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members vs volunteers

May 6th, 2008

Your points about creating projects to 'bestow' on others are very important.  I couldn't agree with you more on that.  A great many RSA projects are research based and these often inform the projects.  Where I think your open/closed argument is most valid is regarding Fellows who are 'social innovators' by profession, and to some degree they are looking for something fairly substantial through Fellowship, including possible financial support.  This could be via a third party.  It seems that this is possibly the area where the Fellow/Non Fellow, open/closed question becomes the most complicated?

Although the Third Sector is growing, I think that the RSA needs to be a bit cautious about opening the online platform widely at these early stages.  If they are valuing all the Fellow's capacities, which I believe they are, they need to ensure that Fellows are invited to participate in a safe space. At a Regional Dinner a couple of weeks ago I met a new Fellow aged 75.  He is an eco activist and farmer whose experience and determination are making him an effective social force.  He was going to get his assistant to talk him through how to use the Network's site.   

I liked how Daniel Taylor described change: "Change happens because of how we invest our human energy, and it always has since we came down from the trees.  Everyone's got a margin of discretionary energy - ten percent, twenty percent - that isn't used up making their way in the world.  That's the energy that's available for social change." 

In my view the RSA needs to inspire and guide those Fellows who want to participate with their 10-20%, but don't know how, as much as it needs to support those Fellows who are leading figures in social innovation.  

 Doesn't this lead back to Laura's point about volunteering time - in the RSA's case giving that time to developing RSA projects, and/or giving time to co-creating social projects 'out there'?

 

 

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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 6th, 2008

That's really interesting. In the research phase we'd like to find out what membership means to organisations (as well as individuals) and it would be interesting to see how much the attitude you described is expressed.

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members vs volunteers

May 4th, 2008

I know that the issue of open and closed access has been one of your major concerns David, and it is a very important issue indeed. I don't feel that I have a determined view of this at this stage, but I most often find myself favouring closed at the current time, purely on the basis that the online platforms are still so new to us all and the transparency is still uncomfortable for many people.

It is also likely that there is a tension within the RSA between benefiting from Fellow's intellectual resources to give real traction to very serious projects.... and ensuring that projects are informed by all the expert help possible both in and out of the Fellowship.

I wonder ultimately it doesn't concern different stages in a project's development and perhaps in that regard your suggestion of more help setting up alternative tools, but linked, is very relevant. The pattern is often to consult within the Fellowship initially and then extend this out using Fellow's external networks as things develop. This seems extremely sensible. Thus new people are drawn into the RSA through their interest in its activity.

What I have questioned on this issue is why someone who was involved in a project working with other RSA Fellows, benefiting from the value of that support resource wouldn't want to become a Fellow if invited/nominated? If part of the benefit of membership includes creating value within the networks this is ultimately going to be very difficult to do outside of that personal commitment?

The Fellows also have to be aware that financial accountability effects these types of decisions. The balance will always be that the subscriptions of the inactive majority will be used to support the active minority and if this increasingly includes non-Fellows this becomes uncomfortable, if not impossible.

Perhaps it is simple a need to create common space for early discussions?

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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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