Unusual Suspect: Dr. Jim McCormick, Scotland Adviser to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Dr. Jim McCormick is Scotland adviser to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and a member of the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC). He is a Board member at Scottish Business in the Community and on The Stroke Association’s Scotland Committee. He has advised government, the voluntary sector and independent funders. Early in 2015, he joined the independent Commission on Local Tax Reform, established by the Scottish Government and COSLA to identify a fair alternative to the council tax.

He is co-founder of research partnership McCormick-McDowell, having previously been Director of independent think-tank the Scottish Council Foundation (SCF) and a Research Fellow with the IPPR in London. His main work interests include tackling poverty, the changing jobs market and wellbeing in later life. Other interests include music, languages and Greenock Morton FC.

SIE recently interviewed Jim for their Unusual Suspects Festival interview series.

What does social innovation mean to you and your organisation?

There’s often the impression of a tension — perhaps even a battle — between consolidation activity rooted in good evidence and the search for ‘the new’ through innovation. In fact, it would be very innovative if decisions were made and resources allocated more closely in line with evidence arising from research, evaluation and consistently good ways of picking up on the “vital signs” of how our lives are changing. But, the evidence is rarely so thorough and current to give us complete confidence in solutions and preferred methods. Innovation needs to run through policy and practice, as a check against old assumptions and new certainties. It isn’t just something done by government, business or research councils. It’s done best when the focus is on the “how”, the “whom” and the “why” as well as the “what”.

How can unusual suspects help find new solutions to reduce poverty?

Joseph Rowntree Foundation stands for a prosperous and poverty-free Scotland and wider UK. Achieving a major and lasting reduction in poverty is feasible, but can’t possibly be achieved only by relying on government action. The territory is much wider than tax and benefit reforms. We need distinctive contributions from employers, housing providers, the education system, the energy sector and networks of people and places. We may find that unusual coalitions between surprising allies hold the most potential of all.

What do you think is the potential for events like the Unusual Suspects Festival tackling social challenges in Glasgow?

Any event — even one conceived and curated in a thoughtful way like Unusual Suspects — is defined by its time and place. Whether it sparks new types of collaboration, across and beyond the city, depends on those who take part, whom they connect with and who else they tell. This event has great potential to help us recognise what’s already there in Glasgow, and to invite the “usual interests” to draw upon unheard voices in the face of familiar and emerging dilemmas.