The demand is there, the supply could be too, but for the RSA Fellowship to be all it could we need new skills, a different culture and examples of good practice.
I’ve just come back from 24 hours in and around Birmingham. The trip started with the West Midlands Region AGM held at the RSA Academy in Tipton. I always enjoy my visits to the Academy and the pleasure is even greater after the incredibly impressive results the students achieved in GCSE exams this year. The new school is gradually rising out of the ground and there is a great sense of excitement and ambition about the place.
About twenty five hardy souls turned up for the AGM. I don’t think anyone who has been involved in the region in recent years would say it has had the easiest of times. Difference of strategy and style have led to resignations from the committee, projects have been started and not followed through and it has even been hard to engage the regional Fellowship with the great opportunity offered by the Birmingham Book Festival (supported by the RSA and run by Jonathan Davidson FRSA). The hard work of various committee members has led to a good programme of events but these haven’t generally resulted in further activities.
The remaining members of the committee are aware of these issues and at the AGM presented a vision for the future of the region which was more ambitious and outward looking. But this was delivered and received more in hope than expectation. The idea that the RSA Fellowship can be a positive force for change is accepted, the question is how and with what human and other resources?
Then today, after the happy interlude last night of watching West Brom win at the Hawthorns and enjoying a couple of pints of black country beer, I had really constructive meetings with key people from the Birmingham business community, with the team overseeing the development of the new Birmingham Central Library, and the vice chancellor of a West Midlands university. In all these meetings there was a great appetite to work with the RSA, and genuine enthusiasm for our way of looking at the world and our priorities for action.
So the demand for the RSA to be partners, bringing our values, our expertise and our networks is great. We know as well that we have the talent in the Fellowship to be able to respond to the demand. And we know that our Fellows are the kind of people who are inclined to respond positively when they are asked to do something useful. But yet it is still hard to join the dots.
As I say, this is partly about culture. The idea that we want to empower the Fellowship is still new and most of our Fellows were not asked to join on that basis. It is also about skills. The team here is great and has developed important new ideas, for example the Fellows newsletter, but now we will all need new skills: how to assess emerging projects, to explore what support is needed from the centre, to guide and help Fellows without taking the initiative away from them. And most of all we need examples of what this means in practice: real evidence of the difference the Fellowship can make.
Of the many challenges facing the RSA over the next year or so this is the biggest and the most exciting.