Private and public collaboration

RSA Networks

There is an interesting project underway at RSA Networks, the social network for Royal Society fellows, and, for the moment at least, anyone else who fancies joining in (that’s the category I belong to, by the way). It has been proposed by Stephen Coleman, Professor of Political Communication at the University of Leeds, and goes by the name of the “RSA Journalism Network”:

The public’s declining trust in the news media is a worrying trend. The RSA and the Reuters Institute of Journalism are looking at how we can support the civic function of news. We’re particularly interested in how professional journalists and Fellows relate to the public’s ideas about news and what it is for.

This is a great idea, and an important and interesting area for discussion. The web is a perfect place for the coversation to be held in, of course, because online developments are a part of both the problem and the cure for the relevance of news to people’s lives.

David Wilcox has commented on his blog about this project – again supportive of it but questioning the closed nature of the discussion on the RSA Networks platform. As anyone not a member of the network will find out, when clicking my link above, you can’t see anything without first logging in.

I can’t see how it is possible to have a useful discussion about media and citizenship in an old-style walled garden. You can link out – but people outside are then forced to come to “your place” to join in. This seems particularly inappropriate on this topic, where issues are so interesting precisely because the Internet has created a public commons.

David has started a similar thread within the project space on the RSA Network too. I’m fully supportive of his stance, having been happily involved in open online collaborative projects such as the Open Innovation Exchange, RuralNetOnline, the Membership Project and the etoolkit.

It’s far better to have these conversations out in the open, where people can read and find out more before they decide to dive in, and where people can add their thoughts whether they are a member of a specific network or not. The civic role of news is something that matters to everyone, not just RSA members, or whatever.

One of the ways that the web can help us to bring conversations together is through the use of tagging. By using tags effectively, people can write about a subject on their own blogs without needing to join another platform. All you need is  way of bringing them together, easily achieved by mixing up Technorati or Google Blog Search with RSS. Services like Pageflakes or Planetaki can then be used to publish the results.

Another way is to create the new platform, but make it open, rather as David does with his Drupal-based group blogs. Anyone can join and have an input, even if it is just to point to what they have written elsewhere. Indeed, David has taken this further by incorporating a Grazr-based widget displaying relevant content from various external blogs within the Membership Project group blog. In this way, those that have a blog can write there, and those that don’t can contribute directly to the group blog.

David is actively facilitating the Membership Project by posting regular updates and transferring the points that are made in the blog posts into a project timeline and associated work packages, thereby creating outputs from the organic content created through the group blogging process. This will be vital to keep the project moving forward, and is a great example of online community facilitation.

Taking this approach would therefore create a far more useful project, or network, than the current arrangements for the  RSA Journalism Network. I think this is too important a topic for discussion to be held behind closed doors, and for the moment I would like to suggest the use of the common tag civicjournalismuk to hold the conversation together for anyone who would like to have a say. We can figure out what to do with it all later. Let’s see how our open approach can feed into and add to what’s happening within the walled garden…

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