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Thursday, 31 January 2008

RSA Networks: Action and Openness, 15th Feb 2008

Hi everyone,

As Saul mentioned in his previous post, the new version of the RSA Networks platform is now available on our development servers for fellows to play with and comment.

As with the initial release of the software, we would like to invite you to meet with us face-to-face to discuss the system and how it can help support fellow-led activities within our networks. And, like last time, we'd also like to make this event about the process of developing projects within the RSA networks and not just about technology, which means we want you to bring your own projects for discussion too.

So, you are cordially invited to join us at the RSA on Friday 15th February 2008, 6pm to 8pm, to talk about the online platform, the networks project in general, and the projects arising from it. The (very loose) themes of the event will be:
  • Action - how can the RSA and fellows support all the great ideas and discussions within the networks to become practical action projects?
  • Openness - what level of openness does this practical action require, and what are the implications for the RSA and its fellowship?
Saul and I will be presenting the developments with online engagement, and RSA Fellow Fiona Coffey will be presenting the developments with offline engagement, such as new events, changes to the lecture programme and other ways to support the fellows in their activities. (Thanks Fiona!) We would also like to invite presentations from a couple of fellows who have developed ideas on the online platform, and can talk for a couple of minutes about their experiences of trying to take their projects on to the next level of practical action.

If you would like to attend, or if you want more information, please contact Laura Bunt in the Networks team (Laura.Bunt[at], or myself (andy[at] We promise there will be free wine this time...


davidwilcox said...

Action: in order to sift and support best projects, how about running something like the Social Innovation Camp where people pitch project proposals and the best one are co-created or mentored over a weekend?

davidwilcox said...

Openness: I've argued strongly for an open system IF the focus is on civic innovation projects, because of the need for external collaborations. However, I don't think that the current project development process is working well. It could be accelerated by, say, a social innovation camp as I've suggested in another comment.
But if the project process is to be organic, then I think we need a first phase of building stronger relationships. Geographically dispersed strangers will find it difficult as volunteers to do good things for others without first getting to know each other (and getting a lot of support).
Maybe the focus should shift to building Fellowship - not least through events and internal ntworking. That would make a strong case for Closed. Fiona and I discussed that over here. Maybe we agree more than I thought!

Andy Gibson said...

A very good point David and you've also nicely made sense of my combination of themes for the event next week! We've asked a lot of questions about openness, value, fellowship over the past few months, but it's all been a bit abstract. If we can focus our minds next week on understanding what we want to achieve as fellows and as "the RSA", then I think the answers to these tricky issues will become self-evident. Let's hope so anyway - come along next Friday to find out.

davidwilcox said...

Thanks Andy. You wrote:
"If we can focus our minds next week on understanding what we want to achieve as fellows and as "the RSA", then I think the answers to these tricky issues will become self-evident."
This takes us neatly towards my main focus at present, the membership project . As so often, the technical platform issues (open-closed, focus on projects, discussion, people) raise strategic issues for the organisation. The RSA is a testbed for matters that will arise elsewhere.
I'll certainly be there on Friday - though have to leave early.
If these are indeed significant issues for RSA (and similar organisations), shouldn't there be some way to involve Trustees, council, other Fellows? How will final decisions be taken? (Really a question for RSA senior staff, I guess). Anyway, thanks as always for putting tech in the bigger social and organisational context.

PeterC said...

Andy and co. I dare say some of us out here in the sticks would be pleased to join the discussion without jumping on a train (saving carbon, cash and time). Not technically difficult (even shared desktop).

Laura B said...

Quick response to David's point about the Social Innovation Camp: something we did think about at the offline events meeting in January was holding a monthly RSA Networks 'open mic' night, for Fellows/non Fellows to meet up and pitch ideas, share skills and show support for each other, as a compliment to what's happening online. Thinking is in early stages as yet but perhaps something to talk about on Friday...

Dominic said...

I've lost track / touch with these various threads etc. Without alerts as to new posts comments, from these various blogs etc it's less likely to deliberately go and check with whatever is going on. Too many other pressing matters work and life wise to spend that time.

There's too much noise .... maybe that's necessary, but missing key stuff is suggesting that there needs to be more structure (but not , yet, sifting or selecting).

And the RSA Networks site is confusing, with no obvious links between projects and networks - I've just 'fedback' extensively, but that just disappears into the ether when you hit the send button. There seems no obvious way of controlling, steering, or guiding - clearly we are not in control in any way. It must be more open, and a clear and identifiable steering group reflecting and accountable to the various interests - and recruit more people in!

It's too passive - automatic alerts when there are changes, updates, new posts etc are critical. And how does good thinking and ideas translate into practical doing e.g.

I've no idea what that means, or how it is done, or how you can force that to happen. There's no obvious way that I could see, so we might as well continue - the limited discussion.

There seems to be an effusion of ideas and projects, but again no obvious way of further pursuing them ....

I see a significant connection between what Tim Kasser said in his Dec 12th presentation, and that of Richard Wilkinson's (and colleagues) work (presented earlier in November at St Mary le Bow and at Central Hall Westminster -see below). There's also a resonance with what David Puttnam was saying at the RSA at his presentation in December - so maybe this is perhaps fortuitous/ serendipitous (?).

I'm not a great believer, but coincidence? Perhaps not! I was doing some work with the ESRC in January and leafing through The Edge which showcases research they sponsor I found a piece on Advertisers and the commercialisation of childhood - work by Prof David Piachaud and colleagues at the Centre for the Analysis of Social Exclusion at LSE -

It all sort of rather well links together - and capable of being linked and integrated I believe to form the basis of serious alternative public policy options for health to be examined.

How to push this along - well, clearly 'selling' into public policy circles ....... but also perhaps by way of the RSA, and a push for a serious project to develop alternative policies (rather than necesarily a single policy prescription) for the longer term - and brings in Tim, Richard, David ...... I can post to that effect - a piece that synthesizes the main points to date, including David Puttnam's analysis / fears - perhaps with the others examining the range? I don't know, perhaps that would work.

A simple, say 750 word proposal wouldn't go amiss, to place up there on RSANetworks and the openRSA site - almost a short article bringing some of this together rather starkly. God knows we need some alternatives .......

I see the RSA's role as much to explore and develop options and alternatives for public policy that won't directly be addressed by either politicians or bureaucrats, using the network of Fellows as well as the wider expertise and analyses clearly there, and in a much more holistic way develop policy options (though I dare say we shouldn't express these as quick or easy solutions) ....

Professor Richard Wilkinson presented his work on inequality and its effects, and referenced the about to be established Equality Trust. This has been established and there's further info available on its work etc and The Equality Charter, from Bill Kerry, Co-ordinator at The Equality Trust Email: Post: The Equality Trust, PO Box 937, Bromley BR1 9GW.

davidwilcox said...

Dominic - I've posted this comment below on the main site, which I think reflects your concern for greater clarity. It follows a post from Saul Albert about discussion at a recent meeting about open-closed nature of the system

Saul, thanks for the update and sorry I had to leave early.
You asked: "Should we recommend this as what gets implemented in the next phase?"
The open-closed protocols you report do sound complicated, and I guess that reflects the underlying tensions between wanting to work out into the wider community with non Fellows, and wanting to develop a Fellows-only forum.
I don't think we'll get a clear and compelling way of doing things until we (who?) decide what the RSA Networks site is for. Is it for developing projects, networks or Fellowship? If it tries to do all of those it may be too complicated to use. Dominic expresses some of those frustrations over here
A conversation with an online facilitator friend (yesterday in the RSA bar, actually) brought home to me the big difference between face-to-face community engagement and online community engagement.
In the first case, the budget-holding/power-holding agency can engage consultants to promote a progamme and engage with people .... and if not many people turn up they can still go ahead with things.
It's different with an online community. If no-one turns up (because it is too complicated, or whatever) you haven't got a programme. You end up talking to yourselves. Waste of money.
None of this is criticism of RSA or the development team on work to date - this is an experiment and with those you just learn, not fail. There is some terrific learning going on in this project about the nature of membership, online collaboration, civic innovation etc. That's not a waste of money.
However, is it time for a reality check and evaluation, before this experimental site is taken as the template for recoding of a system into the main site?
Since there is now a requirement for a new build, with the next consultancy team, would it be better to separate two potentially conflicting purposes, and have one part of the new RSA site for Fellowship conversations (closed) and one part for external open collaborations on civic innovation projects?
Otherwise it could be another case of build it and they don't come.
There is a prior question: how to make decisions about system development. It was a great meeting the other day, but pretty informal, and covering a lot of ground. I don't think that sort of meeting, or this sort of online discussion, is an appropriate way to make far-reaching decisions about the future of an online system for RSA Fellowship and/or civic innovation.
Maybe that just has to be done in-house by RSA staff, with best evidence from consultation. Or maybe there is a case, as Dominic argues, for some joint staff-Fellow decision-making. The original promise was co-creation.
So my recommendation would be (as as I've argued since November:-)
1. first agree the governance/management of the system
2. then decide the purpose and who it is for (civic innovation or Fellowship development)
3. then decide the open/closed architecture to suit the purpose
4. then start coding to develop functions

It looks as if we are about to jump to 4. without (still) resolving 1-3.

Hope this helps, apologies if these issues were covered at the meeting, and yet again plaudits for all concerned for working this through openly. However, I think it is decision-time about how to make decisions!

saulalbert said...

Hi David, Dominic, all

Thanks to you both for the comments and ideas. Dominic: I share many of your frustrations, and hope that they have been addressed in this next version!

We've just got version 2 online today, so I'm hoping we'll see whether the increased availability of automatic matching of people with projects and discussions helps to increase usage and searchability of information on the site.

One user suggestion we've implemented that I'm hoping will really help in drawing together threads of discussion is the new RSA Networks blog that we've integrated into the site - and which anyone can post to.

It's important that there are still public debates about RSA Networks and wider discussions about the issues it has thrown up (which is why openrsa is so important) - but from now on I will be posting all my news about the platform primarily to

With regards to your comments about openness and policy David - I entirely agree that a decision making structure is needed that takes into account all stake-holders (fellows, staff, trustees, and interested parties) and then a decision must be formulated in order to move RSA Networks to the next phase.

How this structure is formulated, revised and kept alive is a multifarious issue that won't be solved by technology alone. However, I am committed to seeing this platform actually accomplishing something - even if it's just helping to determine its own governance policy!

I'll post something to the new blog today, and perhaps we can start by proposing governance structures that can be tested at the first of the 'RSA Networks face-to-face' sessions that we talked about at the meeting on the 15th.

After the meeting, it was the proposals for maintaining and extending off-line engagement through online networking that Fiona brought to the table that most inspired me. I think structures for decision-making and then decisions on the future of the RSA Networks site will really be most successful if they are primarily focused on stimulating that productive feedback loop.



Dominic said...

I would 'vote' for the open system - but please do not let the technology or the developers lead this ..... - with a Fellows user group (linked to the open forum) if need be. But the numbers already drawn in to discuss / debate are not that great that I can discern - at least, not on-line.

davidwilcox said...

Discussion about open-closed over on the RSA Networks site here.
I've got a feeling this isn't going to be resolved until there is a new head of Fellowship in place.