Unusual Suspect: Rachael Brown, Creative Consultant of #UnusualGlasgow

Rachael Brown is an instigator, creative social entrepreneur and Saltire Fellow. Driven by impact, Rachael has extensive experience in business development, talent acquisition, complex partnership management and idea generation. She also has extensive experience in developing creative solutions in non traditional sectors such as social housing, regeneration, specialist care, prisons and with early years. She is currently the Chairperson at YTAS and is consulting with Social Innovation Exchange (SIX) on the upcoming Unusual Suspects Festival in Glasgow.

SIE recently interviewed Rachael for our Unusual Suspects Festival interview series.

What does social innovation mean to you and your work?

I have been involved in creating social impact for 20 years and I am often asked what is that and how do I know if we have achieved it. Well the simple answer is time will tell, and I think that is true of social innovation. I am lucky enough to spend my time now supporting and nurturing new social and creative businesses, many of which are “pioneers of social innovation”. I often hear myself say, “What’s that?” because are we simply better at joining the picture up rather than being socially innovative?

Many businesses and organisations work across each other. Now you have housing providers interested in employability and the arts as well as arts organisations delivering outcomes for employability and designing homes. But that’s not social innovation — that’s just working together. So for me in my work, true social innovation comes together when people move away from known structures, safety nets and ideas to come across the new and the wonderful. I had the pleasure of listening to Microsoft’s Chief Envisioning Officer Dave the other day and his view is that we are now entering into the “Rise of the Humans”. I think he is right and when we start to think about what that actually means, we will see social innovation.

Can you tell us about a project you’ve worked on where you’ve brought unusual suspects together?

I have had the pleasure of working with many different people in many different locations. My favourite “Unusual Suspects” style project was with The Waterways Trust, British Waterways, Partick Thistle football club and the local community of Fernhill in Glasgow.

The area was going through regeneration and like many communities, although pleased to get some inward investment, they felt that the developers and partners were not interested in hearing their views. I was with Impact Arts, who was working with the Waterways Trust and was looking at how people interact with the canals and waterways throughout Scotland. In addition, Partick Thistle football club was on the edge of the redevelopments and they were keen to get involved in someway but other than through football, they didn’t know how.

So I devised a weekend of family consultation, celebration and curiosity making. This involved families coming to sessions led by architects, artists and storytellers to re-imagine their area. They rebuilt it using a gym hall size layout of the area. We held fishing activities at the side of the canal and talked about who else “lived” in the area and where did they come from. At night, we lit huge sculptures of iconic Glasgow buildings that floated up the canal. Perhaps not that unusual now but this was in 2003 and the outcomes included reduced litter, violence and reported better community cohesion. In addition, the families that were involved created relationships with the regeneration experts that had taken on board that they were dealing with people and their homes — not just another development.

Tell us about your experience in helping curate sessions at the Unusual Suspects Festival.

I am delighted to be involved in assisting to bring the Unusual Suspects Festival to Glasgow. Glasgow is rich in creative thinking and new developments and as everyone knows in general the Scots are up for it. Moving forward is something that is culturally very important to Scottish people and over the last 12–18 months, there has been something special going on in terms of engagement, debate and people feeling excited about what’s possible. Therefore having a gathering of people that can challenge and debate in unusual ways is timely and exciting.

I have had the pleasure of speaking to great people asking them, “What if?” Let’s assume nothing and be open to conversations. We are joined up in Glasgow but are we innovative? I don’t have any answers but it’s great fun asking the hard questions. It’s not often you get to step back, help to curate a festival has made me think to what are the areas we are missing, what could we be doing if we started with different people in the room, what do we actually want to achieve and can social innovation help us get there. I think the conversations that will be had over 7–9th October will be relevant to many cities across the world and I look forward to being part of it.