In Their Own Words: Previous Finalists on Entering the Wolfson Economics Prize
The Wolfson Economics Prize 2021 asks entrants to show how they would design and plan new hospitals to radically improve patient experiences, clinical outcomes, staff wellbeing and integration with wider health and social care. More information about this year’s Prize is available here.
Ahead of the deadline for first round entries on 18th June, we caught up with six former Wolfson Economics Prize finalists from 2012 (currency unions), 2014 (garden cities) and 2017 (road pricing) and asked them to reflect on their experience of entering and to pass on their wisdom to those currently working on an entry to this year’s Prize.
We asked each former finalist four questions to explore their motivations for entering, their memories of writing-up their entries and to consider how entering the Prize had impacted their lives, both professionally and upon their broader understanding of their respective areas of expertise.
Why were you motivated to enter the Wolfson Economics Prize?
Gergely Raccuja (Winner, 2017): It started out as a matter of curiosity…the question was intriguing…I read plenty of papers and books as I was completely new to the topic. The thought that my ideas might get implemented as policy helped me to put my ideas down on paper. When I told my wife about the Prize, she helped push the project over the line because we were saving up to buy our first home… the prospect of £10,000 awarded for the five shortlisted entries was a big motivating factor to enter!
Deirdre King (Finalist, 2017): The subject matter was fascinating… we thought we would make a good team with… (Edmund King’s) ideas and… (my) grasp of economics to make the case. Hence we were fully motivated to produce an answer to this important question.
Chris Blundell (Finalist, 2014): I was working on the early stages of a garden village when the 2014 Prize was announced and was immediately excited by the opportunity to think more expansively about where and how new communities could be created, and to have those ideas tested rigorously. The question was framed in a way that I liked, bringing together the aspirational and the pragmatic, and the profile of the competition and the calibre of the judges meant it was impossible to resist the opportunity.
Patricia Willoughby (Finalist, 2014): This was an opportunity for us to explore, with like-minded colleagues, how the concept (garden cities) could be adapted to suit twenty-first century challenges of climate change, delivering new homes at scale and financial viability. We were confident that long-term financial planning was the cornerstone of success and we wanted to show how the place-making vision and commitment to community engagement, so well developed in the early garden cities, were essential prerequisites. The Wolfson Prize gave us the freedom to develop a concept, unconstrained by government policy and client expectations.
David Rudlin (Winner, 2014): We were attracted by the opportunity to bring together disparate elements of our work. In our case, land value capture, infrastructure, sustainability and development. These rarely feature in the same project or for the same client, so we set out with the idea of what we would do if we had the perfect commission to bring all our ideas together.
James Gross (Finalist, 2014): The Prize gave me and my colleagues the impetus and drive to focus efforts with a large team into resolving a significant challenge for the UK with wider global application.
“The Prize gave me and my colleagues the impetus… to focus efforts into resolving a significant challenge for the UK with wider global application” – James Gross (Finalist, 2014)
“The Wolfson Prize gave us the freedom to develop a concept, unconstrained by government policy and client expectations.” – Patricia Willoughby (Finalist, 2014)
How has success in the Prize impacted on your career / how have the ideas in your submission shaped your future work?
Neil Record (Finalist 2012): Being a finalist produced a flurry of invitations to speak (often along with other finalists). The ideas that I developed in the essay dealt with a scenario which has not yet come to pass…but my guess is that the entries probably will have had some effect on national preparations and subsequent actions. That could make this competition extremely important with the benefit of hindsight.
Deirdre King (Finalist, 2017): We believe in our Road Miles proposal and Edmund (King) has continued to promote the scheme with Government and in the media as the way to address the need to find alternative ways to finance roads in a way that is fair to road users and good for the economy and environment.
David Rudlin (Winner, 2014): Winning the prize attracted huge attention – particularly in our world of built environment professionals and developers. My company URBED is a small practice and we had been hard-hit by the credit crunch and austerity. It is not overstating the matter to say that the prize money saved us as a company and put us on a sustainable financial path that has since allowed us to grow.
We won quite a lot of work from developers seeking to develop garden cities as a direct result. This has allowed us to work on more ambitious projects for both the public and private sector. We also came across councils who were citing the ‘Uxcester’ (our winning design) or ‘Wolfson’ principles that lay behind their plans (even where we were not involved).
James Gross (Finalist, 2014): Our idea has been instrumental to the success of my working projects developed since. Not only has the Prize resulted in co-founding my own consultancy, but the projects also we have picked up consequently have gone on to win awards, furthering our recognition and impact.
Patricia Willoughby (Finalist, 2014): I went on to lead the work on the Leicester & Leicestershire Strategic Growth Plan which applied garden city principles to strategic planning… implementing policies which directly address climate change, inclusive growth, delivering high quality, well-designed new homes and providing jobs for a range of skills suited to twenty-first century industries, all principles which were embedded in our Wolfson submission.
Gergely Raccuja (Winner, 2017): Winning the prize was a huge deal for me as I had been in the early years of my professional life at the time. I also got to know others who submitted an entry who didn’t make the shortlist, but I incorporated some of their ideas in the Prize and made life-long friendships along the way.
“The entries probably will have had some effect on national preparations and subsequent actions. That could make this competition extremely important with the benefit of hindsight” – Neil Record (Finalist, 2012)
As a former finalist, what one piece of advice would you give to prospective entrants?
Gergely Raccuja (Winner, 2017): Go back to the first principles of what the question is really about, listen to what the judges say very carefully.
Patricia Willoughby (Finalist, 2014): Go with your heart. Say what you really believe in, not what you think will win you the prize. This is an opportunity to change the debate, consider radical ideas and use the media promotion to convince others.
James Gross (Finalist, 2014): You have to give it 100% or more! I can recall a number of all-nighters, sleeping on the office couch and very late-night video calls with a host of colleagues and collaborators all pulling together to bring our submission to fruition. That also means reaching out for help to the best minds in the business. The Wolfson Economics Prize seemed to trigger a participatory spirit so capitalise on that!
Chris Blundell (Finalist, 2014): This is one of the best opportunities…to be both imaginative and have your ideas tested at the highest level for an issue of real contemporary importance. Have the courage to be bold, backed up with the commitment to be analytical and rigorous.
Deirdre King (Finalist, 2017): Our advice would be to believe in your idea and produce some new thinking on the question in hand. We probably over-complicated “Road Miles” [their entry] by trying to cover every development and consequence. Our top tip is to keep it simple.
David Rudlin (Winner, 2014): Tell a good story, keep it simple and make it compelling. This is much more important that setting down everything you know on the subject or even trying to build a consensus. It is not often you have a chance to set down your ideas without being constrained by what others think or, dare I say, day-to-day practicalities and budgets.
“Tell a good story, keep it simple and make it compelling.” – David Rudlin (Prize Winner, 2014)
What would you say to someone deliberating over whether they should enter this year’s Prize?
Patricia Willoughby (Finalist, 2014): You can’t lose. Even if you don’t win a prize, the rigour of researching and writing up your concept will pay dividends, extend your knowledge and help you to apply the principles in future work. This year’s topic is also so relevant to the challenges we face as society today.
Deirdre King (Finalist, 2017): We would recommend entering the competition as it is a brilliant way to exercise your mind to come up with practical solutions that potentially could have a positive impact on society. You have nothing to lose and will earn a lot along the way.
Chris Blundell (Finalist, 2014): I found it a once in a lifetime opportunity to put big ideas out there, with a platform to speak up for what you believe in. It brought career opportunities but more importantly a deeply fulfilling challenge.
James Gross (Finalist, 2014): Go for it – it could be life changing. The publicity machine behind the prize is so well-oiled, that successful finalists are unlikely ever to receive so much positive exposure, which is worth the energy of entering alone.
Gergely Raccuja (Winner, 2017): If you have a good idea just go for it. The fact that I won should be testament to the fact that anyone can succeed…not just established companies or individuals with large amounts of experience.
“The fact that I won should be testament to the fact that anyone can succeed” – Gergely Raccuja (Prize Winner, 2017)