In summary: if we want a better networked RSA, with more chances to connect and benefit from its many activities, we can’t just jump to a solution. We need a Fellow-led exploration of what’s possible, some experiments, and a chance to help shape new content strategies and networking activities.
Over the past four years there’s been enormous progress in improving communication between Fellows, staff and Fellows, and the wider constituency of the RSA. We have a dedicated staff team on the job, Fellowship council, working groups, Catalyst projects, videos, online platforms - and more.
Matthew Taylor rightly celebrated that in his blog post this week: Spread the news, we’re getting engaged
But if you follow discussion on Linkedin, or this site, Fellows still find it difficult to connect … many interest groups are dead … while the sheer volume of content produced on the main site and various social media channels by staff can be overwhelming.
The results of the Fellowship Survey show a strong demand for greater engagement, and recommendations to achieve this (see below). Networking with other Fellows was rated second only to being associated with the RSA, its values and work, in the important aspects of being a Fellow.
So is this another moan: Something Needs To Be Done (by Them)?
No - because I think the next stage of development will only succeed if there is more action by Fellows to complement - and collaborate with - the work of staff, and to help shape the use of the next online platform developments. From Matthew’s post, that would certainly be welcomed.
The diagram above is not one that’s specific to RSA. It‘s goes with the oft-heard story … “we are too hierarchical at the moment, with a few clusters. We want to move from ‘join us and get a newsletter’, beyond some groups that are themselves hierarchical, towards a network where people doing more connecting for themselves”.
But how to do that? I’ve put some links at the end of this piece referencing earlier discussions and attempts over the past few years.
It isn’t easy, particularly in the RSA. The RSA’s great strength is diversity of Fellowship, and breadth of vision … but that means there isn’t one focus of interest. It has a lot of traditions and a culture developed over 250 years. It isn’t a classic membership organisation, where staff are there to serve those paying the subs … or a crowd of volunteers expecting to do things for themselves with some support. It is a puzzling mix … and so a great place to experiment in the changes that are needed more widely in society.
My suggestion is that we collaborate in an exploration. It’s an idea developed from recent discussions about the role of regional digital champions and social reporters. Earlier still, the first ideas for a fully networked RSA were developed among North East Fellows in the Virtual Coffee House group back in 2005-2007. That’s worth reading as a vision of what might be possible - update version from Peter Churchill linked below
While the RSA's new technology strategy will provide further tools for Fellows and staff, experience shows these will not be enough on their own to promote more networking. And while Fellowship staff, council members and regional groups are active in developing better communications, networks only operate effectively when network members have the skills and motivation to participate, using their preferred methods.
The exploration will provide a way to try some small-scale experiments, research experience elsewhere, and develop an optimistic view of opportunities for the future. In practice the explorers may:
As part of the process we will run some design workshops, inspired by one run by Fellows and staff in 2009.
The format for this exploration draws on experience of others run by social reporters for Big Lottery Fund, Nominet Trust, and other organisations - but we will develop our own approach as we go.
There’s an open Google doc with these idea here http://bit.ly/L8wCNV
We already have a core group of explorers. If you are interested, please add your name as a comment below, or in the Google doc. You’ll find on the doc that I have also added the idea that we might here have the base for a wider exploration of the role of networks and networking in society, if anyone else is interested. That reflects the ethos of the RSA: it isn’t just for our benefit, it is for social change.
Previous discussions and resources
Recommendations from the survey
Here’s some of the survey recommendations that we might help with
I've posted these ideas first in this RSAde group forum, but will promote more widely once people here have a chance to comment or contribute.
What do you think? Is this worth Fellows-led action? Do you wish to contribute ... and if so, where's the best opportunities to show what's possible?
Update: new post with further developments Next steps towards a networked RSA
David, an excellent start. This is a journey on which we are all embarking together, Staff and Fellows. If we want to change things then we must take the responsibility ourselves. There can be no "us" and "them". Lets explore how we can travel together and reach a common destination - a solution that supports the aims of the RSA, as agreed by the RSA governance and as managed by the RSA staff but also enables this great Fellowship provide input and to take an active role.
I know many of you have limited time and resources to support these actions but that doesn't matter. If we can all agree on the objectives - that common destination - we will get there, with those that can contributing what they can and those that can't cheering us on from the sidelines... or at least not throwing rocks!
These workshops can be the foundation of a Society that can continue the great legacy that we have inherited but also take us into the brave new areas that we need to in today's society.
Yeah, maybe some of you think that this is idealistic but as Pogo said ""We have met the enemy and he is us" ...
Hi David. Firstly well said!. I have worked closely with Jemima and Roxanne over the past 18 months within the Digital Engagement group. A more connected fellowship online is certainly the vision we all share within the DE group, and have been lobbying, facilitating and engaging with the team at JAS & fellowship to achieve this.
The new initiative of regional digital champions means we can drive this online activity further within the regions and have an impact at grass roots level.
The Technology Strategy Document goes a long way in defining the overall vision for the RSA. My issue is around the deliverability of this. The RSA need to change the dynamics of how they engage with fellows so it is more joined up and that is a cultural and technology change which isn't going to happen quickly, but more of a evolution.
I agree with John, this is a journey the staff and fellows are embarking on, and the change management and leadership required to do this is fundamental to the success. That should come both from the fellowship and the staff at JAS. I get the sense there is an appetite for change and now is the time to capitalise on this.
Agreeing the direction of the journey, goals, vision between both the fellowship & the team at RSA should be step 1. Then step 2 should be around the strategy to deliver this. Crowdsourcing and fellowship engagement within that process unpins the capability of the change management process. I haven't got a clear handle on what happens next and how we take this technology strategy document forward?
I'd be more than happy to step and count myself as one of the fellows contributing to the vision and more joined up networking.
David, many thanks for leading the (latest) charge on this topic. You say the design workshops would be "part of the process". I wonder if you (or others) have thoughts on the overall process; for instance do you see it now being a project with such steps as:
I don't think anything will be achieved without all the things you mentioned and it is my intention to drive "us" to set this up in exactly this way. This will be a fun ride...
As far as the VCH paper currency is concerned I don't think it an issue. I think it is a framework that can guide our thinking and I have less concern about some of the detail because things HAVE inevitably changed in two years - but not the fundamental concepts and issues. I see elsewhere that Clive Holdsworth will be part of this group and he has a technology vision that I think is very compatible with the VCH view. I hope the workshops will enable us to overlay the technology strategy with the user needs surfaced in the VCH paper.
I expect there to be a high correspondance with the technology strategy already but I think working together on this will provide us with a overall strategy that will enable and encourage Fellow involvement and give us the tools to enable this to happen, not just in the technical sphere but in all other areas of networking and social reporting.
If we just build a better technical mousetrap the Fellows will NOT come, we have to identify and encourage the Fellowship to want to use the technology and not use some minor lack as an excuse for not doing anything.
In any complex endeavor there is a cycle.
I see the workshop as the main tool to establish item 1 and to provide a context for all the other steps.
My understanding of previous attempts is that they have been largely of the "bring me a rock" school.
The Ruler says to the Noble "Bring me a rock". The Noble brings a rock, the Ruler replies "not that one, I need a bigger one". The Noble runs off and comes back with another one. "No I need one with a point on it so I can push this nail in the wall to hang my portrait."
The Noble returns with a hammer.
Except the RSA has more than one Ruler and lots of Nobles... and they sometimes swap roles.
[edited to remove gender bias...]
Its time for some holistic thinking Rulers and Nobles. And the workshop is the start.
Thanks Charlotte and Peter for the support and encouragement, and John for more wise words on strategy
I see my role here as socialreporter (telling stories, helping make sense of what is happening, joining up, helping others develop networky approaches). I'll also be taking an initial lead in developing a framework for the workshop. More on that next week.
I'm delighted we have John - now in the country as well as virtually present - to help build on the great work the digital engagement group so far. I think roles will emerge on this exploration ... I'm hoping John will be a significant something or other! (We can invent new names if we like, though as Peter and John indicate, there are some principles to follow).
I should re-emphasise that from my perspective at least this isn't mainly about technology ... it is about networky approaches and behaviours, and then introducing the tools to support those.
Further verbatim extracts from the survey that seem to point clearly in the direction suggested above (my bold):
"...points to latent potential for greater engagement...difficulties in finding information about how best to engage...fairly high usage of social media by Fellows outside RSA-related activities...top 2 drivers [of satisfaction] were found to be the standard of debate in local Fellows’ networks followed by online communities...most preferred method of communication online is by email...clear desire amongst Fellows to engage online...untapped potential for increasing engagement through online communities and social media...considerable potential for tapping into Fellows’ desire for greater engagement...
As a first step in exploring the potential for Fellow-led network building in the RSA I went to the social entrepreneurs breakfast meeting today where they were talking about social media.
Where better to get some sparky discussion and ideas, I thought - and I wasn't disappointed. Richard Raynes of sportinspired started us off by saying he knew how important Twitter and other tools were for social entrepreneurs ... but he found it difficult to get to grips with it. What did others think? That modest, non-expert intro got everyone sharing their personal experience, and also experience within RSA.
There were a number of Twitter experts - particularly Trudy Thompson, who I'll come back to later - and a lot of use of Linkedin. Very few people used this site rsafellowship.org. Maybe it was an unusual group today, because the social entrepreneurs network here has 299 members, and is the liveliest special interest group in the RSA.
Here Richard provides a summary of the discussion - concluding that the challenge for the RSA is how to build effective networks without spending a lot of money in doing the wrong thing.
I then spoke to Trudy, who runs the Bricks and Bread Sustainable Living Centre as a hub for experts in the field, and also networks through Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin. Trudy explained how she has grown her Twitter following to 10,000 by being herself rather than a brand. Trudy runs weekly social media sessions, and has written a succinct Twitter guide (pdf).
One of Trudy's key points was that you can only build networks by being prepared to share and enter into conversations. You won't achieve much by just shouting your wares like a market trader. You have to enter into conversations. Here's Trudy on Linkedin - I'm pretty sure she will want to connect.
I came away buzzing with ideas. Trudy has offered to run a social media session that would not only help participants, but also explore how RSA networking could be developed by joining up networkers like her. Would it be possible to get a room, or would we need to hire some space elsewhere?
That reminds me of one of the other key points - that you can't build networks of the sort RSA needs just online ... you need events too. The Gerrard Bar was great for breakfast with a dozen or so people ... but there isn't really anywhere else in the House for Fellows.
Where did I hear that point before? Back in 2007, from Malcolm Forbes, when RSA held a big event to develop the idea of RSA networks. There's lots more here, on the OpenRSA blog a group of us ran back then.
If we are going to succeed in developing more RSA networking bottom up, to complement the major organisational strategy, I think we need to connect three things. First, some benefit for the Fellows involved: why share unless you gain something in return ... whether friendship, learning, new opportunities. Second, some benefit for the RSA: it has to help build networks, not just provide pesonal networking opportunities. Third, some benefit to the wider interests that RSA serves.
I'll return to that later.
Meanwhile I'm wondering how best I and others can post our explorations. Writing this sort of thing in a comment box isn't very satisfactory, and if we created a new forum topic for each one it would rather skew content in this group. We could each do main blog posts on the site, but they wouldn't hang together. Linkedin has limitations. Maybe we need something like the OpenRSA blog of 2007-2009 ... but would that be seen as challenging, provocative?
If we are going to demonstrate some good network building practice during the exploration, we need an appropriate space - a sort of temporary home.
I have been discussing the discussion vehicles with Michael Ambjorn and Matthew Mazey at JAS and they have voiced their concern about the use of rsafellowship.org vs LinkedIn and Michael specifically asked me if I though we should make LinkedIn a more formal - maybe the formal - discussion mechanism so I think that if we had a good case for a more useful blogging platform then using a commercial solution like Wordpress would not cause any friction. As long as we keep JAS in the loop and don't start throwing rocks at a very stretched organization I think they would welcome us taking the initiative.
Totally with you folks. I found the summary Peter posted very good:
Of these, the one I feel I need most staff intervention on is the first - substantial promotion of the Fellows Directory. I'd like to see an entry on this made a default condition of Fellowship with only proactive opt-out. There's no reason why people can't have their email addresses hidden.
While I think the key is around experimentation, I am less convinced that such a structured approach as being spelled out above is appropriate in this situation.
Bear in mind how rapidly new means of online networking are being launched and the lack of any plateauing of them. Just two years ago the volume of direct messaging between individuals overtook the use of email. Some companies are still trying to ban the use of 'social media' by staff and have corporate IT policies that assume that staff still only have access to the internet at work! We don't want to expend ime and effort investigating possible networking tools only to discover that the world has moved on yet again.
Let's also keep perspective - there are, say 23000 Fellows. As this is not an organisation set up with networking as an explicit purpose, and the use of social media espcecially, you can only expect a proportion of them (perhaps a growing one, but still only a proportion) to wish to join in.
Despite a high proportion in the survey saying this was their intention, there are several reasons to believe that this might be an exaggerated proportion. Completing a survey, full stop, biases the sample in favour of those who are more extrovert. There's a social reserve to saying that "I joined the RSA because I thought it would give me kudos and might help me in my career"; respondents are likely to mention networking instead. What one person means by networking, might include falling asleep in the afternoon, in a leather arm chair, with the newspaper over his face, in the library after lunch in his club. Someone else might consider working together on a voluntary basis towards a social purpose more appropriate than seeking customers for a paid-for service.
So, how many Fellows can we realistically expect to engage if provided with the means and motivation to do so? The LinkedIN RSA group has about 300 members and of these I reckon less than a dozen are very active. That's 4%, so by extrapolation, we might only expect 1000 Fellows to take part in anything we develop.
With that in mind, what kind of elaboration other than a bit more clarity of communication do we need to introduce?
I think the intention is to find ANY way that will work better than what we have today. As David said in his opening
I should re-emphasise that from my perspective at least this isn't mainly about technology ... it is about networky approaches and behaviours, and then introducing the tools to support those.
I personally have had this emphasized to me this week as I spent two days at JAS meeting with RSA staff and breaking bread with David, Rosanne Persuad and Jemima Gibbons.
I have been having extensive communication with them all for 3 months now via social media, necessitated by my 8000 mile separation in the Pacific Northwest of the USA, but I felt we covered more ground and developed a greater understanding of each other's commitment in a few hours together than we were able to do in hundreds of social media exchanges.
The idea of the workshop is to get together, physically if at all possible, and to explore just how we can best build "networky" solutions that, while not eliminating the requirement for physical proximity sometimes, can best leverage our "network". Because of the physical requirement we are considering going "on the road" with the workshop. In a separate set of communications both the USA and Canadian chapters have voiced their support for this approach and I hope that I may take this workshop "in the air" later this year.
We are not looking for a silver bullet but a sustainable strategy, although some basic tools will obviously be required e.g. a Fellows Directory :-), a manageable and managed discussion mechanism, a conferencing system etc.
You're obviously further ahead than I was in the thinking - I thought we were still at the experimental phase with some kind of generic project management framework. You seem to have got to the implementation one with a workshop going on the road.
I'll sit back and watch for the moment.
I'm still a little frustrated to have discovered that there was a New Fellows' Meeting last week that I wasn't invited to. It's coming up to my anniversary and not having been available for one in September last year it seems I was forgotten.
I will renew, but I will also admit that the experience of Fellowship has been a bit of a disappointment so far.