Sorry for the gap since my last post. I won't mention my long hours, as the last time I did someone told it was 'unbelievably self-serving'.
Last week a gang of RSA folk went to Manchester for a series of meetings including a very successful new Fellows' event.
It was another chance to talk about our plans for the Fellowship engagement strategy in the autumn. Once again the reaction from both the regional network and new Fellows was overwhelmingly positive.
An issue I shared with the network members and that I have referred to before is the challenge of social innovation through voluntary action.
The vision of a hundred networks of Fellows grouped by locality, profession, interest, expertise, or concern seems to capture the imagination. People like the idea that to be an activist in the RSA you don't have to be elected or appointed to a committee, simply to take initiative and attract other people who share your experiences, views or priorities.
And with the invaluable advice and support of Fellows with expertise in social networking - like Steve Moore from Policy Unplugged - we are confident that we can choose the right tools to enable Fellows' networks to develop.
But we have been clear from the beginning that this online activity is only a facilitator for real world interventions. This will be the hardest challenge.
In Manchester we held a Coffeehouse Challenge in a hospitable but noisy Starbucks in St Anne's Square. The group of about 30 Fellows and guests agreed early on that we should focus on the gap between the ever more successful Manchester elite who tend to work or live in the town centre and the large numbers of poorer Mancunians who continue to be locked out of the success story.
As we knocked around various thoughts, the mentoring of young people surfaced as a popular idea. That was until someone told us that they had been involved in exploring mentoring as an option for a company's CSR programme. It turned out, he told us, the city was full of mentoring schemes, not all of them demonstrably successful.
A youth worker then chipped in that effective mentoring might mean a 10 year commitment to a young person whose strongest need was for continuity.
With mentoring sidelined we were just starting to get on to other ideas when the allotted CHC time ran out. This underlined how much time and hard thinking it takes to get an intervention right.
Half a lifetime as a political and community activist has taught me two things...
First, a small group of committed people can make a huge difference if they apply their collective intelligence and will to an issue.
Second, a huge amount of time spent on campaigning and volunteering is simply wasted in futile or even counterproductive activities.
Ultimately, when we have very many networks able to learn from each other, when we have refocused the RSA so that supporting Fellows' activities is a central task and when the vibrancy of the Fellowship is attracting others to become our allies and partners, then I am confident we can develop some really powerful 'pro-social' interventions.
But in the early stages this is going to be more difficult. Fellows are busy and have many other calls on their energies.
Between now and the start of our new engagement strategy we need to have a substantial and clear headed dialogue across the RSA about how Fellows working together really can make a difference.
Let me know if you have any ideas on this, or have been involved in similar initiatives.
Some responses to earlier comments -
Justin: It was great to meet up again and I hope you made the church on time!
Gemma: Hybrid:arts sounds great. One idea I had for an RSA network was arts practitioners using creativity to foster social inclusion. There is loads going on but how effective is it? Are you an RSA Fellow?
Chris: Good point, the early years are crucial. But we surely can't give up on children even if they have had a bad start? And we are exploring how we can apply the Opening Minds approach to primary education.
Peter C: This is just the kind of issue we need to address by opening a dialogue between parents and schools. I don't think bullying is limited to the state sector, but I am sure you are right that many parents fear that bright, hard working children can get picked on by their disaffected schoolmates.
What do you say to people when you talk about the RSA? Do you mention a great lecture you’ve seen, a Fellow you’ve met or perhaps share an animate online? It’s easy when you’ve got an example but sometimes when you’re on the spot, it can be difficult to in articulate all the many aspects of the RSA’s work. It’s a multi-layered, multifaceted organisation that is governed from a huge house which can feel like a bit of a labyrinth - so where do you begin?