I tend - perhaps inevitably – to get fewer comments when I blog about the RSA. But as well as wanting feedback from Fellows, I would be really interested to hear what people outside the Society think of the model I am about to describe.
The RSA to which I was appointed over four years ago had a lot going for it and much to be proud of in its recent and longer distant history. But the Trustees and senior staff had also identified some major challenges which needed to be addressed, such as the external profile, image and impact of the RSA, and low levels of Fellowship engagement.
It is tedious and self-serving to go through the progress we have made on these fronts (and anyway I am hardly the most objective witness). But even as we have seen the RSA brand spread globally through RSA Animate or our influence grow through nationally respected research projects, conferences and engagement with senior politicians, and even as we have seen higher than ever levels of fellow engagement through channels like RSA Catalyst and our regional, local and issue based networks, I have found a big question nagging away at me: ‘There may be good progress on many fronts but where does it all end up?’.
By this I mean; ‘how do the key developments and functions in the Society cohere into a secure foundation for the RSA’s next stage of development?’ Or to put it (yet) another way; ‘we may have a new strapline – 21st century enlightenment – and many successful aspects to our work but how does that translate into a story about the organisation as a whole?’
Of course, I wouldn’t be asking the question if I didn’t think I was nearing an answer. Here it is:
The model captures the unique (and I really think it is unique) way in which the modern RSA seeks to deliver its historic mission of innovation for the benefit of society.
The ideas and influence cog is about how we bring the most exciting ideas in the world into the RSA and how we use our brand, reputation and networks to get our ideas noticed by everyone from cabinet ministers to budding social entrepreneurs.
The research and development cog is about how we develop, refine, test and roll out our own ideas about how best to enhance human capability (with a particular focus on the capabilities of the least advantaged).
The Fellowship activities cog is about how RSA Fellows are themselves a powerful source of ideas and a motor of change in both society and The Society.
Although perhaps seeming outdated in its mechanical overtones, the metaphor is intended to imply that each cog must be turning in its own right and that, as it does so, it should be helping to turn the other cogs. If I was better at PowerPoint art I would also have sparks flying out the machine which would symbolise the things the RSA helps to create which then spin out into the wider world (everything from the Great Exhibition to Tomorrow’s Company to the RSA Academy).
As I listened to some fascinating debates in our Fellowship Council yesterday I could hear many Council members describing aspects of this model.
There is further to go – much further in some areas – before all the cogs are turning as fast as we want and each is connecting as well as it could with the others. It is, for example, vital that we build swiftly on the early success of Catalyst to create a strong set of expectations about how groups of Fellows are encouraged and supported to develop their own projects. Also there are important aspects of the RSA – like 8 John Adam Street - which impact on different cogs in different ways. But this, it seems to me, is a powerful way of thinking about the RSA; what makes it special and what gives it such incredible potential for the future.