The following is a report from Bob Porrer, who will be stepping down as Chair of the Fellowship Council in September, following the first meeting of the new Council (for which elections are currently being held). Bob and Irene have been a great partnership, and done much for Fellows in their two years leading the Council - I'm very grateful to them both! Please read Bob's report and let me know what you think in the comments - has the Fellowship Council done enough? What else do you think it should be doing? Have you voted for your new councillors yet? Please let us know in the comments!
The Fellowship Council - an end of term "impact" report
The Fellowship Council is in its third year of existence. It was created in 2009 as a replacement for the former Advisory Council to be a representative forum for Fellows of the RSA, with the core aim of promoting more effective working relationships between all aspects of the RSA, and specifically ensuring that the Fellowship’s voice is heard by the Trustee Board and by RSA staff. Initially it comprised 20 Fellows elected within the regions/nations of the RSA and 20 Fellows appointed by the Trustee Board to ensure diversity and representation of the wide range of activities and interests across the RSA.
In 2010 I was elected Chair of the Fellowship Council, with Irene Campbell as Deputy Chair. Irene and I saw the role of the Fellowship Council as facilitating a more constructive dialogue between Fellows and John Adam Street, working with Council, staff, Trustees and Fellows in an even-handed way to achieve this and resolve conflicting visions. Our aim has been to enable Fellows, through the Council, to have a genuine influence on RSA strategy and operations. Most importantly, while learning the lessons of the past, we needed to have an open and constructive discussion about the way forward as we seek to increase the activity and engagement of Fellows.
It takes time for any new body to settle down, but looking back over the first couple of years we can note a number of areas where the Council has already had a significant impact through the work of its members and working groups. These include:
More recently it is satisfying to note that members of the Fellowship Council will be involved in the selection of the new Chair of the RSA Trustee Board who will take over from Luke Johnson in October 2012.
At the last Council meeting with its current membership in May we reviewed what had been achieved and comparisons were drawn with the previous Advisory Council, largely viewed as a “talk-shop” with little influence. Members noted that over the past couple of years the Fellowship Council had developed as a body to be consulted by the Trustee Board and staff, was now genuinely involved in considering the future direction of the RSA and had a real influence through its discussions and decisions, its Working Groups, the work of its Chair and Deputy Chair and its representatives on the Trustee Board. The new governance structure being introduced, integrating the work of Regional/National Teams, the Fellowship Council and staff should further improve engagement and input from Fellows into the strategy and operations of the RSA.
We have built sound foundations but there is more to be done: improved communications with Fellows to make sure they can take advantage of the new support for engagement and input and feel they are part of a responsive organisation. There is a need to find ways to share good practice across the RSA wherever it happens and to link more closely central projects and research with Fellows outside London. There is a huge amount of activity across the Fellowship and we have to find ways of communicating this as well as we already publicise activities based at the House - but without swamping people with too much information, and recognising that each Fellow has different hopes and expectations.
The newly constituted Fellowship Council in September will be able to concentrate on all this and on stimulating Fellow activity across the RSA - and without needing to spend time on a major governance review!
Irene and I have been to a number of meetings with Fellows across the UK and will also be attending a number of the regional/national AGMs. Our aim is to communicate to Fellows all the changes that have happened to enhance input from Fellows, to listen to them and to respond to questions. It is essential that the Fellowship Council keeps in touch with the experience and views of Fellows wherever they are based.
Bob Porrer, Chair, Fellowship Council June 2012
Thanks Jemima, Bob for this
It strikes me that the Council has done a great job in getting Fellow representation embedded in the governance and management of RSA. All essential work, but probably below the waterline and out of view for most Fellows.
In terms of more evident impact and benefit, the Catalyst and Skills Bank work is a big achievement, and it looks as if other initiatives will be fruitful. I'm full of admiration for council members prepared to do the bureaucratic slog.
The big challenge (for this group anyway) is communications. I'm currently supporting Jemima and others in trying to get some engagement of Fellows in Fellowship council elections. It doing that, it strikes me that:
Despite our various efforts it is proving extremely difficult to engage Fellows. That may be because they feel elections and Council have little relevance (not yet enough above the waterline?). But I think it is also because as Fellows we do not control our communication systems.
We cannot - as I understand it - send a message or newsletter to Fellows alerting them to the election process. (I know there's problems doing that at this stage, but we could alert Fellows to the welcome discussion of issues now emerging in a non-partisan fashion).
Can we even do a broadcast message through this site?
My understanding of the technology strategy is that, however sound it may be on systems for staff, there is no significant consideration yet of comms for Fellows, beyond support for projects using Huddle. That may be fine for projects ... but what about the rest of the comms?
I made some suggestions earlier about an exploration and set of workshops to address these issues, and I'm really grateful for the support they received.
The poor engagement with the election process highlights the importance of some interim comms solutions for Fellows.
Should we start moving on this? Here's earlier ideas on a process ... though I no longer think OpenRSA is a good banner for it
Thanks for taking this conversation forward.
In relation to Council roles and responsibilities (and, to tie in with your post, how the Council should develop in future), there've been a few comments over in the RSA elections: At Large candidates' group about the lack of awareness around the RSA elections centering on the lack of information on the home page of the main RSA website. In particular, I thought I should cross-post a comment from At large candidate (and current Fellowship Councillor) John Elliott who says:
"It seems to me that getting information onto the RSA home page should have been planned well in advance of the election process. In my view the Fellowship Council itself should have played a greater role in planning the process. This poses serious procedural questions about the responsibilities of the Council in relation to the operational roles of central staff, which need to addressed."
I, too, feel that election communications are something we as current councillors should have asked for more clarity on. I really hope lessons will have been learnt for next time round.
I'm hoping any issues raised in this discussion will be picked up by candidates in the current RSA Fellowship Council elections over in the 'at large' candidates group where I've started up a new thread asking what the Fellowship Council's role should be goin....