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What do you generate by burning bad people? The answer, of course, is synergy.

This overused concept is on my mind right now.

I used it quite a lot this morning in my speech to the HE Leadership Institute (a high point of which was me reading aloud some of the great comments to Monday’s blog). As well as challenging universities to be better at collaboration with other local agencies and with other HEIs I also talked about the need to promote better collaboration within institutions.

It is in spaces and processes which bring together people with different interests, expertise and resources that innovation is most likely to occur. It is also here that we can identify ‘the hidden wealth’ (a capacity for creativity, generosity, trust and solidarity) which often lies dormant trapped between specialisms and hierarchies and crushed by narrow incentives.

In the past, speaking of such issues has (notwithstanding my brilliant way with words, on which it is perhaps unnecessary for me to dwell ongoingly at this moment in time) left me with a hollow sensation. It was all very well blahing on about innovation, but not being a brilliant entrepreneur, inventor or explorer myself, who am I to opine on such matters?

But now it feels like I may have some foundation of authority on which to stand. When the RSA, in conjunction with our friends at CRI, won a contract to provide post-treatment drug and alcohol rehabilitation services in West Kent it was important for three main reasons: first, providing public services on a payment by results basis is an exciting new challenge for the Society; second, we have this opportunity following a six year process of research, prototyping and experimentation; and third, because the bid had Fellowship engagement at its heart.

Already, I hear this engagement paying off with meetings to explore collaboration between the West Kent project team and Fellows who are senior in local public services, the community sector and business. A similarly high powered gathering held recently in Peterborough - also discussing community support for people in recovery – apparently reaped both great ideas and concrete offers of help.

Over the last few years we have sought fundamentally to change expectations of Fellowship. Instead of an assumption that the primary role of Fellows is as donors who enable paid staff  to have ideas to change the world, we see Fellows themselves as being full participants in our charitable mission. This means we can really tap into the hidden wealth of our Fellows and the idea of Fellowship.

Despite West Kent, Peterborough and many other examples of Fellowship action, the journey is far from complete. Having now raised expectations and aspirations we have the welcome, but growing, challenge of providing sufficient support for an ever more active and ambitious Fellowship.

But it does now feel like we can advocate social innovation to others from a position of insight and legitimacy. I also have no hesitation is inviting anyone out there who has a generous, collaborative and inventive mind set to explore the possibility of Fellowship (if you want to know more email me at

And finally another synergy: our events team has built some great partnerships, including with prestigious media outlets like Channel Four and LBC. One example is our hosting of BBC Radio 4’s series Four Thought. The short lecture on education and creativity being broadcast tonight at 8.45 is given by RSA Fellowship Council member Gerard Darby. Whatever a self-satisfied old bureaucrat like me says, it is great FRSAs like Gerard who are the best possible advert for RSA Fellowship.


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