In the past two years we have worked closely with RSA Fellows in London to develop fifteen thriving networks. Over three blogs I want to share what we have learnt about developing networks; examine the different models that have emerged; and explore how these networks can become a force for positive social change.
At the core of our world view, The Power to Create, is the idea that everyone should be able to live a creative and fulfilling life. From world changing inventions such as the telephone and lifeboat to our Student Design Award winners, we have always supported great individual achievements. Today our 28,000 global Fellowship includes great thinkers, directors, community organisers, social entrepreneurs and many more who each bring something unique to the RSA.
However, we we are at our best when we harness the collective knowledge, skills and creativity of our Fellows and work collaboratively (find a great example of this here). Over the past two years I've been working with RSA Fellows to build a stronger Fellowship community in London. By developing a framework that enables Fellows to run with an idea and bring others together around shared areas of interest, the platform has been set for a more connected Fellowship, collectively working as a positive force for social change ... but the journey's only just begun.
Building a platform...
In my first few months in this role I took over the leadership of our Social Entrepreneurs’ Network. We managed to run some interesting events, bringing in Fellows to help facilitate small events on Friday mornings, but it was clear that this wasn't a sustainable way to run a network and we weren’t harnessing the skills and expertise of our Fellows. Working closely with Philippa Holland (London Chair) & Anette Thorup (London Councillor) we decided to focus our energies on supporting and enabling Fellows to take the lead on setting up their own networks. Fast forward two years and we now have sixteen active Fellows’ networks coming together to explore a wide range of issues in different ways.
What we've learnt...
Fellows need to take the lead - Supporting enthusiastic and passionate people to lead groups rather than dictating topics and themes has enabled a wide range of groups to emerge. Empowering people to lead rather than expecting Fellows to follow our lead has meant there has been sufficient energy and commitment from the start.
Be open and collaborative - If you start a new network at the RSA then you need to be open to others contributing and putting forward their ideas. It's a good idea to set this tone from the first meeting and call out for others who want to get more involved or have something to contribute. You may also want to reach out to other networks (both within the RSA and beyond) where there is potential to collaborate.
Utilise the expertise within your network – Don’t go it alone!You'll be surprised how many different roles crop up while running a network. Call out for support from within the group, you'll need a whole range of different skills - organisers, planners, social media skills, speakers, a steering group, fresh ideas & different perspectives.
Set a vision / purpose early on – If a group doesn’t have a purpose then people can start to get frustrated and feel like they are going round in circles. Using the first couple of events to find out what other people want to get out of the network and identifying what the group is setting out to do can really help in the early stages. Remember, this isn’t set in stone and can easily be adapted as the network evolves.
Encourage constructive feedback – This is so important. Who better to provide constructive advice on how you can improve than your audience? The most successful networks regularly engage with their members and ask how they can do things better, encouraging people to contribute creative ideas and approaches.
Build an online presence – With most groups holing physical events every 4-8 weeks it can be hard to keep momentum in-between. Developing an online group on platforms such as Facebook and Slack can really help develop a sense of community, help planning for future meetings and bring in new people who can’t make the events in person. You’ll usually find people in your network who have experience in developing online groups. Find them and get them on board!
Be action-focussed – People like progress. One of the most common traits that people want their group to have is to be ‘action focussed’. This doesn’t mean setting out to change the world in a day or that people need to make a major commitment to get involved. There are simple quick wins such as sharing progress with others through RSA Blogs and social media and lots of ways you can facilitate an action orientated approach. Networks have run online brain storms; broken in to small sub groups to work on individual projects; and applied for RSA Catalyst funding to develop a project.
If you’ve been involved any of our networks (or have experience outside the RSA), I’d love to hear your thoughts on how to build successful networks in the comments section below.
You can find details about all our London networks on our website and also search upcoming events. If you would like to join an existing network or have an idea for starting a new one, please get in touch.
In the second part to this blog I will be exploring some of the success stories from the past two years.
Mark Hall is London Regional Manager at the RSA. You can find him on twitter @MarkHallRSA or get in touch via email at firstname.lastname@example.org