Read about the RSA Networks event - see the videos

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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

New report on Teenagers and Social Media very revealing

In a new report on teenagers and social media by the Pew Internet & American Life Project shows that there is a subset of teens who are 'super-communicators' -- teens who have a host of technology options for dealing with family and friends, including traditional landline phones, cell phones, texting, social network sites, instant messaging, and email. They represent about 28% of the entire teen population and they are more likely to be older girls.

Very striking is the percentages of teenagers who prefer telephone and face-to-face contact over email. The level of sophistication of using multimedia methods of communication is one that many adults are enjoying too! Lots of time juggling required tho, whoops, though....

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Membership in a networked society

The RSA Networks site is really taking off, and I've dived into the flow with a joint proposal with Simon Berry to look at what social networking will mean to membership organisations. That's led to additional discussion on what it may mean in future to be a member ... of an organisation, political party, or trade union. You can join in here - site registration is currently open. Here's the proposal, also on the wiki.

Membership organisations and associations are at the heart of civic life, but research suggests few recognise the coming challenges of a more networked society. Organisations may be bypassed as members use social media and networks to find information, services, and ways to organise. Or - like the RSA - organisations can rethink their current structures and relationships to members.
This project will invite forward-looking civic organisations to join RSA Networks in exploring the implications of social networking for civic institutions, and the practical implications of using social media, creative events, and new ways of organising for civic innovation.
We will draw on work already undertaken by the NCVO Third Sector Foresight Unit, and with their agreement invite the Unit, and practitioners involved in their technology network, to join us.
Some of the greatest opportunities for innovation lie in rural life. Ruralnet UK has pioneered the use of online systems for the past 10 years, and chief executive Simon Berry FRSA is a co-sponsor of the project.
We will run a workshop early in 2008 to co-design project plans in more detail. However, from discussions to date we would expect the project to involve:

  • Collation of current research and thinking about membership organisations in a networked society, in association with NCVO Third Sector Foresight
  • Development of briefing and workshop tools to help organisations think what the future may hold, and what they can do.
  • Events - hosted initially by RSA if possible
  • Collaborative work on online systems, skills development, and organising creative events.
If you think it is a good project idea, do throw on a comment here - or even better register on the site through the above links. It is currently open to non-Fellows.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

The RSA Networks site is rubbish!

There. That's the elephant in the room dealt with.

But you wouldn't know how flaky this first version of the site is from reading the brilliant discussions and project ideas that over 150 patient, benevolent fellows have been posting to the site, and then discussing with passion. Warts and all, the site does seem to be buzzing!

After the event on the 22nd, Andy and I were amazed by the levels of participation and activity that exploded on the site - so at least the prototype we built didn't obstruct that! To be honest, we didn't expect that kind of success immediately, and so it's taken us a bit of time to collate that feedback and respond.

So I am very pleased to echo Anshuman's announcement, and let you know that we are going to be starting the next few rounds of development tomorrow - fixing some of the niggly problems and usability issues that have frustrated many users. There are also a few obvious bugs that we hope to squash, and some basic gardening work like creating an FAQ and some help files - all of which we hope to do before Christmas.

I have written a few posts on the RSA Networks site laying out the three stages of this plan:
  1. A pre-christmas bug-squashing fest, where we aim to get the most obvious design and usability issues fixed.
  2. An early January development cycle, during which we aim to implement some feature requests and try out some experimental collaboration processes.
  3. A hand-over to a production team, who will take the prototype into production.
We are also going to be organising an event in late January, where we are hoping to reconvene some of the groups who met on the 22nd to take stock of the development so far, to look at which features should go into production, and to make decisions on other key issues that have been flagged up during the consultation process. As soon as we have a date for that, we'll send out an announcement with more details.

Of course, as with the first development cycle - which was great fun, we are again asking for your help in shaping the process itself as well as the technology.

We are still looking for the magic combination of factors, and the right way to ask the questions that will start to really activate projects, to move from 'discussion' to 'action', and to 'mesh the cogs' of the RSA - as Don calls for in his post.

Your ideas on those fronts, and comments on the three development phases, as well as your continued use and feedback on the site are much appreciated!

Sunday, 9 December 2007

For me, the RSA has always seemed to operate as an organism rather than an organisation. It appeared to be a loose collection of Fellows who, like benign terrorist cells, generally didn't know each other. A cynical mind (based on a view formed many years ago), could have interpreted this as JAS dividing down the Fellows to a fine granularity and so continuing to rule. A greater degree of openness seemed to be commencing as years rolled by, but progress was still slow, and generally the JAS elite seemed pretty uncomprehending of the sheer brain power, expertise and experience that lay within its Fellowship – if not uncomprehending, then unwilling to fully harness its power. The CHC awards seemed to keep Fellows quite docile!

Then came Matthew Taylor, and suddenly all things were possible. Meetings were held, contributions welcomed, ideas flowed, projects were started, energy was released. Old drivers such as the Manifesto Challenges seemed to disappear into the mist in an "all things are possible" revolution – perhaps being replaced by the all-embracing "Civic Innovation".

New tools were talked about, and many were tried. The RSA didn't just discover the Web – it even found Web 2. And the means seemed so entrancing, for a time they became an end in themselves, rather than being seen for what they are - just a new variety of facilitating mechanisms that should be chosen appropriately. Many of these tools are still in their infancy – take video over IP as an example. Such a tool has wonderful abilities to allow Fellows from distant parts to see and work with Fellows they would otherwise never see. But it is still imperfect, young technology, unless we pay £600,000 to Cisco to have such startling quality that you feel you are in the same room as your opposite number, sharing a conference table, whiteboards, documents etc. What is clear is that these new facilitating mechanisms have a wonderfully minute carbon footprint, compared with travelling and meeting physically face-to-face.

But all this is an interim stage, and at some time, if the RSA is going to be a more powerful force in the world, harnessing all this expertise, the gears will need to mesh instead of running in an unmeshed, unco-ordinated fashion.

And that is where JAS, led by Matthew, will doubtless seek to take us as a body corporate. What follows is just one way in which this could come to pass. Forgive me if it sounds directive or prescriptive. Please define other options, or indicate that the current loose, relatively unmeshed way of operating, is what is preferred. There is nothing wrong with a talking shop if that is what the talkers wish it to be.

There will undoubtedly be a frame of reference, within which "the new vision" will be encapsulated, distilled from Fellows and staff, and put in place by Matthew's stamp of approval. Leaders lead, even if they lead in the most sophisticated way, via consensus-seeking debate. This frame of reference will represent the arena within which the RSA will do its work. It will probably approximate to the Manifesto Challenges, but will perhaps be a little tighter, more well defined. The Leader will doubtless lead in formalising this vision, determining what will be included and what will be excluded - and it may arrive in stages - evolution rather than revolution.

Projects can then be checked by their initiators to ensure they are within that frame of reference. One surely already exists, but its boundaries are quite diffuse. Projects will naturally find their own level. Some will be sub-regional, some regional. Communication will ensure that if a Region recognises a project is national or is worthy of implementation by other regions, then the regional committee can make representations to JAS, where a group of Fellows and staff – the Projects Team, assembled for their breadth of understanding, availability, and their proven project management skills, can assess these projects, disseminate some to other regions, and bring forward to the highest level in the RSA, together with the project leader, those that are assessed as being of national or international importance. From these presentations of wide-reaching, important projects, the Board of the RSA can allocate appropriate resources, including people and money, to drive such projects to a successful implementation in the outside world. There is no reason why the Project Team should not have a budget of its own to allocate to projects that merit backing, but which do not merit taking further up stream. There are other projects, perhaps started by a Fellow with a burning issue or idea, where specialist Fellows across the country or across the world, come together through the good offices of JAS – recognising skills, expertise and interests in Fellows across the world, and introducing them to each other to check that issue or idea, and where appropriate, drive it to success. Clearly this kind of interaction will bypass the regional structure and require different handling by JAS.

New technologies such as Voice and Vision over IP are likely to play a greater part with such groups, but they will just be a means to an end, and as these "means to an end" become more sophisticated, then JAS will doubtless have its own systems. One day, a project may be presented by Fellows from various countries, direct to the video conferencing suite in JAS, and be heard and seen by the top team. How powerful will that be, and what a great step forward.

In a sense, all this implies a greater degree of involvement and organisation than heretofore, but unless the cogs mesh in this way – or some other way, it is likely that the energy that Matthew has released will subside, and the RSA will underachieve. Fellows will mesh with Regions, Regions with JAS, JAS with the top team, and a separate route with its own set of cogs, will exists for specialist Fellows scattered around the world.

Organism to Organisation – perhaps that is the greatest challenge?

Friday, 7 December 2007

Are RSA Fellows co-creators or just users?

The key issue for development of RSA Networks, as I see it, is what staff mean by collaboration and co-creation. Clarification is crucial as decisions are, I believe, currently being made about development of the online system that could set a pattern for the future. There's some discussion on an earlier post which I think is worth flagging up more visibly here.
The briefing paper for November 22 said:
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.
RSA web manager Anshuman Rane has responded quickly and helpfully under that post, but for me it leaves open the issue of whether Fellows are seen essentially as system users - with development decisions taken by staff - or as co-creators.
Dominic has contributed some ideas here on a model which would enable Fellows to make more strategic input.
I think co-creation involves being in the same place at the same time to develop ideas and make decisions together. Will that happen? If so, how and when?
I feel it is worth pushing the issue not because I think there is any bad faith involved: far the reverse. I believe RSA staff are doing everything they can, within the current context, to start doing things in a very different way. RSA developments are fascinating because I believe many membership organisations will face similar issues.
The problem arises, in my experience, because terms like consultation, engagement, co-creation can mean one thing if you are sitting within what's traditionally been a hierarchical organisation (give members a bit more of a say but keep control). They mean something entirely different if you are outside the core, yet want to make a system-changing contribution. It's not just a matter of language, but culture and mindset.
The only way to make progress is to talk about it ... and that can't be done solely online. Do RSA staff have any plans to invite Fellows back to follow through on the co-creation promise?

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?

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Time for some open collaboration?

Last week's RSA Networks event was clearly a hit with NESTA, who are investing £100,000 in the overall process. Roland Harwood writes on the NESTA Connect blog:
.... it's been a while since I attended an event with such a buzz and determination, so I strongly believe that the right conditions are there for successful collaborations to flourish.
Since then the new RSA Networks collaboration site has seen some activity behind the login, but the RSA Networks blog has been quiet. I hope this doesn't mean RSA expects everything to happen in private in future ... I think the network effect Roland writes about in his item won't happen that way.
Civic innovation requires a lot of connections beyond RSA membership.
Is it time for a collaboration between RSA staff, NESTA, OpenRSA enthusiasts - and others - to create an online open space equivalent of our event last week, as well as plan further events?

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Creating Community

One the things generating a lot of discussion about the RSA’s agenda at the moment are the balances between online connecting and face-to-face meetings. I found a lovely description of one person’s experiences into the online world of blogging and creating communities in a new publication by Community Links called Making Links . It includes some unique perspectives on community by some well-known people like Gordon Brown, David Robinson, David Cameron and Phil Beadle.

Russell Davies started blogging and built up a good readership. He describes blogging as ‘networking for shy people’, but ‘not in the horrible commercial sense of networking – serial small talk in the hope of opportunity – but the sort of networking that a village has, or a workplace, or a hobbyist club; like-minded people who help each other out, point each other at new like-minded people and generally see that what’s good for the network is probably good for them.”
What a nice way to describe networking in the way we collectively seem to be trying to achieve through opening up the RSA networks.

Russell started online, but soon began arranging spontaneous coffee drop ins, and people started turning up in greater numbers. In June this year Russell arranged a people’s conference called Interesting2007 and 300 people turned up to short presentations of interesting topics, which included How to split a log with an axe, Ibsen and The Muppets, Appearing on Oprah and the History of Knots. You can watch some of the talks Here

Russell writes, “My blogging experience has taught me that technology can create real, important, sustaining connections between people separated by geography and all sorts of other things. It’s taught me that generosity can be its own reward but that there’s also real tangible benefits in sharing your ideas and your time with people.”

Fast follow-up: see the project ideas

RSA staff made an enormous effort after the RSA Networks event to organise and upload reports of all the project ideas that were developed.
In an email to all involved, RSA chief executive Matthew Taylor provides a link to the reports for anyone with a login to the RSA site, and also urges project proposers to add their ideas to the RSA Networks site. This currently allows anyone to register.
As Matthew explains, RSA staff acting as network facilitators will follow up with offers of help. Matthew writes:
Dear Fellow
I'd like to say a huge thank you to all of you for making yesterday such an inspiring and energising event. I, for one, haven't seen the house buzzing in such a way since I started here. I hope that all of you had a similar experience, and that you left the building with some new contacts and lots of new ideas.
Of course, in many ways, yesterday was the very beginning of a new journey for the RSA. The challenge for all of us now is to find a way of holding onto that energy and passion, to combine it with patience and determination to build on the ideas that you began to develop yesterday.
You can see all the project ideas that you worked on, and those of all the other groups, by following this link They are listed alphabetically under broad theme headings, and assigned to the project leaders. We would like you to log in to the networks platform that was discussed at the Tech Sessions yesterday, add your profile and, if you were the project leader, to upload your project proposal. That way you can tag your project in the way you want, which will be better and more accurate than what we have done so far.
The RSA networks project is all about giving you new tools to work together as groups of Fellows. That's what we started yesterday and we want to encourage you to continue the conversations over the next two weeks, to develop the thinking and ideas generation that you began at the event. The kind of questions you should be thinking about are: Is it a strong, clear idea? How much interest did it attract from other Fellows? Is it really different; are other organisations doing something similar and, if so, who should you link with? Are there other project ideas listed on the site with similar interests and is it worth collaborating with them? What is the next action? How can the RSA best help you as groups of Fellows to move forwards?
When you have developed your thinking please input your idea into the networks area of our website Follow the link, log in and then click on to the ‘Propose’ box to get started. Next week, one of the network facilitators that you met yesterday will be telephoning you to see how things are progressing. We know that this initiative is all about what you as Fellows want to do together but we also want to do as much as we can to remove barriers to this new kind of collaboration, as well as providing you with new tools.
Of course, yesterday was not just about generating ideas about what you could do together. It was also a really important staging post on our journey to find a new kind of relationship between the Fellowship and the staff. Some of the sessions you posted under the 'How it will work' theme will inform our thinking here, and today we will be posting some of our own projects on these issues on to the platform for you to comment on. As our thinking progresses, informed by your views, we will keep you posted.
In keeping with the spirit we began to create yesterday, we want your thoughts to be shared as a discussion of many Fellows, rather than a closed dialogue with just me. We are sure that you will keep us on our toes on this but, in the meantime, we look forward to seeing what the seeds you sowed yesterday grow into!
Matthew Taylor
Chief Executive
At present reports are all Word documents that have to be downloaded, which makes it difficult to scan through the ideas quickly. However, it was a terrific achievement to get everyone concerned to complete reports, get them uploaded, and then categorised, within a day. The new networks site is designed to make it easier to see project summaries, and who is involved.
For me this immediate follow-up shows a real commitment to help Fellows move from a buzzy event to action. It could develop into a great demonstration of how to mix Open Space event technology with online follow-up and support from network facilitators.

Charles Leadbeater says it is time for we-thinking

Charles Leadbeater is developing a book on collaboration, collaboratively - so who better to offer some opening philosophy on RSA Networks day? Charles explained that the book is called We-think ... emphasising "we think therefore we are" rather than the more familiar "I think..."
People are contributing ideas and comments, Charles is re-drafting, and the whole enterprise is due for publication in 2008.
However, Charles warned us against believing that collaboration can be wholly a bottom-up,self-organising process. Large projects need a core of people at the heart, with development processes broken into smaller parts that people could work on. It was, he said, a bit like putting together a lot of Lego bricks.
You also need a governance structure, said Charles. He quoted Jimmy Wales, the founder of the Wikipedia,which is written by thousands of contributors, as follows.
Wikipedia is one part anarchy - in that anyone can contribute. It is one part democracy - when there is a dispute, people vote on it; one part meritocracy, because the best ideas win out; one part aristocracy because the people who have been around longest count for more; and one part monarchy - it's me.

Anthropologist enthused by developing networks

Ellie Ford is an anthropologist, filmmaker and entrepreneur who is capturing the story of the development of RSA Networks on behalf of NESTA, who are investing £100,000 is the networks process.

Ellie explained that she and a colleague were filming during the day, to capture the opinions of Fellows and how they related to RSA staff. She remarked on the risk involved in trying something so different - and the braveness of the Society in experimenting. More similar events, with some designed for new Fellows, would be a good way to develop the new culture neded for innovation.

More RSA Spaces needed: offline too

One of the recurring themes throughout the RSA Networks day discussion was how to match the plans for new online spaces, with better facilities for Fellows to meet face-to-face, particularly out of London.

In addition, could spaces within RSA headquarters at John Adam Street be used more effectively?

Malcolm Forbes, who has been closely involved in the development of OpenRSA, was one of those developing fresh ideas. These ranged from a directory of "branded" spaces that could be used by Fellows, to an online fundraising exercise, and returning the Tavern Room to its original sociable purpose. 

Network facilitators will support project development

The RSA Networks day produced lots of buzz and plenty of ideas - but how will these be turned into action?

Susan Butler, RSA Head of Marketing and Communications, explained that a key element in this will be the role of networks facilitators, who have been trained to support people proposing projects through research and brokerage of contacts.

However, Susan made it clear that it will be up to Fellows to drive projects forward. 

Friday, 23 November 2007

Making better use of RSA events

Alhough the RSA Networks online site drew a lot of attention, people were perhaps even more concerned to improve face-to-face networking and make better use of the many lectures and other events offered by the RSA.
Just how this might be done was discussed in one group by Frank Spring, National Director of RSA US, and Fellow Fiona Coffey - who does quite a bit of event organising herself. As Fiona said, this could mean changes for RSA staff as well as for Fellows.

RSA chair Gerry Acher

The chair of RSA trustees, Gerry Acher, was very much part of the conversation at the RSA Networks day, and explained to me how he saw the role of the RSA in today's society.

At a time when political parties are clustered together in the centre ground, people are not offered many alternatives - and increasingly want to work things out for themselves. Gerry explained this was very much in line with William Shipley's original vision for the RSA in 1754 - small groups of people getting together to talk about the future - and plan what to do.

RSA networks site raises the issue of openness

As conversations buzzed around the RSA house in John Adam Street, Saul Albert and Andy Gibson were tucked about in the theatre demonstrating a new online system that will be at the heart of helping Fellows develop project ideas, discuss them with others, and move them forward.
Saul and Andy have only had a few weeks to develop the prototype - yet during that time have been extraordinarily open and collaborative, as you can see from postings on this blog.
The site was well received - and the key issues raised were not about the technology, but about openness: for example, how far it should be for Fellows-only? This might seem logical in a membership organisation, but could be a handicap in developing projects that will inevitably involve a wide range of interests beyond the Fellowship. It's an issue already raised here. For the moment the site is open, so I urge you to click across and sign up to try it out. 

Sean Blair and Sophia Parker

The RSA Networks event was facilitated by Sean Blair, and Sophia Parker is working on Fellowship engagement and network development.

They found a few moments to talk about how networking can move from conversations and connections to action, and how more Fellows can be involved

Matthew Taylor launches the Networks event

Yesterday's RSA Networks event brought together some 250 Fellows, and generated both an extraordinary buzz of conversations as Mick Fealty reports, and also something less tangible but equally important - a terrific feeling of togetherness. It was, as Tessy Britton says, a sense of fellowship.
The idea of the day was to fill out the vision of chief executive Matthew Taylor for the Fellowship as a network for civic innovation. Before the event, that was a little sketchy. However, as things progressed, with a mix of presentations and Open Space discussions facilitated by Sean Blair, we produced both a rich mix of project ideas and the means to take them forward.
I took a camera along, and will be posting videos. Here's the first one, of Matthew Taylor welcoming us to the event.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

A Sense of Fellowship

I was privileged to attend the RSA Networks Workshop today and I wanted to share some of the things that I personally took away. To describe briefly the Open Space method, this involved discussion items being proposed by the participants, which then formed the agenda for each discussion period. Most discussion groups were then made up of 8 – 12 people approximately.

My overriding feeling from the day has been a huge sense of fellowship. And this was equally between Fellows and RSA staff, who hosted and participated fully in the day. In all the groups there were really stimulating discussions, a real passion around issues which ranged from positively engaging teenagers, climate change to RSA’s role within communities.

I will watch with great interest to see the ‘output’ of all these discussions, but am really much more interested in seeing how this sense of fellowship, shared purpose and individual drives can spread renewed energy from 250 Fellows today to the entire fellowship of the RSA, and out from there into our smaller and important local communities.

The demonstration of the new website was very well presented and the initial simplicity of the system will help attract larger numbers to register and take part. The very open processes in place to allow for feedback will undoubtedly lead to a continual stream of developments as the requirements become more apparent through use.

I love computers. They have lots of very nice neat coloured boxes which make things feel controlled and manageable. But I have a sneaky, and rather pleasant feeling that we are in the middle of wonderfully messy, very human process which could lead to even more exciting work in our communities led and initiated by groups of spirited, creative and excitable Fellows who seem equally willing to be inspired as inspire.

Thank you to everyone at the RSA for a superbly organised and interesting day. More days for more Fellows please!

More perspectives are sure to follow on this blog and on the RSA Networks Blog .

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Open Source for civic innovation?

At the informal meeting at the RSA on Monday we spoke briefly about the applicability of Open Source principles to the kind of networking/organising/innovating that OpenRSA is seeking to bring about. It's very seductive to see the achievements of Open Source software (such as the Linux operating system) and Wikipedia as providing a model for other forms of social production and creativity, particularly those informal activities based on voluntary contributions.

I don't want to pour cold water on the inspirations that these fantastic initiatives can provide. But (you could tell there was a but coming, couldn't you?) we should also be cautious about how easy it is to 'read across' from software coding or populating a knowledge base to the often quite fuzzy and diffuse settings where civic innovation takes place. To give one crude example: software either runs or it doesn't, it produces a verifiably accurate output, or it doesn't; working in social and civic spaces often isn't like that.

If we're going to learn the lessons of Open Source and successful wikis, we need a relatively fine-grained analysis of what it is about them that makes them work, and how transferable these lower-level features might be to the kind of work we're tackling. One of the best I've come across is Paul Duguid's analysis of so-called 'peer production' and what he calls the 'laws of quality' (in Open Source, one such law is "given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow [easy to fix]") in his Limits of Self-Organization paper. It's quite a long in-depth paper that covers Wikipedia, Gracenote and Project Gutenberg. If you haven't got the stomach for that, here's a briefer commentary and summary by Seb Schmoller.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

The UN and Social Media

Dan McQuillan has written a terribly interesting post on the UN and the use of social media on his blog interenet.artizans .

Dan writes: “But the UN is both Ideal and Institution, and the implications of social media are different for the two sides of this duality. For the Institution, the transition to the world of digital natives will be a difficult one. No institution, let alone a leviathan like the UN, is well adapted to the informal & peer-to-peer culture of the social web. More than that, the increased transparency enabled by the web is going to bring pressure to bear on the gritty realities of UN delivery. Big brands are already experiencing this pain and the UN will surely follow.”

Dan’s observations about the lack of privacy and transparency demonstrated by young people on social network sites are particularly insightful.

“But dig a bit deeper and the perennial idealism of youth starts to emerge from their online profiles & comments - as in every generation, plenty of young people care passionately about peace and justice.”

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.

Monday, 19 November 2007

RSA team sets out ideas for network development

The team developing the RSA networks programme has now produced a briefing for the workshop this Thursday, November 22.
You can find it on the OpenRSA wiki or download as a pdf. There's also an item on the RSA Networks blog, with a promise of more there too.
The paper asks Fellows broadly whether they want a deeper engagement with the RSA, and what they would like to change about interactions between themselves and the organisation.
Following earlier statements from chief executive Matthew Taylor there is a strong presumption in the paper that centrally-resourced interaction will be around networks that focus on the development of civic innovation projects.
Ten possible major project ideas are offered, ranging from reviving market town high streets to a debate on the proposed Severn Barrage, and a Speakers Corner in 20 cities across the UK.
Project development will require innovative thinking and action, and the paper explains that substantial use will be made of an online system a bit like that proposed for the Innovation Exchange. (Details of the RSA prototype have been outline here).
The prototype will be demonstrated on the 22nd. The aim is that it will be:
... a marketplace for new ideas, a space where Fellows can post new project ideas and a chance to tap into the collective wisdom and connections of a diverse and thoughtful group of people. In other words, the Fellowship will become more ‘searchable’, more visible and more accessible.
Through this, we hope that the Fellowship begins to understand itself as a complex, innovative network, powered through online tools as well as offline get- togethers, buzzing with ideas.
We also know that in order to strengthen the connections between busy Fellows, we can help by offering tools and techniques for those of you wishing to do work together as a network. Tools might include ‘routemaps’ or ‘guidebooks’, designed to share learning around popular Fellows’ causes, for example how to influence planning decisions in your local area. These could be published online, so that Fellows can work together to improve them.
The paper adds that central support could be available:

RSA staff as facilitators and brokers

Above and beyond the online resources outlined above, we could create a ‘field team’ of regional facilitators, sometimes Fellows themselves; sometimes staff, whose primary role is to support, challenge and develop emergent networks. This team would be ably supported by core staff at RSA headquarters, whose primary role would be to provide research support and a form of ‘concierge’ or brokerage service. That brokerage service would connect networks together if they had not already done so themselves, as well as building partnerships between networks and other key institutions and organisations.

The RSA as a Fellow-led ‘clearing house’ for ideas, and co-created projects

Much as it is now, but perhaps more explicitly, the content of the RSA’s research programme could be shaped to reflect the concerns and enthusiasms of the Fellowship, tapping into the energy and commitment amongst Fellows for action. Fellows could be involved as co-designers and project team members in areas identified by Fellows as priorities for RSA work. We could see Fellows forming ‘self-organised’ networks; networks which are connected to more substantial resources (such as funding, venues, or expertise); or even networks which formed the basis of a RSA research programme. Fellows could generate ideas for new projects at regular national and regional network symposia, working together with RSA staff to decide how to prioritise the allocation of resources and support.
The paper emphasises that the aim is to develop ideas and plans jointly between staff and Fellows. What are the implications, asks the paper?
First and foremost, we know that a networked model of change is about much more than ‘networking’ alone. Networks need both processes and content. Extensive research about such models – in technology, education and elsewhere – shows that really powerful networks have the following assets and qualities:
  • A well-articulated and shared set of goals, and a plan for how to meet those goals.
  • All members feel able and encouraged to participate – which in turn requires accessible, open channels of communication online and offline.
  • All network members perceive themselves to have an active role in doing work - between meetings and dialogue – so that the network does not become a talking shop.
  • A good balance of network leadership (sometimes shared by people) and facilitation that is designed to maintain momentum and provide challenge.
So, to make this model come alive, the Fellows involved in networks will themselves need to do a good deal of the work. However it is also true that if this is where the RSA networks project takes us, it will have implications for the staff roles at the RSA as well.
As noted above, you can read the paper here in full, and also download. There may be discussion on the RSA Networks blog, or do of course comment here.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Creativity and Risk Taking

One of the most interesting things I got out of the book The Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley (Ideo) was being brave with emerging ideas. His great example, pictured above, which I often use is the surgeon’s tool which started life with someone leaving a long and tiring development meeting and returning with a prototype made from pens and other stationary taped together very crudely.

Rowland Harwood’s observation about NESTA’s view on innovation and the RSA 360 project: ‘Good innovations don't just rise to the surface naturally without the momentum of a wider community of advocates’ also points to a creative climate which is created purposefully.

Sir Ken Robinson - also a RSA Fellow, describes in Out of Our Minds:

‘Creativity prospers best under particular conditions, especially where there is a flow of ideas between people who have different sorts of expertise. It requires an atmosphere where risk-taking and experimentation are encouraged rather than stifled. Creativity flourishes when there is a systemic strategy to promote it’

Reflecting on the RSA’s process recently I was struck by the fact that the process of exploring how the Fellowship becomes a force for social innovation has been conducted in an exemplary manner in the sense of creativity. The new RSA Network’s blog has had an open conversation from the beginning, and the RSA continues to do this very strongly on this blog as Saul is posting daily developments on the prototype as it develops. This also included a face-to-face meeting with Fellows to see the progress so far last Friday. There is a continued sense that this only has a chance of working well with everyone's input.

If some of this innovative environment can be created deliberately through and around the new site, where everyone feels safe enough to post ‘emerging’ ideas for multi sector and discipline collaboration then we really would be justified in feeling as excited about the possibilities as we all obviously do!

Friday, 16 November 2007

Malcolm Gladwell on Spaghetti Sauce

I like this talk by Malcolm very much and felt the benefit from re-watching it. Themes on diversity and not knowing what you like/need/want seems appropriate at the moment.

Of SMEs and CSR

Hi there,

I'm one of the new Ideas Apprentices, and I've just been seconded to the Networks team. I'm really looking forward to getting out and about and finding out what everyone's passions are and seeing how Staff and Fellows can create really effective ways of furthering the aims of the RSA.

I've had a fair few fellows come to me saying they want to look at Small to Medium Enterprises. Obviously everyone's coming from slightly different places, but underlying many of the stories I've heard was a desire to help SMEs fulfil their environmental and social responsibilities. At the moment, it can be hard for them to do this - the business costs and risks are too much to shoulder alone.

It's a good question - SMEs employ well over half the population, according to recent official figures.

I'd love to get anyone with insight or interest in this area in a room together soon. I'm sure there's a network in this. Mail to please

Who will decide on "open" - and how?

Tessy - love the drawing as well as your insights on collaboration! More please!
There's further discussion about openness with Mick Fealty and Eleanor Ford over on the RSA Networks blog, where Eleanor posts:

A comment on the nature of openness has value. David is right in saying that it is central to the NESTA Connect lines of inquiry, where openness integrates with trust and collaboration to seed innovation.

However, as I see it, the RSA aims to provide a sort of 'fertile ground' to be cultivated by the Fellows and the Society alike. In this space great ideas and innovations can be grown. But this vision takes time to create. And most importantly at the heart of the transformation is participation, which reveals its elective basis, coming honestly and transparently out of the passion/interest/commitment of all those involved.

Perhaps we should accept that in a sense people have to elect to be open, and then the conditions set up by the RSA are ripe to accept and encourage that, rather than making it a prerequisite. There will always be some people who are more or less comfortable with this position. That said, if the RSA Networks project succeeds in its long-term aims, this should cease to become an issue - as openness will be something that naturally unfolds.

And I respond:
However, decisions about the architecture and operation of the online system (and other activities) will make a big difference from the outset. It seems to me that civic innovation projects must involve a wide range of collaborations outside the RSA staff and Fellows ... so the collaboration system must cater for "outside" involvement, not just be a closed talking place for Fellows. Who will make that decision, and how?
Openness is also important for the engagement process. At present we don't know who is designing it, and what it is beyond the meeting next week for 250 Fellows.
My reason for reposting this is that Saul and Andy will be demonstrating the prototype system over the next week, and we don't know how decisions are to be made about the way that it will operate. The architecture for project collaboration could be set without anyone being clear about who is the "client" for Saul and Andy (although, I expect they won't let that one slide by in practice:-) and where the governance of the system lies. In my experience, lack of clarity on these issues leads to trouble further down the line.
Which also leads to the question, where are the RSA trustees in all this? Shouldn't they be part of the conversation as custodians of the balance between benefit for Fellows, and benefit for wider interests in society?

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Collaborating with Society

There are some very interesting themes on both the post below on NESTA’s view on collaboration and innovation, and the posting on the RSA Networks Blog about respect and democracy.

One of the challenges I feel about the current RSA agenda are the bridges not only between Fellows, but also collaboration with society, and the boundaries between where online collaboration and discussion end and face-to-face communication begins.

Two books which examine the wisdom of crowds, by actually using other people to write the books are interesting examples of mass collaboration in action. We Think by Charles Leadbeater (pic above) has been online for some time now and uses the We Think Wiki to generate contributions and comment. Charles has continued to be a futurist thinker himself, publishing The Rise of the Social Entrepreneur in 1997.

We Are Smarter than Me was published in September and claims 4000 authors about the collective intellect of mass collaboration.

Reflecting back to Mick Fealty’s post quoting Professor Stephen Coleman about respect my thought about mass collaboration is that it is inherently respectful, and it was a point that I made to Charles Leadbeater when I met him over the summer. Asking people for their contributions, listening and incorporating their ideas and opinions is possibly one of the most genuine ways of showing respect to another person.

Having returned from three days on a course with Dr Jerry Stein from the University of Minnesota on his Learning Dreams program I am more convinced than ever that the face-to-face interactions in live communities cannot be replaced by online dialogue. While the online forums provide us with a fantastic starting point we need to explore how the online social networking will serve and enable the face-to-face.

The most exciting aspect of the RSA’s new agenda is the potential not only for creative collaboration between Fellows, but creating spaces for creative collaboration between the Fellows and the communities in which we live, what Ellie would describe as 'fertile ground'. There can be few who would argue that communities themselves have a deeper understanding of their own concerns, and a greater ability to find their own solutions. Perhaps it could be part of the RSA's role to help facilitate these discussions within individual communities and activate the wide ranging expertise within the Fellowship.

RSA Networks Prototype day 3: wireframes

Hello OpenRSA readers,

Another extremely long and stimulating day today - during which the coding really got underway (more on that later). Friday will be a big push to get the prototype online in preparation for a first preview in the evening, so I don't expect to be able to blog at all, but I must get this wireframe out for feedback!

The front page that Liz has outlined here (click on it for an enlargement) shows what we're asking people to do with this simplified collaboration prototype. The headlines, as I've said before are: propose, discuss, and support.

Below that quick explanation, we're planning on showing a list of the most actively and recently discussed projects.

The two 'directories' here are for 'Projects' and 'People' - which both lead to a searchable list of people or projects organised by name, newness, geographical location (a google maps mash-up) or category tag - which is also represented as a 'tag cloud' of keywords on the front page.

Although 'folksonomy' is all the rage these days, we were hesitant about using it in an unconstrained way - allowing fellows to tag themselves and their projects without providing a category guideline of some kind. However, fellow Helen Westropp's excellent advice was that - due to the specificity of the fellow's professional vocabularies and terminologies, the tags fellows use will be recognisable to each other - and provide excellent indications of where multi-disciplinary approaches are at work. I'm excited to see what emerges in the tag cloud!

A project page (right) shows how each project will be represented on the site. Here the project has been described (all we are asking for is a title and a 30 word blurb) . Discussions can then develop - either by 'starting a new online discussion' - which creates a new thread underneath the project blurb, or by proposing an offline meetup - which is also listed beneath the project.

Others can either comment on the discussion thread, or sign up to attend the meetup, or start their own - and doing any of these actions automatically adds them to the list of people 'involved in this project discussion' - represented on the right column (2.5).

The main 'support' activity here is recommending the project to others - by typing their names into the 'recommendation' box on the right. This will fire off an email to the recommendee, providing a link to this project from the recommender. A similar function will allow fellows to invite each other to online discussion or events.

We are also keeping all this information (who recommends or invites what to whom) so that we can eventually start suggesting potential collaboration matches. For example: 'fellows who recommended this project to you are also involved in project X...' (amazon style), and will allow us to infer lots of other interesting interrelationships between the people and projects amongst the fellowship.

Finally, allow me to introduce 'Norman', our dummy fellow for the day. Each fellow, like Norman will have a 'profile' page showing all the kinds of information you'd expect from a useful web directory: mugshots, a short bio, his 'tags' - or categories of interests, events he's signed up for and a google map of where he's based (if you want to stalk Norman), online discussions he's involved in, and projects he's initiated.

You can also use Norman's profile page to introduce him to other fellows - just start typing their name into the 'introduce this person to...' box on the right (5.4) and you'll be able to select from a list of all fellows in the system - which will then send them both emails saying 'Norman, Simon thinks you ought to meet Norah... ' and providing links to each other's online profiles.

There is one final detail that we're hoping to be able to fit into the prototype stage... although time is running out now: 'aggregated feeds'.

We know that many fellows have blogs, use flickr, youtube, and countless other online tools to publish text, photos, video, links etc. etc. We want that activity to be reflected here so we are hoping to implement an 'aggregation' box on each profile, project, event and discussion page - where fellows can post 'feeds' from their activities around the 'Net, and see them collected on the RSA Networks site.

We are excited about the potential of this approach to allow the RSA Networks site to act as more of an expanding platform for participation and collaboration - than as yet another 'walled garden' type of social networking site (like Facebook) where we end up trying to lock our users into using the tools we provide. The web is full of great tools, and the fellowship are bound to have their own methods and preferences for what they use to communicate... we hope that this approach will help us facilitate rather than 'own' those collaborations.

In any case, this is getting a bit too philosophical - we are in the middle of frenzied site building for a pre-pre preview on Friday night at the RSA, so now I'm going to batton down the hatches and get on with it! Having said that - feedback is essential at this stage. Please do email me or comment with responses and ideas.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

How NESTA sees the RSA Networks project

A link on Roland Harwood's Connect blog offers some insights into how NESTA views the £100,000 investment that they are making in the RSA Networks project - or RSA 360 as it is also known. Roland, writing about Interaction + Iteration = Innovation, says:
We've been arguing for some time that all innovation is fundamentally collaborative, and I believe it is becoming more so, given increasing specialisation in all domains. It may be possible to invent an idea or concept as an individual, though this always builds upon the work of others. But more importantly, to realise commercial or social value, requires input from many other people - both seen and unseen. And yet the finance, support and infrastructure for innovation in the UK (and elsewhere) tend to be mostly focussed upon the individual (person or organisation).

I'm particularly interested in the space between the individuals, or the 'interaction' within an innovation community. This interplay between participants has an inbuilt feedback mechanism or 'iteration' which is a hallmark of the design process and is essential in successful innovation. Good innovations don't just rise to the surface naturally without the momentum of a wider community of advocates. Returning to science for a moment, modern physics is clear that the world works very differently at different scales. The laws that are true of atoms and sub-atomic particles do not 'aggregate up' to apply to larger masses and structures where entirely new emergent phenomena occur at larger scales e.g. magnetism. The same applies to groups and communities.
He then goes on to add:
One of the evaluation techniques we are using in several of our Connect projects, Corporate Connections and RSA 360, is the use of video ethnography to observe and track the development of diverse range of participants seeking to innovate collaboratively. I think this will be fruitful and will reveal insights not obtained through traditional quantative or qualitative techniques.

But I am beginning to realise that we lack a vocabulary to even talk about group dynamics properly. Can anybody please provide me with examples of case studies that capture the essence of group dynamics (both positive and negative) that properly explain the emergence of collaborative innovation, rather than simply telling the stories of heroic individuals or aggregating individual behaviour?
The link leads to a page which applauds the potential of the RSA Fellowship, and explains its importance to NESTA:

The 360 project taps into this massive latent potential of the Fellowship and supports them to develop new networks, which aim to deliver sustainable social change.

NESTA Connect will help to set up a team of external advisers to develop a set of pilot networks. Each network will be nurtured individually and encouraged to 'connect' with each other and other partners to generate action and learning.

For the RSA, the project flows directly from the belief that a better future depends on citizens closing the social aspiration gap - the gap between the world we say we want to live in, and the world we are likely to build.

For NESTA Connect, this is an opportunity to explore different types of collaborative innovation, and identify connections between these collaborations and successful innovation.

I'll send Roland an invite to see if he would like to add more over on this blog. It's really encouraging to feel in the forefront of social innovation experimentation and evaluation. More will be explained at our meet up next Monday with Eleanor Ford. However, I don't want to appear the least bit carping, but it would help a great deal if RSA could pull some of these references together and offer Fellows a full briefing on the programme. There's a few early ones here.

Following Mick Fealty's kind words over on the RSA Networks blog, I have high hopes of RSA-OpenRSA collaboration on this.

OpenRSA meetup on Monday 19th

Here's a chance to meet others involved in OpenRSA, and talk to Eleanor Ford who is researching the RSA Networks process

Malcolm Forbes posted this to Facebook. Sign up there
If you aren't in Facebook, it is free to join, and you'll be promoted to sign up. Any problems, email

As many people know, the RSA is hosting a big (but closed) event on November 22 to plan ways forward with Fellows. A group of us are meeting for a drink on the evening of Monday November 19 to catch up on developments, and possible ways forward. The get-together is also
an opportunity to meet Eleanor Ford, who posted to the Facebook group:

"As many of you know, I am doing some ethnographic evaluation work on the RSA Networks project with NESTA, and would be really interested in capturing some of the experiences at the heart of the process as it develops. I have had a chat with a few of you, but would love a chance
to speak with some more Fellows before the 22nd, just to get some opinions on the project and where it might be going.
"Just to give you a one line bio - I am an anthropologist, filmmaker and entrepreneur, and am currently working on a new technology service funded by NESTA's Creative Pioneer Programme, the LDA and private investment."

Open to anyone, whether you are attending November 22 or not ... but do sign in at the link above.
Update: We'll be meeting in the Shipley Room, RSA, 8 John Adam Street. Thanks Victoria, of RSA hospitality, for arranging.

RSA Networks Prototype day 2

Well, it's actually day 3, but I'm lagging behind a day. This is just a quick post about the higher level 'flow' and expected uses of the system that we are developing at the moment. I hope to blog again later today and put a bit more meat on the bones.

We are eager for feedback, especially as we are now finding the holes in our thinking as we build... your help with that task is much appreciated!

We have another flow diagram for you - this one explaining the three key activities we're expecting fellows to engage in via the RSA Networks prototype:

Proposal: describing a nascent project, this is where up and coming, enthusiastic RSA fellows will be posting their projects, hoping to win support, criticism, and the benefit of the experience, connections and resources of other fellows.

Discussion: this is the core function of the site. Fellows can get involved by creating online discussions (threaded blog posts and comments) or offline discussions (meetups) relating to a project. The result of all this activity is reflected on the site, and the most active projects rise to the surface.

Support: making connections and expressing appreciation. Fellows can act as match-makers, promoting events to each other, making introductions between other fellows, recommending projects, and inviting each other to blog discussions. If they want to, they can also 'pledge support' - which is either public (visible on the project page) or private (a message to the project initiator).

This is basically a more abstract expression of what Norah, Simon and Trevor were doing yesterday, but in abstracting it, we're now wondering what processes we're missing out on.

How do people already support 'social innovation'? What other existing processes could we augment? Can anyone see any glaring holes here? Any unnecessary steps?

More soon... hopefully with some screenshots from the bleeding edge!

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Networks Prototype

Thanks for the detail Saul on the prototype. The Drupal platform looks very versatile and the Indianapolis Museum of Art site shows how exciting it can look as well. I particularly like their feature called 'Collaborative Book' which seems to create opportunities to really develop ideas. Importing from other media is essential as you show - particularly if the site is going to be used for information sharing as well.

It would be very interesting to see how the new types of networking opportunties that many fellows would like to create off line can be replicated online. From your flow plan your designs could facilitate the same type of collaborative 'spaces' to connect fellows over longer distances. One of the greatest needs expressed so far about opening up the network has been for fellows to get to know each other's areas of interest and expertise. The driver for this idea being developing trusting relationships around high-interest areas... and project ideas potentially growing from there. Frequently mentioned is the idea of open mic evenings for fellows to introduce their work and projects to one another in an informal setting and finding suitable ways of replicating this type of opportunity online would be very interesting. . . and exciting.

Groups functions would be very helpful for regional interest groups and LEGS to draw fellows to idea generating events . . .

Those attending the RSA meeting on the 22nd are really looking forward to seeing your prototype!

While I am here, just a reminder that there is an Informal Face 2 Face Meeting on the 19th November - more information and replies on the Facebook event page

Building the RSA Networks Prototype

Hello openrsa readers.

I'm going to blog our progress on the RSA Networks Prototype here so we can benefit from even more of your comments and guidance.

After collating a huge mass of material, ideas and suggestions over the last week, we finally fixed on some simple first steps and put our noses firmly to the grindstone.

When I say 'we' - I should introduce the rest of the development team (as David did such a nice job of introducing Andy and myself on this blog): Liz Turner on design and user interface and Peter Brownell (left, with loud hailer) on code and architecture. This is the same team that I put together to develop - RSA Fellow Neil Johnston's initiative to network creative businesses in West London.

But enough preliminaries - you are probably all eager to hear what we're actually going to do.

The most important function of the Network Prototype by all accounts is to foster online and offline discussion and development of new projects amongst the RSA fellowship. There are many other functions that can be added later, but these are the ones we are focusing on for the prototype.

To explain how we are going to do this, allow me to introduce more new faces: Norah, Simon, and Trevor - our hypothetical group of RSA fellows.

The idea here is that ideas are contributed by fellows, and through discussion (online as blog posts and comments) and offline (as events) they are refined and developed into projects.

Of course there will be a lot more to this process than we are outlining here, but this is the very basic flow between idea, discussion and project.

We also have some key principles that we are going to use in the development process that will inform how we achieve this:
  • We are using Drupal, an Open Source toolkit as our starting point.
  • We will be building this fast, explaining what we are doing (here) and releasing our results and trying to do two or three micro-iterations by the 22nd November.
  • We don't want to re-invent the Web(2.0) or create a walled garden for fellows (facebook style), so we will be using a lot of RSS aggregation to pull in discussions and media from other sites (such as flickr, youtube, technorati, blogger etc.) and show them alongside relevant projects.
I hope that gives you some indication as to what direction we're going in with this.

Please do give feedback and ask any questions you have about what we're doing - here or to, and I'll try to pry myself out of the process for long enough to respond!

Until tomorrow then...