Tuesday, 20 November 2007
RSA Networks preview meeting
Last Friday evening at 6:30pm a group of five fellows, five RSA staff, and two or three interested individuals gathered in the Shipley room around the Talkaoke table for a very early preview of the RSA Networks prototype website.
The event was also an opportunity to test out the non-technical (offline) process of project development and discussion we had whittled down from all the ideas, requests and discussions we had dug amongst the RSA's diverse communities. We attempted to do this by mirroring the process outlined in my first three blog postings (the ideas, the flow diagram and the wireframes).
As you may now be bored of reading me say, that process is to propose ideas, discuss them, then support them through to execution. We thought that if we set up an equivalent process 'offline' - in a convivial environment (provided by Oddbins and Anshuman's generosity) we could think through how we might be able to augment the process online.
We were not disappointed. The evening began with a presentation of the prototype - which was still quite broken and bare-bones at that stage - of course the first thing that happened was that I forgot my password in the bustle to get ready but that was swiftly glossed over and I presented our working model so far.
Unfortunately, I had failed to take the advice of our facilitator for the 22nd - Sean Blair to make some 'response' cards to capture people's thoughts about the prototype as it was demonstrated. Immediately afterwards, some really great questions came thick and fast, and quickly turned into a heated discussion about the broader issues: what is civic innovation in this context? Should the RSA's website be open to the public? What's the point of building another social networking site when Facebook is already doing a very good job? Luckily we have this all on video (up on youtube later today)
Rebecca Daddow coordinator of the RSA Risk Commission gave a fascinating powerpoint presentation about a new research project she's working on to help develop an online 'Behavior Change Tool' to help young children learn to make more informed decisions in their daily lives. This was a great example of an RSA project: multi-disciplinary, socially applicable and requiring the participation of multiple organisations and individuals.
Nico Macdonald talked about his research into the poverty of debating standards on and off-line, and the tantalising possibilities offered by RSS syndication in further cross-linking blogs, turning the infrastructure of the blogosphere into a loosely coupled adversarial debating floor.
Richard Millwood then gave a very inspiring presentation about his work with the Ultraversity, an online degree course in technology and research - during which he showed an incredible video of two enthusiastic women at their graduation ceremony, explaining the wonders of network-assisted learning at home beautifully - as if, (he said), they'd been given a script for a student recruitment commercial.
There was some debate about the projects, but far more about the mechanics of project assistance and development within the RSA, and how it relates to the RSA Networks project. I am very grateful to the presenters for offering to put their projects forward knowing this was likely to be the case. However, some connections were made - particularly between Richard and Team Everything - who were well represented at the gathering.
Sunny Hundal really hit one of the many nails of the evening on the head when he was talking about his work on Comment is Free. When he develops projects, it is impossible to imagine only involving fellows - there has to be some way of bringing in other people to work alongside them. This issue - of access and openness of the platform became one of the most interesting discussions of the night, with David Wilcox bringing up some very good questions about the incentives for fellows (or anyone) to use and participate without the terms of engagement being completely clear.
This theme - of degrees of openness, picking up on many of the threads on this blog and on the RSA Networks blog really became the core of the evening, and revealed some of the paradoxical issues inherent in a members-only organisation embarking on a process of opening access to its networks and resources. However, there were some interesting suggestions made about variable access granted by project initiators, depending on the stage in a project's development.
On the whole, the evening was very rich with bigger picture ideas of what the debates and issues are surrounding the RSA Networks project - and we came away with many new ideas to work into the prototype and our report.
Which I now have a prototype to launch!
The videos from the evening will be online soon.