The RSA is its Fellowship. Fellow-led networks have incredible potential to harness the creative and collective power of this community. So what are we learning about how groups within the Fellowship make change happen?
Many Fellows want to engage and be an active part of our RSA community, but it's hard to know where to start with an enormous network of nearly 30,000 people. Fellowship networks provide a means for people to come together around specific issues that matter to them locally, or around big themes that span places or even nations. In the last couple of years, the number of different groups or networks within the Fellowship has grown, as well as the number of people wanting to be part of those networks (some, like the Innovative Education Network, have nearly 1000 members). Fellow-led networks are a key way in which the RSA can make an impact locally, nationally and globally.
Many networks are making change happen locally – for example, the RSA Thame Group's consultation with the local council generated the UK's first ‘Green Living Plan’. Other networks have worked to enrich or put into practice big ideas put forward through the RSA’s action research projects – for example, the RSA Japan Network contributed an international perspective to the RSA’s Future Work Centre. Some networks channel skills within the Fellowship to those that need them - the Coaching Network’s Coach-Link pilot scheme offered free coaching to Fellows working on projects aligned to the RSA’s values.
The RSA staff team responsible for supporting Fellowship activity globally is keen to learn about what we can do to best support networks to make a difference. In December 2018, we ran a series of online events to convene Networks Leads, beginning to form a community of practice. We want to support a ‘network of Network Leads’, if you like – so that Fellows leading the complex and rewarding work of convening people to make social change happen could learn from each other, and as a result increase the impact their networks are able to make in the world.
On the 25 March, 56 Network Leads attended our first Fellowship Networks Day – an all-day event with sessions co-designed and co-delivered by Network Leads. Some attended in person, and others joined us online from as far as Peru. The aim was to provide more opportunities for people to learn from each other about how to make their networks purposeful, connected, and sustainable. We plan to continue this learning with another online event for Network Leads to reconvene in on 10th July, 5.30pm - 7.30pm.
What have learned about how Networks make change happen? Some Fellows share their insights and learning so far:
Paul Ingram, Tees Valley Network:
‘Think local, think big, think connected - whether Melbourne, Middlesbrough or Midlothian! We began in Tees Valley with no local RSA profile. Pitching events and projects from County Hall to Village Hall is showing consequence. Our main challenge is to grow the team for timely delivery. Pooled network experience (thematic and regional) might contribute to a fresh vocabulary and syntax for RSA action, with pathways into RSA for young people - our future.’
Nick Parker, Chair of Fellowship Council:
'I set up the Reinventing Work network in the South West. It drew in Fellows and non-Fellows from across the region via an open Eventbrite invitation. It has been the most effective way of energising the Fellowship and promoting the RSA brand locally. As a result the region is becoming a crucible for an alternative way of organisational being, commonly known as ‘next stage’.
Peter Clitheroe, Deputy Chair of Fellowship Council:
‘A chance conversation with a Network Lead made me conscious that our meetings can limit engagement. Parents of young children have a huge stake in the future whilst their involvement in networks is constrained by childcare responsibilities. I’m working with a group of networks to pilot improved accessibility, exploring such ideas as making our meetings child-friendly and holding some events in weekend daytimes.’
So what’s next for our work with Fellowship networks? There are lots of big questions we want to answer together with Network Leads. For example, what else can we do to support the RSA’s Fellowship networks to make an impact? How might we capture and celebrate the many ways that Fellowship networks influence social change? How can we work with networks to engage Fellows more deeply in the RSA’s programmes of work, and in so doing, increase the impact of those research projects?
As we explore the answers to these questions, we will continue to wear our learning on our sleeve, and share the inspiring stories and insights we discover. If each network is about collective impact, just think what is possible when we truly catalyse the power of all the RSA’s Fellowship networks to change the world.