From a political point of view, education and the economy are 2 of the most hotly debated topics around the world. In his lecture for the Royal Society of Arts (RSA), [one of the best public speakers I’ve ever seen] Sir Ken Robinson lays out what he believes to be the 4 purposes for public education; economic, cultural, social and personal. Dealing with the economic reasons first he says:
“We [society] expect education to contribute to our long-term economic health, vitality and sustainability, that’s how we got to have these systems [of education] in the first place, but the economic model of the day was industrialism, which is why the system looks the way it does… [but] we have a different set of imperatives now…”
I think this aligns with what the OECD (1996) understands to be a move, in OECD member countries, to what they call a ‘knowledge-based economy’ whereby knowledge is accepted as a driver of productivity and economic growth. In turn, this has lead to a new focus on information, technology and learning and their role in economic performance. Robinson goes on to point out that if we are to meet the challenges of our time we must create systems of education that allow people to be both creative and adaptable suggesting that the current system “…confuses compliance with raising standards […] The opposite of compliance isn’t disruption, it’s creativity.”
It’s also clear to see that lots of things have built up over time around the manufacturing economy to get its ideologies and products across to people clearly and efficiently. These include things like multi-platform advertising, the high street, engagement strategies, sponsorship, trade/distribution networks and brands etc. thereby making their outputs easy to see, consume and understand. The marketing of them even goes as far as to find ways for us to associate our inner needs and desires with them, ‘thanks’ in part to public relations gurus like Edward Bernays (Century of the Self, 2002). If we see a knowledge economy (and therefore research) as equally, if not more, important for today’s society then we should look to build similarly productive structures around this.
To give some perspective; just imagine if overnight manufacturer’s outputs could only be found in written form in libraries and the knowledge economy took over all advertising and the high street. The thought of that illustrates how unbalanced those two economies are in their relationship with the public.
It’s possible that those invested in research and knowledge transfer are uncomfortable with the idea of competing for public attention, that their energy is best spent in the work itself… and I would agree, it’s not a competition and it shouldn’t be treated as such (mainly because they’d lose). But with only so much ‘public space’ and in a world where the highest seat in government (American President) can be acquired by deception, misinformation and mass confusion, that’s not going to cut it anymore. A Curator of Research (or Curatorial Consultant) should collaborate with academics to create conceptually appropriate, significant, visible, outputs of aesthetic merit.
This can be done in conversation with, not in opposition to corporations and manufacturing. A leaf should be taken from the book of Wade Davis (Explorer in Residence at National Geographic) who manages to negotiate the sensibilities of two worlds by encouraging conversation, understanding and innovation.
RSA (2013) How to Change Education – Ken Robinson. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BEsZOnyQzxQ (Accessed: 11 Oct 2017)
OECD (1996) Knowledge Based Economy. OECD Publishing: Paris
Strombo (2013) Wade Davis On George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight: EXTENDED INTERVIEW. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=roKvohObqBA&t=778s (Accessed: 19 Nov 2017)
Kruger, B. (1989) Savoir c’est pouvoir [color lithograph]