One definition of polymathy is that it is "the study of many things". Root-Bernstein (2009) however describes it as "the main source of any individual's creative potential". Is RSA Fellowship a bland smoothie or a cocktail of polymathy, pragmatism and purpose? This question was recently put to me in a discussion of diverse non RSA events attended, and politicians heard. In these challenging days, the focus must also be on learning, leadership and level-headedness.
The subject matters have ranged from poverty and UBI to EUNIC; from vacuity and vanity in politics to virtues and values in civic Britain; from employee ownership to NDAs; from automation to AI and algorithms; from thrift to extravagance; from cycling to integrated and affordable rural transport; from decisional atrophy to fettering discretion; from AI to police algorithms and allegations of embedded bias; from degree shows to cyber crime, trafficking and fraud; from rural policy to low carbon and climate change; from primary food production through to processing and distribution; from Social Attitude Surveys to the Shared Prosperity Fund; from the values of democracy to the concept of a Citizens Assembly; from the project "Gate to Plate" to the RSA's cross border event "F4 last December" and the RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission; from human plastics food chain consumption to plastics re-cycling; from politics and standards in public life to the need for a free press; from Borderlands and SoSEP to CABN and creative industries; from demographics and succession issues to place-making, housing and community capacity building; from social justice to SNIB; from the First Minister's 18th June "take" on the first twenty years of the Scottish Parliament to a DCMS Rural Connective Communities Workshop in Perth (relevant to a past Public Appointment held). Upcoming issues and events to which my attention will be given, and from which much may be learnt inter alia include natural capital, future urban spaces, creative industries, IP and copyright, tourism and hospitality.
The links to RSA increase. A passing purchase in a social enterprise has led to names for Oliver Reichardt re the circular economy project. The cyber and international security discussion was with one of many past RSA Fellowship nominees: the individual is now working for a mainland European joint venture company in the oil and gas industry which allowed conversation around a remarkable administrative and PR job of potential interest to a Fellow in Scotland. The DCMS event allowed mention - indeed "promotion" - of the RSA Fellowship as a resource for possible partners and expertise (via boards of voluntary organisations) given the upcoming DCMS Call for 5G multi-partner projects. Ongoing employee ownership links involve RSA Fellows with a relevant project in the south being put in touch with Sarah Deas in Glasgow and so on.
The UK is relatively small. Scotland seems sometimes more of a village than anything else. It therefore follows that RSA Fellows forging a new link or diverse links every day of the week - especially at this time of thrust-upon-us political change - could better develop, harness such contacts in a diversity of projects. The proposal some of us have for a very specific new Network may also allow this. As austerity remains, pension pots dwindle and local cuts bite deeper, every talent must be harness and best used. It reminds me of Neal Ascherson's quote of some years ago about the "kind of Scotland" which is needed. By the same token, twenty years on, I am minded to suggest reference and a re-read of Donald Dewar's speech at the Opening of the Parliament about "who we are, and how we carry ourselves". Polymathy may not be easy. Being pragmatic, informed, multi-disciplinary and purposeful is critical to RSA success. How best to harness this into projects to benefit Scotland: replies welcomed!