David Wilcox's comments

Re-convening in Commonspace

March 13th, 2009

Thanks Megan ... it feels as if there are now more people interested in membership, social media and related issues than a year ago ... so we should have fun! I'm looking forward to connecting with your research work. The image is from a flower and seems to be about ... well, maybe that's to discuss!


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members vs volunteers

May 6th, 2008

Tessy - thanks. You are getting to the heart of the matter, as I see it. What are the terms of engagement that RSA/Fellows will offer to non-Fellows when they develop civic innovation projects outside the confines of the RSA. Projects must all reach that external stage if they are for social, not just RSA benefit, and are inclusive/engaging not just "done to people".

I agree of course that RSA staff and Fellows may want to develop ideas, and recruit others to an extent in private in the early stages ... though with the caveat that:

  • not invent here is the biggest stumbling block to subsequent engagement
  • it is easy to be presumptuous of people's needs if the beneficiaries (i.e. non-RSA people in this case) are not involved early in project design

Supposing a project idea has been developed within RSA to the point that Fellows wish to engage others. What's the proposition? What skills, resources, support will be available from Fellows and staff that are not available elsewhere? And what are the conditions?

I agree people may wish to join RSA if they see it as a vibrant and supportive place ... but should it be a condition of project support? I think that would be very divisive. It is marketing and recruitment, not civic innovation, and I think people would sniff that very quickly.

What's needed, in my view, is some serious "paper prototyping" of project processes, followed by real testing. I argued unsuccessfully for that within RSA, but didn't get anywhere ... which was one reason for leaving! I just couldn't see how RSA Networks would actually work in practice.

Behind all this are, I believe, profound issues of what's the best way to undertake social innovation. After working in community engagement, civic partnerships, social media etc as a consultant for many years I've come to the view that open, collaborative processes are best. I don't think you can trust well-resourced, well-meaning groups of people (aided by consultants) to avoid being presumptous about what "they" need, and then ending up doing things to them, for them, rather than with them.

I know this absolutely is not what RSA staff and Fellows have in mind. But unless the issues are worked through, as well as talked about, it is an easy position to slip into. The first issue for any power holder to address, I think, is "who is this for - and how much involvement will we offer". By definition civic innovation is for people mainly outside RSA, and those wider interests should play a big part in project design and development. If that principle is agreed, then it is important to design back from the external terms of engagement, not just forward from institutional interest.

Thanks again Tessy for promoting this discussion in the open. Although we are discussing RSA as an example - because it is in the lead - the issues apply to any organisation aiming to do good stuff with new stuff.

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members vs volunteers

May 4th, 2008

Tessy - I agree that the RSA Networks vision is really interesting: being a member (Fellow) who gets internal benefits, and who also volunteers to work outside the organisation for wider social benefit. The challenge for RSA Networks - as I see it - is  how to provide an infrastructure that supports internal benefits, and also the external work. The problem is that a lot of the off the shelf/traditional systems for support focus on the internal benefits - including web systems within a login. It means that they can only support the Fellow/volunteers ... not those they are working with.

If you shift the focus, and ask what support would be necessary for successful projects where those involved are a mix of Fellows and others in the wider community,  it become more tricky on the communications front. The options seem to me:

  1. Only support Fellows - but end up with two classes of people on projects: supported Fellows and those unsupported (by RSA)
  2. Open the RSA support systems to those involved in projects who are not Fellows - but risk other Fellows complaining about "dilution" of Fellowship, and increasing demands for system features
  3. Create a support system specifically for RSA Networks projects - but then find difficulties in linkage to other Fellowship-support systems
  4. Help Fellows to create their own communications and other tools necessary for projects

These complications are boundary issues: as soon as someone is a member, others are not members.  I'm not involve in RSA Networks these days, but as I understand it they are going for 1 plus maybe some 2. I think that for projects to work well it may be necessary to add sopme 4.

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Leadership .... anyone?

April 24th, 2008

This is interesting stuff, and we need a framework for thinking about the nature of different relationships. Fascinating cross-overs. Some brands command strong affinity - e.g. Apple "customers" feel more like a club and community. Some organisations just treat members as consumer/subscribers.

I'm particularly interested in what attitude organisations have in making their "offer". Is it marketing or engagement? 

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Leadership .... anyone?

April 22nd, 2008

Tessy - your reflection on the role of organisational leaders, and members, chimes with some of the issues raised at today's NCVO membership conference. One strand was about the need to make clear offers of services in marketing to members ... but another was on mutuality of relationship. Marriage was used as a metaphor by one speaker. We also talked about membership as a "badge of honour" and the increasing potential for members to network with each other, with little or limited support from the centre. That suggests members will need to reflect upon their responsibilities and commitment to each other.

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