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Taking inspiration from Northern Futures, and the RSA’s work on City Growth Commission, I initiated a South West Futures pilot day of parallel events to explore some core economic challenges faced by the South West in an era of increasing devolution, and to co-create innovative solutions for the future. The events took place on 7th July, exactly two months after the General Election.

The simultaneously linked events were hosted at the University of Exeter Business School and by Made Open Ltd in Penryn, attracting over 50 people consisting of RSA Fellows, local leaders, businesses and experts in housing, transport, planning, science and education. The key question considered was “How should we unlock creativity to enable a sustainable, inclusive and dynamic future economy in the South West” and was taken directly from the RSA’s key theme Economy, Enterprise and Manufacturing.

Being passionate about the South West and the values of the RSA - I wanted to bring people together on behalf of the RSA SW fellowship team to come up with fresh ideas and action to increase regional collaborations, drive open policy making, new business clusters and open innovation. The events were led by me (in Devon) and Kathryn Woolf (in Cornwall) and we spent the morning unpicking the challenges, including a live video link up between the Cornwall and Devon events to compare emerging themes. We then developed ideas for solutions in teams during the afternoon.

The results were varied with themes being developed around retaining young people in the Southwest and building our skills and workforce; creating a better, more cohesive and professional image of the southwest for both residents and on-lookers; promoting our renewable and green credentials and connecting our communities through shared networks and shared data-sources. Other common themes included promoting manufacturing industry clusters, and cross-sector collaborations, digital inclusion, and exploring alternative models for banking and local financial eco-systems.

All the teams made films of their ideas and presented them at the end of the session. Lucy Knight (@jargonautical) also produced some brilliant visual sketch-notes of the issues explored.

The events were held in partnership with the University of Exeter, Devon County Council, supported the event by meeting costs and promoting the event. In Cornwall and the Isle of Scilly the event was supported by RSA South West and Made Open Ltd.

Dr Allen Alexander, Director of the University of Exeter’s Centre for Innovation & Service Research commented

“This was a fantastic opportunity for a diverse group of people, many of whom didn’t know each other at the outset, to work towards collective, inclusive solutions to the problems we all face – regardless of our position in society, career or age – this was real democratised innovation in action!” 

We have received a great deal of interest in the run up to, and after the event. Clear opportunities were identified to consult young people, promote manufacturing industry cluster activity, and explore alternative models for financial eco-systems - which we are exploring. We will keep you posted.

For further information email me: and for updates follow the South West Futures Google+ page or follow @rsa_sw on Twitter.


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