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Wednesday, 14 November 2007

How NESTA sees the RSA Networks project

A link on Roland Harwood's Connect blog offers some insights into how NESTA views the £100,000 investment that they are making in the RSA Networks project - or RSA 360 as it is also known. Roland, writing about Interaction + Iteration = Innovation, says:
We've been arguing for some time that all innovation is fundamentally collaborative, and I believe it is becoming more so, given increasing specialisation in all domains. It may be possible to invent an idea or concept as an individual, though this always builds upon the work of others. But more importantly, to realise commercial or social value, requires input from many other people - both seen and unseen. And yet the finance, support and infrastructure for innovation in the UK (and elsewhere) tend to be mostly focussed upon the individual (person or organisation).

I'm particularly interested in the space between the individuals, or the 'interaction' within an innovation community. This interplay between participants has an inbuilt feedback mechanism or 'iteration' which is a hallmark of the design process and is essential in successful innovation. Good innovations don't just rise to the surface naturally without the momentum of a wider community of advocates. Returning to science for a moment, modern physics is clear that the world works very differently at different scales. The laws that are true of atoms and sub-atomic particles do not 'aggregate up' to apply to larger masses and structures where entirely new emergent phenomena occur at larger scales e.g. magnetism. The same applies to groups and communities.
He then goes on to add:
One of the evaluation techniques we are using in several of our Connect projects, Corporate Connections and RSA 360, is the use of video ethnography to observe and track the development of diverse range of participants seeking to innovate collaboratively. I think this will be fruitful and will reveal insights not obtained through traditional quantative or qualitative techniques.

But I am beginning to realise that we lack a vocabulary to even talk about group dynamics properly. Can anybody please provide me with examples of case studies that capture the essence of group dynamics (both positive and negative) that properly explain the emergence of collaborative innovation, rather than simply telling the stories of heroic individuals or aggregating individual behaviour?
The link leads to a page which applauds the potential of the RSA Fellowship, and explains its importance to NESTA:

The 360 project taps into this massive latent potential of the Fellowship and supports them to develop new networks, which aim to deliver sustainable social change.

NESTA Connect will help to set up a team of external advisers to develop a set of pilot networks. Each network will be nurtured individually and encouraged to 'connect' with each other and other partners to generate action and learning.

For the RSA, the project flows directly from the belief that a better future depends on citizens closing the social aspiration gap - the gap between the world we say we want to live in, and the world we are likely to build.

For NESTA Connect, this is an opportunity to explore different types of collaborative innovation, and identify connections between these collaborations and successful innovation.

I'll send Roland an invite to see if he would like to add more over on this blog. It's really encouraging to feel in the forefront of social innovation experimentation and evaluation. More will be explained at our meet up next Monday with Eleanor Ford. However, I don't want to appear the least bit carping, but it would help a great deal if RSA could pull some of these references together and offer Fellows a full briefing on the programme. There's a few early ones here.

Following Mick Fealty's kind words over on the RSA Networks blog, I have high hopes of RSA-OpenRSA collaboration on this.

1 comment:

Roland Harwood said...

Thanks David for the comprehensive review. I stand by what we say at being excited by the potential of the RSA project. The key will be to mobilise the connectors facilitators to build momentum around the RSA's mission. Your and Mick's blog should act a very useful focal point for shared learning as it progresses.