Summary: This is an update on the proposed open exploration into how RSA could enhance opportunities for networking among Fellows, and the ways that they could engage with the organisation. It takes in other recent discussions on Linkedin about why people joined the RSA, and around the Fellowship Council election, and leads to ideas for further development of a model of personal and professional learning networks: RSA as a Free University.
The idea of an open exploration
A few months ago I and others proposed an open exploration into how RSA could enhance opportunities for networking among Fellows, and the ways that they could engage with the organisation. I have since reported further ideas and progress in the Digital Engagement group forum - but we have not developed the idea of a structured exploration further, partly because of new external commitments on some team members, and because of holidays. However, a number of opportunities have arisen that provide possible ways forward, which I discuss later.
The challenging context of Fellows' dissatisfaction
First we should acknowledge the challenges, many of which are long-standing and merely highlighted by recent discussions :
So the challenges might be summarised as "Fellows are confused about what the RSA offers them as an organisation, what they are allowed to do, and so find it difficult to realise the potential of its greatest strength - the diversity and expertise within the Fellowship". This not a new complaint, and has continued to surface since the original RSA Networks initiative in 2007, despite very substantial improvements in the staff support for Fellows. Something extra is needed - or perhaps a different approach, linked to the new Technology Strategy that is for the first time providing a comprehensive review of systems.
The good news - Fellowship council members engage and agree
The good news now is that the online hustings for Fellowship Council elections provided an opportunity for the At Large candidates to engage with these and other issues, and broadly reach agreement on priorities. We now have an official focus for addressing the strategic issues and - as I suggest below - the opportunity to introduce a new model for addressing challenges and meeting needs. See also Jemima Gibbons report on the online hustings and recommendations for the future.
The old model for engagement and networking - design top-down
In the past discussion about supporting Fellows needs for greater engagement and networking have been fairly traditional and top-down: agree organisational strategy, the role of Fellows, establish priorities and purpose, and then design systems, with an emphasis on new technology.
That may seem logical but recent discussions - summarised above - have highlighted why this is such a difficult route in the RSA. There are many views about strategy, many different interests. Some Fellows want conversation, some want business opportunities, some want to connect with staff-led projects, some want to develop projects with other Fellows. There are few agreed protocols, and no clear purpose.
Over the past five years the result has been on the one hand rather fruitless discussions around strategy (because ultimately Fellows can't have much influence on that), and on the other hand attempts to meet diverse needs by additional tech tools (which Fellows don't control either).
Reframing the exploration
My suggestion is that the exploration could now best proceed on parallel, linked tracks. These should address the various issues above: the lack of strategic direction; the scope for the new council to engage with Fellows; plus a shift from top-down to bottom-up design of systems.
Moving to a more Fellow-centric model
I want to focus my future input on the final point above - the move towards a more bottom-up, Fellow-centric model, to complement - NOT replace - the organisationally-focussed technology development strategy. (There are already some elements of this in the strategy, based around personas, and hopefully we could help develop those).
As I suggestedin an earlier post, Fellows need to play their part in developing a more fully networked RSA
Even within an improved set of organisational systems, we will all need to develop our own capacities to find who and what we need within a media-rich environment. In many ways the RSA reflects the wider challenges that I highlighted in this reference to slides and posts from Steve Dale. We all need to learn network literacy, and where better to do that than RSA, provided there is some support at two other levels.
In addition, I think we need connectors, curators and social reporters in the middle, who will join up conversations, make introductions and provide other support for Fellows. That role is being explored by the Digital Champions.
None of these ideas are new, but the renewed interest among Fellowship Council members provides a good focus and official route to senior management and Trustees.
In addition, I think we could benefit by introducing a model that focusses on individual networking in the context of a more fully networked organisation. The best one I have found so far is that of the personal (and professional) learning networks.
Could RSA become Your Free University?
I was talking recently to Nick Wilding about the potential of RSA Fellowship, in the context of online Communities of Practice (CoPs), where we are doing some work together. Nick has done a terrific job at the Carnegie UK Trust over the past four years in developing the CoP Fiery Spirits for people working in rural community development. I'm helping Nick plan next stage development, and we are both very aware of the changing online context described by Steve Dale (and cited above). The key issue is: what can a CoP offer to people that they can't get elsewhere?
The offer to potential CoP members should be stronger when associated with an organisation, because of the extra support and services that might be available. However, I said that it was difficult to formulate a strong offer to people who might wish to join RSA, because of the challenges I've outline above. Nick responded - why not say it can be your Free University? Free in several senses perhaps: that it comes as part of the Fellowship package; you are free to contribute as well as learn; and that as people develop the practice of sharing there is a lot of value exchanged, if not money.
Harold Jarche provides an excellent explanation of how personal knowledge management and networked learning can be developed.
Interestingly, Dan Sutch, of the Nominet Trust, cites personal and professional learning networks as an important area for charities in an article in the Guardian on the use of technology by charities:
Personal (or professional) learning networks are where individuals within institutions create informal networks with peers inside and outside of those organisations. What is particularly powerful about these networks is that they cross geographic, as well as institutional and disciplinary boundaries. Although these can be termed loose networks, as their make-up can change on an informal basis, they are becoming very important as sources of ideas, resource sharing and support for innovators.
I've been having some informal discussions with RSA staff around this topic, because of a possible collaboration with some past and current clients of mine, including Big Lottery Fund, Nominet Trust and Carnegie UK Trust. All are interested in different ways in how we can address the challenges of networking and learning in civil society which I wrote about here.
So could we take forward an exploration of personal and professional learning networks, in a way that helps address the needs of at least some Fellows? I hope that the Digital Engagement group, and some Fellowship council members might be interested in helping design a process to recruit and support some pioneers.
This post is really an update on recent discussions, to clear the way for some further thinking. There are so many different discussions going on it seems important to bring them together: further insights, encouragement or disagreement welcome! welcome
I'll develop some further ideas on what might be involved. Meanwhile I'm curating content on personal and professional learning networks over here.
Thanks David, that's really interesting and thank you also for sharing those resources and in particular your Scoop site. I'm involved in training communications professionals in how to introduce and nurture internal social networking, in particular for knowledge sharing and innovation, and packaging it as a benefit to the individual and a value-add to the organisation, which seems exactly what this is about. I'm interested in following this discussion and being involved some way if I can.
Thanks for your encouragement Robin - that's just the sort of cross-over I was hoping we might be able to stimulate! I suspect a lot of Fellows are involved in various sorts of cooperation, social media, social learning etc but in different domains. We might be able to achieve two things: some common understanding of the processes and tools, and then how to use for a variety of interests
an excellent thought-piece. I think you're on the right track with your references to "free' university, personal & professional learning and PKM. At the end of the day, aren't we all trying to become better people? Surviving (and thriving) in an increasingly complex world requires continual self-development in order to make effective use of the abundance of new knowledge. Technology and an increasingly connected ecosystem have given us the tools and the incentives to do this. Now we need to establish places of trust and understanding that will encourage learning, sharing, collaboration and innovation. I too will be happy to help where I can.
I'd echo the comments above, this is a great thought piece David - it just makes complete sense and I think could be the core of a really valuable model to realign how we extract some real value from fellowship.
Steve, Andy - thanks so much for your encouragement. It really means a lot, knowing as I do the depth of your understanding and experience. I'm rather at the edge of mine ... but then this is about learning as we go!
Where next? There's a previously-arranged meeting in 10 days where I'll be able to connect with other members of the digital engagement group, and with Fellowship Council members. That should help plug these ideas into official programmes.
I'll be doing some further research into CoPs and learning networks, for Carnegie UK Trust, and will share links once I get started. It's likely to be on the lines of previous explorations on socialreporters.net plus curation on scoop.it
I hope we'll be able to attract a few more people and form a core group to develop the concept and research it further.
The original OpenRSA exploration idea is here. It had a rather broader focus, but some aspects of the process may be useful, including a workshop.
While this may be a Fellow-led exploration, I think it is really important that we work closely with staff in various departments who have also provided some behind the scenes encouragement. This could be a great opportunity to build stronger connections between "RSA the organisation" and "RSA Fellowship".
Let's be optimistic - and find ways to start learning, sharing and collaborating from the start.
David, Steve, others and I are experimenting in free (and possibly also paid for) social online learning experiments over here
Which may well provide a model and examples of how RSA fellows and staff might engage digitally within the context of learning.
I got a bit stuck on where to go with the wider RSA networks exploration, and have shifted to a regional focus. If you are interested in regional communications to support the new development plans and teams, you might like to join this exploration I've started on an open doc http://bit.ly/YEavY3
I started to develop ideas for one region, and thought it might be better if crowdsourced. Well, I'm sure it certainly will be!
Either way, I would really appreciate some feedback. It might provide a route back into the bigger picture.
Here's latest thoughts on the idea of an exploration, encouraged by recent successful mini-explorations on Linkedin. Those were:
Latest idea in full:
Summary: relaunch our earlier exploration, then framed as How can RSA Fellows contribute to the organisation's mission - and benefit from the experience in ways that suit their needs as well?.
We can now draw on inspiration from recent blog posts by Matthew Taylor; the work of the new Board in refining the RSA mission; and the start of scoping of new online platforms. Recent discussions on Linkedin about RSA mission and Fellowship show the scope for engaging a wide range of Fellows. Here's a suggestion for the focus, and some draft provocations:
How can we use open processes and digital technology to support the RSA mission: encouraging arts, manufacturing and commerce, and enhancing human capability.
The exploration would be a first stage in development. It would not aim to take on the major task of developing and transforming Fellowship - that is a matter for RSA Board, staff and Fellowship Council. It could, however, make a contribution to the design of the process needed.
The exploration could be valuable to other membership organisations considering how social media and and other developments can either enhance their offerings - or challenge their sustainability as people develop their own networks more easily. This revisits an earlier RSA-supported exploration of membership, with an open process methodology developed with Big Lottery Fund and Nominet Trust.
Make sense? John Oakley, Paul Nash and I have agreement in principle to help with facilitation on the Linkedin group where there are 2300 Fellows, so that could be one good base.