The 250-year-old Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce is continuing its very welcome re-invention process with the help this week of the innovation agency ?Whatif!. As you'll see below, I think it is time to open the process up. Maybe the rapidly-growing Facebook can help with the RSA re-invention, and similar processes to engage members of other organisations more fully. If they don't embrace social networking, organisations may find their members don't need them.
(For an intro to the importance of Facebook, see Bill Thompson at the BBC. He has previous remarked in his links feed "There’s an RSA vibe going… maybe it can be FaceBook for our offline time?")
As a Fellow of the RSA (aka member) I got a call from a researcher asking what I liked or not about the RSA, and then yesterday afternoon an invitation to participate a few hours later in an online chat. I'm assuming the two are linked because of the short notice.
The system provide by Synthetron was interesting. As well as contributing discussion points, we were asked to vote on those raised by other people as we went along, and to expand points. The screen shot shows discussion before moving sliders across to options: oppose, somewhat oppose, not useful, kind of agree, agree. The moderator then does some synthesising. I don't know if that was played back to us, because my battery collapsed and everything was shut down by the time I returned. I feel it's OK to quote the discussion because it was anonymised. As you can see from the screen shot the final points were as follows:
I have noticed a definite change in the RSA approach to topical issues over the last year. Talks, discussions, debate and more involvement. This is great! What we would truly benefit from is more contribution and joint action?
enable fellows to generate ideas and follow them through
Us each having the courage to own the RSA and share responsibility to ask the awkward questions for meeting that potential
let the sum be more than the parts
There is huge potential for the future of the RSA with an assortment of talents, experience and professional expertise just waiting to be tapped and wanting to influence - surely that is the most important thing for the future of the RSA
i think MatthewTaylor needs to get into the mix not stand on the stage
That's rather hard on chief executive Matthew Taylor, who does at least have a blog - but I think it is a useful metaphor for the Society which is somewhat trapped in its heritage, with a very fine lecture hall totally inappropriate to the more conversational events we need for many topics.
The general tone of the online discussion was that there is enormous potential to harness the collective intelligence of the 26,000 Fellows, but some frustration about how this might be achieved.
Disclosure: I may be helping with the re-invention process, leading up to a major event in November. I'm not sure whether this item will help my chances of involvement or not, but hey, I'm advocating an open process so why hold back? None of this is confidential as far as I can see.
Which leads me to another point. The anonymity of yesterday's discussion enabled people to contribute freely online, but it meant we didn't know each other, and couldn't carry on. A lot of the chat was about the need for Fellows to take a lead - "it's our RSA" - but that's hardly possible unless you can find others interested, and can start to organise. The private areas of the RSA web site are not yet configured that way, although I know there's a lot of work in progress.
The key issue for me is the level of engagement offered to Fellow during the re-invention process. If the process (surveys, focus groups, online discussion, ?whatif!, major event) is mainly designed and run at arms-length by RSA staff it will not lead to the sense of ownership that I believe Fellows in last night's discussions wanted. Incidently, there was no one in the discussion last night to explain what was already happening, so it became rather negative. Another example of why the focus group approach isn't appropriate for co-creation.
If you really believe in co-creation you have to involve your co-creators openly from the start. In my experience that's really difficult for organisations that have in the past been hierarchical. We demonstrated a different approach with the Open Innovation Exchange - which by the way, isn't over yet despite not winning the bid. More soon.
Fortunately these days social media allow the punters (aka Fellows) to start their own bottom-up processes. There were a few mentions of Facebook during the discussion last night. Is it time for a Friends of the RSA group there for current and potential Fellows, where we could ask RSA staff to join us, rather than the other way around?
Comments welcome below, or join me in Facebook where I'll put this on my wall shortly. Friends requests readily accepted.
Apply to join the RSA here, though it will take considerably longer, and cost £135. Another reason membership organisations should be worried about Facebook, if they don't embrace it - and also show how they can offer additional benefits. I know the RSA can ... but I think it is time to open up on how we can develop those benefits together.