We are really enthused by the response of Fellows to the email I sent out last week regarding the future of the Fellowship. So for we have received some 500 replies of which all but a tiny handful have been very positive.
Over the coming days and weeks we will be getting back in touch with people but I am using my blog to respond to the most frequently asked questions.
So to start off…
i) What do you mean by civic innovation?
In essence I mean innovation with a civic (pro-social) purpose in which the voluntary efforts of citizens (Fellows) play a crucial role in both the development and application of new thinking.
ii) Will this initiative be nationwide (not just restricted to those who can come regularly to John Adam Street)?
Indeed of the early ideas for Fellows' initiatives and networks we are exploring all are outside London.
Some of the most positive responses we received to the email came from Fellows outside the UK who see online networks in particular as a great way of getting involved from distance.
iii) When is the event here at John Adam Street and what will happen?
November 22, when we be inviting a small number of Fellows (around 260) to join us in the RSA house in London for a day to begin working through the implications and applications of this idea.
However we are already coming to the conclusion that we will need at least one more event and that this should perhaps be outside London.
We will keep you updated as we go forward through our website and this blog.
iv) How do Fellows go about setting up a network?
We will be providing Fellows with new online and offline support to get these off the ground. But the steps to setting up networks will be -
Finding other Fellows interested in your idea, and developing a clear plan of what the network is setting out to do.
Ultimately, the first should be very simple. We are improving the Fellowship database and developing online toolkits to make it as easy as possible for Fellows to contact others in their locality or those who share their experience, enthusiasm or concern.
In the early days it will be a more labour intensive process of us spotting themes and connecting people and using the November 22 event to develop networks.
The bigger challenge, I suspect, is enabling networks to become sites for civic innovation. I have written in past posts about this and about working with Fellows to develop concrete examples of what networks might be about, and what they might seek to achieve is now our top priority.
v) How do we differentiate ourselves from other organisations?
Another big question. Three, different answers.
First, answering the question 'what is the specific value that the RSA network can add?' is an important issue to be addressed as networks evolve.
Second, networks should be enthusiastic about working in partnership with other people and organisations who share our aims.
Third, some networks will end up developing ideas that float away from the RSA as free standing initiatives, as has been the case in the past with, for example, Tomorrows Company and the Campaign for Learning.
vi) How can we make sure our networks are effective?
From the outset we need to say this is about more than enthusiasm. We have had some good ideas from individual fellows but - without seeming rude or churlish - our response has to be that any idea has to pass two tests.
First, it must be something that captures the interest and commitment of other Fellows.
Second, when there is a critical mass of support, ideas must be subject to robust development, asking questions like: what are we trying to achieve, why are we equipped to do this, who else should we be working with, how would we know if we were succeeding, what would we do if we failed, what we do if we succeeded, etc.
As part of the support I mentioned earlier on, we are developing a team here to help Fellows work through these questions and it is vital that the culture of the Fellowship is one that welcomes a challenging and robust examination of all our ideas and initiatives.
vii) How can we maintain the rigour and authority of the RSA while opening it up in this way?
Again, see above.
We have some important resources to bring to the table: our multi-disciplinary make-up, our fierce political independence, our history and reputation.
But these resources will only be fully utilised if the ideas we develop are high quality and the interventions appropriate and effective.
This is not a free for all. It needs to be an action-learning process in which the Fellowship and the RSA are in a continual process of developing, refining and applying high quality ideas.
Thanks again for the amazing response and I hope this discussion will continue, not just with John Adam Street, but increasingly, as you develop ideas and debate challenges, between yourselves.