Live blog RSA Fellowship Council

RSA Fellowship Council – live blog of fourth meeting

I’m at 8 John Adam Street, London, liveblogging from the fourth meeting of the RSA Fellowship Council. Please keep refreshing this page for updates.

13.08: Zena Martin and David Archer (Fellowship Council members and Trustees) are about to present their perspective on the Fellowship Council’s relationship with the RSA Board of Trustees.

13.10: RSA Trustee & Treasurer of the Board, Lord Best, gives short speech: I will give some background on what the board does. There’ll always be people who champion and cherish the organisation and people who champion but want to change things. It’s all about striking the balance between those two groups.

Issues include: lack of transparency about what the board does. We’ve now got Zena and David to transmit the sometimes dull aspects of board work back to you. I chair the audit and risk committee. (If you think the board minutes are dull, you should try those minutes!).

There is also a lack of clarity about your own role (as fellowship council). Some lack of clarity is good. Some tasks are set, eg: you’re going to look at the new charter and bring back new ideas to us. The review of the regions is also very important.

Thank you all very much for agreeing to take part.

1314: David: Zena and I now feel fully a part of the board and are grateful to them for welcoming us. As the fellowship council, we need to deliver on the fellowship charter, the regional development and projects work. If we can do that, we’ll gain even more trust and responsibility in future. It’s still early days.

Any questions?

Question from floor: What’s been the most interesting thing about joining the Board?

Zena: the board just has some amazing people on it; it’s great to get their perspective. The RSA has gone through lots of change in past few years and seems to have been flexible enough to, for the most part, embrace that change.

Question: in current economic climate, one issue is resourcing – how much has been set aside to fund the fellowship council?

Lord Best: Fortunately, The RSA is not in financial difficulty. But going forward we see our income from the house and restaurant to fall as people cut back. Fellows who are on pensions now, etc, might want to begin to put a line through something that costs £150 a year. But the money for the fellowship council is ring-fenced. Admittedly, RSA projects have taken a bit of a hit. Projects used to take the lions’ share of the money. I see ourselves as a centre that gets people talking, rather than having one or two big projects.

Question: when you’re talking about “regions”, what do you mean?

Lord Best: I think the global amount is going to be constant, but how we play that will be looked at.

Matthew Taylor [RSA CEO]: Over past three or four years, the House has maintained contribution to finances; is having another difficult year this year. Projects get some seed core funding but have had contribution cut. Nina has less staff here than she used to. Despite that, we’ve become a global brand. Fellowship has been going up, year on year on year. Fellowship management and Catalyst Fund have come in, so now much more money that comes from Fellowship has been reinvested back into Fellowship. Now we need to see key outputs: (1) numbers (2) fellowship activity in world. I need to see proof that our investment is getting results and then take that to the board.

Matthew: Most charitable organisations take money from their funders and use it to do charitable work. Our aim is to give that money back to our Fellowship so they can do the good work.

13.27: Tessy Britton (RSA Fellowship Council chair): the next hour will be the mini-review. Our strategy was very much an emergent model, to create working groups, to focus on specific activities. It’s been going on for seven months and we’d now like to review it. We’d like to create some concrete outcomes and get some new ideas, as well as appreciating what we’re doing right.

We’ve got six groups:

1. Fellowship Council remit: Andrew Chidgely and Alex Watson
2. Working Relationships: David Archer and Sarah Tucker
3. Roadshows: Andy Kirk, Helen Wostrop
4. Fellowship Engagement: Andy Gibson, Vivs Long-Ferguson
5. Encouraging Fellows’ projects: Rebecca Daddow and Graham Sprigg
6. 21st century enlightenment: Julian Thompson and Frances Gallagher

I’m going to try and liveblog a bit from each group.

13.37: Sitting in on Working Relationships with David Archer and Sarah Tucker:

Sarah Tucker: from RSA point of view, a big issue is knowing there is lots of talent on the Fellowship Council but trying to extract all that talent as effectively as possible; especially as the FC are all volunteers.

Comments: might be good to do a skills audit, a time audit and know people’s communication preferences.

Comment: We all need more online profiling.

Comment: perhaps a buddy system?

13.48: Roadshows: Andy Kirk, Helen Wostrop
Helen: So far we’ve three main issues/ objections: awareness, confusion (what are they?) and re-commitment.

Comment: don’t make this seem like a public relationship exercise. People need a place to congregate and deal with issues. You’ve got the RSA objectives but why do people want to come together. it should be about reciprocity and not about marketing.

Comment: don’t want them all to be the same – choose different venues, different formats, different timescales, eg: Pecha Kucha?

Comment: Open Space event in Manchester was very boring. Topic was: how fellowship should network.

Comment: need to be participatory.

14.00: Engagement: Vivs and Andy
Andy: let’s be positive to start, in what ways in the RSA engaging with its fellowship effectively?

Comment: love the events programme – great way to get to know other fellows and connect with those you already know who are also attending the event (via Twitter as well as drinks afterwards)

Comment: don’t live in London so difficult to attend events but Twitter and the Ning have been a useful way to connect.

Comment: maybe we need to have more focused FRSA engagment; the region I’m in, it’s just a few dreary meetings in a dreary local pub. Not very exciting.

14.14: 21st century enlightenment: Julian Thompson and Frances Gallagher
How does the RSA contribute to 21st century enlightenment?

Julian: how does the RSA actively contribute? What can the RSA do to actively contribute?

Comment: again, the talks programme is really crucial. It should be something like TED. At the same global level as TED; the same level of brand recognition. Debate; promoting debate is really important.

Comment: if people are going to be unemployed and not having any self-worth – how can value be added outside of a job title? Social entrpreneurship?

Comment: The fellowship council itself, and the way the RSA is trying to become more networked, more open, more tranpsarent (live blogging!) is hopefully setting an example.

Comment: everyone on the council should be digitally engaged, they should be engaging with other fellows.

Comment: micro-contributions and co-learning should be encouraged; it’s not all about experts participating.

14.26: Fellowship Council remit: Andrew Chidgely and Alex Watson

Andrew Chidgely: so far, this seems to be first, relaying what the Fellowship wants to the Trustees and secondly, going out to the Fellowship and talking more about what’s going on within the RSA itself (ie: staff).

Alex Watson: digital engagement important.

Comment: I can’t find any way to act as the ears and eyes for my region because I don’t know how to connect with them. The ones I might want to connect with don’t go to the regional meetings and the ones that do, aren’t the sort of people I feel like connecting with.

Comment: The new Fellows’ directory should help with that. You can search for Fellows by region and interest. You can search within a specific radius (eg: five miles).

Comment: are the channels people can use to get in touch with each other, easy to identify and use? I’m sure each of us as fellows aren’t engaged on a regular basis with very many other fellows. Can you move people up the chain in terms of involvement? If 1.7 million people are watching an RSA lecture, then how can we use those people? Rather than having a surgery here and there that 5 people turn up to?

14.38: Encouraging new fellows: Rebecca Daddow and Graham Sprigg
Graham: feedback so far has shown that we need to have more project case studies: not only projects that have worked but projects that haven’t worked. We’ve had a lot about maximising RSA brand. Money’s a big issue – do RSA projects always need funding? Although simply having some funding can often be a motivation to help move a project forward.

Comment: how about an annual projects award ceremony?

Comment: the Ning (RSA Fellowship) and new Fellows Directory should be useful tools to motivating new fellows – if they sign up they’ll be able to see the conversations that are happening.

Comment: how about a mentoring/ buddy scheme for new fellows so they can have an experienced fellow to go to for more info, to answer questions etc.

[This last mini-review session was cut short because we’ve run out of time – lots to get through in the agenda today!]

14.43: Coffee break – facilitators and scribes get a chance to write up their notes.

14.57: Back from coffee. Tessy: We’re running 30 mins late but somehow we’ll make up time!

Improving relationships (David Archer): some people say, best relationships I’ve had anywhere I’m working as a volunteer with staff. Others say they find it a bit distant, bit controlling. Those that have been actively working on working groups seem to have had the best experience. Main issues/ goals

– transparency of roles, eg: all members of staff and regional committees having their profiles on the Fellows directory
– keeping momentum between meetings by using technology eg: existing social networks, Skype calls. Tech not very good at present.
– buddy scheme: for each FC member, could there be a member of staff who was able to help them with ways in/ contacts etc. Developing personal relationships with a presumption of positive intent.
– finding out where FC members expertise is best placed? Perhaps having that on new ellowship directory?
– we’ll know relationships are really good when deliverables from the council are all joint deliverables (council and staff)

15.03: RSA Roadshows (Helen Wostrop): the biggest issue of all is over what these roadshows are and what they are trying to achieve. The very name “roadshow” seems to polarise views – what does it mean? There’s a need for awareness – raising awareness about roadshows, what they are. A need to raise enthusiasm.
Charles: is it a recruitment objective, is it about engaging existing fellows, is it marketing etc? The broad message of the RSA should be there, as well as examples of RSA activity, but there should definitely be a local focus.
Helen: also, we don’t want it to look like the RSA coming in like a great big bus and stepping on the toes of local committee activity.

Comment: if we’re going to use roadshows to acquire new fellows, there has to be a percentage who’s not going to make it, then those people will be left disappointed. Surely it’s much better to use the facilities we’ve got to deal with new fellows.

Comment: roadshows per se are a very good idea. A good way to make the fellowship more diverse.

Comment: do you get fellows in their own region to decide what to do, or do you have a toolbox to help people?

Comment: people who do enquire locally about becoming a fellow should be pointed to a local fellow who can advise them what to do.

Comment: we need to run a few pilots.

Comment: we could set up a Fellowship Council working group to take this forward.

15.13: Fellowship Council relationships: (Alex and Andrew):
Alex: on one hand the FC were champions of what the RSA and Trustees are all about, on the other hand, they should relay what fellows want back to the “central” RSA [at John Adam Street]. Everyone accepted that nine years down the line the FC was still growing into its role. The worry is less on the council side but more on how difficult it is to access fellows and what they want – how difficult it is for them to get out there and champion the fellowship experience.

Andrew: concern that the pool of people in this room (approx 40) is not that diverse or that representative of the 28,000 Fellows out there. A big question over whether Ning is best way to connect fellows. If at one point 2.7million people are watching a lecture, how do we spin off from that? Another big question is, does the Fellowship really understand what the Fellowship council is? Could we do more work individually and collectively to let people know we’re here? Eg, more ways to let people come to us, eg: MP style surgeries?

Comment: what a terrible idea! Who said that?!

Andrew: I think the main message from this discussion is about scale: how do we scale up the communication we have?

Comment: This language of surgeries and representation is slightly wierd: I think we’re here to “lead” the Fellowship in service.

15.22: Encouraging Fellows’ projects: Rebecca Daddow and Graham Sprigg
Graham: it was unclear to several people what a project might consist of. Access? There was a polarised view on the application process to RSA Catalyst: from let’s scrap the whole idea to the best thing since sliced bread. Money was also an issue: is it always necessary? But at least it encourages people to apply for projects.

Secondly, the RSA brand. How does that interact? What does that mean to a project?

Thirdly, a buddying/ mentoring scheme to help new fellows get involved with projects.

Fourth, the idea of “non-projects” – good to see some projects that didn’t make the grade. Part of what we can do as the RSA machine is provide opportunities for the Fellows to talk to each other, eg: at a regional level. Idea generation doesn’t necessarily ahve to equal a project.

Fifth, output: case studies very useful here: database of best practice (and worst practice maybe?!). Another idea was the ideas annual – each year publish a yearbook showing all the ideas that had been through the system. And the possibility of an annual awards maybe?

Comment: this issue of brand is very important. The RSA brand needs to be much stronger locally.

15.29: 21st Century Englightenment (Julian and Eileen):
Julian: five points came out of our discussion:

1. There seems to be a really strong consensus about what this means, ie: realising human potential through the RSA. We looked at not just wealth creation but happiness and sustainability. That’s good. We’ve got a good base to work from.

2. Matthew’s speech: there’s a danger we look at this argument specifically from a western paradigm: the human as central, linear idea of progress etc.

3. How do we apply those principles of autonomy, humanism, universalism etc? RSA fellows should be the change they want to see in the world: ask difficult questions, lead by example, raise our own game. If we are to extend our capacity for empathy, we have to experience the “other” in a much more visceral way than we are already doing, eg: what it’s like to be homeless, be drug-addicted etc, rather than spend time with people who think like us, act like us. Be wary of being pious, too much paternalistic lecturing – we don’t want to wear this too heavily.

4. Underlying principles across all activity, eg: lectures: need to be more interactive; have a range of people from all walks and backgrounds; avoid groupthink.

5. Activity: raise importance of micro-acts: a tiny contribution, eg: a single tweet – to have a stake in what’s happening. Public engagement: fellows need to be more involved in their local community/ otherwise the RSA is elitist and divorced from reality.

1539: Fellowship engagement (Andy and Vivs):
Andy: staff collaboration: it’s easy for us as council members to get to know staff but harder for wider fellowship. Also, the directory came through as something that would be really important in helping fellows connect. From a digital engagement side, simplification and clearer signposting on website. On the plus side, lectures, 21st century enlightenment vision, the journal and RSA animate have been a great way to spread the word about what RSA is doing.

15.43: Tessy: I think that was really worthwhile and I’m sure the facilitators will be able to write up some great reports for the next meeting.

15.45: Bob Porrer: update on review of the regions:
We’ll be starting our formal consultation soon (July). Aim will be to collect as much information as possible. We’re going to try to reach as many fellows as possible, including those who are less active. We need to challenge our preconceptions. Not sure if we’ll have complete report in time for AGM in October.

15.48: Jemima and Vivs to present on digital engagement: follow #rsade on Twitter for updates!

[Update: obviously I couldn’t live blog my own presentation, but the slides are here for anyone who’s interested]

16.03: Nominations Committee: feedback from Irene:
We’ve had four resignations. We’d like to re-fill those places. As it happens, the four people who’ve stood down are all trustee-elected. We will go ahead now and start the re-election process (trustee elections).

16.06: Fellowship Charter (2nd draft): update from Laura Billings:
We’ve had ten meetings with 150 fellows, we’ve sent emails; I’ve had 53 direct emails or phone calls. The biggest chunk of comments/ emails were supportive. The second biggest chunk was suggested changes. I got back to everyone individually. A small amount of suggestions were negative. The positive comments we got back were mostly about the consultative process. Suggestions for change were mainly that the version was still too long; that the language/tone was too arrogant, jargony and marketing-y. But in comparison with September, when we did the first draft, the majority of comments were around language being used, rather than content.

We did another sweep for plain English and ways to shorten, we’ve rejigged the introduction to clarify about shared ethos and aims, not altering founding principles. “Confidence in ability to effect change’ and ‘willing to lead by example’ seen as arrogant. ‘Harnesses the power of many minds’ seen as too marketing-speak. ‘Projects’ too limiting.

Many wanted to remove the process of ‘signing up’ individually – could be signed by tri-partate of the Executive, the trustees and the Fellowship Council. We can’t list all the things the RSA does in the charter, but we can reference them visually in the accompanying illustrations.

We are hoping to get an A4 printed version (which can go out in new fellows packages) and an RSA Animate video. The charter is part of a package: website navigation, welcome and orientation to new fellows etc.

The charter was designed to reaffirm common aims and values across fellowship and organisation, has it made a difference? Examples include the NCVO Future of membership project, regions working group mapping and social impact report.

Comment: I really recommend everyone looks on the website to see the changes that have been made, and how the whole consultation process has worked.

Comment: Just want to say that was a great presentation and thanks for all your work in the process of reviewing the charter!

Comment: unless anyone has lodged an overwhelming objection to any wording on the charter by the end of this week, I would propose through the chair that we endorse the charter and the work that’s been done to date.

Tessy [asks for show of hands].

The vast majority of hands are raised.

Tessy: great, motion passed!

16.25: Tessy: Let’s wait for full notes from discussion to come in before we agree goals. It was agreed that we should have a process for chair and deputy chair. We need to start that process in advance of October. Please think about standing for either of those roles and let me or Paul know. I get a lot of emails across a lot of working groups and I’m so impressed with the amount of dedication and the amount of work that’s been going on. If you feel you’ve been slightly on the edge of actitvities, please give me a call and let’s see how we can redress that. With regard to Catalyst Fund, I’ve been so impressed with way in which it’s been managed. It’s becoming a really open process. The amount of detail and care that’s been taken is incredible. I’d also like to thank RSA staff because there’s a real, genuine wish to co-design. Co-designing is new for all of us. The climate we’ve created through council has been really fertile ground for all of that.

Paul: I’d just like to thank Tessy for all her hard work. If it wasn’t for her, we’d probably still be wondering what to do at the next meeting.

[Everyone thanks Tessy]

16.32: Meeting closed – just two mins over :)

[Please do let me know if you’ve found this liveblog interesting and/or useful and of course, if you have any comments and/or questions – it’d be great to be able to pass any comments on to help with the RSA’s digital engagement process – many thanks]

News RSA Fellowship Council Social business

In pursuit of happiness

Towards a greener planet?

I loved the opener to Matthew Taylor’s annual lecture at the RSA last night: “At the heart of our public debates about the future of the human race is the [Reggie Perrin-like] question ‘can we go on like this?’”

That set the tone for an hour of deep, communal, navel-gazing. But, as Matthew himself points out, we need it! This sort of analysis is all too often lacking.

Matthew has been a while writing his lecture (now available as a pamphlet). Its core idea of 21st Century Enlightenment was first discussed in a blog post a few months ago. Since then the essay text has been debated and challenged, pulled apart and added to, not only on Matthew’s blog, but also on a wiki.

The result appeared to be a triumph of collaboration (although it wasn’t necessarily presented as such, and I’ve no idea how many of the final words were down to Matthew and how many to his many invisible co-authors). The lecture was, overall, seamlessly structured and imaginatively argued.

Matthew’s proposition is that it’s time to complete the Enlightenment project begun in the Eighteenth Century: he sees the RSA is the ideal vehicle to take this forward (“21st Century Englightenment” is the RSA’s new strapline).

Certainly, following on from Arie de Geus’ idea that organisations need to reflect the environment around them if they are to flourish, Matthew is orchestrating the structural changes necessary to make his vision a reality. As he himself admits, “the re-imagining of the RSA Fellowship itself is in pursuit of a new ethic of collaboration … the RSA is looking to develop a model of innovative social activism. The hierarchical, bureaucratic model of membership organisations is bust.”

As a member of the new(ish) RSA Fellowship Council, I’m pretty involved in this process. So that makes all that Matthew has to say doubly interesting.

His argument of 21st Century Englightenment is based on the three ideas which the philosopher Tzvetan Todorov (In Defence of the Englightment) suggests were at the core of the original Enlightenment: autonomy, universalism and humanism.

In his lecture, Matthew updates these principles to become “self-aware autonomy”, “empathic universalism” and “the new humanism”. (I’ll outline them a bit here to save you reading the pamphlet)!

Self-aware Autonomy

Autonomy is defined as the idea “that every individual should be able to make their own choices about their own life free from overbearing religious and political authority”. According to Matthew, “we need to aim for a [more] self-aware form of autonomy, informed by a deeper appreciation of the foundations, possibilities and frailties of human nature.”

In reaching this more self-aware state, we need to accept our limitations: “Whatever happens in the future, we will still have to find a way of negotiating a modern world with brains that evolved in prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies.”

We must learn to be more mindful, especially of our own inconsistencies. For example, “in many policy areas the preferences people express in opinion polls are systematically different to those which they reach after a process of deliberation”

We need to accept that “our capacity for reason does rely on emotion” (rather than some, cold, disassociation), as well as the fact that we are heavily influenced by our networks and “context” (something explored brilliantly in Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler’s Connected).

Above all, says Matthew, we need “to distinguish our needs from our appetites and our amazing human potential from our often self-defeating aspirations.”

And he cites David Halpern who discovered that “the Danes are the happiest people in the world not only because of their material circumstances but because they say what matters most
in life is good relationships. In contrast, the most miserable nationality, the Bulgarians, say money is the key to happiness.” (This was probably one of the most tweeted quotes of the evening).

Empathic Universalism

Universalism is described by Matthew as “the idea that all people are deserving of dignity and share fundamental rights.” He sees this principle, now, as having its greatest potential if it is enhanced by empathy: “We need to pay more attention to our innate capacity for empathy”.

Matthew observes that, “despite major departures from the trend, most terribly in the twentieth century, the history of the human race has been one of diminishing person-to-person violence.”

He points out that “before the Enlightenment era, for example, mutilation and torture were conventional punishments for minor misdemeanours that would today receive a fine”. In addition, an analysis of medieval records by the criminologist Manuel Eisner, “found that the rate of killing has subsided from one in a thousand a year in the Middle Ages to one in one hundred thousand in modern Europe”.

We have seen “a revolution in social attitudes towards race, gender and sexuality” and “the emergence of global state and philanthropic agencies now committed to the ambitious Millennium Goals.”

However, there are many drawbacks: levels of inequality have started rising again, tensions between ethnic groups have “taken on new dimensions”, anti-immigrant sentiment has grown in richer countries, violent gang culture exists in poorer areas, a minute proportion of the rich world’s wealth is devoted to tackling global poverty and national interests still dominate global concerns (we have weaker global governance than we used to, apparently).

Like many of his (my?) generation, Matthew is concerned about video games: “If we are concerned about the factors shaping the empathic capacity of future generations we should be willing, at least, to ask searching questions about the social experiment now taking place in the bedrooms of millions of young people.”

He cites a June 2010 paper to the American Association of Psychological Science which combined studies from 14,000 college students and identified “a marked and growing decline in empathy in comparison to the late 1970s”.

One solution lies in design: “A stronger recognition of empathic capacity as a core capability for modern citizens would also influence the design of institutions – public, commercial and civic – and public places, including the online world. It would provide a case for public investment in art and culture which might transcend the sterile debate between art’s intrinsic and instrumental benefits.”

The new humanism

Todorov described his third Enlightenment principle as “the human end purpose of our acts”. Humanism, says Matthew, is the idea that “we should organise the world according to what is best for human beings.” And through “the new humanism”, he suggests that we “more often ask what is progress and acknowledge the fundamentally ethical nature of this question.”

Our society is currently dominated by three logics, says Matthew: of scientific and technological progress, of markets, and of bureaucracy:

“The limitation of the logic of science and of markets lies in an indifference to a substantive concern for the general good. If something can be discovered and developed it should be discovered and developed. If something sells then it should be sold. The problem with the logic of bureaucracy, as Max Weber spotted over a hundred years ago, is its tendency to privilege procedural rationality (the rationality of rules) over substantive rationality (the rationality of ends).”

We should reformat our ultimate aim to be “maximising human happiness”.

Ethics is a key part of this because ethical thinking is also part of human nature. Matthew cites recent research from the Yale University Infant Cognition Center which found that “even before they have developed speech, infants make rudimentary moral judgements. In one experiment babies between six and twelve months old watched a simple coloured geometric shape – for example, a red circle with eyes – try to climb a slope. When other shapes intervened, apparently either helping or blocking the circle, the children’s responses showed a clear preference for
the helping shapes.”

Ah. Bless ‘em.

Matthew goes on to compares sexual repression in the late Victorian era to the suppression of ethical discourse today: “Just as sexual repression spawned hypocrisy and vice in the nineteenth century, so the suppression of ethical discourse leads to the strange coincidence, remarked on by Edward Skidelsky, of an era which combines social tolerance and cultural relativism alongside an almost continuous drum beat of public indignation against everyone from bankers and celebrities to welfare cheats and immigrants.”

And he moves onto his conclusion by incorporating Michael Thompson’s ideas around Cultural Theory:

“Superficially, ethical differences may look like a threat to social harmony or organisational coherence. In fact, recognition and respect for difference is the foundation for an enduringly cohesive society and a strong basis for innovative thinking. [In some circumstances] Resolution is impossible, but the recognition of difference can enable ‘clumsy’ but creative solutions.”

In conclusion

There are several signs that we are moving towards a more self-aware society, says Matthew: the recognition of the importance of the earliest years of a child’s life, the increased interest in mental health issues, the multidisciplinary focus on human motivation and behaviour in universities, the growth of “social businesses”, the fostering of inter-faith dialogue, the upsurge in collective forms of recreation (music festivals, art exhibitions, lectures and debates) and the greater willingness of government and the OECD to question conventional measures of economic growth.

Despite these developments, and no doubt to encourage them, we desperately “need to see a more reflective public discourse; a revival of a public sphere in which we might debate who we are as social beings.”

The RSA, Matthew feels, is well-placed to spearhead this revival.

Good on him!

PS: The liveblogging of RSA Fellowship Council meetings is just part of the process of opening up debate, making the RSA more accessible and putting its ideas and challenges more at the centre of public life. I’ll be liveblogging the next meeting here from 1pm on Tuesday 29 May, so do come back then!

Photo: strollerdos

Live blog News RSA Fellowship Council

RSA Fellowship Council: live blog of third meeting

1315: Here we are at the RSA again for another Council meeting. It’s been a slightly late start but we’re kicking off now. Please hit refresh on your browser for live blog updates.

Chair Tessy Britton is running through today’s agenda.

1317: Tessy Britton: a quick look at “accelerators”: these include a high level of support from John Adam Street, high levels of energy amd enthusiasm, the collaborative partnership we’ve established with JAS staff leading groups in conjunction with dedicated Fellowship Council members.

Tessy shows graph representing how working groups are developing: this is already online so I’ll find link and update later.

1320: What’s making stuff slower (“brakes”)? Geography – FC members are very spread out and Time – FC members very busy.

1323: Word of caution: we have to reasonable about what we can expect from other fellowship council members: two members are currently pregnant, for example. We can work flexibly if any lack of activity is temporary (eg: 2-3 months) and if the percentage of members unable to contribute doesn’t exceed a certain level. it is the responsibility of both the individual member and the FC to find a way of contributing.

1325: Comment: there’s always the point in the evolution of a team where we shift from everything being really exciting and new to maybe a little less engaging. It would be good if we could look at ways of to avoiding any inertia. For example, what advice is there for people who haven’t got started on their working groups yet?

Comment: it helps if there is more than one person driving a group forward.

Comment: what are the questions that each working group is trying to answer? Once I know the questions, I might be able to help.

Comment: all of this is pretty experimental at present. We’d like as many fellows and fellowship council to be involved in the work. We need to manage the dynamics, we can’t all be highly involved all of the time.

Tessy: 778 people on the Ning. Membership up 83% since 1st January. More people participating: adding blog posts, commenting, adding videos, events etc. It’s still emergent, unpredictable, fellow-led and complex.

1330: Tessy summary: there are signs of growing confidence in the possibility of seeing some progress, particularly on complex issues and that dialogue is proving to be helpful. Co-creating and mutuality are important: we’re not a rubber-stamping dept; we need to create a balanced picture: make space for everyone; ensure that fellows are at the heart of all conversations, make it relevant and practical; create new opportunities and pathways where possible – make it easy!

Comment: could you give examples of some of the more complex areas?

Tessy: for example, the project framework and the regional review.

1335: Bob thanks Tessy for all her hard work in getting things started. He’s about to give a “whistle-stop” tour of the FC Review of the “Regions”.

Firstly, makes it clear that this review only looks at UK regions.

Review is really about getting the most from the RSA fellowship across regions. Relationship between regions and RSA House has not always been easy. Aim of review was to assess the RSA’s current regional framework and exploring regional representation for the future.

1338: How do we ensure that the RSA derives max benefit from geographically based structures and support and from combining the energy and commitment of unpaid volunteer fellows in regions.

Primary focus points: transforming the fellowship, more equity (geographically), how should resources be administered? what’s the role of the FC? How do ensure democratic input from Fellows in regions and responsiveness to national/ regional/ local needs, need for flexibility and change, yet meet charity regulations.

1340: Outcomes of first meeting: confirmed aims and objectives; agreed timescales – final report to be transmitted to Trustee Board ahead of October 2010 AGM; underlying principles include involving all fellows, being bottom-up rather than top-down, it’s not something where a clique of the few are doing everything; collecting evidence: we want to know what all regional committees are about, eg: what are their objectives etc; some key words: permissive and flexible framework, light touch, one size does not fit all (use different modes of operation), bottom up not top down – how can democracy be made to work within the fellowship – in the right way, to actually deliver something?

1345: Any questions?

Comment: it seems right that strategy should vary from one region to another.

Comment: there’s some evidence that bottom-up doesn’t work, but that a “customer-centric” approach does.

Comment: with regards to Wales, we do need a structure that’s open, accountable and transparent. There’s sometimes idea that regions provide a sort of impenetrable layer. I hope work we’re doing with projects framework will help create more transparency.

Bob: each regional group will have to have very clear objectives about why it’s there, and be complimentary to other RSA activity. It’s like a lot of concentric circles. We should be working with, not against each other.

Matthew: it’s inevitable that organisations should constantly be re-organising themselves; in trying to create a way of working that fits these criteria (flexibility, openness etc) – if we did this and we got it right, it would put us right at the heart of vanguard thinking. This is an institutional attempt to produce an organisational form that fits in the modern world.

Comment: lots of organisations get very hung up on who’s in which region. We don’t need to have this dialogue about what’s this region doing and what’s the centre doing, but more interchange between regions with each other.

Bob: we need to get the information out so people can cross the articifical boundaries that have been established.

Ann Packard: I’ve been charged with producing a questionnaire re regions – does anyone here have a question they would like to be included?

Bob: please email me if you have a question you’d like to be included: porrer [at] blueyonder [dotcodotuk].

UPDATE: PLEASE EMAIL ANN DIRECT: annpackard_pppt [at] onetel [dotcom] – be sure to use underscore not hyphen, suggested email subject field: “RSA: F/C regions questionnaire draft question”

1355: Jocelyn Cunningham: review of project framework.

David Dickinson: Factors to be considered: (1) differentiation – what is the nature of an RSA project (2) Adjudication – what are the criteria by which a request for RSA resources might be judged? (3) Equivalence – should the same criteria be used to evaluate ALL projects?

1358: Differentiation: what’s the USP? What makes an RSA project different from, for example, an Arts Council or ESF-funded project? We feel the clue is in the RSA name: “encouragement” – so we may finance projects that are already funded.

1400: David shows two slides representing spectrum of RSA projects, currently moving between those that are fully fellow-led and those that are fully staff-led (will try to get links).

Suggested criteria for fairly determining resource allocation: RSA alignment, quality assurance, unique contribution, managed risk (eg: impact on RSA brand), feasibility, replicability, scalability, dissemination, viability, time-bounded. We’ve seen examples of projects which weren’t replicable, weren’t scaleable – we have to ask how useful these really are.

Equivalence: we feel that right across the spectrum, all projects should be assessed using same criteria.

1406: Jocelyn: scoping the objectives. How can we make this as easy as possible? I’d like to pick up on the term “light touch” – we’d like to minimise bureaucracy while enabling as much as possible. Next steps? We’re looking for input on idea and tools so would anyone like to contribute?

Comment: Michael Devlin [missed this – will have to update]

Comment: sometimes projects don’t need money, they need other types of support – eg, validation. We can say these are things we think are good, for example. Can we embody values of RSA in ways we support projects – can we ask all projects to open source their learnings etc?

David: yes, we could say, we’re not directly supporting this project but it’s an interesting one run by one of our partners

Comment: we need to look at the consistency between a proposal and what the RSA stands for. The other thing was making sure the evaluation process adopts the most sopisticated evaluation technologies. For example, there is almost always a vast under-estimation of the timescale needed to make any kind of social change. Most of the long-term impact is on the lives of the people taking part in the project – even if a project is short-lived, the impact on the lives of people is not necessarily picked up. How you frame the evaluation is very important.

Comment: the RSA should have a default position of not funding any projects directly. We should seek external funding (?) We have an organisation whose projects are very suited to peer review. Peer review should happen before and during the time a project is commissioned. I’d like to hear a lot more about diferentiation: anything that isn’t replicable, highly original or likely to have a deep impact on making society a better place…let someone else do it.

Matthew: as they say, the future is out there but it’s not evenly distributed. If it’s not new, but it’s new to Bury St Edmunds, then we should probably do it. Whatever system we’ve got, ultimately it will work. People at all levels will have to be able to take risks. These systems only work if you keep proselytising.

1420: Successful social entrepeneurs never need to have their hand held. I don’t think things should be too easy. Fellows should strive because part of the journey is striving and part of the success is striving.

1423: Tessy thanks Jocelyn and David and adds: we need to make sure we don’t have very simple ideas being passed through a very simple system.

1424: Vivs Long-Ferguson: Seed fund update.

[a paper on the fund is circulated: this can be downloaded from ]

We’ve wanted to create a seed fund for fellows for quite a while. Some of the regions already have their own. We took this idea and wanted to develop a central one. We’re ready to soft launch in April with formal launch in June. We’ve got £60,000 allocated. This will be allocated (£500-£2,000) every month. There will be a bigger allocation (£5,000 quarterly) which will be announced in June. There will also be a skills bank – this will tap into fellows who don’t have a big idea but want to collaborate with other fellows. There’ll be a collaborative online space – we’re not quite sure how this will look as yet.

Comment: you said this is for Felllows who don’t have a big Matthew Taylor idea – but we’ve just been talking about a project assessment process that applies the same criteria to every project. If we’re going to have one process, I have to say I feel rather uncomfortable with the way this is being developed separately. These appear to me to be two parallel but inter-related tracks. Can someone reassure me this is not the case.

Belinda: I appreciate this feels disjointed but please believe me they are being developed in line with each other.

Comment: can we be sure that the same principle of innovation is applied to the seed fund project?

Belinda: Yes

Vivs: Rather than do one first, we decided to develop the seed fund at the same time as the project process.

Belinda: your project will go on the website and you’ll have to report on progress.

Comment: just want to come back to the value and criteria for this project/ seed fund. At the moment: positive social progress and aligned with the RSA values isn’t enough. Do you have any more on articulation of values etc? Im not clear. What’s the distinction of this fund as opposed to the many others out there? What’s there to say, don’t go to UnLtd (for example), go to the RSA? I just want more information so that we on the RSA Fellowship Council can act as ambassadors for this fund.

Comment: the key thing I’ve heard is that we’ve not got to put too many barriers in people’s way. Fellows always think they need money but we have the opportunity to maybe offer something else – legal or planning advice, for example.

Comment: is the fund available to fellows overseas?

Vivs: yes, it’s international.

1437: Tessy: thanks Vivs let’s take a break.


1450: Matthew Taylor: RSA update

I’m so impressed with the work you’ve all done so far. Now to update you on RSA, we’re in the middle of a soft rebranding process: you’ll have seen the tagline: 21st Century Enlightenment: I’m trying to write an extensive essay on what we mean by that. I’m going to do another post after this meeting. I’ve had some great comments so far. I’m trying to open source as much as possible.

We’ve got new flyers which will be on tables whenever anyone has an event, telling you about the RSA and what it does. We’ve got a new coffee stand (21st century coffee shop); we’d got a revamped journal. More and more people are watching our lectures online. We’re working on a real focus for our projects – eg, Prisons Project, our Peterborough Project launched two weeks ago. Last week the publication of the 20:20 public services commission report was announced here. We want to see what really works in terms of fellowship engagement: we had a conference where we told fellows how much we loved them, let a 1,000 flowers bloom – about 60 flowers bloomed and then fell over two months later. Now the challenge is to say, what really works? Let’s develop a toolkit, a set of insights. I want the RSA to become a radically different organisation from the other organisations I’ve come across. I hope you’ll see over the next few months a richer account from fellows of what really works for them. We wanted 2010 to be our greatest year. The steepest bit of the hill is next to come.

1458: Paul Buchanan opens floor for questions.

Comment: what exactly do you mean by ’21st century enlightenment’?

Matthew: I wrote a blog post last week and had around 40 really great comments. I don’t want to go back and reclaim the Enlightenment, or say that we need another four principles. I’m trying to use the Enlightenment as a kind of metaphor. What should we be against now? Firstly, I’m against blind progress – we need substantive progress rather than progress for progress’ sake [Matthew talks at length but you can read more about it on his blog].

Comment: I’m interested in how this council can go along with this debate but in a sort of parallel way? At a council level, is there an intellectual function for this council? There seems to be, because we are constantly talking about what are the values?

Comment: What you have to be careful about, is the idea of a 21st century enlightenment. You don’t want to do what John Doer (?) did. You don’t want to give an American 20th Century view of the enlightenment (which you’re in danger of doing). You have a fantastic body of expertise in the fellowship – how do you make the most of that?

Matthew: You can see all these potential streams where our energy and thoughts might flow but there hasn’t been a lot of water falling into them for a long time. You have to combine ideas resources, commitments and values. I really feel that’s beginning to happen.

Comment: maybe we should have a working group on how we take 21st century enlightenment, the new RSA brand forward?

Matthew: Nina and I need to come back to a future FC meeting and talk about the whole re-branding process. There’ll be all sorts of different perspectives to try and bring these ideas in line.

Comment: A lot of us struggle to understand identity: what exactly the RSA is and what is it trying to do. But I like the fact that there isn’t too much definition. I don’t think there’s necessarily always benefit in being too definitive and too prescriptive.

Comment: with the use of web 2.0 you find you quite often put your values out there, people will start taking them apart again quite quickly. We need to think about how we introduce these new ideas.

Comment: why can’t we just use the original Fellowship Charter?

Belinda/ Laura Billings: because the language is too archaic.

Matthew: first 100 years dominated by prizes, second 100 dominated by learned lecgures, last 50 years have been more uncertain. So the RSA has always reinvented itself.

Michael Devlin: I see we want to raise the level of debate, raise involvement. I think the easiest way is to join this particular debate (what do we mean by 21st Century Enlightenment?) on Matthew’s blog.

Paul Buchanan: Thank you Matthew, now for report back on gender group.

1515: Laura: women currently make up 22% of fellows – although proportion of women joining has really increased in recent years. We’ve got a series of events. The launch event will be here next Tuesday 30 March: over 150 women are coming, including around 75 non-fellows. Katie Moore especially has been building links with women’s networks. We’ve been building up an archive exhibition – which will also be viewable online. We’ve had posters printed out which will be at events. There will be two further events in Bristol (led by Katie) and Milton Keynes (Olivia). We’re also actively promoting Ada Lovelace Day (24 March) by encouraging people to blog about female RSA fellows who are/ were outstanding in science and technology.

[NB: If you’d like to blog about a woman in science and technology for Ada Lovelace Day tomorrow, you might like to take a moment to sign the pledge]

1520: Zena Martin: update on Terms of Reference. Feedback from last RSA Trustee meeting where two fellows, Zena and David have now being co-opted.

[Paper is handed out with revised version of draft terms of reference for the Fellowship Council – this paper will be available online when official minutes are published – I’ll update here as soon as I have url].

Comment: Some of the wording here is rather outdated, for example: “becomes incapable by reason of mental disorder” talks about a mental illness and therefore could be seen as discrimination.

Comment: I would feel a difficulty personally and professionally signing up to some terms of reference which included discrimination against people like this. Is this clause really needed?

Comment: Have only two council members been co-opted to Trustee Board – when will third member be co-opted?

Zena: There are three places but we are waiting to appoint a third when the required skillset becomes clear.

1535: David: The fellowship council is an important new bit of government and one of the important bits is how the FC ties in with existing governance. Zena and I attended our first meeting the other week and I’m delighted to say we were really welcomed in. Before each trustee meeting Zena and I will meet with FC chair and deputy chair to agree which points the FC would like to raise at the next Trustee meeting, so if you have anything you’d like raised, either approach the chair/ deputy chair or talk to Zena and I at any time. [David runs through key points covered in Trustee meeting: including RSA re-branding, review of budget – it’s healthy, apparently – and that membership fee will remain unchanged next year].

Zena: just to add that the Trustees are really supportive of Fellowship Council and really interested in what we’re doing.

Comment: would it be possible to see the agendas for Trustee meetings?

Belinda: agendas are confidential but we can certainly make you aware of any items that are directly relevant to the FC.

Comment: I can understand that papers or content might be confidential, but the notion of an agenda being confidential seems a bit strange. Secondly, I guess it takes time to align these things, but we need to know exactly what decisions are being made and when, eg, in relation to the seed fund.

David: yes, we need to decide the sequence of things.

Comment: I would really appreciate it if confidentiality of the agenda was raised as a key issue.

Belinda: we know there’s a communications gap and we’re looking at ways of taking this forward.

Comment: in the old days there used to be something that came out of the Chairman’s office highlighting key content from the Trustees meetings, and this information would then be disseminated through the regional network.

Comment: there’s a feeling that the FC has been mildly disempowered by the Trustees – for example, deciding the budget for the seed fund.

David: I absolutely hear that in terms of budget timescale, that was the meeting at which budgets needed to be approved.

Zena: my feeling is that we (the FC) are more advisory than governance.

Comment: I would like to feed back to the trustees that there is a really powerful role that the FC can play if we are involved more fully in decision-making.

Paul Buchanan: Both sides are making noises about working cooperatively. I’m sure as feedback is circulated and the year progresses, this will work even better.

1546: Tessy: thanks David and Zena.

1547: Tessy & John: Fellows Education Network: update

Tessy: we had a meeting/ discussion and highlighted four key areas. (1) supporting RSA initiatives, (2) sign-posting to Fellow educational events, (3) designing new conversation-based events (4) high level educational forum to informal policy.

Tessy: 20% of fellowship are working in education to we should find ways of helping these fellows work together, finding connections. The discussion we had was around (1) taking education out of the policy world and involving parents and children and (2) looking at a trans-educative forum which would impact on policy in some way. For me the most exciting thing was this idea that the fellowship can be a way of distributing ideas. We don’t always have to be coming out with new ideas. There might be fellows who want to get involved in a very lightweight way, for example hosting an event or debate at their school – we might have 100 debates around the country on 5 or 6 subjects (maybe 21st century enlightenment could be one?). One thing that’s struck me today, we’ve deconstructed a lot of things and actually we need to start drawing in some ideas.

John: One of the key things we need to do is decide on a formal agenda which we can then put out to the wider fellowship, get the feedback in. Discussions don’t have to be on a regional basis, they can be international. We’ve got an education charter which I presume is non-political with a big ‘p’ and we have a fellowship charter, so why can we not have a policy forum, a standing forum, using the educational charter and the fellowship charter as a background?

Tessy: I’m keen that we stay focused on taking action. The gender group is a great example of that. The scope of education is enormous but I think we need to focus on a few ideas and just get cracking. Another great idea is the social innovation network which is nothing to do with council, it was launched by a fellow last week.

Paul: okay let’s stick to time!

Michael: I would advise against launching another newsletter. We already have a newsletter.

John: okay.

Michael: finding issues that excite people at a local level is key to action.

Paul: also the central dichotomy of getting caught in our own navels with the intellectual pursuit of something, we need to also translate it into action.

John: I’ve been promoting the idea of a cross-party forum; it’s been promoted today by Tim Brickhouse in the Education Guardian. The RSA is in the ideal position to define a prototype of that.

1600: Paul: thanks John & Tessy and introduces the “Road Show”: presentation and idea generation.

1602: Michael: presents new idea of RSA roadshows. Idea behind roadshows is to go out to the regions and showcase new opportunities and new messages, to encourage involvement and an attempt to show that the RSA is not London-centric. RSA wants to reach out to fellows who aren’t necessarily engaging online.

Content for the roadshow includes enabling fellows to register for new Fellows directory which is being launched; to help people sign up to Ning online networking; to raise RSA profile and recruit, to run informal events in the style of the New Fellows Evenings which take place in London, to run charter development workshops, to meet fellowship council members and local FRSA leaders, to run project workshops or ideas surgeries and to promote the seed fund. Should events be big or small? Any questions?

Comment: what’s time scale, how many have been decided?

Michael: A budget has been ringfenced. We still need to decide exact format and schedule. I’d like to kick off roadshows as soon as possible, and involve fellows as much as possible.

Comment: are you envisaging that events could be tagged onto existing events?

Michael: yes

Comment: from the EasternRegion point of view, there’s a very elaborate programme of events that this could be tagged onto. What is the consultation process going on with chairs of the regional committees?

Michael: you (the Fellowship council) are the first step!

Comment: we don’t want to demonstrate and unconscious incompetence.

Comment: I’m more optimistic about this. I like the idea of people coming from the RSA to the regions. I live in Yorkshire and I like the idea of the RSA running ‘intellectual rock concerts’!! There’s a real hunger for this in the regions. I think the RSA could draw on its network of big names who reallly have something to say. Around that you can have the stalls. The last thing we want to do is attract people who like joining committees. Do one in Leeds, I would support it!

Comment: why don’t you run them along the 21st century enlightenment theme?

Paul: let’s take a vote on the format:

Big: 8 votes
Small: 1 vote
Both: everyone else!

Paul: thanks Michael and I think it would be good if everyone commits to helping out with roadshow events in their region.

Jemima: just to say that we’ve convened a group on digital engagement. Vivs is the RSA staff representative. We don’t want the group to be all social media luvvies so if you’re a bit of a cynic about all this stuff we’d love to have your voice. Please have a think and contact me afterwards if you’re interested.

1625: Finally does anyone have any feedback on the meeting today?

Comment: I think we’d like to have some time to reflect on that and get back to you.

1630: Tessy: We’re doing great work and thank you all for your active involvement today.