RSA Fellowship Social Network

Social Network for RSA Fellows

Matthew Taylor has a nice line in his recent post: "the reason people engage is to have fun, to make a difference or to grow; preferably all three" ... which I think gives us a useful route into thinking about what next for digital engagement.

It chimes in with a post by Oscar Berg on The collaboration pyramid (or iceberg), about which more in a moment.

Matthew goes on to talk about political engagement, and how a critique of populist or direct democracy leads to advocacy of deliberative democracy ... but that can end up with polarisation and extremism rather than the desired moderation and resolution.

Matthew says that much of his time with the Labour Party as an activist "overwhelmingly comprised activities which were not enjoyable, largely pointless and as boring as hell".

So it would seems that just talking about issues doesn't necessarily lead to action, nor does exhortation of high principle by the grim and determined. I agree with Matthew in applauding Tessy Britton's approach, as he does in part here.

Tessy is promoting a creative and collaborative paradigm for participation - which involves doing things together, and making it fun and creative. Lots of that here in Tessy's various social labs, and you can find a further theoretical basis in the book by another Fellow and collaborator, Professor David Gauntlett  - Making is Connecting.

Now back to the pyramid. Oscar Berg is writing about the conditions needed in an enterprise for value-creation through collaboration, and suggesting that the traditional model of structured teams is the tip of the iceberg.

We don’t see - and thus don’t recognize - all the activities which have enabled the team to form and which help them throughout their journey. We see the people in the team, how they coordinate their actions and the results of their actions, but we rarely see the other things which have been critical for their success. For example, we don’t see how they have used their personal networks to access knowledge, information and skills which they don’t have in their team already but which are instrumental for their success.

The layers below the surface involve a wide range of ad hoc connection, development of relationships, and development of trust.

There's a link on Oscar's page to a piece by Harold Jarche "you simply can't train people to be social", in which he picks up on the pyramid and goes on to detail some of activities that may be needed to create a supportive social environment. These include support for groups, "virtual coffee", Yammer meetups, many conversations by phone or Skype, and social network analysis. 

This mix of online and offline activities was also at the heart of the Virtual Coffee House proposal that Don Pinchbeck reminds us about in this earlier discussion.

I'm joining up these various pieces because RSA is in the process of designing a new technology platform, as Don mentions, and part of this will be a new online space for Fellows. There's lots of other work to do, and the Fellowship space is probably a year or so away. 

That gives us time to explore the sort of activities Matthew, Oscar, Harold, Tessy and David all refer to in different ways. While Fellow do need, in some ways, to be treated as customers for RSA services - with clearer alerts, offers and signposting - that's not enough if the aim is to encourage and support more social innovation as Matthew suggests here.

If we are going to do good things together, then the Fellowship needs to be viewed as a community ... or rather many different networks of interest and activity as yet only partly formed. The RSA Connected Communities and Citizen Power projects can provide some insights and lessons on what's needed to support them.

I think we also need to recognise that in this context Fellows are more like community activists and volunteers than the highly-organised professionals that they may be in their day jobs. Another Fellow, Eileen Conn, argues that community groups are more energy waves than organisational matter. They don't organise in the same way as businesses, or even voluntary organisations with staff ... so it's even more complicated and messy than Oscar's pyramid.

What I think we should avoid is a technology-led process that assumes that Fellows are essentially a mix of customers; members supporting some limited set of objectives; and enthusiasts who will organise using the same sort of methods and tools that they would in their day jobs. While Fellows need to work with staff, the sort of methods used by (paid) staff in an essentially hierarchical organisation may be very different from those that suit volunteers from different backgrounds who are motivated by fun, learning, creativity.

On the one hand this makes attempts to achieve action not talk very challenging. On the other hand, it is a wonderful testbed for the sort of collaborative processes needed in many other contexts.

So what might we do, to test and evolve the social and collaborative activities need to make any technology platform work ... and in the process provide a better brief for its development?

This site, and other similar ones for regions and other networks, offer plenty of opportunities to do some socialising and network building - particularly if we can make connections with other networks on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

Matthew Kalman Mezey has made a great start in developing a dashboard, showing where RSA stuff is happening online. However, it is the map, and not the journey. Or maybe a snapshot of the digital landscape at any moment.

In order to realise the potential of the many possible connections shown on the dashboard, and surface the conversations and stories flagged up there, we need more human intervention. I think we need hosts, guides and social reporters.

The hosts can do more to welcome people as they join these sites, make some introductions, and help the party along. The guides can help people find what's happening across the different spaces, and suggest new routes they might like to take. The social reporters can help further by making sense and joining up conversations in ways that I describe here in other contexts

These are all emerging roles that are being practiced in public, commercial and nonprofit organisations, and which will be increasingly valued. They are not simply online roles ... they need to work at events and in informal meetings.

To some extent this hosting, guiding, reporting may be seen as the responsibility of RSA network managers ... but I don't think that we, as Fellows, can expect them to do all the work. I think we need to build our own community, networks, Fellowship.

I'm looking for others who might be interested in spending some time hosting, guiding, reporting.

Why bother? I think we can meet Matthew's criteria and make it fun, a great way to learn and meet other people, and also make a difference. Maybe we should start with a Talkaoke - just like the first attempt at building RSA Networks for Fellows back in 2007. This time I think we can be co-creators, and avoid becoming frustrated users, if we are prepared to be more active.


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Replies to This Discussion

As I have indicated to you in another place you can count me in on this. I have a passion for motivating tribes...

Most of the points you make are really posing or answering the question "how?".

I think most people, when faced with an opportunity, think "why?" or more fully "why should I? What's in it for me?" or "Why should I? What risk will I be exposed to?".

Most of my career I've achieved things by being a cheer-leader first and a manager second. ( No comments about pom-poms please!)

Everyone has a price... what do we have to do to make it worthwhile.

 Ooops, my cynicism is showing. 

John - I agree with the "why bother" challenge. Many of the early enthusiasts from 2007-8 have given up. There's only a few waving the pom-poms. 

We should recognise it is a double challenge.

First, why should Fellows bother to engage online or off beyond going to events, using the limited space House available. Back in 2007 Matthew Taylor gave us a vision of civic innovators ... but we don't here so much of that now. The tag line for RSA is 21st century enlightenment. I'm not sure many people know what that is. I don't see a clear organisational purpose to Fellowship. On the other hand the Catalyst Fund has a lot of takers, with good projects emerging, and Fellows are keen to find kindred spirits. There are many smaller purposes.

Then there is the second challenge: why should anyone volunteer to be an online host, guide, reporter. I'm interested because it is the line of work I am in, and this could be a greater learning space while helping others.

Is there one currency? What's yours :-)?

Oh, I passionately believe that the future is in online collaboration.

My only concern is how long it will take to get there for the current generation ( my generation, that is). Maybe never.

My thirty-something kids have no issues with it at all. As we "speak" I have my thirty-something daughter in my home in Washington state, working remotely with her team based all over the US and Europe and, other than time zones there is no problems of engagement, management, motivation etc. as they switch from tool-to-tool, mode-to-mode. Next week she will be in Chicago - and the pattern of her work and of her collaborators will not change one bit... other than maybe more after work beers. She socializes after work with them when she is here. With her iPhone in her hand in our local bar she continues texting, swapping photos, real talking to real people in the bar... without hesitation or deviation. She sees the world as one big opportunity to collaborate ... as do many if not most of her generation. But she (they?) switch modes and tools seamlessly depending on the context of the message. 

She is an online host to any of her new hires, new clients. She reports EVERYTHING. 

However, there is nothing special about her. That is a common pattern with the under 40's in my experience. If anything they share and cooperate too much.

Why does she work this way? Why does she "volunteer"? Well, it is what she would do in her office in Chicago if people were in offices there or just walked through the door. 

Her and her peer's reaction to "here is a new tool. It lets you send video across the world." is similar to being told "Here is a new employee. He/she is good at marketing" i.e. "maybe this new xxx can be useful. Lets see what he/she/it can do."

In other words the technology is just an extension of their real world. The important thing is still the "old-fashioned" things of developing a relationship, gaining trust, earning respect.

Oh, and a somewhat cynical approach to tag/strapline/slogans. Her favorite saying is "I hear that, now tell me a story". And this is not because she lacks intelligence... Oxbridge degrees up the wazoo..

Thanks John. Your points, together with other conversations, makes me wonder whether I'm on the right track. I've been thinking how hosts, guides and social reporters could use this Ning platform as a home base to engage more Fellows socially, and from that grow the potential for collaborations. That route is really "more of the past three years" but with Fellows being more active.

It may be feasible in theory ... but will it be enough fun, will we learn much, will we make a difference ... before as volunteers we run out of energy?

Maybe we should come at this from a different direction.

1. Find some hot spots of energy in the Fellowship - geographically or in communities of interest - where there is strong demand for support in collaboration processes. Then see what processes and tools we could put together to help.

2. Engage with those like your daughter who are enthusiastic users of collaborative tools, with the skills and attitude to realise their potential. Explore with them what RSA online may offer. As another Fellow said to me a while back "what can RSA offer me that I can't get from my Twitter friends?"

How could we explore and source support for these challenges? I see that Spacehive offers a way to pitch and fund neighbourhood projects online. What could we do to develop a fresh approach? Time for an innovation camp?

Regardless of technology people will not communicate unless they have a need. I think the success of Twitter and Facebook has been because the need that they have satisfied is that of being noticed. Although there are some examples counter to this, by and large there is scant evidence of collaboration being initiated using these tools alone. The protest movements that have exploited these tools have really been "notice me" writ large.

Even the UK riots of last year were not, in my opinion, initiated by social tools - the need existed first, the tools were pulled out to support the need - but then again it was "notice me". The events were little more - and in some ways less - than the "revolution by fax" of Prague, Tiananmen Square etc. ( fax had the advantage that it was essentially untraceable).

However, once a need is identified I believe these tools are powerful amplifiers. We are ourselves an example. We are spending our time using this tool Ning because we believe ( I assume) that a) the RSA is a force for societal good and b) a pool of 27000 Fellows who are a self-selecting group of thought leaders should be able to achieve more.

But it is not the 27000 who are using the tool, it is the 2000-odd who have already identified a common need and require an asynchronous and/or wide area communication channel.

I am the eldest of 6 siblings. My other 5 siblings and my aged mother all live within 10 miles of each other in the UK. Ever since I left home at 18 I have been trying to get the family to keep me in the loop with technology other than the telephone. Until this year only 2 of them even had email accounts. Last year my 92-year-old mother became ill and as I am the head of the family I was expected to "solve the problem" of her care. The 8 hour time difference when I am in my US home made that difficult if not impossible for them to handle in a rapidly changing situation so they realized they had a need to use technology to keep each of them in the loop.

Firstly they all got email addresses - it turns out they all actually had accounts on their broadband service, installed for their kids use. Then emailing each other - without missing someone - became a chore so I persuaded them to use - blogging by email. One email to posterous and everyone knew what was going on plus an archive to avoid the "he said/she said" arguments. Anyway, now we have family discussions via Skype - including aged mother who has so far survived and loves seeing her far-flung grandchildren. The point is the NEED came first. Then the appropriate technology followed. 

[BTW, that use case or story was not a pitch for either posterous or Skype. They just happened to fit the specific needs of my family at that time] 

So, to get back to your comment David... I think finding groups of FRSAs with a common interest and a passion for a solution is a better first step. Of course in a perfect world we would already have an ideas management application in use so we could collect and manage the candidate projects but we must let reality impinge here. We don't, so we must revert to other ways of identifying candidates. I have seen several references to the success of the Catalyst program. I assume that is because something in the Catalyst program satisfies a need - I guess money - but would the Catalyst programs be a source of feedback on what collaboration tools are required? If not could we ( through JAS to avoid Data Protection Act issues) send out an online survey to find out what communities of interest are out there ( horrible name but provide an incredible free tool to build and manage surveys). If the survey was packaged such that it was obvious there was "something in it" for the respondents we would get enough responses to see if their are any clusters, be they subject or geography. I don't think doing it through any existing Ning, LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter mechanism would be the right way because Fellows using these tools are already a self-selecting group. There may be a group of Fellows out there who may just be comfortable with email and could be persuaded to click on a link to get them into surveymonkey. Of course Nings, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter et al. could also be used to amplify the message but not as the primary means. Self-selection is the enemy of any survey.

I'm happy to do anything that will further the cause, including establishing new tools and methods, but I'd be much happier helping identifying needs first. I've spent my life introducing technology to organizations big and small and have yet to see a "this is great, use it" success.


Thanks John. I've just come from a really inspiring meeting at RSA on how Fellows and others might mentor, support and encourage young people by sharing their networks as well as their personal expertise: there's an opening post from Matt Lent here, with my comment following the meeting. That could be one good starting place.

Carrying out a survey of Catalyst projects and their needs sounds another great idea. I'll check in with Alex Watson, who runs the Fund. The Fellows-young people project will probably apply for Catalyst support, so that ties in well too.

We also have the ability to message people on this site, perhaps aiming particularly at those hosting groups.

Thanks Linda - I'm hoping we can find a focus next week. Your encouragement is much appreciated


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