RSA Fellowship Council: live blog

13:09 Live blogging was the first item on the agenda today and I’m starting a few minutes late because of that. But I’m thrilled to say that the Council has voted by a large majority to allow live blogging to go ahead, as long as general comments are under the Chatham House rule (ie: not attributed) and people give permission to be named/ quoted. This seems fair because (as one Fellow pointed out), people may feel inhibited from saying what they really think if they know they will be referenced.

The meeting has kicked off with a summary of responses to the feedback questionnaire which was circulated by temporary chairs Bob Porrer and Tessy Britton a few weeks ago.

13:29 A discussion about the key activities of the Council led by Tessy Britton: we’re in a development phase as a new council. We don’t know what the plan will be. Maybe we can review what’s working best in six months time. Which model should we adopt, centralised or distributed? The overall emergent strategy was along the lines of leadership being “distributed and co-ordinated, promoting high levels of activity and developing a flexible structure to support this activity.

Comment: we don’t want to set up a whole raft of things and have most of them burn out quickly.

Tessy: maybe we should make a decision about a broad way forward and discuss the detail later.

General opinion in the room is that the emergent strategy outlined above seems reasonable.

13.38: Point 2 on agenda: what should be the difference between elected and appointed Councillors?

Matthew Taylor: It’s right that elected and appointed reps should have exactly the same status. Ultimately, ideally, everyone will be elected. We are at a transitory stage where the RSA is trying to respond to the complaint from Fellows that they are not listened to.

13:45: Summary from Bob: all elected/ appointed reps from each region/ nation should co-ordinate response/ feedback to that region between themselves.

Item 3: Do we need a chair and deputy chair?

Overall vote: yes.

Discussion about how long these roles should last. Generally agreed that a year seems right in principle with Deputy chair automatically becoming chair after one year. Thereafter elections would only be held for deputy chair. Discussion about whether chair and deputy chair should automatically become trustees (there are two vacancies on the Trustee Board). General consensus is that they should be separate/ “uncoupled”).

13:51: Comment: I’m a bit worried about complete lack of reference to regional chairs. Will regional chairs be feeling a bit marginalised?

Bob: The exact nature of the regional network is being reviewed at present and we would hope regional chairs are actively involved in that.

Comment: do we vote for Council chair/ deputy chair by show of hands or secret ballot? What if incumbent isn’t working out?

What should the election process be? Proposal is that FC members should self-nominate. Today we hope to have the chair and deputy chair elected, and the two nominations to Trustee board decided. Michael explains the election process (which will be proportional representation rather than first past the post).

14:00: Three minutes per descision.

Co-ordination and advance preparation for meetings? Yes; papers to be circulated 2 weeks in advance.

Transparency: unconfirmed minutes will be made available on RSA website to all Fellows within ten working days of meeting. Minutes to be confirmed formally at the next FC meeting.

Live blogging: already addressed at start of meeting.

Comment: Issue between live blogging and confidentiality still not resolved.

Should future meetings of the FC be observed? Suggested that current situation of live blogging with non-attributed comments and people flagging up confidential items beforehand, plus minutes available on website, is a good middle-ground; agreed that we could try live streaming if there is genuine demand.

Tessy: if young people want to come and observe meetings at later date, that should be an option at chair’s discretion.

Comment: we don’t want to be in danger of taking ourselves too seriously!

Bob: to conclude, live blogging and open minutes are acceptable for now as we are in development stage, but this could change at later date.

Comment/question: is there information that the trustees have that the council should also have access to?

Discussion: Trustees have a governance role but Fellowship Council is different.

14:12: Communications between members of fellowship council: proposal that we have a regular email newsletter: all agreed.

Problem of people hitting ‘reply all’ button in communications: Andy Gibson pointed out that Google groups or Yahoo groups where people can manage their own settings might be a better way of communicating.

14:17: Frequency of meetings: agreed that three meetings in 2010 would be better than two. Possibly March, June and October (as opposed to April and October)?

Fellowship Council meeting attendees (from RSA) will include CEO, Director of Fellowship, Head of Fellowship networks, COO, Director of external affairs and Director of projects/ research.

Fellowship council operations – contents of slide tbc.

14:35: Break

14:45: Nominations for Chair and deputy chair.

Tessy Britton nominated for Chair – uncontested.

Tessy Britton elected.

3 candidates put themselves forward for Deputy Chair (everyone wants to work with Tessy).

5 candidates have been nominated for 2 positions as RSA Trustees (1 withdraws due to clash of interests – sorry, not sure what, I think they’re also standing as deputy chair maybe?)

14:50: 4 candidates for Board of Trustee nominations give reasons as to why they should be elected; elections held for Board of Trustee nominations.

14:57: 3 candidates for Deputy Chair give reasons as to why they should be elected; elections held for deputy chair.

15:00: Networks, groups & projects
How to use issues, interest forums/ groups and projects to engage and communicate with Fellows, knit the network and activate fresh activity. Julian Thompson, new director of projects, will give some ideas to open/ stimulate discussion.

Julian: RSA projects aim to achieve and realise human potential. Broadly, current projects focus on:

1. Learning and education
2. Enterprise
3. The arts and design as creative tools that help us reconceptualise the world and act in the world
4. Ideas around communities and citizenship: how to live as social beings

There’s an exquisite tension between keeping projects on right track and being creative.

Transformation of fellowship and transformation of projects are implicitly linked.

Examples of some recent RSA projects:

1. Redesigning support services for people with long-term drug problems.
2. Network maps: mapping bonds between people in a community: showing people where their local connections are; proving to them that there is a network (despite the fact that sometimes people feel alienated/isolated within a community) and showing that there are opportunities/ ways to get things done.

RSA projects going through stage of consolidation and transition both at same time. Reaching conclusions on several big, important projects, but also trying to engage more with Fellowship.

Ideally Julian prefers hub and spoke model: hubs of activity around the country; becoming more self-sustaining, and developing spikes of activity around each one.

15:21: comment: a seamlessness in projects sounds heartening but I don’t hear much about the regions. It seems there is a separation between regional committee projects and there are central John Adam Street projects. I’m in the London region and there’s a slightly semi-detached feeling for the regions. It’s not so much about establishing the hubs as about making sure the connections are there.

15:23: Bob: Yes there has been a disconnect, I agree. But communication is key in changing that.

Julian: I’d like an online space where we could connect better with fellows.

Vote for open forum rather than group discussion (as a time-saver).

15:28: election results: Paul Buchanan voted Deputy Chair

Nominations for trustee board: Zena Martin and David Archer

15:30: Discussion around achieving the aims outlined by Julian. How do we create very local interdisciplinary forums?

Comment: yes, you need an “aims” framework, but that should come out of interaction with the fellowship.

Julian: we’re doing a formal evaluation of the Open Minds project but in terms of learning from past projects, I don’t know how easy that is to do. How much cultural memory of projects is there among fellowship, for example, and how do we capture it?

Comment: in terms of knowledge management, managing knowledge is incredibly different, but people need sense of who’s the right person to ask. (Back to ongoing issue of the fellowship database and how great it would be to have one…Belinda promises this will happen at some point).

Comment: We need more benchmarking, especially now that we’re seeing a blurring of boundaries between public, private and third sectors.

Julian: all our projects are online; you can dip in and see exactly what we’re working on at the moment.

Comment: we need to find was of being more motivating; encouraging fellows out there to get involved in the JAS projects; and vice versa; there needs to be some other way than going into all the regional Nings. Is there a forward plan of project priority areas? The fellows and regions need to have some influence…we need more democracy and citizenship and joined up-ness, and some serious mapping of who the Fellowship is (in Wales we have very incomplete and outofdate information).

Comment (Stephen Coleman): great mistake is to separate communication from the project itself. The way you make things work is to have a communicative infrastructure. You need to have evaluation built in from the beginning. Topics don’t need to be *either* regionally-based or topic-based – can be both. How should we approach this? (1) describe problems in a way that neither the media or existing government would describe them (2) decide how to generate/ facilitate discussion effectively between 27,000 fellows of RSA – in a way that nobody else is capable of discussing this (3) inclusion: how do we include people affected by projects in a way that respects them and listens to them? If the RSA can work out ways of doing that, that would be incredible. These are three principles of an approach to projects that I would like to see.

Comment: a lot of lessons came out of RSA Networks project. What are the terms of engagement on RSA projects? These still aren’t clear. If I have a project I want to take to the RSA, how do I do that? Where is the transparency around RSA research?

15:50: Can’t we use the RSA lectures/ talks in a more dynamic way?

Belinda: in the new year, as well as fellows database, we are looking at doing a much more comprehensive mapping of the fellowship database. Next year we will have a seed fund to give money to fellows’ projects, which will be a great way of testing a lot of these issues.

Julian: important that everyone should note that the RSA no longer funds projects. All projects now are externally-funded – central government, private sector partners etc.

Comment: fellows want to meet local fellows – that’s the biggest thing that came out of a recent south-west regional meeting. Many fellows see the regional committees as blockers rather than enablers.

Belinda: fellows are starting up their own networks all over the world: we’ve had a group start up in Singapore, for example.

15:59 Discussion around views on new fellowship charter.

Laura Billings: the biggest thing about feedback has been the lack of feedback, the lack of engagement; there’s been confusion around the purpose of the charter; on the plus side, we’ve been consistently told by fellows that they want a charter; my main reason for bringing it back to Council is that the charter is really important in embedding the current cultural shifts within the RSA. We need to take it forward to present to the AGM in 2010; it needs to be redrafted. It does need to be a spur to action; we need to find out what works for fellows; is there anyone who wants to form a smaller working group?

Comment: there really is too much confusion about what this fellowship charter is. We’ve got a royal charter. What’s this one for? I personally dont see why we need a second charter, we have a charter, and we are quite adrift from that charter already. The project we should be doing as a council is the RSA – what is the RSA? This should be our first project. And from that project, other projects should emerge.

Matthew: we have a Royal Charter that was written 255 years ago. We have tested our current work against that charter and it is broadly in agreement. The Fellowship charter is a way to be clear about what fellowship means and the expectations that fellows have of each other. The Royal charter is one that is difficult to change; the Fellowship charter is expected to be a living document.

Comment: is it a cultural document, intended to inspire, or is it an operational document, that will be used, for example, to exclude fellows, to tell them why they’re not being funded etc?

Comment: I think people think, well, this all sounds very well, but what does it mean in operational terms.

Matthew: We’ve been engaged in this process for some time; many years ago fellows said that they felt they weren’t being asked to do enough; there was a feeling that fellowship should be a richer, thicker, more content-full thing; the idea of a charter emerged organically from that; fellowship is a donation, not a fee.

Comment: can we call it something other than a ‘charter’?

16:13: Working groups: everyone is asked to (preferably) volunteer for at least one of the following:

1. Regions
2. Charter
3. Project framework
4. Fellowship (supporting/ connecting/ mapping/ specialist networks)
5. Developing partnerships
6. What is the RSA?

+some further issues eg: gender balance, digital inclusion which are to be discussed.

16:25: Meeting is about to wind up and as Bob very firm about 16:30 finish, I’m about to log off! Just wanted to say that this seems to have been a really productive, action-filled meeting and Bob and Tessy have done fab work in setting a great agenda and driving decisions forward. In fact, it’s all rounding off with a big applause for Bob and Tessy’s excellent facilitation!

12 Responses to “RSA Fellowship Council: live blog”


  1. 1 David Wilcox

    Jemima – thanks so much for an excellent commentary on what sounds like a really productive meeting. Congratulations to Tessy and Bob.

  2. 2 Lilly Evans

    Jemima, thanks for this report- I feel as if I was there! It is great to see the members being actively involved and congratulations to Tessy and Bob!

    Look forward to all the new developments.

  3. 3 Jemima Gibbons

    Thanks David and Lilly – it’s great to know that you value the live blog. Hope you won’t mind if I cite your comments as examples of positive feedback at the next meeting? Overall, Council is very supportive, but there are certainly some members who feel uncomfortable with the idea and are putting a brave face on it. Any evidence that the process is *working* is vital.

  4. 4 mas

    that uncomfortableness seems apparent – and to me confusing. I’m only dipping in and out of developments so maybe I have it all wrong but if the fellowship council is towards better involvement of fellows just what is it that would need to be kept “confidential”? I don’t mean that as a simple dig by the way it would be good to understand what the concerns are.

    You can add my thanks as evidence too – not an easy task to do I’m sure and yet arguably a good alternative to minutes.

    I can’t help but add that there seems to be an awful lot of baggage attached to RSA activities and I sympathise with those of you patient enough to try and make change.

  5. 5 Jemima Gibbons

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for your comments.

    I completely agree with you in that “if the fellowship council is towards better involvement of fellows just what is it that would need to be kept confidential?” but, as you also say, there’s also an awful lot of “baggage” (not surprising in a 255 year old organisation) and dealing with this is going to take time.

    Not everyone sees the need for dramatic change as clearly as you or I might (and hey, who’s to say we’re “right” any way? Forcing “our” way of doing things on others who aren’t ready is just as bad as them insisting that we do things in more traditional ways)?

    I guess you could argue that part of a “social” approach involves listening and trying to be inclusive/ accommodating of other people’s views, and I think that’s what we’re trying to do at the moment: moving forward with everyone on board rather than doing something that seems disruptive and abrasive.

    The fact that council has agreed to allow live blogging and tweeting of meetings to go ahead is a massive step forward. I’m sure we will see more openness as people who are resistant slowly get used to the idea.

  6. 6 Tessy Britton

    Jemima you have done such a terrific job with this live blog. Judging from all the positive comments about it since the meeting from Fellowship Council members, I doubt that this particular decision is likely to be revisited … !

  7. 7 Jemima Gibbons

    Thanks Tessy. Let’s hope not. In the future all meetings worth their salt will be live blogged!

  8. 8 Jackie Elliman

    Thanks for this report Jemima, covers it all wonderfully well so shall refer London Region Committee to it!

  9. 9 mas

    Hi Jemima – quite right to point out the other side of the coin and fear of the unknown or the new is understandable – that said personally I’d be keen to stress the importance of being as open as possible, not least because I think those on the periphery are far more liker to better engage if they feel informed than they are to become involved with something they know little of and while not high up on the priorities at this early stage it will be come the time the council seeks to recruit again.

    Seemingly a mute point though as you appear to have proven the point by getting on and doing it which is often the best way :-)

  10. 10 Greg Slay

    Well done Jemimafor a really informative account of the recent Fellowship Council meeting. Through your new chair, Tessy, we have added this blog as a link to our RSA Chichester and Portsmouth ning so that Fellows out in the sticks so to speak can reflect on what is going on at the Council. I am pleased to read that the Council members are working effectively and constructively to sort out the modus operandi. And I look forward to a future dialogue with regional committees (I am deputy chair of South Central)about linkages – it would be unfair to label all the regional committees as ‘blockers of progress’ and I will resign as soon as that happens in this region!

  11. 11 Jemima Gibbons

    @Jackie – that would be great, thank you!

    @Mike – thanks, a valuable point and I hope you won’t mind if I quote you at the next meeting!

  12. 12 Jemima Gibbons

    @Greg – thanks so much for your comment. Connecting with people in ‘the sticks’ (metaphorically as well as literally) is a key aim of the blog so it’s great to have RSA Fellows in Chichester and Portsmouth on board. And I’m sorry if any offence was taken at the remark about regional committees “blocking” progress – sadly any type of group seems to incorporate both good and bad elements, and the Fellowship Council needs to remind itself that it is by no means immune!

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