Tag Archives: rsa

Blogging bosses

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the RSA writes a fine blog, with even-handed political commentary drawing on his experience at No 10, conversations with thought-leaders platforming at RSA events, RSA projects and internal development. But like all bloggers, there are moments of self doubt. Early on it was reference to Mum as Matthew’s only reader. Now there’s a (notional) blow to self-esteem when one of the directors of Matthew’s old haunt IPPR says ‘we all have a good laugh about your blog  – it’s all me, me, me’. In a comment I point Matthew to a far more self-regarding blog by ACEVO CEO Stephen Bubb. Even though I get the link wrong Rob Greenland alerts us to a brilliant parody Bogg’s Blubb - ‘life of the head of the umbella body for umbrellas’. Matthew is entranced. Blogging bosses are firmly established on he third sector. Any more fakes?

Common Purpose: the perils of being closed

Some years back I went on a course run by Common Purpose, during which over a year a group of us made visits to schools, prisons, newspaper offices and the like, and took part in discussions all in the pursuit of civil leadership.
It was pleasant enough, and a chance to meet people from different sectors and professions, but I was never clear quite how we became “leaders” (or that I wanted to).
The Common Purpose founder Julia Middleton evidently had strong views on how things should be done, so it definitely wasn’t in my experience a very bottom-up sort of organisation. There was an online system which Common Purpose “graduates” were occasionally exhorted to use, but it was (and is) very Web 1.0 and behind a login.
Back in 2004 I did have some discussion with staff about how blogging might be useful as part of their communications and work with groups … but the open style didn’t appeal. I said I couldn’t see how you could develop innovative projects for public benefit unless you were prepared to engage publicly, and wrote Effective civil leadership won’t develop behind a login.
Last year the then manager of the online network contacted me and others to say the organisation was being targeted by critical bloggers, and accused of being a secret society promoting a whole range of evils. What should they do? My advice was simple – open up, start blogging back. Encourage your staff and graduates to do so. Still didn’t appeal. (see correction at the end of his post)
I’ve just received a note from Common Purpose alerting me to a programme tonight on Radio 5 live (podcast here), with an accompanying article on the BBC site, quoting former naval officer Brian Gerrish, who leads a campaign against Common Purpose:

It’s a secret society for careerists. The key point is that the networking is done out of sight of the general public.
If you actually look at the documented evidence as to what Common Purpose is doing, they are clearly not just a training provider. They are operating a highly political agenda, which is to create new chosen leaders in society.

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Rethinking RSA networks, playfully

About 30 RSA Fellows and friends enjoyed an afternoon last week playing – very constructively – with Lego and plasticine under the guidance of David Gauntlett, Professor of Media and Communications at the University of Westminster. I’ve written before about David’s metaphorical modelling, and this time we were discussing the future of RSA networks and other activities. Excellent reports from Mike Amos-Simpson, Leon Cych and Tessy Britton.

Clay Shirky: nonprofits must become new-style convenors – or lose their members

Clay Shirky really pins down what any organisation relying on members or supporters for its life must do if it is to stay in business as people increasing network online. That means change for campaigning charities, trade associations, and membership bodies who may have worked in the past through a mix of newsletters, events and perhaps not very special services. If they don’t offer more value, members and supporters will stop paying their subs. I’ve suggested this before, Clay says it much better.

Clay is currently promoting the paperback edition of Here Comes Everybody, which he sums up as “Group action just got easier”. It’s all about how people can use the Internet to organise without organisations, as he explained in an extensively covered presentation at LSE last week. Further examples here.

Amy Sample Ward interviewed Clay on a topic close to her heart: what impact will social media have on nonprofits … those charities, memberships bodies etc.

In the video Clay tells the story of a campaigning organisation – the American Civil Liberties Union – that tried to stop members using the organisation’s name when arranging get-togethers through meetup.org. They were saying, in effect, you may have shared values and concerns, but you can’t organise around them using our name. The story has negative and positive aspects.

The negative aspect is that organisations must accept that their members can link a brand and their cause and use tools like meetup.org to get together face-to-face, and then Facebook, Twitter and other online tools to keep connecting. Or vice-versa: connect online, then meet.

The positive aspect is that smart organisations can realise what’s happening, and revise the offer that they make to members and supporters to add more value than DIY networking can offer.

The old model, as explained by Clay is that organisations would offer a one-way relationship: sending out a newsletter, for example. Then they might offer a return channel – give us feedback.

However, these days members and supporters are able to communicate laterally with each other. I’ve previously used this diagram to illustrate typical arrangements – hierarchies, clusters, and networks – with different propositions: join us, join up, join in.

Here’s how Clay puts it. He says that the old model is – we call you a member, and you give us money, and we will give you a newsletter. It’s a outbound model, with the organisation at the centre like a star, broadcasting light to its members.

However, in the age of social media people have got used to being able to talk back, so the model is updated to allow a return track.

But the line back is much less radical, and represents a much less dramatic shift than the lateral lines, the lines drawn between members that are in a way using the idea of (the organisation) as a platform for co-ordination but don’t need help or permission from (the organisation) to come together.

The biggest determinant for the role of the nonprofit is what do you do about those lateral lines.

The negative thing is, if your principal role is to stop those lateral lines from forming you’ve got a wasting asset, because your membership base will start to move away – because things that they expect in a room will be in every other aspect of their lives.

The positive goal, says Clay, is to help work out which of those lateral connections will be most useful to the organisation, to the cause and to each other at particular times and in particular circumstances … because we don’t want to be connected at all times to everyone. We don’t want to be on a mailing list of 100,000 people getting everything.

What organisations can do is to help their members with particular interests, in particular locations, find each other and get together.

Having some sense that you all care about the issue – you all share something in common, whether it is geography or outlook or skills – and only we as an organisation can see into both of those kinds of values …

… that I think is the really radical convening function. Not just passive convening – use your membership in Greenpeace as a dating network for like-minded individuals – anyone can spin off that idea.

It’s really when a nonprofit can say we think you will find value from associating with these particular groups at this particular time.

But it requires a really dramatic shift …. and saying actually, in the same ways as we talk about the members of the body, we are made up of you, not just made up of your money and our executive committee, we are made up of you, the members, as our existence.

You then start to figure out ways to coordinate the members in ways to create the kind of value that we couldn’t have gotten to in the 20th century … but is now becoming not just available, but cheap, trival and expected by people.

I think Clay’s great strength as a writer and presenter is to link his analysis of the changes that the Internet and social media is bringing, with short, compelling examples. He tells stories we can identify with, and starts the conversations that we need to have.

I became interested in the potentially changing role of membership organisations a couple of years ago, and with Simon Berry started the Membership Project, but we lost momentum last year after some initial work with RSA and NCVO. It now looks as if the research side of the project will be relaunched, and I’m hoping to link up with some parallel practical work on what membership organisations can do to explore their new convening roles.

The RSA networks project has been a rich source of inspiration on these issues, as you can see from various posts here and here. Next week there’s a workshop, hosted at the University of Westminster, to explore where next for RSA-related networking. I’m sure we’ll be touching on the issues Clay has raised. There are a few tickets available here, and online discussion here.

See also from Designing for Civil Society, and Socialreporter

Could blogging bosses '08 become social artists '09?

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the RSA,  is writing about new progressivism in a series of blog posts this week. I particularly like the suggestion that he makes for greater focus on political ends instead of means, and a shift in the nature of debate. I believe that the 27,000-strong membership of the RSA could be an excellent testbed for the social artistry needed to achieve this. read more »

Social reporters (and anyone else) as social artists

I’ve come away from the Powering a New Future conference in Lisbon with three interlocking reflections on developing the concept and practice of social reporting – and a new conclusion about what it means to be a social reporter.

My conclusion, inspired by Etienne Wenger – above – is that social reporters can aspire to be “social artists” who help create social learning spaces where people can work together on social issues. It’s something anyone can do, with the right attitude and some skills, but I think social reporters should definitely make it a key part of their work. read more »

Tools for collaboration at RSA: blog + Tuttle

Last night the 254-year-old RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce) took another step along the inevitably bumpy road to re-inventing itself as a network of thought leaders and civic innovation activists.
The backstory is here: how Matthew Taylor took over as CEO with a vision to transform an old-style hierarchical organisation by bringing the 27,000 members (Fellows) into the middle of policy and practice, with extensive use of online networking. Big problems in trying to do several things at once: change culture, promote projects for civic innovation, develop new online systems … while also running the main business and creating the best open, free events programme in the UK. read more »

Collaboration needs real pay-offs. Where does tech best fit?

In recent posts I’ve looked at two models for collaborative social innovation: Social Innovation Camp and RSA Networks. In the SI Camp model people pitch project ideas openly, collaborate within newly-formed project teams, then compete against each other. In RSA Networks people pitch ideas, look for collaborators, and may also get some help from RSA staff. Both are, in part, about the use of social technology, but my analysis of them both – compared here – brings home, I hope, that technology is not the key element for success. What’s important is the underlying model for moving from idea to implementation, and reward.

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Can RSA help bridge the social innovation divide?

There’s something of a digital divide emerging in the UK between those who believe that web-enabled social innovation is almost impossible within established nonprofit organisations, because of their management structures, culture and generally low-level of tech skills, and those who believe charities can make the change if they really try. See my item on Social Innovation Camp for illustrations of the “outsider” view.

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A little more on the RSA Journalism Network

The RSA has provided a bit more information on their Journalism Network, started with the Reuters Institute of Journalism . As I wrote earlier it will be developed on an internal RSA site. It aims to “support the civic function of news” but will be focussed, says RSA staff member Rosie Anderson, on working, professional journalists as “a professional sub-culture, a community of practice”. Others who don’t fall into this category – termed “news users” – are encouraged to start their own discussions elsewhere … which I have done on the OpenRSA site.