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Thursday, 17 January 2008

Welcoming each other - so no more drinking alone

One of the topics on RSA Networks is welcoming Fellows ... with a number of new Fellows saying they feel rather unwelcomed at present:
"As a new fellow I was not aware of what was expected of me."
"To be frank evidence of "fellowship" is simply not evident."
"I attended my first lecture today 16/1/08. It was also my first time at the house and my first act as a fellow. No-one was there to meet, greet and welcome me. Being shy, i made an effort to go the vault for drinks afterwards, no-one approached me, so i drank alone."
In the discussion RSA staff recognise the issue, say changes are planned, and recognise mentoring of new Fellows as a good idea. However, it sounds as if it will take time to introduce "official" procedures.
I've suggested on the site that we could make a start with some voluntary Fellow-to-Fellow support:
Meanwhile (and longer term too) I hope that Fellows could take a lead in welcoming and mentoring new Fellows. We could use this system for initial introductions and welcoming, then make some Fellow-to-Fellow mentor connections online and face-to-face. RSA staff have indicated that rooms can be made available for RSA projects.
Once we got together I'm sure we could come up with plenty of ideas for putting mentoring into practice.
This also ties into the wider re-inventing membership project on the site, also blogged here in more detail. It would also tie in well with other ideas including making better use of RSA lectures and events.
Would anyone else be interested in helping with some Fellow-to-Fellow mentoring? I think that this social activity would be good fun, lead to some really useful connections, and be a great complement to the project focus of RSA Networks.
I'm no expert in mentoring - so would really welcome ideas and support in this.
What lessons do people have from other mentoring processes? For example, should a key principle be that new Fellows should be able to choose their mentor?


David Jennings said...

Having drunk alone sufficiently to get round, finally, to approaching someone, I'd be happy to volunteer for service.

(in case anyone gets the wrong idea, the first part of that is not meant entirely seriously, the second part is)

I'm no expert on mentoring either, though I have participated in co-mentoring exercises with other independent/freelance workers. I think an element of reciprocity is important in mentoring (i.e. not just one way). But since we are all (jolly good) fellows, that probably goes without saying.

davidwilcox said...

On mentoring, Horsesmouth launches a new site shortly, and is looking for partner organisations. And David, thanks for your offer. Wheels are turning within RSA I believe.

Andy Gibson said...

Saul and I are currently experimenting with some "skills and experience" tagging in the Networks platform to make mentoring and project support possible. We'll give some thought to how we can keep it simple enough that it can be used for more general "welcoming" activities (perhaps matching fellows with similar interests?), but hopefully as a minimum we can enable fellows to say what they're able to offer, and project leaders to specify what they need.

I think the big question we need your help answering is how much we bypass projects entirely and allow direct "who needs what you know" style peer connections. Any thoughts?

davidwilcox said...

Andy - in order to support mentoring and any other Fellow-to-Fellow acitivity it would be really useful in the short-term to have some profile fields, and personal messaging.
As you say, the bigger question is whether to by-pass projects. It seems to me sites like RSA Networks can have one or more focii: projects, people, or topics ... and which to go for depends of course on the purpose: civic innovation, networking or discussion. Why are we doing this?
At present the focus is projects ... but my hunch is that won't really lift off without a much clearer support framework, and there's no evidence of that so far.
On the other hand people are interested in raising topics, and finding other kindred spirits. The logic of that would take us towards ability to start discussions independently of projects, and maybe personal blogs as in classic Drupal setups.
However, these are strategic decisions about the RSA Networks project rather than just technical re-configurations. As you know I've been banging on since the start for some realisation of the promised co-creation approach with Fellows, and somewhere on the site to talk about the issues. OK, we can do it here, but system users may then be missing out, and I get didn't get any response from RSA last time I tried to make some strategic input commenting here.
Anyway, more positively, I really appreciate the effort that you and Saul are making, and regional initiatives like the one Tessy is organising should add new buzz.
My suggestion - go with the flow, enable discussions independently of projects, enhance personal presence, and let projects take care of themselves. If they happen, they happen. It's the people who are interesting.

Michael said...

I would like to suggest one very practical proposal. Invite new members to a monthly/quarterly local meetup in a bar/cafe or wherever just to put faces to names and share areas of interest.

If nothing else it will provide some feedback into the RSA which must be helpful.

Sue said...

The comments from new fellows raises the question of the RSA's ability to receive guests. Are there no reception staff? Or reception staff with the ability to welcome guests? Is there no area of the reception to loiter and discover what's on offer for visiting fellows that day (including the basics of reading room and refreshments).

It's 'that' simple, surely?

I never did manage to get to the 'new members lunch' because it was never on a convenient day (and I now live too far away to visit) so I don't think 'events' are the answer.

To know that there are other fellows around who would welcome being approached would be useful. Perhaps a coloured badge to indicate 'I am a volunteer today - you can say 'hi' to me and I'll even talk back'.

Meeting and greeting is quite different to mentoring - suggesting that new fellows may need mentoring into the ways of the RSA suggests patronage which is uncomfortably close to patronising - and excludes old fellows from the pleasures of being met and gret ;-) - or of accosting likely fellows who have indicated they are 'up for it' by having badged themselves up appropriately.

It would be good to know that a visit could lead to casual but incredibly interesting conversations with like-minded fellows!

davidwilcox said...

Sue - your ideas on greeting each other do seem a better way of approaching this. As you indicate, it should extend beyond welcoming new Fellows. Any other ideas, anyone, on how to help develop a friendly RSA where it feels OK to say hello to strangers?

Bill said...

I'm a new member - though familiar enough with the RSA, the building and other fellows not to feel lonely. However one simple thing might be for the reception staff to give the less experienced among us a different type of plastic cover for our cards - perhaps with a green sheen to represent our status. Then other fellows could approach us knowing that we're new to the place. So as well as having volunteers as outlined by Sue, the newbies would be spottable in the bar...