In my experience, whenever a new local Fellows’ network launches, there is always a mixture of curiosity, enthusiasm and trepidation. Curiosity about who other local Fellows are; enthusiasm for getting involved in the good work the RSA is renowned for; and a trepidation that is only natural when meeting a room full of strangers. Thankfully, the trepidation soon dissipates as the ideas for how to make a difference locally begin to flow and the Fellows leave full of optimism for what the network can achieve.
But that’s the easy bit…
How do you then ensure that initial enthusiasm turns into constructive action? How do you decide which of the ideas to pursue before people stop coming along because nothing’s happening?
While we haven’t quite developed the magic formula, the Networks team has been steadily collating best practice from Fellows’ networks across the UK and internationally. My colleague Vivs has already posted some great tips for how to negotiate your way around some of the pressures and pitfalls that come with setting up a local network. Also, Matthew Mezey has blogged about techniques that could prove useful when trying to get a group to decide what it’s actually going to do.
Instead, I’d like to highlight one example of a relatively new Fellows’ group that’s capitalised on the early momentum and is beginning to develop a realistic plan of action.
Last week, in Banbury, the North Oxfordshire Academy kindly opened its doors to the local Fellows’ network for a meeting about how to develop meaningful partnerships between schools, businesses, community groups and Fellows in the local area.
there comes a point in the life of any idea where it either becomes a reality or gets left by the wayside
There’s still a long way to go before this idea becomes a reality but plans are already well underway for an event to bring all these groups together to co-design what these partnerships will look like, tapping into some of the lessons learnt by the RSA’s Area Based Curriculum project.
It may not sound like much of an achievement yet; and the more superstitious part of me hopes I’m not cursing the group with premature praise. On the other hand, if I told you that a Fellows’ network didn’t even exist in Banbury as recently as this May, then you get a sense how quickly a room full of strangers has forged a path towards having a meaningful impact. There are a few reasons they’ve made such quick progress:
Having a little patience - at the first meetings, it was acknowledged that it would take time to decide the right direction for the group, so they should meet monthly until their purpose became clear;
Being open – during those first few meetings, the time was used to informally share interests, passions, experience, skills and potential resources. Through that process, they found a natural convergence would be an education initiative
Not going it alone – it was clear there was a huge amount of knowledge, experience and expertise among local Fellows. However, they were also quick to acknowledge that ploughing ahead with any project without consulting those who would be involved in it and affected by it (schools, teachers, students) would be setting themselves up to fail.
Rolling up the sleeves – there comes a point in the life of any idea where it either becomes a reality or gets left by the wayside. If no-one volunteers to take a bit of action, it’s easy to get trapped in a cycle of discussion. Thankfully, at the end of September one of the Fellows, Peter Jordan, put his hand up and offered to undertake some reconnaissance with the local schools. The responses he got were hugely encouraging and they’re now working together with two local secondary schools which is a number that will hopefully grow.
As I mentioned earlier, this is only one example of how a group of Fellows have come together as a result of their connection to the RSA and started on a journey towards having a real impact on their area. Each journey has something different to teach us about how to turn ideas into action.
Our next challenge is how best to share those journeys’ successes and failures. I’ll write more about the Banbury group’s progress on this blog, but in the meantime, are there any other ways we could share our methods?
Andy Kirk is Senior Networks Manager – South East, South Central and East of England