From products to public services

In the future, perhaps driving and heating will be public services.  I have written in the past about the trend that is seeing products turn into services.  People are hiring or borrowing bikes, cars and tools in ways they didn’t before.  Now I have a sense of the two forces behind this trend:

1) Economics.  In the past, the progressive compromise was to let capitalism get on with it and to re-distribute income.  As the wealth distribution reaches Victorian levels of awfulness, there is a strengthening view that this is insufficient.  Both Maurice Glasman and Phillip Blond have argued that the state should redistribute capital and not just cash, ‘capitalising the poor’.

2) Ecology.  As we develop the green technologies that can avert climate catastrophe, we will habitually use equipment that is cheaper to run but more expensive to purchase.  Green boilers and cars will generate lower bills but higher prices.  At our Climate Change Dialogue last week, it was powerfully argued that one important green innovation priority relates to the business models that can make this work.  We need companies that can help people adapt to leasing solar panels and cars to help us transition to this new world.

We should not run together issues of justice and the environment too readily – too often, ideological aspiration is framed as planetary necessity.  At the same time, to renew themselves, progressives must be acutely sensitive to strategies that can help both the planet and disadvantaged people.

By John Craig


May 16, 2011 at 9:19 am 7 comments

Keri Facer’s thought-provoking piece in the TES

by Alec Patton

Professor Keri Facer (one of the instigators of Purpos/Ed, among her various roles and achievements) wrote a very interesting piece for the Times Educational Supplement’s ‘Insight’ section (which, incidentally, often has really exciting stuff, and is worth a weekly visit).

The piece is a defense of the role of schools within the landscape of 21st century education. Context is everything here, and depending who you are, this may sound reactionary, refreshing, or just incredibly obvious. Whatever your response, I’d advise reading the piece – it will open your mind, and make you think twice about what you espouse.

Here’s the heart of the piece:

The reason we need to continue to invest in the school as a physical space and a local organisation is because I believe it may be one of the most important institutions we have to help us build a democratic conversation about the future. A physical, local school where community members are encouraged to encounter each other is one of the last public spaces in which we can begin to build the intergenerational solidarity, respect for diversity and democratic capability needed to ensure fairness in the context of socio-technical change.

Moreover, the public educational institution may be the only resource we have to counter the inequalities and injustice of the informal learning landscape outside school. The school is also potentially the most powerful local institution to help resist possible futures of breakdown and dispossession that seem increasingly possible.

The notion that schools as the the only place where people who share physical proximity without sharing interests or social class ever actually meet each other as equals is disturbing, but also pretty convincing.

May 16, 2011 at 9:18 am Leave a comment

Learning about the ethic of engagement in my neighbourhood

by Raj Cheema

I’ve recently become a committee member of the Tenancy Association in my neighbourhood. Having lived in the area for three and a half years – I thought it was about time I got involved and found out more about the place. Plus – what better way to learn about Localism – than getting involved locally!

Here’s a little about my small neighbourhood in Rotherhithe. There are a handful of large housing associations operating in my area providing housing to a large number of people. You have young professionals, young families and people who have been unemployed for a long while all living next door to each. It’s diverse in a lot of senses, offers a clean, convenient and safe lifestyle – and makes you feels like you’re not in London even though the City is only 20 minutes away on the bus. There is a lot of modern developments – the dockland’s history isn’t that visible.

Our local Tenancy Association has been dwindling in the last year – engagement from the neighbourhood is at an all time low – in fact for the last six months it’s been pretty redundant and if they hadn’t found some new members – they would have got rid off it. In the past, the TA has done some tremendous work in campaigning for the interests of the residents against the Housing Associations. And realising the benefits of having a TA – the Housing Associations are keen to back the TA and maintain the bridge of communication between them and their residents.

The interesting thing is that people in the neighbourhood ‘want’ to keep the TA but don’t really want to get ‘involved’ or engage in matters that TA deals with on their behalf. Previous members have found that people aren’t interested in engaging and turning up to meetings even when the local MP is in town.

For me the TA reflects the level of apathy inherent in most neighbourhoods. And I want to find out why this is – rather than make presumptions. Is it because:
a) Residents don’t really understand their relationship with the TA – or the TA hasn’t been good at cultivating the right kind of relationship with residents
b) There aren’t any real issues of concerns that residents think the TA could deal with
c) If there are issues of concern – then residents think the TA can’t ‘act’ on these

In the next couple of months – I’ll be knocking on the doors of my neighbours to find out what they think of the TA, whether there are issues that concern them and what they think the TA could do. My goal is to get people involved and engage with the TA so that it channel its efforts to dealing with problems that concern residents. I reckon it’ll be a learning curve – I don’t know yet whether it’ll be a steep one or a small one. But I have a feeling I’m in for a bumpy ride – it’s OK, I have my seat belt on.

Stay tuned if you’re interested in finding out what progress I make in my new role as a ‘localist’.

May 12, 2011 at 4:46 pm Leave a comment

The World’s Most Innovative Schools: HSRA, St. Paul, Minnesota (“Hip Hop High School”)

(in this video, HSRA’s founder explains what it’s all about)

by Alec Patton

I found out about the Hip Hop High School thanks to the High Tech High School – specifically, Samuel Steinberg Seidel’s article about it in Unboxed, High Tech High’s ‘Journal of Adult Learning in Schools’.

St. Paul, Minnesota’s High School for the Recording Arts (HSRA) is a chartered high school driven by project-based learning, and run on hip hop principles -interpreted by Seidel as follows (this is just a sampling – so to speak – of the design principles that he identifies): (more…)

May 12, 2011 at 8:56 am Leave a comment

Love food, hate waste?

by Claire McEneaney

It’s no secret that we at the Innovation Unit are a bunch of foodies. There isn’t a week goes by without a tale of someone’s latest culinary invention or dining experience. Many of grow our own vegetables and we’re always swapping tales on how to get your veggies to have more va-va voom (tip: get a wormery!). We are also ardent recyclers, encouraging our building to go green, swapping all our printer paper to recycled paper, and using Boris bikes to get to meetings. So, when I discovered Love Food Hate Waste I knew I had to blog about it.

Love Food Hate Waste campaigns to raise awareness about the need to reduce the amount of food we waste. From all that off milk, mouldy bread, slimy bagged salad, and forgotten yoghurt pots, we throw away almost 8.3 million tonnes of waste food, which is a pretty astonishing amount. (more…)

May 11, 2011 at 2:10 pm Leave a comment

e-Bay, social care and the Big Society

by Raj Cheema

Last month, Slivers-of-Time Markets launched a video about the impact their ‘e-bay’ software is having in the social care market. The aim of the video: getting the message across to central government that their work could be a powerful catalyst in encouraging volunteerism in the social care market – on a local level.

Slivers-of-Time Markets help organisations create an online market place where time from local people becomes the currency between time-seekers and time-givers. For example, Tesco use the Sliver of Time system as an over-booking system to enable their staff to pick extra hours of work. It lets shopworkers sign up for extra shifts in their own or other nearby stores when they have free time to do extra work.

Slivers-of-Time Markets was one of the projects that participated in Innovation Unit’s enabling independent living programme. The organisation wanted to adopt the online software for the social care market and, noting their high-potential in light of the personalising social care agenda, we connected them to six local authorities in London. By enabling individuals to contract directly with one another, Slivers-of-Time Markets opens up the labour market and places control in the hands of service users.

According to a recent report from a group of charities, nearly one in four disabled and older people have experienced cuts to services and increased charges for care, with families “pushed to breaking point”. In a survey conducted by charities including Carers UK, the Alzheimer’s Society, Macmillan Cancer Support and Scope, more than a fifth of respondents said services had been cut back even though their needs had stayed the same.

In this video, Slivers of Time talk about their work with Hertfordshire County Council. Hertfordshire have a large group of elderly people who need support but fall below the elgibility threshold. The online system enables time-seekers to find local (vetted) volunteers who can donate some time and help out with isolated elderly people. The potential of this scheme to transform the way in which social care is delivered personally has recently been noted in the Local Government Chronicle and Community Care.

Slivers-of-Time Markets is now hoping the government will support a series of regional trials to encourage local volunteers to give some time and support local authorities in meeting the needs of the vulnerable. If ever there’s going to be a success story of Big Society in action during the recession – surely this has got to be a strong contender? Good luck Slivers – we have our fingers crossed!

May 11, 2011 at 1:09 pm Leave a comment

Calling for ideas to tackle local health problems in Birmingham

by Raj Cheema

Young Foundation is scouting for people with big ideas to tackle health problems in Birmingham. If you think you’ve got what it takes, here is your chance to put your hat in the ring and answer four questions:

1. Tell them about the health problem you hope to fix
2. Outline how your idea is big, bold and new
3. What support do you need to get your idea off to a flying start?
4. Who is involved in submitting the idea?

The ten most promising proposals will be invited to attend a ‘Big Idea Bonanza Festival’ on 1st July 2011. The festival will challenge teams to strengthen or create a business in a day, tap into specialist expertise and pitch to a panel of dragons for the chance to win up to £2,000 of start-up funding and bespoke business support.

To apply you must be a public sector employee, third sector organisation or resident of Birmingham or Solihull. They welcome applications from individuals, teams or established organisations looking to launch a new idea or grow an existing service. Closing date is Friday 17th June 2011.

Return completed application forms should be sent to Eleanor Cappell at or (you can also call her on 0121 380 9019/ 07956 317 236).

May 11, 2011 at 9:58 am 1 comment

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