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.

Getting things into the open

David Wilcox has taken the bull by the horns and created an open thread on the OpenRSA blog calling for a more collaborative approach to the discussion on jounalism being carried out on the RSA networks platform. This debate is one which takes into account trust in news media, and could also pull in issues around the role of the BBC in civic life.

I’m personally most interested in breaking out of the old media professional boundaries because I think greatest innovation – and citizen empowerment – is likely to take place as old cultures are challenged, openly. It’s time the newspeople stopped seeing those that they write for as “news users”, now we are producing a lot of our own content online.

The issue at the RSA is not one of platform – the Drupal based system used by the Networks is superb – but of worldview. David and I were the most consistent contributors to the discussion, but I felt my time there was up when a message was posted by a project leader confirming that the desire was to keep the debate ‘on topic’ and ‘informed’. As neither a journalist nor a fellow of the RSA, I guess this counted me, and anything I had to add, out.

I’ll be following the debate through the comments to David’s post, and anything else tagged with civicjournalismuk. I have my platform here, which I am happy to use to contribute with – or when the time is right for a dedicated platform to be created, I can use that – as long as it is open!