As I approach four years at the helm of the RSA I find myself assessing progress. The Society faces vitally important decisions about its future so it’s useful to get a sense of where we are now.
A long term trend in the RSA has been to expand our research capacity. A few decades ago we didn’t really do research and even when we did it had a somewhat random feel to it. We have come a long way since then. But it is fascinating that today’s new focus, new methods and new ambition are balanced by a strong sense of continuity. For example, I have on my desk the draft report of our Tomorrow’s Investor project. In the face of the shocking fact that many private pension savers see up to 40% of their savings consumed in fees, the focus of this report is how to put in place an affordable and well governed pension scheme. There is even an intimation that if Government rules change and allowed the new scheme we are proposing to be created, the RSA could in some way be involved in establishing it. While this is a big idea and a new research area, longer standing Fellows will see the continuity with one of the Society’s most influential projects in recent times: Tomorrow’s Company.
Another area of continuity is the RSA’s commitment to engage Fellows in projects. Not only is the Tomorrow’s Investor project overseen by a steering group made up of Fellows but the very first stage in the project – two years ago – was a kind of citizens’ jury of pensions savers largely selected from the Fellowship.
Next week will also see the publication of our report on ‘whole-person recovery’, which is, I think, an exceptional piece of work. The report breaks new ground for the RSA with a methodology which engaged up to two hundred people with drug and alcohol dependency issues in designing not only a new way of thinking about recovery but also new types of service. Not only is our model proving very interesting to central Government but is being taken up and used on the ground. But, again, there is continuity. This project emerged out of the work of our Fellow-led Commission on Drugs which was published to widespread acclaim back in 2006.
The same pattern is repeated elsewhere. Our Academy is going great guns and we are thinking about the possibility of having a close relationship with more schools. The Academy is developing the Opening Minds approach, now taught in over 200 schools, which was first promulgated in a report in 1999 which was itself based on earlier work on new forms of learning, again overseen by a working group of Fellows. And today we have a research project - the area based curriculum - based in Peterborough which could in time help develop a new direction for Opening Minds. This project was high on the agenda of a very lively Fellows’ network event in Peterborough earlier this week.
Our design team continues the long tradition of our student design awards but now the emphasis on service design and what we call ‘design for resourcefulness’ (how can design not only meet needs but help people to meet their own needs).
Overall, our projects team is getting more press overage, achieving greater impact with national and local government and attracting more external funding than ever before. But the progress we are making is built on the strong foundations set by a previous generation of Trustees, Fellows and staff.
We shouldn’t underestimate how far our societies have pulled apart. Yet there is hope for renewal, says Anthony Painter. The question is not whether we come together – but how.