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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.

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