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]

4 Responses to “RSA Fellowship Council – live blog of fourth meeting”


  1. 1 lynn broadbent

    this is really helpful – thanks for the great job you are doing! BTW, couldn’t agree more that some of our jargon is getting a bit off the mark. Too many tool boxes, surgeries, etc. can’t we just say guidelines or consultations/meetings?

  2. 2 Jemima Gibbons

    Thanks Lynn – you’re welcome!

    You’re right about us probably slipping into jargon too much – the RSA digital engagement working group is probably one of the more culpable (all that tech-talk).

    Maybe we think it makes what we’re doing seem a little more exciting (to us)!

    Promise to try and keep myself in check in future :)

  3. 3 Paul Buchanan

    Once again a brilliant job Jemima!! Thx, always great to read what I thought had been said and to follow the comments. Really hope more Fellows find this link and find this useful.

    :)

  4. 4 Jemima Gibbons

    Ah thanks Paul.

    As ever, your support is much appreciated!

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