Whilst I don’t for a moment imagine hoards of people having their festivities dampened by anxiety about my writer’s block, perhaps I should explain the longest break in my five-year blogging history. Perhaps I have finally run out of anything new to say, or is age mercifully draining me of the conceited drive to share my humdrum thoughts with the world?
The explanation I choose concerns the RSA. I am loath to fall into management speak but the Society is at the ‘good to great’ crossroads with some hard thinking to do about which direction to follow now. It is this that fills my free thoughts and which I want to share over the next three days. Some may feel it is inappropriate to be this open but, as I recently told a Radio 4 audience, I believe modern organisations ought to behave as though they are operating most of the time in a glass box.
Before going on I should defend the self-serving nature of this dichotomy; is the RSA even good? Let me pick out six developments from the last few years
An important measure of research impact is profile (after all there little point writing something brilliant that no one reads). Over the last few years we have moved from a strike rate for national media coverage of no more than one a year to more like one a month, and we also gets lots more profile in specialist outlets.
Whilst the RSA used to rely largely on its own funds to finance research, not only do we now raise most project funding externally, but we have a wide variety of partnerships with organisations ranging from RBS, to the Technology Strategy Board to the NSPCC and including several local authorities, Trusts and Foundations.
The RSA’s lecture programme is universally recognised as being exceptional and our on-line content, particularly RSAnimate, world-class
Across three dimensions we have a much broader span of projects than ever before and than any other thought leadership body of our size. Our research outputs range from deep conceptual exploration of the foundations of human thought to highly practical research on the needs of young entrepreneurs. Our subject matter stretches from exploring new ways of manufacturing low waste products to mapping the social networks of deprived communities. And our methodology spans traditional desk based research to a trial form of community based rehabilitation funded through a payment by results contract.
There has been a fundamental shift in the way we work with Fellows. Up and down the country, and in the stronger international chapters, RSA Fellows are working together to develop innovative and charitable projects, often benefiting from the support of RSA staff or the Catalyst Fund.
Our ambition continues to grow. In 2011 we recruited a small group of RSA Academies, which is now starting to coalesce into a strong family of schools. This year we have made a small but significant investment in internationalising the RSA’s work. Of the several promising developments resulting our student design awards – the oldest such awards in the world - are being replicated (albeit on a smaller scale) in Malaysia and the US. And this year we completed a significant refurbishment of the building without at any time having to dip into our long-term reserves.
‘So, what is the problem?’ I hear my reader ask. It boils down to two things. Whilst we have many good outputs and some significant impacts (our work on pensions, for example, has definitely shifted the debate) there is still the need for some breakthrough projects that both put the RSA on the map as an organisation which unquestionably shapes policy and public discourse and also raises awareness of us among those who don’t have direct contact with the Society. Second, the different parts of what is an amazing organisation need to meld together better to fulfil our promise to be the ‘the kind of organisation the twenty first century needs’.
The more I think about this the more I come back to the same word; 'Fellowship'. I will explain why in the final post in this series, but tomorrow’s themes are myth and mission.
Al Mathers Anthony Painter
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