Start spreading the news - RSA

Start spreading the news


I want to tell you something a bit wonderful and ask for your help.

Two objectives we have for the RSA are alignment and innovation. By alignment we mean that our different forms of activity (e.g. lectures, research, Fellowship) reinforce each other and stand behind our core mission. By innovation we mean we explore new ideas using distinctive methodologies. Today I have seen a great example of both objectives being met.

The new strap line of the RSA, 21st Century Enlightenment, was launched last year and reflected a longer term discussion among Trustees, Fellows and staff about the renewing the mission of the RSA around the goal of understanding and enhancing human capability.

This idea both reflected and influenced the focus of our research and development work. One example was the long established design team here which develop d new overarching theme for its work; ‘design and resourcefulness’. The concept is that as well as helping solve people’s problems, the insights, methods and skills of design should be used to help people tackle their own issues and enhance their confidence and capability.

The next stage was for the design team to turn the concept into research projects. One of these was the idea of a workshop exploring the benefit for people with spinal cord injuries and their carers of being given an introduction to design, including some practical examples and exercises. The Projects team thought the idea so good that the idea was given some seed corn funding to go ahead. A very successful workshop was undertaken over several days (relying on the generous input of FRSA designers), turned into a short film and written up as a report.

We then explored how we might apply the idea more widely. And today we heard that it is very likely that will get some Foundation funding to work with three spinal cord injury units (including world renowned Stoke Mandeville) and three universities to explore ‘mainstreaming’ this approach as part of the routine treatment of patients.

To see the arc of a philosophy turning into a mission, a thematic approach, a proposal, an experiment and then (we hope) into mainstream policy is wonderful. And this project isn’t alone. Our staff meeting today also heard an update on our whole person recovery project which works with people with drug and alcohol issues.

This project emerged from the RSA Drugs Commission which reported over four years ago. Again, the project has involved hands on work with service users, has developed – with them – a number of experiments and is now influencing mainstream policy (again we relied on Fellows who formed an expert steering group for the project).

One of the innovations arose from service users identifying the importance of GPs, who are often the first professionals approached by people with addiction issues. The powerful short film which emerged largely comprises interviews with service users and a brilliant GP and aims to encourage other doctors to be as supportive. After a bit more road testing the film will be on YouTube very soon.

I know I am biased but I think this work is great and absolutely in line with the problem solving spirit of the 18th century social entrepreneurs who set up the RSA.

The problem is that it is hard to get much publicity for this work. Our dear old media prefers more conventional think tank outputs of the ‘new report condemns Government’ , ‘93% of people tell pollsters world going to the dogs’ or ‘think tank calls for immediate privatisation of sunlight’  variety.

So my request is this: if you think the work I describe in this blog is good pass it on.   

Despite all this good news, it has been a bit of a grim day one way and another - so I haven’t been in a humorous mood. But to stick to my original-joke-a- day regime, I can share with you one I adapted for a debate last night with Intelligence Squared.

I was with Alain de Botton and Ben Lewis arguing for museums and galleries to try to be more passionate and accessible in the way they engage people in art. We were against Matthew Collings, Sandy Nairne and Chris Dercon who argued either that museums are already doing a great job or that the role of curators is to remain neutral and dispassionate in their explication.

My speech followed Chris Dercon, the new director of the Tate Modern. I’m afraid he was just too esoteric for me so I began by asking the audience this:

‘What do you get if you cross an art curator with a member of the mafia?

Someone who makes you an offer you can’t understand’.

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