RSA Networks are not a new initiative, the name may be fairly fresh (and slightly ambiguous) but the idea of Fellows, their colleagues and friends, coming together informally to chat, connect and generally have a good debate has been around from the beginning. William Shipley began his first network in a coffee house and from there the RSA was founded. Now Fellows meet in over 50 locations across the world, some monthly, quarterly and others when they feel the need for company. The whole point of network is to provide an open and accessible environment for individuals to come together.
When I joined the RSA there were several groups doing their own thing, meeting regularly and informally including Newcastle Encounter and the Leicester group. As part of the RSA 250th anniversary we launched the Coffeehouse Challenge and replicated Shipley’s original vision; Fellows coming together over coffee for discourse; the first steps in turning ideas into action. This was a great success but feedback from some was that Coffeehouse Challenges happened infrequently and regular sessions were needed to cultivate relationships, shape themes and generally keep the conversations going. A group of Newark Fellows are still holding Coffeehouse meetings and loathe the word Network and who are we to question their resolve.
The first acknowledged official Network was Manchester; a small group of Fellows and myself met in Manchester. We picked the 2nd Thursday of each month and stuck with it. Occasionally numbers were small and we felt like giving up but due to the commitment from David Dickinson, Stephen Parry, Stephen Forshaw and many others this group now celebrates its 3rd year of running. From this social get-together several projects have been born; collaboration with the Portico Library & Gallery, Media Bus, Salford Bees Collective. Fellows often ask how do you set up a network here are some of my suggestions but please feel free to add your own ingredients to perfect the recipe.
base your Network around a location or a key topic
if monthly is too much think about bi-monthly, quarterly and agree a set of dates to meet
keep it simple, try to reduce bureaucracy and administration, an online registration tool is useful or link to an online social network
the venue is key, I would avoid private rooms, aim for somewhere quiet but with atmosphere, bars in contemporary hotels or arts centres tend to be a good place to start
facilitation should be minimal but introductions can break the ice so try to have one or two hosts, introduce people and respond to questions or concerns
no costs – individuals should purchase their own refreshments
Timings vary but 5 – 7pm or 6pm to 8pm;
encourage an open atmosphere, people can dip in or stay for the duration
I would recommend one key ingredient for any network to be successful would be to keep it open, encourage your colleagues, contacts and friends to join you. This help stimulate the conversation, ensure it remains challenging and refreshing.
Any other suggestions for a successful network? Would you like to see a Fellows’ Network in your area please connect with your Fellowship Networks Manager.