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Wednesday, 5 December 2007

First thoughts on RSA Networks system

I believe RSA staff and developers of the RSA Networks system may be taking stock this week, with a view to further development, so it could be useful to feed in some first impressions and issues. It's been an enormous achievement by Saul, Andy, their team and RSA staff so far - so this is all meant in a wholly positive spirit. Here's my thoughts (please add yours):
  • It's currently difficult to see where new discussions are taking place, and what's the difference between a project and discussion - but I'm sure that can be dealt with.
  • We need ways to message people privately, to follow up issues/ideas that may not be of interest to everyone. Again, easy to implement I believe.
  • More facilitation and hosting is needed, to respond to issues raised about the system, but more importantly to help join up conversations which are inevitably spread around the place. Online communities need community development. It's not clear if anyone is responsible for overall development as well as specific project support.
  • While the system looks as if it could develop into a good place to fly ideas and find interested people, moving from discussion to action needs a lot more attention. How about getting together a small group of people (already discussing this issue on the system) to think through what that would involve? I think it is more than more online tools and meetings: it needs formats - systems to bid for funding or support, a market place, mentoring - or whatever. NESTA have already indicated their possible interest.
Beside these specifics I believe there are two strategic issues that need to be resolved quickly: degree of openness, and system ownership.
  • It's currently not clear whether the system will be open only to Fellows. If that is the case, it will be a good place to gather support from Fellows - but many projects will have to move "off system" to involve other parties essential for real civic innovation. If it is to be open to others, on what terms? Maybe we could have a system where only Fellows can propose projects and invite others in, then project leaders decide how private or visible their projects are. Meanwhile there's not much motivation to propose a project if you don't know who will be able to participate in the longer term.
  • The over-arching issue: who's system is this? RSA staff have put a lot of emphasis on the RSA Networks programme being by and for Fellows. If that's the case, shouldn't the online system - and associated processes - be "owned" by Fellows, or a Fellows/staff partnership? That partnership would then decide on issues of open-closed, hosting, system developments etc. If Fellows are just being asked for comments, with decisions taken by staff, nothing much will have changed from past practice.
The strength of the system is that it is pretty intuitive to use, and can be developed in many different direction because of the underlying modular structure (Drupal, I believe). So - great architect, more features needed .... but who is the client that makes the decisions?

7 comments:

Anshuman Rane said...

Thanks for the enormously helpful feedback David.

To answer some of your questions -

Who's the client?

You are. The Fellowship.

In an ideal world we would envisage having a community of developers that would constantly feedback enabling us to evolve the functionality of the platform to match the users needs.

We currently only have ideas of how this might work and really won't be able to proceed without the help of the Fellows.

Some questions we have for instance are -

How often do we make changes and add new functionality?

Do we make a change to the functionality whether only one person requests it or whether we have multiple similar requests?

Does it make sense to have a running 'issues' log that all users can access and then add their comments or feedback to, allowing us to approach the development in a more structured way?

Should the platform be completely open. Or should it be for Fellows only?

And many more...

Ideally it will be the amount of input and participation we get that will determine how this site develops.

And I'm really looking forward to the process.

davidwilcox said...

Anshuman - thanks for your speedy and helpful response ... but we may be slightly at cross purposes.
I sense that Fellows are currently seen as system users, and you want to accommodate rapidly to our needs ... but the system is owned and directed by staff.
What the November 22 briefing paper said was: "If Fellows are to move from the periphery to the centre of the organisation, then it is essential that as Fellows, you are fully engaged at every step of the process, as collaborators and co-creators along with the staff of the organisation."
For me that means Fellows are engaged in making decisions about the questions that you raised. Dominic has made suggestions on how this might work.
What's needed is an open discussion about the nature of governance and management of RSA Networks. Currently development of the programme is staff-led and staff-decided, with Fellows making comments. It is consultation, not co-creation. It's not what was promised.
So, test issue: who ultimately will decide how far the system is open or closed? Staff, after consultation? Or a joint group of staff and Fellows?

Anshuman Rane said...

Hi David,

I see what you're saying. It will have to be both together.

But I wonder how many people will be up for that.

And we'll need to decide the best mechanism for the process to work.

As a place to start from please see here - http://networks.thersa.org/discuss/rsa-networks-evolution-where-we-are-and-what-happens-next

So where do we go from here?

Anshuman Rane said...

The link didn't quite work there -

Anshuman Rane said...

http://networks.thersa.org/discuss/rsa-networks-evolution-where-we-are-and-what-happens-next

Anshuman Rane said...

And it doesn't allow HTML.

Finally -

http://tiny.cc/RV7Mk

davidwilcox said...

Thanks Anshuman - how about, as a way to explore this, RSA invites Fellows to co-host/facilitate on the RSA Networks site? I'll do a comment over there too.