This was the initial About statement for OpenRSA 2007-2009. See also OpenRSA ideas in 2012
The trigger was plans under development by Matthew Taylor, newly-appointed chief executive of the RSA, to re-invent the organisation.
Ian Delaney summarised the challenge in his blog post: (no longer available)
The RSA is the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce. Established 250 years ago, it currently has about 26,500 Fellows. They can attend a very full and well-attended events schedule; they get the letters FRSA after their name; there’s no shortage of applications for its paid membership. Business is booming. And yet there’s a little bit of a problem.
The Society’s problem is that times have changed. Fellows are apparently expressing some degree of disgruntlement that they don’t feel involved with the programme or the Society. While in the past, a programme of well-planned lectures from eminent persons, nice premises on the Strand and a learned journal several times a year seemed satisfactory, that’s no longer enough. Today’s younger members want projects they can join, causes they can work with and more of a say, arguably, in what’s happening at the Society. There’s a feeling of empty hands that want to be filled.
How can the RSA make Fellows feel more involved, develop and encourage projects that engage members at the grass roots level, rather than merely being part of the audience listening to someone from the stage in the Grand Hall of its London HQ?
The group meeting in July was in favour of Matthew’s vision, and felt the process of reinvention would
benefit from direct input from Fellows (the members of the RSA) and
others who might be interested. We were particularly interested in how
to use social media as part of the process, linked with face-to-face
Discussion continued in the OpenRSA Facebook group, where a small group of those involved decided to
organise an open event on October 1 2007, in advance of an event being
planned by Matthew and RSA staff in November. The aim was to help set
the style and agenda from the Fellow’s perspective, and so make a
positive contribution to the process of re-invention. On September 6
2007 Matthew Taylor emailed all 26,500 Fellows confirming his vision,
and saying he would like about 1 percent of them to attend an event at
RSA in November.
You can read the email here.
In essence, our aim is that the RSA becomes a network for civic innovation, empowering both Fellows and staff to develop new initiatives that promote and deliver progress in society. We want to make it easier for any Fellow who wants to get involved to connect with other like-minded Fellows and to develop initiatives that seek to remove barriers to progress, working locally, in professional groups or simply among people who share interests and enthusiasms.
The email arrived just as the OpenRSA group were planning to open their discussions up beyond
Facebook, by creating an email/web discussion forum using a Google groups.
You can join up to it here.
The precise form of OpenRSA will emerge from further discussions.
Here’s how Malcolm Forbes put it in the introduction to the Facebook group:
Welcome to the Open RSA London group. This is a group for all those interested in the RSA, its people, its projects, its aims, its challenges, its vision. This is an open group, anyone can join, not just ‘fellows’ or staff of the RSA, but we would like as many of them as possible to join in.
For starters we would encourage you to post to the For Openers Discussion thread below. This group is exploratory - seeing what value can emerge from the use of social networking software such as Facebook.
We have started as a London group but again you can still be a member if you are not in London. We want to encourage discussion, ideas, action, meetings and linkages to other networks and groups. Maybe other Open RSA groups set up in other areas.
The RSA by the way is the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce and ‘works to remove the barriers to social progress’. Lets see what happens and also have some fun!
The initial group is very conscious that so far discussion has been mainly among people in London, and will be making an effort to contact other RSA Fellows around the country.
We expect new directions for OpenRSA to emerge from discussions at the workshop on February 19 2009.
One of the main interests of those starting OpenRSA is the use of social media, and in particular online tools available to anyone free or at low cost. For that reason we are using Facebook, Google and Wikispaces. We’ll add others as necessary.