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Once in a while, there is a meeting at work which feels really significant. This happened yesterday. The focus was RSA Catalyst our fund to support Fellows’ projects.

Catalyst is going pretty well, certainly beyond our initial expectations. We have a steady flow of between ten and twenty bids per month and as well as grants we are gradually building the FRSA skills bank of people offering to give advice and support.  Projects in eight out of the thirteen UK RSA regions and nations have received awards with the total awarded to Fellows so far (in year one) just less than £35,000.

It is also clear what the priorities are for growing Catalyst, in terms of both quantity and quality. We need to increase FRSA awareness of Catalyst, to emphasise the importance in development and implementation of Fellows working together (rather than a bid just being one person’s bright idea) and to explore how we can encourage bids by issuing challenges to Fellows arising from our own research or from collaborations with other organisations.  

These are important next steps, but the meeting started to feel special when the staff and Fellowship Council members of the Catalyst Board (kindly giving us their valuable time and brainpower) stepped back to look at Catalyst through a wider lens.

This started with a presentation from our own Projects team exploring a whole variety of different innovation platforms. Based on some work we have being doing with a London Council on developing a civic innovation fund, we had compiled a basic typology comprising ‘Incubators’ like Seedcamp, and Sproutbox, ‘Funds and non-financial support platforms’ like UnLtd, Acumen, Social Enterprise Investment Fund, ‘Peer to peer market places’ like Skipso, Zopa and Buzzbank and ‘open innovation platforms’ like Open IDEO and X-Prize. In addition a number of public agencies and local authorities have created their own funds usually targeted on particular services.

Given the clever cutting edge kind of people who read this blog, I’m sure there will be comments suggesting that this typology is wrong or missing something, but the value for the meeting was to think about what might be the defining characteristics of Catalyst, especially if we start to move it more online.

This led us to a second thought which was how the idea and brand of Catalyst could come much more to the heart of our Fellowship operation; having been incubated at the margins of the organisation, could RSA Catalyst come to be the core brand for RSA Fellowship?  

Which then led to a third related thought - that engaging in Catalyst, developing bids, supporting bids (learning from success and failure) could become the most distinctive part of being an RSA Fellow. People would know that joining the RSA carried with it the expectation of supporting the ideas and projects of other Fellows and the opportunity at some time to get support for an idea of your own. This expectation could also be at the heart of how we identify and recruit future Fellows both from the centre and through the mechanism of Fellow get Fellow.

Of course, these are all big issues. We touched on some of them at the last Trustees' meeting and I hope we will start to engage with them at the next Fellowship Council. But the revelation for me was this: while we can learn a great deal from what works (and what doesn’t) with other much more developed and large scale innovation platforms – in terms of process, support, toolkits, technology etc. - we have one thing that few, if any, of these platforms have, the thing which makes the RSA special – the Fellowship.

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