These pages provide a partial history of initiatives by the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) to create an online community for its 27,000 Fellows, and some observations that may be relevant to any future plans. Let's not re-invent the wheel - or fall into the same potholes.
I was inspired by the original vision of a network for civic innovation, and I'm disappointed we now have nothing. A new discussion has just developed on the Linkedin group for Fellows (login required), so I hope others may be interested in supporting a new initiative if that emerges. In order to succeed I think it would be need to be a real partnership between staff and Fellows.
Apologies if I have missed or misrepresented any developments. Please let me know and I'll revise.
David Wilcox January 2017
In 2007 the RSA's recently-appointed chief executive Matthew Taylor launched a £100,000 programme, funded by NESTA, to develop the organisation as a network for civic innovation. It was underpinned by substantial investment in an online platform, together with events, regional development and staff facilitation.
There was a highly successful one-day event at the House on November 22 to develop the way forward, involving several hundred Fellows and staff.
The RSA Networks programme, and later work to engage and support RSA Fellows, provides some useful lessons and talking points at a time when RSA is again considering online network development and Fellowship engagement.
Relatively few official online resources are now available because of changes in RSA and NESTA sites, but I've started to put together some references using the Internet Archive WayBackMachine and material developed by the OpenRSA group 2007-2012.
OpenRSA was established by a group of Fellows to support RSA network developments, and also to argue that if the system were supporting civic innovation it should not be limited to Fellows. The group ran it own blog and wiki, ideas and and discussion platforms, and helped run several co-design workshops.
The RSA online systems for Fellows went through a number of iterations. Two in-house systems were developed 2007-2010, followed by the use of Ning.com sites 2010-2013. These are no longer available. There is no comparable system for Fellows in the current RSA system, although there is a Linkedin group.
During the period of the Ning sites, a lively Digital engagement group developed for digital champions who would help RSA Fellows.
Interim evaluation 2008
Consultant author Sophia Parker wrote: “We need to understand much, much more about what this ‘new collectivism’ might mean for organisations of the future. The mediating role that they have played in our lives is looking increasingly redundant as each of us as individuals find tools to work together in new ways”.
Download pdf or Read online
The evaluation took the form of a report and principles for networks innovation, on the NESTA website - archive link.
“The report sets out what we hope will be a useful set of lessons for those who want to learn more about supporting networked innovation or managing change. A series of videos filmed throughout the project will be available for download from this website soon.”
Perhaps the most fundamental issues are those of purpose, ownership, and facilitation. What activities is any platform intended to support? Who manages? Who provides network leadership, facilitation and support?
None of these issues is specific to RSA, and others organisations have learned a lot over the past 10 years. It may be that it isn't realistic or appropriate to attempt an all-purpose system for 27,000 Fellows and staff. I hope these note will help restart an important discussion.