audience who was asked to vote for the project they would most like to win the award.

Whilst the votes were being counted, Charles Leadbeater, a leading authority on innovation strategy, spoke about ‘creative communities with a cause’, triggering no end of conversation around the RSA’s new, emerging world view ‘The Power to Create.’

When the results came in we were delighted to award the Centenary prize to StudentFunder, a project lead by Juan Guerra FRSA, who won over the room with his cool and convincing solution to the lack of postgraduate funding opportunities in the UK.

At present, there are no student loans available for post-graduate study or further professional education, meaning that thousands of creative individuals are unable to realise their potential and thousands of UK companies are losing this untapped talent.

The prize will give StudentFunder the benefit of a further £3,000 which will enable it to tour the UK to start new collaborations, plus it will gain extra support from RSA staff to raise its profile.

Juan was presented with the award from RSA Chair Vikki Heywood and thanked the audience for their support.

The support from the RSA fellows at the Centenary Award Ceremony is something I will never forget. I have kept the cards with their votes. And there was even more good news this week. In February, I met a 19 year old who was unemployed. He had been offered a place on a three month course after which he would be earning good money as a web developer but he couldn’t pay for the course in the first place. StudentFunder helped him pay for his course in February. Yesterday we went for breakfast and he showed me his office. He is very happy in his new job as a web developer. That’s the kind of thing that really gets me up in the morning.

StudentFunder has helped 18 people so far, but they are aiming for 100 in the next year.

The runners up for the award were Incredible Edible lead by Pam Warhurst FRSA – an idea that has grown into a nationwide movement for growing local food; and 3,2,1 Ignition* the world’s first science pop up shop that uses abandoned retail units to run workshops and change the public’s perception of science.

Fellows were asked to write a message of support for their chosen project

Fellows were asked to write a message of support for their chosen project

Although the room was filled with some truly inspirational people who have worked with and contributed to the RSA in so many different ways, the Catalyst projects stole the show.

As Oli Reichardt, Director of Fellowship asked in his recent blog, what will the next 100 years hold for the Fellowship? The answer may lie with Fellows out there on the ground, creating real world change, unafraid of the obstacles and clear in their vision. They are the future of the Fellowship and we will continue to support them in every way possible. What an exciting prospect.

 

Alex Barker is a Fellowship Development Coordinator at the RSA. If you would like to know more about any of the projects mentioned above, or about joining the Fellowship then get in touch – alexandra.barker@rsa.org.uk

 

Should we be trying to ‘prevent’ floods, or adapting to their eventuality?

June 27, 2014 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Social Economy 

Jobs for an intern: make tea, edit references, keep your head down and do the grunt work. Perhaps, but not at the RSA – here they encourage you to speak up, to blog and to generally make your voice heard. It is both refreshing and a little intimidating. So when I got invited to attend a meeting at the start of this week I managed to do what I perhaps should not have done: I took a lot of notes and kept my mouth shut, but my ears open. There is much to condemn this strategy but I tell you something, you tend to learn a lot that way. As one might expect from a meeting between think tanks, there was some general confusion as to who was meant to be facilitating who but if anything this seemed to lead to a very productive meeting. The subject of the meeting:  How can local government help communities be more resilient despite devastating flooding in the UK – especially since the climate change models seem to suggest this is is going to be a more regular occurrence in the future. 

How can local government help communities be more resilient despite devastating flooding in the UK – especially since the climate change models seem to suggest this is is going to be a more regular occurrence in the future.  

Read more

2014 RSA Student Design Award Winners

Today is a big day.

Nine months ago on September 1st 2013, we launched our eight RSA Student Design Award briefs for the year and thousands of students across the UK, Europe and Asia began applying their design skills to a range of social, economic and environmental issues such as improving hygiene in low-income areas, managing water in urban areas, addressing changing work patterns, and many more. Over 600 students sent their work into the RSA and our judges began the arduous task of reviewing and scrutinising the work, looking for key insights and clever design thinking. Those 600+ entries became a short-list of around 80 and today, after interviews with all short-listed entrants, I am pleased to present the 18 winning projects and the designers behind them.

Today’s impressive list of emerging designers and innovators – some working in collaborative teams and some working individually – represent the best of what happens when good ideas meet good design (and good briefs too, I think!).

This year’s winners include proposals for new packaging made from beeswax, an alarm clock app to improve well-being amongst 18-25 year olds, an affordable sanitary towel for schoolgirls in low-income areas, and a frugally-designed hygiene pack for use in refugee camps. Read more

An “outstanding” week for RSA Academies…..

May 16, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Education Matters 

The sun has been shining on the RSA Family of Academies again this week, both literally and metaphorically!

We’ve had a great response to our call for West Midlands based Fellows to get involved in a new mentoring scheme for students at our Academies. If you’re interested but haven’t yet got in touch it’s not too late to sign up and there’s an initial event in Birmingham on Tuesday 22 May.

This Tuesday Hilary Chittenden was at Ipsley CE RSA Academy, giving the school a welcome distraction from this week’s SATs. She was working with a group of 12 and 13 year olds on their pupil design awards – our new school-age version of the student design awards – demonstrating how youngsters can unleash the power to create.

On Wednesday I joined the Principals of the schools in the RSA Family to work out how to create a really top-notch teacher training offer that supports teachers at every stage of their career, from their initial teacher training right through to headship. There was huge enthusiasm for co-ordinating and developing the great existing practice in our schools, and also for developing the link with the RSA to give teachers in our RSA Academies more opportunities to engage in research and enquiry in the way that today’s British Education Research Association report advocates.

On Thursday Arrow Vale RSA Academy’s Ofsted report was published, awarding the school a judgement of “outstanding” in every category.  The weaknesses of the inspection process have been well documented, and the dominance of Ofsted’s arguably narrow mechanism for describing and assessing education brings with it significant problems. Nevertheless, in this instance the inspection team have got it spot on, understanding Arrow Vale’s many strengths, and also how the transformation of a school that had never previously been rated as better than “requiring improvement” has been achieved in such a short space of time.

The inspectors have appreciated that whilst the role of the Principal, Guy Shears, has been absolutely key, he has not succeeded by working alone. By the time the school became an RSA Academy in September 2012 Guy had been working closely with the RSA and with Whitley Academy, another outstanding school in the RSA Family, for nearly a year, and this three way partnership has been crucial.

The RSA’s model of school improvement, whereby support is provided by practicing teachers and head teachers from a school improvement partner school in the Family rather than by a central pool of advisers, is relatively unusual in the world of Academy chains. It requires no small commitment on the part of the partner school. Whitley’s Principal, Lorraine Allen, has dedicated enormous time and energy to providing support and practical advice to Guy and his team. Whitley have also seconded a senior member of staff to work as Vice Principal at Arrow Vale for the last two years, which has provided an excellent professional development opportunity for him as well as benefiting the school. But the partnership extends more deeply than this – staff at all levels, including business manager, heads of English, the SEN co-ordinators and so on have worked together, bringing benefits to staff in both schools.

As well as bringing benefits to both the school providing the support and the receiving school, our model of school improvement has the added advantage of being self-sustaining. With Arrow Vale RSA Academy being judged to be outstanding our capacity to grow as an RSA Family is increased. So, when I was asked by the lead inspector, “what next for the school?” part of my answer was that Arrow Vale will be able to take on the role of school improvement partner for another school joining the RSA Family, just as Whitley has supported Arrow Vale. What I wasn’t able to tell her was where that new school would be.  So, if you work with a school in the West Midlands that might be interested in joining the RSA Family of Academies and working with the RSA and the fabulous schools in our Family, do get in touch…..

Mindfulness: more than a fad, less than a revolution.

April 30, 2014 by · 7 Comments
Filed under: Social Brain 

Meditation is simply about being yourself, and knowing something about who that is. - Jon Kabat-Zinn.

(The following post is a selection of ideas and links to add some texture and critical apparatus to help people better engage with the growing mindfulness phenomenon. It is by no means an exhaustive account, and was written mostly to make sense of how mindfulness connects with RSA’s work, past and present, which I refer to at the end. While one can and should distinguish between mindfulness meditation and meditation in general, Kabat Zinn’s statement captures why RSA’s Social Brain centre is interested – mindfulness is a form of practice that helps to cultivate self-knowledge.) Read more

The power to create.. what?

The RSA is, almost fundamentally, a place of debate.  We debate at lectures with speakers; we debate online with the media; but most of all, we debate amongst ourselves.  We debate the morning’s news over breakfast; we debate project and report details at lunch; we debate existentialist dilemmas and the meaning of life over late-night drinks; and the cycle begins anew. Read more

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.massey-chase@rsa.org.uk | @becca_mchase

 

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