Read about the RSA Networks event - see the videos

Information about RSA networks and OpenRSA here. More about this blog, and how to join in.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Next steps for OpenRSA - your priorities

As an experiment, I've set up a forum at to see if it can help us prioritise what we do next as the loose OpenRSA collective.

I've seeded it with some ideas taken from the reports of the 19th February session at and a couple of others have already chipped in too.

Please take a look, see if there are new ideas you'd like to add, and/or spread your 10 votes across those that have been posted.

Comments and/or criticism of this approach are welcome, as always.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Making Connecting and Initiating Easy

The RSA Networks project has been full of enthusiasm and desire from both the RSA and the Fellows to 'get connected'.

My observation, having followed the project since its launch, is that for some Fellows this has been easy, but for others there are often invisible barriers to participation. These barriers can be categorised as psychological and practical.

In order to encourage 'connecting' the RSA South Central Region has taken a strategic decision to actively encourage Fellows starting up their own groups, either local groups or interest groups.

Looking at the potential barriers of participation we are looking at a 'toolkit' which could overcome reticence to take a more active, initiating role within the RSA network, rather than the more conventional but passive, member's role.

I good analogy is that of a plug and a socket. We normally assume they just fit. But humans are very complex and need someway of translating their willingness to 'plug in' to the network, into action. A conversion kit.

Some of the items that have been discussed have been:

Permission – Can we start a new RSA group?


Process - how do you get the ball rolling, what help is available, etc

Funds - Group start-up event costs, project funding

Stimulation – Ideas, sharing case studies etc

Guidance – How to communicate, promote, manage an event – generate group interest and engagement - realistic expectations

Practical tools and participatory formats:

Guide Booklet
Open Dinners
Open Space Techonology Format
Open Mic / Open Knowledge evenings
Online Networks Platform
Video Conferencing
Central Fellows listings

A fantastic example of this toolkit idea was published this morning. Red Nose Day published their fundraising kit (available for download -Red Nose Fundraising Kit). The kit (brochure) tries to take away every possible reason not to participate. They give you ideas, encouragement, case studies, sponsorship forms... They make participation feel worthwhile, fun, easy, low risk.

This project i.e. to create a 'connecting toolkit' to encourage participation and initiation, can only be done successfully with the input of lots of different sorts of RSA Fellows: new and longstanding, urban and rural, shy and wildly extrovert, retired and working, IT savvy ... or not...

What barriers do we need to overcome? How can we communicate and excite? What do we need to make? How can we collaborate in making it brilliant? How can Fellows contribute to it? What role should RSA Networks take?

How do we measure the success of RSA networks?

Comments can get buried on a blog, so I think it is worth pulling to the top some points from the thread here. Justin Kirby has been throwing in some useful provocations ... Elizabeth said she had got great benefit from Fellowship and networking ... but has now removed her comment. Strange.

I said I thought that more help was needed for Fellows, particularly outside London, to connect ... and that a key issue was, as always, what's the purpose?
The issue as always is who benefits? Is RSA for staff, Fellows .. or making some beneficial change in the world? That's where leadership is needed, I think. Matthew has likened the RSA to the RAC of civic activism .... but I'm not sure that's how most Fellows see it.
I guess problems solved, rescues made would give some measure though.
Justin followed up with:
What I really really wanna know is how they plan to measure success. If Matthew T truly sees the RSA as being the RAC of civic activism then they are going to have to nail some kind of Social Impact Assessment/Evaluation Criteria to their mast or else its just more useless sloganeering.

In fact, I'd love to see what evaluation criteria was used to justify the funding of this initiative and where they are at as far as achieving their goals.

I'd also like to know whether some kind of Social Impact Assessment was part of their original funding proposal, because the likes of NING, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc, would have been far more cost effect ways of facilitating a member meets member programme as would a decent bar/cafe at their HQ.
Any ideas on how we do measure success? Is it about helping Fellows network ... and/or making a difference in the world? NESTA commissioned an evaluation, and the interim report is here.
However, the final report was turned into lessons learned, so I don't think we have any final evaluation against funding criteria. Can anyone from RSA or NESTA help on that?
Update: just to make clear there is a full report, which you can download here and decide how far it is an evaluation.

Welcome to Scottish Fellows

The letter below has just gone out to all Scottish FRSAs - thanks to Louise Macdonald for organising.

.. so a big welcome to anyone looking in from north of the border (and elsewhere for that matter).

Do drop a comment here on how you would like to see networking improved, or any other topic. If you would like to author a blog post, just email You can also follow us on Twitter: explanation here

Dear Fellows,

Later this week a group of RSA Fellows and staff will be discussing future development of online networking and collaboration on projects, at a workshop in London. The OpenRSA group wants to extend the discussion to other regions and nations, and have posted an invitation to add ideas and issues on their blog

One of the ideas likely to be discussed is development of communication toolkits that help Fellows connect and collaborate by adding tools to those already available on the RSA networks site.

You find out more about OpenRSA here

There's a webpage here that brings together all OpenRSA discussions, and feeds from RSA blogs

This is an excellent opportunity to engage at an international level in framing the way that RSA Fellows engage with each other and with the RSA.

Check it out!!

Judith Friedman
Outreach Coordinator, Scotland
+44 (0)750 088 5473

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

RSA is "the RAC of civic activism" - Matthew Taylor

Part of the evaluation by NESTA - who funded development of RSA networks - involved video interviews and clips from events, and they've been promising for a while that these would go up online. Their site gives an interview with chief executive Matthew Taylor as a taster.

RSA - A new vision for the RSA from NESTA Connect on Vimeo.

Towards the end of the interview Matthew likens the RSA to a kind if civic RAC, where you might find some experts prepared to help you out with a problem.
One of the ways in which I characterised the RSA ... the model I had at the very beginning ... was I wanted us to be the RAC of civic activism.
When you needed a group of people, people like us, reasonably high powered people from different kind of of backgrounds, quite self confident people, with a set of skills, - and you needed a group of people to come together to solve a problem - ring the RSA.
Wherever they are, they are that kind of people and they have got that kind of network. That is ultimately my aspiration.

You can also hear what Matthew said at an OpenRSA event in October 2007 over here.

RSA - Setting the conditions from NESTA Connect on Vimeo.

On the NESTA vimeo account you can now find more videos, including this interesting explanation from Laura Bunt - who leads on RSA networks development - about how things were planned internally among department. Laura and Laura Billings from the Fellowship department will be giving us an update at the workshop on Thursday.
I'll be taking a camera, and hoping we can get a progress update on video. Written reports are fine, but I think that the videos by Eleanor Ford and Simone Jaeger give a far better idea of the vision and challenges of the past eighteen months.

Skunkworks might speed RSA networking

Does progress on RSA online networking have to be slow - or could we help staff in speeding up developments? Over on the RSA networks site Mike Amos-Simpson writes in advance of Thursday's workshop:

Next week will be my first RSA event and despite this I already feel bogged down by how much mention is made of how long and slow the process has been - whether in fact there really is a process or if this is just something started on a whim and is now far off the radar. I wonder why a 250 year old tanker takes time to turn? If it has plenty of space and good drivers what's slowing it down? I know the discussions I've been involved in are biased towards change but there doesn't seem to be much discussion towards not changing (or is this happening elsewhere?).

Meanwhile another recently-joined Fellow Dave Briggs has offered (see comment) to help with online tools, and floats the idea of "skunkworks" by posting his recent blog item on this topic to the OpenRSA Google group discussion.

In his blog post Dave is talking about small teams working in "stealth mode" within the public sector, to get things done. He attracts support from other public sector techies in comments.

Dave is one of the most enthusiastic and skilled people using social media to help public service innovation - so I'm delighted that he might help on the RSA front. RSA staff are open to the idea of a connection toolkits for Fellows - so we all seem to be on the same track. Hopefully on Thursday we can find a challenge or project around which to organise some skunkworking.

Here's Dave's post:

My good friend Robert Brook - one of the most active and entertaining people I follow on Twitter - was recently interviewed by Chris Dalby, and it was caught on video.

In it, Robert discusses the work he does at the UK Parliament as a ’skunkworks’ - for those that don’t know, this is:

typically developed by a small and loosely structured group of people who research and develop a project primarily for the sake of innovation

Sounds like fun. The origin of the phrase is from Lockheed Martin, in case you are interested.

This way of fostering innovation and getting things done - by taking it under the radar - is an interesting one and something I have heard from others, who have spoken about organisations having a ’splinter-cell’ for social media, or describing innovative web stuff being done as ‘black ops’.

It ties in with a lot of the stuff that Cisco’s Guido Jouret said at the Cisco Public Sector Summit that I covered late last year. Some of the things that can stife innovation in large organisations, said Guido, include:

  • too much money - projects lose focus
  • too much time - projects drift
  • too many people - not everyone believes in the project as much as they need to
  • too much love - people get too attached to failing projects and
  • too much hate - jealousy elsewhere in the organisation kills projects

As a result, innovation projects have limited budgets, timescales, small teams, spend a lot of time in ’stealth mode’ (skunkworks?) and people on teams are kept close.

A lot of the good work that goes on in the public sector with the web happens on the quiet, guerilla style. If thing are really going to change, then this needs to stop and we need these projects out in the open, not to have people worried about talking about them openly.

However, that needs a culture shift and it might not happen soon. In the meantime, we need to get stuff done, and if it has to happen in a skunkworks style, then so be it.

Update: Posting a comment to Dave's skunkworks blog post led to ponder what to call activities on the edge, getting stuff done in a challenging way. Badgerworks?

RSA dashboard shows a wealth of online activity

In researching background for the workshop with RSA staff this week I've discovered just how far RSA has come recently in creating great public-facing content online. I've pulled it together on a startpage here, that acts as a sort of dashboard for online RSA activity. The page automatically updates with feeds from RSA sites and also OpenRSA.
Chief executive Matthew Taylor leads the way with top-quality blogging on his work and issues of the day - even managing to post from his holiday in Aviemore on the three massive challenges facing the UK: recession, protecting public services and climate change. Matthew says:
There is so much that the talented and committed Fellowship of the RSA could do. We here at John Adam Street are ready to support Fellows’ efforts; let’s see the whole of this great society step up to the plate.
There are also project blogs listed here on Arts, Civic Capitalism, Connected Communities, Design, Education, Environment, Pro-social behaviour, and public services. The events programme has listings, and audio and video of past events. I'm sure there's more I have missed.
The research made me think that the public-facing events and projects programmes could be a very fruitful area of engagement for those of us involved in OpenRSA who want to promote more collaboration between staff, Fellows, and others online and off ... and maybe help meet Matthew's challenges.
So far a lot of our attention has been on the closed RSA network site, and there's certainly lots of potential there. I'm enthusiastic about the idea of creating an online toolkit for Fellows and regions, providing additional tools and support.
However, I wonder if it might be possible to make faster progress working with some of the project and events teams where there is a commitment to blogging, audio, video, and interactions with both Fellows and others? By engaging with their activity - and adding more - we could demonstrate to the wider Fellowship the benefits of online collaboration, and hopefully feed that back into the networking.
Just a thought. I'll pop a linking comment on to Matthew's blog and see if resonates there.

Update: here's what I've posted as a comment on Matthew's blog, where it is awaiting moderation:

I think many Fellows would like to work together and rise to the challenges you highlight: the question is how best to collaborate among ourselves, and with staff.

A group of Fellows and RSA staff are meeting on Thursday to discuss just that, with a strong focus on the scope for working online. In researching background for the workshop I’ve been struck by how far RSA has come over the past year in developing great public-facing content. I’ve pulled it together on a dashboard here, and also blogged about the potential here.

What would help in the collaborative effort, in my view, is some initial help from RSA staff in convening around the challenges or other projects. Should we look to project or Fellowship departments? It’s quite difficult for Fellows to self-organise … though it may get easier once the new RSA network site is fully launched. At present we can’t find who might be interested, and space is tight in JAS.Clay Shirky has highlighted this new convening role for nonprofits - where self-organising meets organisation. Could you help us in the next round of innovation?

Anyone else got ideas on how best to work with RSA staff on these issues?

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Starting discussion on future RSA networking

Here's some of the issues those attending the workshop later this week want to talk about - please add a comment to this post if you have some of your own.
  • Gathering lessons from the past eighteen months of development of RSA networks, and OpenRSA.
  • Creative exploration of how RSA networking can develop in future.
  • How to collaborate online in developing projects.
  • Building working relationships with other professionals through RSA.
  • Finding out what will be offered to Fellows by RSA in future - and what might be expected of them.
  • Developing communication toolkits to help Fellows connect with each other and develop projects.
  • The impact of social media on leadership.
About 30 Fellows, friends and RSA staff will be attending the workshop on February 19 - details here. There are a few places still available, and you can sign up here.
I've pulled together some background material here, about RSA network development over the past 18 months, and OpenRSA.
Laura Bunt and Laura Billings will introduce discussion from the RSA staff perspective;
Malcolm Forbes, who helped start OpenRSA, will give his view of developments; and we'll also hear from Eleanor Ford, who will give the main points from NESTA's study on the RSA/Fellowship and networks, offering the practical recommendations from the report.
NESTA supported RSA networks with £100,000 of funding, and their evaluation - by Sophia Parker and Eleanor - offers some valuable principles for networked organisations. Here's the summary from NESTA's site, where you can download the full report.

Principles for networked innovation

  • Start with relationships not transactions
  • Be clear about the invitation
  • People need to be seen and heard
  • Follow exciting leads
  • The online presence is integral to the mission
  • Understand patterns of participation
  • Not every networked idea is a good idea
  • Revel in reflected glory
  • Let networked innovation models change the hierarchy
  • Don’t lose the human touch when going to scale

Principles for managing disruptive change

  • Embrace chaos
  • Co-design change
  • Prototype, incubate, learn
  • Mix mavericks and managers
  • Go beyond staff compliance
We've also posted the principles in more detail on our wiki.
We aren't aiming to set the agenda for the workshop beforehand, but it would be really useful to have a sense of what other's are interested in at this stage of RSA networking.
I'm particularly keen to explore how Fellows and staff might work together to develop communication toolkits, which add additional tools to those available on the main RSA networking site.
In order to help with that I've used Pageflakes to create a page where you can see feeds from all the main RSA blogs, and from Open RSA: you'll find it here.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

RSA could fulfill Clay Shirky's vision of the new-style convening organisation

There were several linked areas of interest when the OpenRSA group started up in 2007: supporting Matthew Taylor's vision of RSA Fellowship as a network for civic innovation; ensuring that this was developed in as open a way as possible; and also exploring the use of social media by Fellows and others, through the in-house system and other complementary tools like this blog, wiki, and Google group.
The initial focus of the online RSA networks system - launched in November 2007 - was on encouraging Fellows to propose and develop civic innovation projects , and there are quite a few in the system. Since then the role of the system has expanded to include general networking by Fellows.
It is the importance of this sort of lateral networking between members of nonprofits that Clay Shirky emphasised recently, while in the UK to promote the paperback edition of his book Here Comes Everybody. He was interviewed by Amy Sample Ward.

Clay said that in a world where more and more people were connecting online with their interest groups, they would not be satisfied with old-style one-way membership services: you pay us the money, and we send a newsletter. Nor would the opportunity to provide feedback be enough. Members would want something better than the networking they could do for themselves online.

Having some sense that you all care about the issue - you all share something in common, whether it is geography or outlook or skills - and only we as an organisation can see into both of those kinds of values …

… that I think is the really radical convening function. Not just passive convening - use your membership in Greenpeace as a dating network for like-minded individuals - anyone can spin off that idea.

It’s really when a nonprofit can say we think you will find value from associating with these particular groups at this particular time.

But it requires a really dramatic shift …. and saying actually, in the same ways as we talk about the members of the body, we are made up of you, not just made up of your money and our executive committee, we are made up of you, the members, as our existence.

You then start to figure out ways to coordinate the members in ways to create the kind of value that we couldn’t have gotten to in the 20th century … but is now becoming not just available, but cheap, trival and expected by people.

This new, customised convening role could fit well with development of RSA networks, if the system is linked to membership profiles that allow Fellows to connect with others that have similar interests.
More about Clay's interview here.

Re-starting this blog

After the lively developments of RSA networks in early 2008, this blog has been quiet while a new online system has been installed on the new RSA site, and staff responsibilities have changed.
However, things are now warming up again with a workshop next week where RSA staff, Fellows and friends will collaborate to develop new ideas for the future. Event details here, and more in a later post on what ideas are emerging. You can see online discussion here and sign up to join in.
Over the past year RSA chief executive Matthew Taylor has increased his blogging, and RSA projects the Social Brain and Connected Communities have also launched blogs.
NESTA - who funded the RSA networks developments - have published lessons learned from programme evaluation.
There's a round-up of online resources here.
Now to more recent developments.