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Over the summer I went to Fellows’ network events in Nottingham, Cardiff and Leeds to discuss RSA Catalyst – the programme I manage supporting the new and early stage ideas for social innovations that RSA Fellows come up with.

I kept the events simple: firstly, I tried to get people thinking about new solutions to tackle social problems by talking about Catalyst-supported ventures and our criteria; then I asked local Catalyst-supported ventures to present; finally I gave those people with new ideas a structured platform for sharing them, in order to get attendees to give advice and start collaborating with them.

There were two main calls to action:

  1. Apply for Catalyst via www.thersa.org/catalyst; (two attendees of events already have, with one successful in getting a grant, the other shortlisted and encouraged to reapply once they have tweaked the improved their ideas in certain respects).
  2. Use the presentation I created to run similar events at more of the 60 places across the UK and internationally where Fellows meet regularly. The presentation, now up on the Fellows’ resources page, walks you through how to do this.
  3. The Catalyst projects we heard from were:

    • Our Leicester Day; who recently ran their second annual gathering in the main market square for all communities, local clubs, societies and charities to share what they do with the local community and get more participants
    • Inklusive; who create sustainable employment for people with disabilities by remanufacturing, refilling and reusing printing cartridges rather than them ending up in landfill
    • New Endings; brings together residents, artists and town planners, to re-imagine dead-end streetscapes
    • Solderpad; A website for people to collaborate open-source on electronics
    • the main aim of the evenings was to hear and help new ideas being developed

      We also heard from RSA Social Entrepreneurs Network Spotlight participant Inspired Youth, who use arts and media as a tool to engage, inspire and empower young people – watch a trailer of the video here.

      But the main aim of the evenings was to hear and help new ideas being developed. Here are 6 ideas that were bubbling up at the meetings:

      • Urban growing/housing Turn farmland in Lincolnshire into a town that grows more edible food than it does currently as farmland whilst building affordable housing – more details or contact
      • Teaching support to start new peer-to-peer and online networks for and between new teachers, piloting in Cardiff and Bristol – contact
      • Unemployment/advertising Council-owned land puts up advertising hoardings of local businesses that take on long-term unemployed and also advertise local charities – more details or contact
      • Affordable housing a advice service for community groups across the UK to start Community Land Trusts, a way to generate affordable housing – more details or contact
      • Education tours of a cemetery for children to learn about the history of Bradford through its former inhabitants – more details or contact
      • Prisoners/photography  Train prisoners to take photos in visitors centre to give a link during their time spent inside – contact
      • Along my way I had some really probing questions about the Catalyst programme and some really interesting ideas about how we can improve it.

        Where can I see Catalyst projects? “What if I want to expand a project to Cardiff?”

        I’ve now put up a list of all ideas awarded a grant on the Catalyst webpage. Those projects at the top are the ones that the panel believe are most readily-scalable to other locations since they’ve been awarded an additional £5,000 Catalyst grant.

        Why is Catalyst resource prioritised on those things that have “yet to be tried out”?

        Taking on board feedback about the lack of clarity in this part of the criteria, last month the Fellowship Council Catalyst Working Group (the Fellows and senior staff who decide on grant awards and process changes) changed the criteria from prioritizing ideas that have “yet to be tried out” to ideas that “are totally new or applying something in a new setting”. This reflects the fact that we have supported ideas that are local responses to models proven elsewhere. For example, We Are Bedford is an empty shops project that focused on the inaccessibility of arts to the majority of Bedford residents and on the difficulty local arts and crafts businesses have in selling their products.

        Why did Catalyst support Solderpad (see above); what have solder boards and a for-profit company got to do with a social problem?

        after being asked 'Where can I see Catalyst projects, I’ve now put up a list of all ideas awarded a grant on the Catalyst webpage

        The Royal Society for the encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), was founded on the belief that, amongst other things, manufacturing can improve social conditions. Solderpad helps people to collaborate for free on building electronic hardware for all sorts of products. As project leader Andrew Back’s presentation sets out, amateurs and enthusiasts are attempting to build the low-carbon products (such as the open-source electric car built by Riversimple) that companies won’t invest in. Solderpad is a for-profit company in part because it is looking for investment in order to get capital to invest in improving the services it has built to date. It will only pay back investment if it creates revenue from selling the services to commercial companies that don’t share their designs. For those students and others willing to share their designs, its services are freely available.

        As always it was a pleasure to meet other Fellows of the RSA and I hope I’ve persuaded them and now you, the reader of this blog, to either apply for Catalyst or run a similar event using the presentation. Please leave me a comment if you have any questions or feedback.

        Alex Watson is Catalyst Programme Manager – follow him @watsoalex

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