The Intellectual Forum at Jesus College, Cambridge launches a course based on Poles Aprt.

Course looks at how to address the pernicious effects of polarisation and groupishness

Us vs them: Why people polarise and how to bring them together focuses on how to bridge these divides, sharing the context behind affective polarisation, why the pull of “us and them” dynamics can be so strong, and what each of us can do about it.  

Research shows that 55% of the UK population see the country as divided, while only 37% feel comfortable expressing political views at work. The course explores how these natural tribal tendencies can get in the way of forming effective teams, choosing the best experts for the job and hiring the right people, with consequences for innovation, effectiveness and scrutiny.

It takes learners through the behavioural science behind why we form groups, how they come into conflict, and offers an overview of the implications in politics, finance, health, business and more. Critically, a key feature of the course is practical tips and tested solutions for managing division in teams, the boardroom, at home and in wider society.

Launched in partnership with online platform edX,  the course draws on expertise from renowned authors and speakers on business, behavioural science and politics - Laura Osborne, Alexandra Chesterfield and Alison (Ali) Goldsworthy - who recently published an acclaimed book on the subject, Poles Apart, with Penguin Random House.

Ali Goldsworthy, a Senior Research Associate at Jesus College, who introduces the course, was one of the UK’s foremost campaigners before developing her expertise in polarisation at Stanford.

She said: “Polarisation is a huge and growing challenge, in the UK and beyond. Already turbocharged by technological change, COVID-19 will make our divisions worse. It has increased uncertainty, and will cause governments of all hues to take deeply divisive decisions on how to repay record borrowing.  The need for solutions is palpable.

“Excessive polarisation is deeply corrosive to us as individuals and also for groups and as society. Where does polarisation leave the intellectual diversity that leads to innovation? Or good, scrutiny governance and decision-making? This is an opportunity to get ahead of the issue that threatens to define the workplace.” 

Dr Julian Huppert, a former Member of Parliament and now an academic at Jesus College, said: “There’s been a lot said and written about how much of a problem the rise in polarisation is. People talk about the US elections, Brexit, and more. But there’s much less about what to do about it. 

“The exciting thing about this course is that it teaches people how to respond to polarisation, and how to build more productive environments at work or in their social life. Since it’s free to access, it’s a great opportunity to glean ideas for anyone looking to build teams and bring people together at work.

“Laura, Alex and Ali worked on their book, Poles Apart, here at Jesus College, and Ali is one of our Senior Research Associates. I’m delighted that Jesus College has been able to work with them to produce this world-leading course.”

Enrolment is open now. The course can be taken for free on Jesus College’s edX website. Certification from edX and Jesus is available for a small fee.

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