Opening the RSA

David Wilcox has blogged again about the efforts at the RSA to reform itself to meet the needs of fellows in the networked society. It would appear that the more forward thinking fellows are a little disappointed at the pace of change in the organisation.

[A] blog would provide a place for staff and enthusiasts, like those gathered last night, to carry on some creative exchanges and maybe highlight projects if they weren’t getting the attention leaders felt they needed. I can understand anxieties of RSA staff who, with a few exceptions, are not bloggers. They may be worried everyone will want a say, they’ll be swamped, conversations will be critical … and so on. If it were done jointly with Fellows, I don’t think that would be the case. It would be a low-risk test of the aspiration for the larger network site to be self-governing (scaling to that is a big issue, but building a core of champions is a good start whichever way you go).

A year ago, when Matthew Taylor first started to talk about renewing the RSA, a group of fellows started collaborating under the banner of OpenRSA, and it seems that the group is cranking up again.

Much effort has been expended on the RSA Networks platform, originally prototyped rather nicely in Drupal, and now being reworked to fit in with the wider RSA web offerings. The thing is though, everything that is needed techwise is already in place, set up using free tools by the OpenRSA mob. They have:

…and therefore basically everything you need to get the online discussion going. All using free tools, that people already know how to use and can access easily.

The harder bit will be getting the offline networking going, but as David points out in his post, Lloyd Davis has already showed the way this can be done in a way that is light on organisation with the Tuttle club, which has rapidly grown from an idea, to a meeting in a church hall, to a regular event above a pub and now at the ICA.

As I wrote in a comment on David’s blog, the danger for traditional organisations is that if they don’t start doing this stuff, someone else will – and those that don’t might get left behind. To its credit, the RSA is trying. But it is an august, 250 year old institution, with a turning circle that is considerably wider than is needed to loosen the grip on control and accept the messiness that is the inevitable consequence of opening up a bit.

This is an issue all membership organisations are going to have to deal with in the near future, which is why it is great news that The Membership Project might be getting a second wind very soon.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the OpenRSA splinter cell evolves, and how it fits in with the attempts by the RSA to reform itself. Hopefully the two will complement each other, and provide an example for other organisations to follow.

11 thoughts on “Opening the RSA”

  1. Thanks Dave … what happens next is obviously up to others in the group, but I wonder if OpenRSA could play a really positive and complementary role to the closed RSA Networks by helping RSA members and other explore the role of web-enabled innovation in membership organisation, for their benefit and society at large

  2. Well I’m confused! I see the RSA networks – I see the RSA site – I get that OpenRSA is an attempt to encourage a different approach to collaborating between RSA members (or is it that or is it supposed to be open as in open to anyone?!)

    I see theres a wiki, I see the google group, I see the blogs, but………….I don’t get how these are being used together and to what end?! Maybe its just me being a bit lazy and not reading all the blog posts, wiki posts and google group discussions and downloading the various attachments etc. – but then should I be expected to?

    From the RSA side it perhaps doesn’t help that I’ve only recently signed up & apparently it may take “several weeks” for details to be sent through!!?! But in the meantime I’m interested in seeing whats going on – but at this early stage I have to say that I’m wondering if its a lot of talk about doing something or is it a genuine attempt to help things get done? (& if so what?!)

  3. Hi Dave

    Fancy seeing you here. As someone who’s just started working as part of RSA projects I think the whole Networks idea is one of those which has gigantic potential, but it’s a real test of how these models work. There’s this massive skills and experience base; I think the next few months is hopefully going to show how it can work. Are you an RSA dude then?

    w

  4. Hey William – this must be one of those weird things on the web where networks start overlapping… it’s weird but nice!

    I’m in the process of applying for fellowship, and am looking forward to getting stuck in to this stuff from more of an insiders’ perspective. The key issue for me is the relevance of the membership organisation – such as the RSA, but many others too – in an age when we can organise ourselves through channels such as blogs, Facebook or even arts discussion forums.

    The guys operating under the OpenRSA banner see the benefit of including non-fellows in stuff that fellows are doing, which is great. That wasn’t the reaction I had from the more official Networks, where on a couple of projects, the insularity and arrogance from certain quarters was almost dripping.

    What stuff are you going to be working on within the RSA? Am sure that David and others would be delighted if you got involved with the disruptors at OpenRSA a little…

  5. I’m way too new in the RSA to say anything profound here. I’ve just finished my first week. I’m web editor for a project called Arts & Ecology Online which is about to undergo a major relaunch. The past politics of the Fellowship is something I’m woefully uninformed about – I do know from my induction stuff that just about every meeting I’ve been to includes a wagging finger that says that if you don’t engage the Fellowship positively in your projects, that you won’t get approval. But I think what that means is really dependent on how the networks work-in-progress platform develops.

    If your application needs support in any way, I’d be really keen to lend it mine.

  6. Great stuff, thanks William. Your project sounds very interesting. Will your web strategy include some social stuff, like blogging? Hope so.

    There is a fascinating discussion going on at the OpenRSA Google Group – woud be great to have you involved in it!

  7. Mike – the idea of OpenRSA, started a year ago, was to support the RSA Networks vision while pressing for it to be a collaborative exercise with Fellows. In addition, since the purpose of RSAN was to develop civic/social innovation, not just Fellow-to-Fellow networking, a group of us felt that at some point project development would need to get outside the walled garden. You’ll find my personal history of the programme, and analysis here
    http://socialreporter.com/?p=328
    http://designingcollaboration.wikispaces.com/
    William – glad to hear briefings say engage the Fellows. Hope they also say how …. we’ve had lots of rhetoric about co-creation, but somehow it defaults to consultation. Anyway, your project sounds really interesting. As Dave says, hope it has some social …

  8. Blogging on the site? Yes there will indeed be.

    @ David W. Yes, I sincerely hope it’s more than rhetoric too; I suspect the problem is less the intent than having a workforce unfamiliar with a lot of how these tools really work, but I see you’ve kind of said that already elsewhere.

  9. @William I’m sure unfamiliarity with social media is a general problem in nonprofits … we started to examine that and other stuff at The Membership Project. I wonder if RSA could show one way forward by experimenting with member-staff mentoring or other mutual support. That would also be a good way to engage Fellows and build relationships on projects using social media. (Not that you may need it of course:-)

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