Here's an update on my earlier suggestion for a Fellows-led exploration into how to develop a more fully networked RSA. See comment below for the latest: Will Fellowship Councillors lead?
Recent studies and discussions have confirmed the need for a new approach to help Fellows connect and collaborate, and revealed some opportunities for action. My main conclusion - it is NOT about technology. Earlier ideas here on a Fellows-led exploration of the issues and possible solutions.
Firstly, the recent substantial Fellowship survey showed professional networking is the main reason for wishing to be active in the RSA - but online communities are current the lowest-rated offering. So - a huge gap between what people want and what they get.
Then a lively debate on Linkedin about "Why did you join the RSA" showed a lot of frustration with the lack of clarity about what networking is encouraged within RSA, and how it is supported - with a number of Fellows offering to help develop ways forward.
Fortunately candidates for the Fellowship Council - now elected - joined a hustings discussion, debated communication systems and networks, and agreed this was a priority.
What comes through strongly from the survey and the discussions is that Fellows want high-level discussion, well-signposted information, and managed content. Linkedin, followed by Facebook and Twitter, are the ways that Fellows network online, linked to face-to-face activity. Ning sites, like RSAFellowship.com are little used.
The survey showed that despite the desire for networking, in practice it is low - with only 56% networking with more than five other Fellows and only 11% collaborating with more than five other Fellows. That's probably because Fellows can't find each other.
The survey identified a latent potential for the greater of engagement of Fellows with projects, with a preference for Fellow-led initiative (70%) over staff-led initiatives (48%). Again, the barriers are difficulties in finding information and how best to engage.
At the moment there is an RSA Technology Strategy - reported here by Jemima Gibbons - but not, as far as I know, a content strategy or a network building strategy designed to meet the needs articulated in the survey and discussions.
The technology strategy includes looking at personas - typical Fellows - and the information and networking pathways they might follow. However, I believe that is mainly to design new systems, rather than facilitation and network-building support.
The conclusions I draw are:
Undertaking something on this scale across RSA activities would be a very substantial task. It is not clear where responsibility would lie, because it crosses a lot of departments, and staff and Fellows activity.
In my previous post I suggested an exploration could provide a way to try some small-scale experiments, research experience elsewhere, and develop an optimistic view of opportunities for the future. I said that in practice the explorers may:
... and I would now take account of the additional points from my conclusions above. Thanks to those who signed up previously (Dave Briggs, Peter Churchill, Jemima Gibbons, John Oakley, Roxanne Persaud) I held back from trying to take things forward because of the potential offered by the Fellowship Council discussions, and what came up on Linkedin.
We might now interest the newly-elected At Large councillors in joining in, and perhaps taking a lead, so that we are plugged in to official RSA development. Ed Whiting has blogged about The RSA - awakening the sleeping Fellowship giant, so I am hopeful.
In addition, I believe that there are a lot of Fellows who are interested more generally in how to build networks and develop collaborations in and across organisations, and localities. We could set up an officially recognised special interest group like those here. That could both look at general theory and practice - and also how it can apply to RSA.
The digital engagement group, led by Jemima Gibbons, has done a terrific job over the past three years - and there is plenty still to do. I believe we now also need to look at the non-tech issues that work has helped to surface.
The survey results in more detail
The recent Fellowships survey showed professional networking as the main active reason Fellows are in the RSA - only behind the more passive "being associated with the RSA and its work.
However, networking is low with only 56% networking with more than five other Fellows and only 11% collaborating with more than five other Fellows.
The survey concluded that there is a latent potential for the greater of engagement of Fellows with projects, with a preference for Fellow-led initiative (70%) over staff-led initiatives (48%). The barriers are difficulties in finding information and how best to engage.
One of the reasons why there is such a gap between desire for networking and collaboration is the poor offering and use of online communities. They rate lowest in an analysis of familiarity and favourability scores
A more detailed analysis of the communication methods, and the social media that Fellows use, shows a big preference of email of post, text and phone (83, 23, 1, 1) and also that Linkedin is the most used network, and Ning the least
Fellows value high levels of debate in local networks, followed by online platforms. Looking at where small changes could bring major changes, shows "relatively small improvements in the standard of intellectual debate in online communities and local Fellows' networks are likely to have a significant positive impact on the levels of overall satisfaction".
Here are some of the key survey recommendations
I've posted this to the Linkedin discussion.
MOVING TO ACTION: WILL FELLOWSHIP COUNCILLORS LEAD?
There is a lot of support for a meeting within the next few weeks, including from two trustees and a range of Fellows. However, I suggest we first need to be clear about the purpose of the meeting; how it sits within a bigger process; the scale of the problem; and who "owns' the problem and process.
It is time to hand-over my facilitation role in these discussions to someone (or a team) who will plan that process and convene the meeting as part of it. There is general agreement that Fellowship Council should play a major part. Options I suggest:
* Councillors here discuss among themselves and with other councillors how that is done, and report back quickly
* If it all looks too daunting, do we go for some less-official guerrilla organising, aiming for independent action and some quick wins
Over to you:-) Rationale follows. See "Next towards a networked RSA" for the backgroundhttp://bit.ly/OkkgTP
The generally-agreed problem is that business and project-related networking is the top engagement priority for Fellows, from the recent survey and other discussions, but RSA provision and support for that is rated very low. While there is a technology strategy, there is no evident overall strategy for addressing content, networking and collaboration needs. Upgrades are promised on some tools - directory, skills bank - but these are a small part of the solution. Catalyst grants are fine for those who wish to go the project route, but a lot of the conversation, cooperation and collaboration pathways that people want do not go that route.
The is also a lack of signposting to content, online facilitation, and confusion about what type of networking is allowed. This makes any attempts at personal networking, and self-organising among Fellows, extremely difficult.
There is nothing new about these problems, and RSA received £100,000 from NESTA in 2007 for the RSA Networks projects that first aimed (and failed) to address them. See earlier posts for references. Some problems are rooted in governance issues, and most cross several departments. This looks like a whole-system institutional failure - which is why it hasn't been "fixed".
OWNERSHIP OF THE PROBLEM
A number of people have said that this is an issue for the Fellowship Council, because they represent Fellows, and have some responsibility for engagement. I would suggest that it goes beyond engagement towards enabling and empowering Fellows to take action for themselves.
While the systemic nature of the problems are probably beyond the capacity of the council (who are essentially volunteers without, I believe, much resource they actually control) it does seem right that council members should help us find a route into the solutions. Trustee Don Pinchbeck advises action should not just come from the top.
ORGANISING AND LEADERSHIP
Thanks so much to Kirsten for facilitation of this topic, Bob for the one on Byelaw 13.14, Don and everyone for such terrific contributions. The challenge is to make from talk to action - and how to organise that.
So far in this process I have acted as a socialreporter (trying to make sense, joining up people and ideas, facilitating towards action). However, I'm not a project manager, and as a freelance have to be very wary about committing much more volunteer time. For me - and I'm sure others here - there could be a lot of mutual benefit in relating these challenges to other work we may be doing. However, that's one of the things that is probably a no-no under Byelaw 13.14 (see other topic thread).
So will Fellowship councillors now help us organise, or do we try some small-scale ad hoc actions? I'm happy to help, but not to lead.
David - keep on with the social reporting, it's creating good dialogue and debate which is what we need.
Agreed that the new fellows need to hit the road running on the issues around membership and fellow engagement. It's a problem a lot of membership organisations are facing. Those which adapt quickly to the challenges lead the way.
The reassuring thing is from what we've seen all the new fellows on the council are all talking about the same vision & issues we want to address. We therefore need to turn this into action - and that's going to be the challenge.
We're going to be a new team getting our heads around the governance and structure of the RSA council - but this can't overshadow our vision of what we want to achieve.
I think the key thing is ahead of the 1st meeting in September is to start the conversations around the agenda for the meeting so we can start tabling some of these issues discussed.
Thanks Charlotte - that's really encouraging, and an essential link between the ad hoc discussion and Fellowship Council. I'll pull some points together from the discussions within the next few days so we can see what might go on the FC agenda, and whether there are some quick wins people might self-organise around.
And congratulations on your win!