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Friday, 21 December 2007

2008, here we come. Where next for RSA networks...

Hi all

On an earlier blog I said that we would share our initial thinking of the RSA networks project priorities in the next three months or so. So - I apologise in advance for the length of this posting, but I hope it generates some fruitful discussion about how we are proposing to go forwards.

Before getting into the specifics, I'd like to say a huge thank you to everyone who is contributing, creating, and generating with us. We always said this was going to be a learning process, and I hope you feel that there is a genuine openness to collaborating in new and exciting ways. That said, we need to be careful that 'learning by doing' doesn't become a veil for 'making it up as we go along', so the following proposed priorities and areas of work are offered in the spirit of trying to give some structure to what needs to happen next, if we are to build on everything we've done together so far.

A major priority between January and April 2008 has to be to get some of the rich discussions happening on the RSA networks platform to turn into more substantive pieces of work. A number of early ideas are gathering real momentum, with meetings being fixed and connections being made. Our network facilitators will be really focusing on this in the new year. By the way, if you're interested in joining our staff team of facilitators, we'd welcome you with open arms! See here for more information.

But the RSA networks project was never simply about getting new collaborations off the ground. There's a bigger game to play here too, and that is to fundamentally remodel the relationship between the Fellowship and the organisation. Many of the ideas that emerged on the 22nd, and in conversations around that day, were focused on the 'how will it work?' part of the Open Space question we used.

Looking across all these discussions, we think that we can spot some common themes, and between January and March we want to set up 'developer groups' around each of these themes, made up of interested Fellows and key staff members, in order to imagine how things might work differently in the future.

These themes include:
  • Offline interactions - remodelling existing meetings e.g. lectures, and introducing new ones, e.g. the 'let's do lunch' idea. There's a meeting arranged for this on 25th January, to bring together Fellows and staff interested in discussing ideas. To find out more, check out this page on the platform.
  • Use of space - what can the RSA do to facilitate spaces and places to meet, both in London and beyond. Malcolm Forbes has volunteered to arrange a meeting to explore this theme, so watch out on the platform for more information.
  • Online tools for collaboration - a developer group began the work that led to the platform in this first phase of the project, and we want to maintain that group as we move towards the launch of the new website, and the growth of the platform. Anshuman is organising the next meeting for this theme, and will post on the platform when he's found the right date.
  • Fellowship recruitment and welcome - what kind of Fellows do we want, and what experience should they have in their first year of Fellowship?
  • Fellow-to-Fellow opportunities - there were lots of ideas around mentoring, sharing experiences and offering support, ranging from meetings, to Fellows funding other Fellows' ideas
  • Links between emerging networks and the Programme - what kind of quality framework should the RSA have in place to determine which ideas to support more substantially? Laura Bunt has started a discussion here about this question.
As we hit 2008, we will be working up more detailed plans for the sequencing of these workstreams and will of course share information and updates on these for those Fellows who don't wish to get directly involved. There's an awful lot of work implied by these themes, and it's very important that we get the pace right as well.

A really central principle of the RSA networks project is that we want to 'eat our own medicine' - in other words, that the project itself is a co-created effort between Fellows and staff. I'd be very interested in your thoughts about how to make these proposed 'developer groups' work most effectively. Some thoughts we've had from you already is to set up wikis for each; others have suggested that we set time limits for conversations to provide some clarity about the terms of engagement; and of course it's essential that everyone is clear about how any final decisions are made, and by whom.

I know that we haven't always got this attempt at co-creation right, but I hope you feel that this proposed way forward chimes with our aspiration. And I'm sure if you disagree, you'll let us know!

So all that's left for me to say for now is a very Happy Christmas to all of you. I'm really looking forward to working with you all in 2008. All the best


davidwilcox said...

Great plans Sophia - thanks for sharing them here. I would be glad to help with the communication needs of project teams. You mentioned wikis - which could suit some, and there are other tools as well. The VCH group have put up their vision
. Anyone else?

PeterC said...

The project section is a good idea. But as others have observed much of the content is pre-project.

A project starts with a client and their (more or less) defined need; it then moves forward once it has a (capable) resource, a timescale, and a budget. It may go through a feasibility study to check it is worth investing significant time and effort in (the VCH needs to do this as a next step if it is to progress independently).

Perhaps there needs to be a "gateway" between the current IDEAS FORUM (which may identify needs and initiate projects) and the actual projects - the gateway may involve a series of "required fields" such as name of client (or client representative/agent, presumably a fellow) and statement of requirements.

It might then be advertised on an EMERGING PROJECTS section to attract suitable resources (but how to notify the right people with the right skills to make a real difference to its prospects of success?): volunteers or paid consultants - in the latter case it needs a budget to get going, which might be advertised also, eg a call for sponsorship, whether RSA internal or external, again requiring the right people to see it (RSA backing could even be decided by vote).

It could then progress to an ACTIVE PROJECTS section, with non-confidential details published such as: sponsor name (advertising payoff); team; timetable including milestones and progress; updates/blog; comments/offers of help; minutes (of on-line meetings?); resources (eg delicious library); etc

Those who are interested may subscribe as observers, or offer/be invited to become actively involved.

Once complete it would go into an archive, ideally with some evaluation and feedback that would be of use to future projects...

Tessy Britton said...

The emerging/active project idea could be really useful Peter. It could encourage more participation - and more collaborative projects developing without the pressure of having thought it all through before posting some thoughts . . .?

Sophia - thank you for sharing such an upbeat posting - makes one feel very enthusiastic about an innovative 2008 :)

Thanks to everyone at the RSA for getting this brilliant project going with such transparency, energy and inclusivity.

Still stupidly excited by the whole thing!

davidwilcox said...

It seems to me we've made a terrific start, but a lot of decisions will be embedded in the technical and organisational system during the next month or so, and it is important to bring the key issues to the surface if we are practising collaborative staff-Fellow development. Here's my suggestions:

1. Develop an FAQ about the programme in order to inform Fellows, and also to help us identify issues to address. I've dropped some first ideas into the wiki

2. Set up a multi-author blog for news and discussion about RSA Networks, Fellowship, civic innovation. Start with facilitators, but open up to others as we get it shaped. Outside the login, like the original blog. Or do we use OpenRSA, following Sophia's lead?

3. Identify/recruit some strong projects (according to the emerging criteria and use them to pilot the facilitation and support model. Blog about how this goes.

4. Encourage staff-Fellow partnership projects. Some are beginning to emerge. Look for a couple of good ones and use them as pilots too. How about an internal audit of possible projects at a staff event?

5. Go beyond November 22 participants to recruit some site testers. Does the site and programme make sense to people not involved so far, in terms of the aims as well as usability? Is this the main site for Fellowship, or just for civic innovation projects?

6. In the light of the above, review the Projects-Events-Discussion format. Based on what's happened so far, people may want to start with topics, issues, concerns. These might then turn into projects - or just alert and signpost people to other places where discussion and action is taking place. While we may get strong projects from the November 22 group, I suspect it will be more difficult for the wider Fellowship to start with a project proposal. Allowing a topic post, other blog item or project start would also deal with the network/project-led development issue.

7. Socialise the facilitators. Invite them to do more introductions in one place - on the facilitators blog? Identify more Fellow facilitators and organise a get-together. Clarify roles and responsibilities on welcoming/overall hosting, gardening, support etc.

8. Clarify governance and management of the RSA Networks programme, and the site. Is it led by staff, or by a partnership? If staff, what participation is on offer? If a partnership, how will we work through the organisational arrangements, openly, in a way that models collaborative innovation?

9 Review open-closed, as well as site registration (two different issues). a) can project leaders opt to put projects and discussion outside the login to assist promotion, working with non-RSA people? b) will registration continue to be open. If so, any validation? I think this is a key issue. I personally don't believe it is possible to civic innovation behind a login ... but who decides? Point 8.

10 Decide how to deal with the need for project collaboration tools - as raised by Peter Churchill (and me). Once projects get started, participants will need better-than email plus attachments for day-to-day working. It's not the same as development of the main platform, which couldn't (I think) cope with lots of projects at this level. The functions needed are also different. We can spin off a project from re-inventing Membership, ideally as a joint Fellows-staff project. Anyone else interested?