One of my happiest early memories was of one of the few, or perhaps only, occasions when I won a prize competition. I must have been pretty young because I won it with my grandfather, who died many years ago.
He was one of those extraordinary people who could do a Times crossword in about the time it took his (admittedly ancient) kettle to boil.
On this occasion he wanted to share his hobby with me, so we did a simple James Bond crossword that the local paper - the Esher Gazette or some such - had put in for young kids to do. Once you completed it you posted it back to the newspaper. A winner would be picked at random and would get two free tickets, plus free pick n' mix at the local Rex cinema to see the new Bond film. I forget which it was now, but it must have been around the time Roger Moore discovered safari suits, because that slightly disturbing image comes straight into my head when I think about it.
We won, and going to the cinema with Mooshoosh (our pet name for him, since my infant brother delightfully mispronounced his moustache) to be greeted by the manager at the door in the high street, felt like a red carpet premiere in Hollywood.
I suspect most people can remember moments like this in life when they won a prize. There's a special kind of chemistry they can create, in which the participation and anticipation is often as much part of the thrill as the ultimate outcome.
There seems to be growing interest, sometimes from unlikely quarters, in the use of prize challenges to tackle social, as well as commercial problems. Following the example created by big bang prize challenges like the X Prize, and/or crowdsourcing platforms like Innocentive, policymakers and public bodies are looking to create a similar sort of formula to tackle specific sorts of social problems which are amenable to such an approach.I know of one Government department for example, who are looking at such a mechanism for stimulating internal innovation, as well as solutions to certain kinds of policy problems. For those interested, McKinsey wrote an excellent paper on this subject called "And the winner is..."
This is relevant to us at the RSA because this organisation was originally founded in the C18th to award prizes for "distinguished acts of ingenuity". For our first hundred years, until about 1850, RSA Premiums were monetary or recognition prizes that were given to those who managed to propose successful solutions to industrial, agricultural, commercial or social problems. That tradition lives on in iniatives like our long running Student Design Awards but I'm keen to revive it further, and extend it wider. It needs to be done in a way that complements existing programmes and fits a very different, C21st context to that in which RSA Premiums were originally offered.
One of the more interesting contemporary formats for harnessing talent and invention in response to a challenge is the hack day, or hackathon. We're delighted to be embarking on a project over the next few months, on behalf of Google, and working in partnership with FutureGov, and Livity. The challenge, which we are working to refine, is to develop web-based tools or "apps" that can help young people who are out of work, training or education find a way back in.
Google are sponsoring this as the latest in their Interactivism series of hack events, which also involved FutureGov and have been energetically supported by RSA Fellows from our digital engagement group. I'll post more on this soon, and as we develop our framing of the challenge, but in the meantime I'd be delighted to hear from anyone who has useful insights to offer on the needs of young people in this predicament (sometimes given the unlovely label of "NEETs", which is a term we avoid, sounding something like a term for Spanish hair lice), who want to lend a hand in some way, or who know about technology-based innovations that have already been attempted.
We are going to do some research to frame the challenge, and engage with young people and experts to test and refine this. Then, working with FutureGov, the challenge will be launched and hosted online to crowdsource ideas, before finally culminating in a hackathon event bringing Google's finest tech developers together with young people, experts, policymakers, educators and employers to devise the apps and bid to win the top prizes, which will come with Google venture support.
It's clear there are great minds are thinking alike on this, given the desperately depressing statistics on youth unemployment. On the day we agreed our project, Facebook and Apps for Good, led by Iris Lapinksi (another RSA Fellow) announced they were launching a similar sort of initiative, which we will be supporting in tandem.
As I say, I'm keen to learn more about the design and delivery of challenges themselves, so if Fellows or others are interested in helping me devise a C21st model of the Premiums concept I'd be very interested to hear from you.
So it's prize competition season at the RSA. Bring your ideas, energy, and a bag of pick n' mix. This could be your moment on the red carpet.