‘Work rest and play’? Looking ahead as we progress through the Fourth Industrial Revolution

In the fourth of our blog series ‘Interactions, Interdisciplinarity, International’, Jenny Hasenfuss reflects on the rapid blend of technologies and innovation placing us in the midst of the fourth Industrial Revolution, and she asks how universities might conceive of three of life’s fundamentals; work, rest and play in this context.

Figurines on keyboard

Figurines on keyboard

The starting point for this blog is the recent “Future of Work” stimulus event at Newcastle University held in the Urban Sciences building on the Newcastle Helix site close to the city centre. The event was coordinated by Naomi Oosman Watts and the NU Careers Service and hosted by Deputy Vice Chancellor Professor Julie Sanders and featured presentations and provocations from a wide range of speakers.


The U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics predicts that by 2030 millennials generation will make up 75% of the workforce. This demographic grouping is synonymous with technology, are typically always “connected” and are used to social media and expect flexibility. What can be done to consider education and learning in regard to this? Professor Sugata Mitra ,Newcastle University, gave an absorbing presentation of his Self-Organised Learning Environments and the propensity for groups of children to understand huge questions through self-learning with technology allied with the support and energy of the group. He posited that we need to be ready to consider bold approaches to learning through digital literacy and move towards gathering knowledge ‘just in time’ rather than ‘just in case’.

And what opportunities are presented for employers and for the workplace? Digital technology is having an impact upon business models, institutions, organisations systems and upon processes. Newcastle University Business School David Goldman Visiting Professor Alison Shaw and founder of the North East Futures UTC was compelling in her vision of innovative frameworks for education which must include an interdisciplinary emphasis and embedding of skills. She called for a ‘fluency of ideas’ and recognition of the importance of collaboration in higher education. By reminding the audience that work has social and cultural value as well as economic she set out an exciting agenda for higher education where we need to explore how we prepare for, experience and reward work in society and especially for our students.


The ‘work’ and ‘rest’ meaning and balance are changing, partly influenced by technology and the constant background hum of social media and round the clock news. And new business arrangements for working such as the “gig economy” and zero hours contracts are blurring lines for home and work.

RAND Europe has researched the importance of sleep for our health (physical and mental) and in turn actually for productivity. Their research in 2016 Why Sleep Matters: Quantifying the Economic Costs of Insufficient Sleep Economic modelling of data from five OECD countries (including the UK) found that individuals who sleep fewer than six hours a night on average have a 13 per cent higher mortality risk than people who sleep at least seven hours. This is a stark reminder for individuals and for employers about the importance of rest for so many valuable reasons.


In this digital and networked age how do we conceive of wellbeing and how do we find space for fun and to enjoy ourselves? How do we balance individual activities and those that are collective or communal? What is a ‘good society’? And what role do university staff, academics and students play in being part of and adding to a good society?

By 2030, the consumer class is expected to reach 5 billion people. This means 2 billion more people with increased purchasing power than today. Most of this growth is predicted in Asia: by 2030, China and India together will represent 66% of the global middle-class population and 59% of middle-class consumption. Population and climate effects are presenting water and pollution challenges. How can we best develop and nourish wellbeing of ourselves and others and of the earth’s finite resources in a commercial, often materialistic setting? Can we reconsider our ‘leisure’ time and how we ‘play’ and what can the social sciences and arts and humanities tell us about the value of ‘play’?

Where next?

At the ‘Future of Work’ stimulus event, Deputy Vice Chancellor Professor Sanders encouraged us with a forward looking address drawing on the sincere and hopeful vision of Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of World Economic Forum We can use the Fourth Industrial Revolution to lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a shared sense of destiny”.  In our roles in higher education with students, academic colleagues, staff and collaborators from beyond the University, let us go to work on this and be sure to contribute to this new collective.


Jenny Hasenfuss, Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal

Jenny Hasenfuss is Institute Administrator at Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal and her role involves supporting societal engagement with research and coordinating strategic projects. An experienced knowledge exchange professional and project manager, Jenny has worked in Higher Education for the past ten years and is passionate about developing impactful societally relevant research

Realising social innovation – reflections on NCCPE ‘Social Innovation Skills Share’ workshop

In the third of our blog series ‘Interactions, Interdisciplinarity, International’, Jenny Hasenfuss explores the practice of social innovation and what it means for universities.

This blog will focus upon the recent Social Innovation Skills Share’ workshop which took place last week coordinated by the NCCPE (National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement) and was held at the National at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations building in central London. The workshop was an opportunity to build upon the HEFCE funded “Social Innovation” pilot 2016-17 which funded six social innovation projects, and presented a great opportunity to hear about recent practice in community-university partnerships, emergent ways of working and frameworks to support high quality engagement and research outputs.

It was a richly packed day with six case studies shared and four workshops and it was extremely well facilitated by NCCPE Director Paul Manners and NCCPE Project Manager Maddy Foard from the NCCPE. The breadth of subject areas was impressive. But was even more exciting was to see and hear about the positive impact these projects are creating with external stakeholders beyond the Academy, and indeed back into the Academy.

Together we create

Graffiti image “Together we create”

Social innovation in action

Les Levidow, Open University, talked captivatingly about inter-generational community activism in London community based food growing initiatives, including Granville Community Kitchen . Having worked alongside community members at the Community Kitchen in a knowledge co-production process and funded by HEFCE, Les reflected in his humbling and inspiring talk about the ability of community groups to redefine societal problems, to work and develop collectively, and to devise inventive responses to those problems.

The ‘Parenting Science Gang’ project shared with us by Tamasin Greenough is involving parents (and mums in particular are really really engaging in this) in conversations about what research they need as new parents. This heartening and wide ranging project is empowering parents using a blend of online live Q&A with experts, events, the opportunity to get involved in studies and is now driving new research questions for academic researchers.

Another fascinating approach was shared by CUSE (Coventry University Social Enterprise CIC) who support University staff, students and local community members with their social enterprise ideas, training and business development and have helped to create more than 50 social enterprises in the last four years.

One project which particularly stood out for its aims and its ethos was the MoneyLab initiative designed by Ravensbourne and funded by the Money Advice Service. This project is being co-created with students from Ravensbourne and seeks to explore and understand students’ knowledge and experiences of money to develop a “more student-led approach to financial management, awareness and advice”. At the workshop session on this initiative Paul Sternberg, Head of Design at Ravensbourne and his colleague Simon Gough drew out the really sensitive considerations being undertaken within this project, elucidating the (often rarely spoken) social and emotional aspects of money and what it means for students (and indeed what the lack of money means for students). Through a thoughtful and reflective process the team are working with students. The positive intent of the team to be ready to step back from the project process was impressive as was their recognition of the subtleties involved in creating authentic ways of communicating with and listening to students. In this way Ravensbourne were engagingly honest about the challenges of co-design approaches but equally extremely positive about the real enduring quality of what can be achieved in collaboration.

The value of social innovation

At this point it is prescient to consider the provocations raised by eminent Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel, who in ‘What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (Sandel, 2013, Penguin) wrote “We have drifted from having a market economy, to being a market society”. Sandel articulates that the challenges of a market orientated society [which appears to provide a ‘neutral’ analysis of economic value of goods] are especially acute when some aspects of modern society (for example, fertility, value of teaching and learning, care for vulnerable groups, pollution reduction ‘quotas’), are condensed into a reductive market economy framework. Sandel argues that we need to be cautionary in our adoption of market principles to set value (and therefore meaning) on aspects of society, and thus we need to engage with a broader debate and paradigm to harness and celebrate value for the public good.

A common thread throughout the Social Innovation skills share day came to be the critical importance of an authentic sense of purpose, and the wider ideologies of social innovation as a practice in order to generate genuine benefit for the public good. The potential for social innovation to share knowledge and develop new insights. The potential for social innovation to be an important aspect of fulfilling the social and civic responsibilities of universities. The potential for social innovation to bring multiple benefits to multiple stakeholders.

Here in the Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal we champion co-produced research and support colleagues to undertake this with a funding call, tailored support, best practice resources and events and workshops. We have supported more than 30 co-produced research projects and have worked with 73 external partners from across the Quadruple Helix; Voluntary and community and social enterprises; Local authorities, Schools and Colleges and Businesses. Within our current European Horizon 2020 funded project ACCOMPLISSH, in the Institute for Social Renewal in partnership with University of Zagreb we have developed a set of principles and processes to underpin the co-creation research design and communication process in order to support effective partnerships and deliver mutually beneficial research.

To undertake authentic co-produced research one must utilise key principles to ensure quality and integrity of the process, being aware of power balances and the importance of creating trust. The exciting potential for co-created research is the development of university-stakeholder partnerships enabling academics to work with partners to exchange knowledge, create meaningful value and in turn nurture the potential for future impacts with and for society.


Jenny Hasenfuss

Institute for Social Renewal

Jenny Hasenfuss is the Institute Administrator at Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal and her role involves supporting societal engagement with research and coordinating strategic projects. An experienced knowledge exchange professional and project manager, Jenny has worked in Higher Education for the past ten years and is passionate about developing impactful societally relevant research.






From ‘words to action’

In the second of our blog series ‘Interactions, Interdisciplinarity, International’, one of our key regional partners talks about how any research ecosystem can only flourish when it includes representation, opinions and ideas from all sectors.

Simon Hanson, North East Development Manager, Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)

To badly paraphrase John Donne, no business is an island. The stress on small businesses to be more productive and innovative has resulted in greater expectations of the role universities can play in supporting their local enterprise ecosystem. This local ecosystem is not restricted to academia and business but also includes government and civic society.

Every region has some societal and urban challenges that holds back its potential. Rather than see this as a problem we need to start seeing it as an opportunity. An opportunity for all parts of the community to address in partnership.

This is the ethos that drives the ACCOMPLISSH www.accomplissh.eu project funded through the Horizon 2020 programme. In trying to address our collective challenges we need to look beyond our localities and see what has worked well elsewhere. Being nosey and curious doesn’t show up on any output targets through funded programmes like ACCOMPLISSH and remains an undervalued asset.

The theme of the most recent ACCOMPLISSH conference hosted in Tallinn, Estonia was from ‘words to action’. A great opportunity to develop those nosiness and curiosity skills. Here we would hear how other partners in the programme from across the EU had tackled some of these challenges, created partnerships between all sectors and allowed universities to break the shackles of the ivory tower.

That was the hope anyway.

There were some great presentations on the work that Tallinn University has done in a short space of time to achieve the theme of the conference and the potential that participatory budgeting has in helping local communities address the challenges they face.

In dancing parlance it takes two to tango and four to make a barbershop quartet. What felt like an academic conference was confirmed in the lack of attendees from at least two parts of the quadruple helix: the business community and civic society. Whilst all of the 14 universities involved had been encouraged to invite their quadruple helix partners, few attended the 2 day conference.

If we are to achieve a shift from ‘words to action’ speaking in an echo chamber won’t achieve our collective ambitions.

If we are truly to address the challenges and exploit the opportunities it will depend on people working together. No one community has the answers to addressing societal challenges and we need all the voices in the room. As Saul D. Alinsky said “If you want to know how the shoe fits, ask the person who is wearing it, not the one who made it.”

Small businesses are the backbone of every community across the globe. Helping them achieve their ambitions will address some of the biggest societal challenges that we collectively face.

Utilising opportunities like those presented by ACCOMPLISSH will hopefully go some way to achieve this.

Simon Hanson is the North East Development Manager for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). For the past ten years Simon has developed the FSB to be the leading voice of small businesses across the region. The FSB in the North East of England represent the interests of approximately 4,000 small businesses from across the region. To do this Simon has led the FSB work has undertaken in campaigning, lobbying, media relations, stakeholder engagement and partnership-building across the region.

The Federation of Small Businesses is working with Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal and other external partners to jointly deliver the ACCOMPLISSH project. The ACCOMPLISSH project explores how partnership working and Quadruple Helix collaborations and knowledge exchange can enhance the impact of research and achieve meaningful change for society.

Should social scientists get out more?

In the first of our blog series ‘Interactions, Interdisciplinarity, International’, one of our regional stakeholders talks about their appetite for academic research to make a difference.

Jeremy Cripps, Chief Executive, Children North East

I am recently returned from a conference in Tallinn, Estonia involving social researchers from 16 universities in EU countries. I went with Karen Laing and Jenny Hasenfuss from the Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal and Simon Hanson from the Federation of Small Businesses in the North East. This was part of the EU Horizon 2020 ACCOMPLISSH project that encourages academic social researchers to have more impact through collaboration with government, business and the civil society sector – my sector, I am Chief Executive of Children North East a large local charity.

Reproduced by kind permission of ACCOMPLISSH team. Illustration produced by Siiri Taimla

There were a lot of academics at the European conference but not a lot of people from government, business or the third sector. The project has been running for over a year and the theme of this conference was ‘from words to action’ so you would have thought there would be more of a mix. Between the four of us from Newcastle we gave two presentations about joint work we have done, both of which were well received. It felt good to be ‘on message’, but we were the exception; no other universities ran workshops about their collaborations. Why?

Most of us in the charity world are practical, ‘can-do’ sorts, if there’s a social problem to be addressed or an injustice to be challenged we just get on with it and do what we can. I suspect it’s much the same in the business world – lots of action. I am not a university researcher so forgive me if a caricature but I wonder if some of our EU colleagues are a bit stuck in ivory towers? I did feel there were quite a lot of people a bit like that at the conference.

That is a shame because although the charity world is full of good intentions sometimes our efforts are wasted. For example we are good at responding to needs but not at tackling underlying structural causes; we don’t always ask whether there is a better way to respond; and we aren’t good at learning from other places. Social scientists could help us with those questions and together we could do more good and make more impact on policy.

I am certain there are questions and issues social scientists know of and want to explore or have an impact on, I always find it stimulating when an academic approaches us with an idea, but the best projects are those that blend research and delivery – and I don’t just mean ‘evaluation’. One recent example was a large holiday project last summer – the researchers (from Northumbria University) wanted a large-scale research project that would demonstrate the importance of holiday projects to tackle holiday hunger and Children North East wanted to alleviate the suffering of poor children during the long summer holiday. The different aims converged and we were able to jointly plan and deliver a successful project.

So let’s have more collaborations like that. Here’s an open invitation to social science researchers everywhere – please get in touch and talk to us about your aspirations – they may well converge with ours.

Jeremy Cripps, Chief Executive, Children North East

Jeremy Cripps is Chief Executive of Children North East, a charity based in Newcastle upon Tyne which transforms the lives of disadvantaged children by working with them in their families, schools and communities. The charity employs 65 staff and 90 volunteers who work in projects across the north east region of England. By profession Jeremy is a children’s social worker and has worked in local authorities and children’s charities as a practitioner, manager and senior manager. In a long career he says there has never been a dull moment!