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RSA networks - some history

Matthew Taylor's vision

The new chief executive of the RSA, Matthew Taylor, set out his vision for the organisation and the role of Fellows in an email to Fellows in 2007.

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.
  • This vision re-iterated in statements in 2009 and 2012. Details here
  • The RSA had received a grant of £100,000 from NESTA in order to develop the RSA networks project, and Fellows were invited to a major event on November 22 which took over the entire House.

November 22 2007 event

Before the event

The OpenRSA blog reports preparation for the event, and the successful co-design proces for developing the RSA networks site undertaken by Andy and Saul with Fellows.

A briefing paper for the event, from RSA staff said:

For the team at the RSA charged with looking after this project, this event is a real opportunity to work with Fellows to understand more about where your passions lie, the level and extent of engagement you are looking for, and how ambitious we as a group want to be.

… and set out the possibility of a radically transformed organisation.

The November 22 event produced enormous energy and enthusiasm, and a set of ideas for further development. There was substantial progress during the next two months.

Unfortunately most of the RSA links from 2007 are now dead, because of redesign of sites.

The original RSA networks site developed by Andy and Saul was also abandoned, and a new team of developers commissioned. That site would also later be abandoned, and an adhoc system of third party Ning sites set up in 2010. These would be used until 2012 when they too were abandoned (check dates). A further development of RSA sites initially promised a new online platform for Fellows, but that did not materialise, and there is currently no generally available system.


A group of Fellows was inspired by Matthew Taylor's vision and set up OpenRSA to support development. However, they argued that if the mission was to be civic innovation - rather than just membership services - then the online system should not be restricted to RSA fellows.

The OpenRSA group ran a workshop on October 1 2007 to develop further ideas

Over the next two years OpenRSA

RSA Networks development and evaluation

The original 2007 vision, funded by NESTA, was for an ambitious collaboration between RSA staff and Fellows enabled by an online platform. The collaboration has evolved in various ways over the past nine years, but the online platform has not.

The initial platform developed by Andy Gibson and Saul Albert was replaced by another system, later abandoned.

In the north east a group of RSA Fellows decided on a do-it-yourself solution, and created the Virtual Coffee House using the system. The site has now gone, but here's a link from the Internet archive

Here's the vision for the Virtual Coffee House in 2008 - pdf vch.pdf

The Virtual Coffee House site led to development of about a dozen Ning-based sites in the regions, and also a central site for RSA Fellowship. That too has gone, but here's a Internet archive link

The only main current facility for RSA Fellows is a closed Linkedin group.

Here's some progress reports and evaluations of RSA networks.

The final evaluation offered principles for networked innovation

  • Start with relationships not transactions
  • Be clear about the invitation
  • People need to be seen and heard
  • Follow exciting leads
  • The online presence is integral to the mission
  • Understand patterns of participation
  • Not every networked idea is a good idea
  • Revel in reflected glory
  • Let networked innovation models change the hierarchy
  • Don’t lose the human touch when going to scale

Principles for managing disruptive change

  • Embrace chaos
  • Co-design change
  • Prototype, incubate, learn
  • Mix mavericks and managers
  • Go beyond staff compliance

Principles here in more detail

OpenRSA 2012

In 2012 OpenRSA considered a new exploration to support strategy discussions, but that wasn't carried through.

Here are some talking points discussed at that time, and blog posts on the RSA Fellowship site

Attitudes of Fellows 2012

A major survey of Fellows was carried out in 2012, and in addition Fellows discussed challenges for the future raised by Matthew Taylor.

Digital engagement group and digital champions

Fellows Digital Engagement Strategy Developed by Dave Briggs and David Wilcox for the new RSA Digital Engagement group

Back to RSA networks and engagement

rsanhistory.txt · Last modified: 2017/05/31 12:53 by admin