An update on the RSA's Strategic Review - RSA

An update on the RSA's Strategic Review

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  • Picture of Tim Eyles, Chair of the Board
    Tim Eyles, Chair of the Board
  • Fellowship
  • Leadership

I mentioned at our AGM last October that we’re making excellent progress on the Strategic Review initiated following my appointment as RSA Chair in October 2018. I’d like to take this opportunity to summarise where we’ve now reached on the journey.

You will recall that I was appointed with a clear mandate from the RSA Trustees to build on the progress made under my predecessor Vikki Heywood, and in close collaboration with Matthew, to generate the changes necessary for ensuring the RSA functions on a fully united basis.

By this, I mean united and aligned in terms of our clarity of purpose and direction and, most importantly, to ensure that our collective potential for increasing impact in the world is fully realised.

In other words, creating ‘one RSA’ by joining together more powerfully as a united force of all of our assets: the human talent in our global Fellowship and in the RSA staff team, RSA House itself and all our other resources, to deliver change and greater impact in the world.

We initially undertook a deep dive into the fundamentals with a dynamic collaboration between the RSA Trustees, the RSA staff and some Fellows (principally through the agency of your Fellowship Council). After much thought, consultation and careful consideration, we resolved last July upon a clear purpose, vision, new values and perspective on the impact in the world we’re aiming at:

Our Vision: A world is where everyone is able to participate in creating a better future.

Our Purpose: Uniting people and ideas to resolve the challenges of our time.

We Are: A global community of active problem solvers.

We have a clear point of view of how we achieve impact:

  • Convening reasoned debate
  • Enabling people to realise change
  • Influencing key organisations
  • Demonstrating practical solutions

Our Values:

Open – always transparent and honest, we welcome new thinking and different perspectives.

Optimistic – we are confident that together, we can resolve the challenges of our time.

Pioneering – we champion curiosity, creativity and courage to inspire better ways of thinking and doing.

Rigorous – rooted in evidence-led thinking, we act with integrity and purpose.

Enabling – through generosity and collaboration, we help others succeed.

Since September 2019, a reorganised Executive Team (now comprising Matthew as CEO, Anthony Painter (Chief Research & Impact Officer) and Natalie Carsey (Chief Operating Officer)) supported by Nicholas Bull (Director of Strategy & Governance) has been working intensely with colleagues on the development of the key detailed work streams of activities required to deliver the new vision, with the primary goal of maximising our collective impact in the world.

This is not finalised but I’d like to update you on progress thus far:



We’ve resolved that to increase our impact the RSA should cluster its activities around a smaller number of larger topics.

We hope that having greater scale will assist attraction of the vital funding which we must generate from external sources to achieve our goals and to realise our vision and purpose - and indeed this has been the feedback from some of our current and prospective partners.

Whilst not being a prescription for the tremendous activities being led by Fellows, we believe that focussing around fewer, bigger programmes will also generate and facilitate the opportunities for more Fellowship collaboration with the RSA Team at RSA House and beyond.

The first proposed programme on the subject of the Future of Work was approved by the Board when it met in February. The Board also received an update on imminent future programmes which are likely to cover Regenerative Futures and The Learning Society.


The RSA Approach

Under Matthew’s leadership, the RSA has developed a unique approach to delivering change embraced by the term: ‘Think Like a System, Act like an Entrepreneur’ (TLSALE).

This has proved to be an important differentiator from competitors as we talk to current and prospective partners. However, we needed to develop the methodology in more detail so that it can be applied and articulated consistently across the organisation and with prospective funders. Matthew and colleagues have been developing TLSALE accordingly and I’ve personally been impressed with the outcome.


Fellowship engagement

It is self-evident that one of the RSA’s key assets is you, our global network of 30,000 Fellows.

Engaging with and enhancing the experience of Fellows in their relationship with the RSA is vital to our future, especially if we are to achieve our goal of increasing our impact in the world. At the commencement of the Strategic Review I emphasised that one of our priorities must indeed be to ensure two objectives are fulfilled: greater engagement of the Fellowship in our programmes and an improved experience for our Fellows as you engage with the RSA.

Accordingly, we’re about to start a detailed behavioural research project to solicit feedback on the priorities from the Fellowship’s perspective and how we can best support Fellows. We will be soliciting views from your Fellowship Council later in March. In the meantime, do read the blog on this work written by Lucy Griffiths and Peter Clitheroe.

In addition to what emerges from this research, I hope that many of the changes reflected elsewhere in this briefing will improve the opportunities for Fellows’ experience and engagement: greater involvement in our programmatic working; a more outward-facing RSA Team; better communications; more advanced & interactive technology, and wider and deeper global reach.


RSA People

Humanity is at the heart of everything the RSA does and is core to our purpose of uniting people and ideas to resolve the challenges of our time.

We fully recognise therefore that having the right mix of diverse people with the right culture to help us deliver on the strategy is absolutely vital and is a key priority.

We therefore brought in external consultants to assist the Board and Matthew initially to understand the best leadership structure for the organisation. The result of this enquiry was a recognition of the need to reshape the RSA’s leadership function, which resulted in the appointment of the new Executive Team taking effect in September 2019.

Alongside Board colleagues, Matthew and the Executive Team, I’m also personally determined that the RSA remains at the cutting edge of modern employment policies and procedures; we need to aim for the best at all times. Indeed, we have excellent objective feedback through staff surveys, exit interviews and so forth. However, we must of course recognise that, as with most organisations, there are some improvements which can be made and we must never be complacent in striving to fulfil our vision.

This is especially so in the field of Diversity and Inclusion where a series of changes have been and will be implemented. In terms of the current Strategic Review, changes include the establishment of a permanent, suitably resourced & staff-led Diversity and Inclusion Group (building on a pre-existing RSA Staff Women’s Group) and an external Diversity & Inclusion Audit which will be overseen by the Board, all of which sits alongside the Diversity Group that forms part of the Fellowship Council. We’ve also established a formal Employee Representation Group that is about to receive ACAS training in its commissioning process.

At Board level we’ve appointed one Trustee as Diversity Champion and another Trustee as a People Champion to ensure best practice and strategy on People and Talent are continuously demonstrated and embedded in the RSA. We are also specifically looking at how we can proactively ensure wider diversity on the Trustee Board itself.



Many of today’s challenges for society are global in nature and the RSA has a wonderful opportunity through our global Fellowship to contribute to solving those issues both in the UK and internationally.

Indeed, since my appointment I’ve been delighted to observe the enthusiasm and commitment shown by our Fellows outside the UK and especially the RSA’s chapters in the US and Oceania.

We’ve therefore begun to find ways in which to join up more powerfully deploying the new approach to the RSA’s programmes with RSA US and RSA Oceania, whilst also actively continuing to reflect on ways to collaborate in other territories.



There is a series of readily identifiable improvements which can be made in how communication works across the organisation. We hope you will find refreshing the changes which we’ll be implementing in the coming months.


These will include:

  • An improvement in the RSA’s technology so the Fellows can connect and interact with each other more easily
  • A new website showcasing the RSA’s activities and progress on our Programmes
  • More regular updates to Fellows on the RSA’s activities and the opportunities to get involved
  • A more joined up approach to partnership building harnessing the RSA convening power
  • A unified brand idea and narrative

I would like to say a huge thank you to my fellow Trustees, to Matthew & to the RSA staff, and also to the Fellows involved for the many contributions in getting us this far. The substantial work on the Strategic Review is being undertaken in addition to (not instead of) normal working, showing the deep commitment from many RSA Team members and indeed Fellows to effecting change in the world.

I hope you will find this update helpful and I will be in touch again in the coming months to keep you up to speed on our progress.

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  • Thank you for the update.

    This is very welcomed: An improvement in the RSA’s technology so the Fellows can connect and interact with each other more easily.

    Among some Fellows who wanted to connect more informally we created a What's up group, which of course reached just 10/15 people and is not easy to coordinate and to keep alive

  • Great to see the summary of the Vision, Purpose, Values etc and one way to ensure these stay alive is to ensure all discussions/actions in house and out of house relate to these. 

    As a Board member of RSA Oceania we have been working on our strategy in tandem with this work - our points of influencing can only improve over time - although the direction of the two strategies are quite complementary.

    Understanding there is much unprecedented change - everywhere in the world right now due to COVID-19- for RSA to be truly TLSALE in these turbulent times maybe a way forward is to identify (an app would be great) what each RSA Fellows can offer and in line with the strategy? Could be an individual opt in task co-ordinated by RSA in house.

    In the mean time stay safe! 

  • No mention of how this all helps to create 21st Century Enlightenment.

    And, sadly, I find this approach rooted in 20th Century ideologies.  "Evidence-led" is about looking at what worked in the past and views the world in transactional terms, whereas I would like to see the RSA as being truly future-focussed and a focal point for inspiration on how we can create a rich and vibrant future that works for all.

    Maybe I'm missing something, but I'm not sensing the RSA delivering on that at the moment...

  • My experience of RSA is that I hear about initiatives already underway, rather than hearing about initiatives in which I can become involved. Therefore Joshua Costar's recommendation for an app, that could support informal idea exchange and encourage younger Fellows, seems like a fairly easy thing to implement. This problem of Fellowship involvement feeds into the new strategic preference for large projects, because all projects start small. While I agree that RSA resources are best focussed on fewer, large top-level projects, the RSA also needs to engage and involve the Fellowship by providing a platform for knowledge exchange at the lowest level, and a mid-level incubator for developing initial ideas into potential projects. I believe the lowest and mid-level platforms could easily be provided online and facilitated by an app.

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