I was even later leaving work than usual on Friday as we were entertaining a group of academics and leaders from the world of culture and heritage. The Re-enlightenment project had just spent two very fruitful days debating and planning at the British Museum. As they sipped fine wine and munched the RSA’s excellent canapés, the group was kind enough not only to listen to me talking about 21st century enlightenment but to greet the ideas warmly.
A particular area of interest was how institutions must change to respond to new challenges and opportunities. I talked about organisational alignment and how the RSA has tried to make new thinking and practice around human capability central to both our events programme and our research projects. But the most difficult and rewarding change has been in the culture of Fellowship.
After all, how could we talk about tapping into the ‘hidden wealth’ of society if we weren’t even making the most of the incredible wealth of talent and commitment in Fellowship?
The journey of Fellowship engagement has not been easy and is far from complete. But there are times on a long uphill climb when it is important to sit down and look back at how far we’ve come. The recent Fellowship survey which showed high level of satisfaction with the Society and its direction was a good sign, but approval isn’t the same as engagement. Here are three things which really make me feel we’ve reached higher ground:
The recently published summer RSA Journal features a new and exciting way of presenting Fellows’ projects. Instead of simply having a couple of pages for Fellow activities, as used to be the case, the Journal has included relevant examples of Fellow networks in the body of larger articles. In pieces on social enterprise, cities and corporate responsibility there are panels describing the ways Fellows are working with other Fellows on these topics. This bringing together of the role of the RSA as a platform for ideas and a network of civic entrepreneurs is a brilliant illustration of why the RSA is so special and full of potential.
Today we had a cross cutting meeting here at John Adam Street exploring all the different strands of work we do around what is sometimes called ‘place shaping’, basically the process by which local leaders and active citizens develop and act on shared aspirations for their locality. Many of our projects – ranging from network analysis to social enterprise to public service modernisation - relate to place shaping. The meeting was designed to start bringing these different elements together into a single offer. For this post the relevant moment was when it became clear that it is the activities and prompting of local FRSAs which are increasingly the spur for local agencies to contact John Adam Street. Indeed, I am speaking at place shaping events organised by Fellows in Stoke and in Leicester in the coming few weeks. So, this is a good example of synergy (sorry I hate that word but it’s gone eight and I’m desperate to leave work while it’s still light) between RSA Projects and RSA Fellowship
Finally, I also heard last week that the Boden Group, FRSAs Phil Shepherd, Tim Martin and Nick Brace, all based in Somerset will receive £20,000 from Arts Council England to extend their research and develop a practical pilot programme exploring links between arts, community development and education. The Boden Group was an early winner of a Catalyst award (of just £1,000) and this is now the third case in recent times of a Fellows’ projects which has got a small amount of pump priming investment and support and then gone on to raise much more substantial funding. This is a great example of the Fellowship department helping Fellows themselves carry forward the RSA’s charitable mission.
‘Much done, much still to do’ as the old saying has it. The RSA has always been a great mixture of different ways of working but it’s when they start to overlap and reinforce each other that we really take off.
Recently I got into the habit of making up a new joke for every blog post. But when I stopped last week I only got one complaint. I can take a hint. So I’m not even going to ask you what you get when you let the devil run the national grid…
Jane Langely FRSA
Jane Langely FRSA launched 'Blue Patch' in 2014. It is a selective ethical marketplace for sustainable, local and heritage products including furniture, clothing, gifts, beauty and services such as ethical banks and sustainable printers. This March, it is coming to the Whitworth museum in Manchester!