I attended a great event last night jointly hosted by the RSA North East and the School of Design at Northumbria University. There is an exciting vision of a cultural partnership between the two organisations and over 150 Fellows and non Fellows turned up to hear what we had to say.
Apart from the great people and the stunning venue in the University’s still new campus, the best thing about the event was the focus on action. Several members of the design school issued calls to action asking RSA Fellows to support their research or work with students. Then, in return, during networking, several Fellows spoke to the academics describing problems which they thought designers could help solve.
Much of the discussion in the event focussed on service design and particularly on public services. I found myself repeating an argument I made several years ago when helping to set up the ultimately unsuccessful ippr commission on public service productivity: the North East economy is very dependent on public service spending but – given that health, education, crime prevention etc are growing global markets - the region could turn this to its advantage if only its leaders and creatives committed themselves to innovation.
Building from the 2020 Public Services Commission report, I also talked about social productivity and the need for public services which are better able to help individuals and communities meet their own needs as individuals. How can services be designed to tap into the hidden wealth of people’s commitment to improving their lives and places and to looking after themselves and each other. Also, thanks to my former RSA colleague, Laura Billngs, I was able to cite this fantastic example of innovation - making something wonderful happen by giving one group something they need while the givers find fulfilment in giving. 'We need more people with the commitment and creativity of Professor Mitra' I exclaimed 'she shows what the Big Society could mean in action'.
So it was all a great triumph until, that is, someone from Newcastle University approached me as I wolfed down a bowl of dry roasted peanuts. 'I’m sure Professor Mitra would be delighted that you praised the project', the lady kindly said, 'but ‘she’ might be slightly less enthusiastic that you changed his gender.'
I guess this is reverse sexism - believing only a woman could have such a warm and brilliant idea. But as I have an incredibly low embarrassment threshold, I fear this might end up being the strongest memory I have of the whole event!
PS: My Animate has passed 400,000 views - if you have watched it thanks. If you haven't, please help me make half a million by March.