Like many of the best innovations, first aid training was a simple concept with a powerful impact – equip people with the skills to help out other people.
It’s a supplement, not a replacement, for trained professionals.
Even the best ambulance service is going to take time to get to you and having someone on hand with a bit of knowledge, skill and confidence can make all the difference.
And yet, up to 150,000 people in the UK die each year in situations where first aid could have given them the chance to live. First aid training was invented here, but the UK has massively lower levels of people with first aid skills than most of Europe.
It’s a challenge that’s being taken on by organizations like St John’s Ambulance.
Last week I met their inspirational chief executive, Sue Killen, and heard about the work they’re doing to get more people equipped with basic first aid skills.
Yes, you’ll still see St John’s Ambulance volunteers in uniform at football matches and country fetes, but you’ll also see a lot more innovations like the Stick It project, a basic first aid course made for young people and designed by young people.
In a world where sadly all too many young people are victims of violence, doesn’t it make sense that they know how to help each other out?
It’s a great example of what social innovation should be about – the application of ideas to make life better. Application is the operative word.
Innovation isn’t just about invention – it’s also about the application of old ideas to different contexts and in new ways.
Earlier this year, Ben Rogers and the RSA published an essay arguing that the concept of first aid training could be applied to community safety – mass training citizens with the basic skills to stop fights, defuse conflict and intervene when they see anti-social behaviour.
The WRVS and Alzheimer’s Society also have a new take on the idea of skilling up citizen’s to make a difference.
As part of their new campaign, information on dementia is going to be printed on the back of the 25 million till receipts that WRVS issue every year through their cafes and shops. If just 1% of those are read, that’s a quarter of a million people who will be better equipped to spot and support someone suffering from dementia.
It’s innovations like these that have inspired the work on the Citizen’s University, a new venture from the Young Foundation and NESTA aiming to bring training for citizens to every high street.
We’re building a coalition of civil society organizations to trial new ways of getting basic, simple skills into the hands of the public.
What all these examples show is the potential for radically re-thinking how we meet social needs by harnessing the capacity of citizens.
The dominant narrative in our story of public services has been professionals delivering services to a more or less grateful public. That needs to change and part of the picture must surely be innovations that make it easier for people to support each other.