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.