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At the RSA Creativity in Public Services Network event on 13th December 2016, participants were asked what the term “inclusive growth” means to them; what they would recommend be done to increase the level of inclusive growth; and what most interests them in the agenda.

In response, definitions of “inclusive growth” were subtly, creatively, and importantly different. Attendees had ambitions to achieve the opposite of “inclusive austerity”; aspirations to achieve the reverse of “niche prosperity”; and hopes that a society can be achieved in which “everyone matters” in getting access to jobs, services and housing.

The main part of the evening elaborated on these themes.  The groups thinking was teed-up by an overview of the interim findings of the RSA Inclusive Growth Commission by Atif Shafique, and a short exposition on the increasingly influential approach known as “frugal innovation” by Martin Wheatley FRSA, convenor of the Network. A series of lively conversations in two groups was then facilitated by use of the creativity techniques known as “Reversal” and “Force-field analysis”.  

The three main themes that emerged from the conversations are set out below, and encompass a spirit that called for public and private and civic all being seen as essential components to solutions.

Reinvent the welfare state

  • Make the welfare state more local and decentralised.
  • Bring about culture change. Develop much more of a two-way relationship between public services and the individual. Aim to generate a “Relational state”, by promoting more of a “custodian”, “facilitator” perspective by welfare services. At the same time, it’s vital to emphasise what those in need can do for society, as well as what they cannot.  
  • Build much more engagement with peer support and civic society, and look to harness the “local assets” in a community, such as library spaces and universities.
  • Stimulate local pilot projects and use crises as chances to motivate change. We heard that the Chattanooga Enterprise Center (Tennessee) drew inspiration from an economic downturn to motivate untapped entrepreneurial spirit among young and old alike.

Develop collaborative business models, that are widely accessible

  • Encourage scaling up of social enterprises. Look for find ways to draw on findings and support structures of UnLtd, and to build on the inspiration of the ICF Summit.
  • Make greater use of Social Value Act for public procurement, and see what can be done to foster more of a community spirit that acts to foster inclusion of those in the local community that are facing problems.
  • Change attitudes among those making financial investment decisions. Encourage useful innovation in banks – there is, for instance, an interesting example of community action with the Bank of Lambeth, while in the USA there are increasing numbers of “Community Development Financial Institutions” (CDFIs).
  • Build up much more transparency in terms of data on true performance. This should be social and environmental, as well as financial.
  • Look to embed much more of a social ethos within companies, along the lines of John Lewis – make them go by the spirit of Corporate Social Responsibility, not just the letter.

Increase social cohesion, drawing on new communications technologies

  • There was concern noted about the relatively weak engagement of many sections of society in the democratic process, and the extent to which cultural taboos seem to be hampering mutual understanding and respect.
  • One solution was felt to be the ability to draw on the power of Open Source more, by highlighting case studies, such as IDEO (a global internet community which acts to solve social problems collaboratively) and the Open Data Institute.
  • It was also felt that there was a need to continue to break down unnecessary barriers to the sharing of data (when this is in the interests of the individual and society alike), and build up the level of ICT infrastructure across the country to “at least reasonable standards”.
  • A further contention was to bring public sector decision-making more into the domain of community collaboration. This was felt to be key – providing that action was taken to ensure that the debate is wide, not just the “usual suspects”, and not just the loudest, but a process of engagement that tackles different views sensitively.
  • This in turn raised the need to improve soft skills training in schools, to increase the capabilities of young people to actively engage with, and listen to, others. Projects such as Young Enterprise are potentially showing the way.

The evening was concluded with a summing up from Atif Shafique. He noted that the discussions had shown that those designing reforms should think in terms of “systems”, since the public, private and civic sectors all influence each other. Atif argued that creativity was essential to address the resulting complexity, identifying ways to break down the obstacles, and improve the drivers, towards more inclusive growth.

Join the next Creativity in Public Services Network event on 7th February. 

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