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Tony Koutsoumbos FRSA reflects on the Ideas Exchange, a new collaboration between the RSA and the Great Debaters Club, which began in earnest earlier this year.

Have you ever wandered what it would be like to spend an evening with an eclectic mix of public servants, communications professionals, educators, and entrepreneurs, who you might otherwise never have met, discussing ambitious ideas for public policy and social reform, while enjoying a snack or a drink from the bar after a long day at work?
Last month, I found out for myself at the launch of the Ideas Exchange in Rawthmells, a collaboration between the RSA and my own social enterprise, the Great Debaters Club.

It was something I had wanted to do for a while, after getting to know other Fellows and the range of innovative projects and new research they were pioneering, at events like RSA Engage. I thought about how interesting it would be to put them in the same room as Great Debaters Club members, many of whom work at the heart of the very sectors that stand to benefit from the work Fellows are doing: government, politics, the legal profession, financial services, and public relations.

Imagine how much they would have to talk about. How much they would take away with them from those conversations and pass on to the people they work with, including senior decision-makers.

Thanks to the advice and support of the RSA events team, that idea became a reality on September 26th and 25 people came together (almost exactly a 50/50 split between Fellows and GDC members) for an evening of round-table conversations on the environment, education, and democracy.

However, we wanted to go further than just giving this incredible mix of people a place to discuss these issues. We wanted each person to leave with a clearer idea of the difficult choices facing the leaders in these fields and the questions they would have to answer when making them. So, each conversation was presided over by an experienced moderator, who had been trained in how to isolate and summarise key talking points and then identify the underlying questions they raise.

The round-table on education, which focused on whether independent schools should be abolished and integrated into the state sector, proved particularly interesting. Widely supported at the outset, the idea came under intense scrutiny during the discussion as questions were posed about how it would work and whether its impact on state schools might undermine the objectives of the policy. The conversation concluded with the group instead agreeing on a raft of counter-measures designed to achieve greater equality in education, while minimising the risks they had themselves identified.

The feedback received after the event was heartening with almost every respondent commenting on how much value their fellow participants added to the conversation by offering a perspective that gave them pause for thought and doing so in a respectful and constructive manner. Moreover, each of them suggested a range of topics for the next Ideas Exchange in November to help ensure that in future the event is driven by Fellows and the ideas you want to discuss.

So far, the topic suggestions we have received include: mental health, personal identity, the role of faith in the 21st Century, nuclear power, fake news and many more. There is still plenty of time to add your own of course, so please get in touch by email at tony@greatdebaters.co.uk, and the list of topics selected next month will be announced 1-2 weeks in advance. Most importantly of all, come see for yourself how the Ideas Exchange works and join the conversation on November 21st.

The next Ideas Exchange takes place on Thursday 21st November in the Rawthmells enlightenment coffeehouse and will run from 6.30 to 8.30 pm. Admission is free, but you must book in advance, which you can do here.  If you would like to suggest a topic for one of the roundtable conversations, please email Tony by the end of Wednesday 6th November.

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