Well hello folks, and welcome to the live blog of today's RSA Fellowship Council. Keep refreshing for updates, I'll be sharing all the discussions and activities here in the interests of open governance and general digital engagementyness. All opinions are, of course, strictly my own. Questions and comments? Tweet me on @gandy or e-mail andy[at]sociability.org.uk.
1:15 So, slightly delayed by technical hitches, and we're underway. Nice welcome from David Archer, stand-in chair for today along with Zena Martin, reflecting on our first year of operations and providing a transition from outgoing Chair and Deputy Chair Tessy Britton and Paul Buchanan, to new leadership for the coming year. Lots of new appointments to the council, but rather than mis-spell everyone's names I'll just say "welcome to all of you, nice to have you with us." Big thanks to Michael Devlin too who has done such a stirling job rallying fellowship activities and leading on some key projects with us. Oh, and we have a baby here too.
1:20 More new appointments announced, this time by Lord Best on behalf of the Trustee Board. Vanessa Harrison is joining on the financial side, and lots of encouraging things around fellowship figures, finances and governance. Gosh we've been busy.
1:30 and I've nearly caught up with myself now. David Archer is giving us a pictoral history of the house and discussing some of the limitations of the RSA Great Room, and proposing some changes which the RSA would like to make. The intention is to upgrade some of the technology and equip it for flexible use, rather than the one-use seated format currently. Apparently David says there will be some "virtual stuff" in there too, but the details will have to be left to your fertile imaginations... One staff-member says from the floor that having looked at the Great Room for many years under three separate chairmen, this is the best design we've ever had, and will really be the "jewel in the crown" for the RSA as it moves to a new phase in its history. English Heritage are also happy with the proposals, which in fact will restore the Great Room to be closer to its original design. The Council is being asked for input from fellows into this, and particularly the usage, prior to more detailed plans and costings being developed.
1:35 Comment from the floor that flexible raked seating is needed to enable good sightlines for the hearing impaired, and the flat floor will cause a problem. Response from David that the flexibility is important, but the design challenge is to incorporate these concerns, plus a comment from the floor that the designs should be consistently deliver good sightlines for all speakers. Question about funding: what else has been de-prioritised to pay for this? The response is that this is an income-generating investment to be paid for out of capital, and part would need to be paid for anyway due to maintenance etc. Observations that the new space must meet fellowship needs and commercial needs and should have a good business case. David Archer is particularly interested in the possibilities to open up the space for fellowship meetings, and also open up access virtually to international audiences via streaming and live Twitter feeds, a very exciting time. Also a comment from the floor that this is a great opportunity, only done every 60-70 years, and very exciting.
Just remembered that I forgot to eat lunch. Oops.
1:45 John Elliot now reporting from the Fellows Education Network, co-convened by himself and our favourite fellow Tessy Britton. Becky Francis, Tessy and John had a meeting about creating Fellows Education Forums to draw in a range of fellows, not just those working in education, to discuss education and potentially feed in to a fellows policy forum. Trying to concentrate on the details but all I can think about is my poor missed lunch.
1:47 He's holding up a piece of paper. I think it's the minutes of that meeting.
1:48 Really good progress here, a Fellows Education Forum has been set up in Norwich, East of England and seems to be going nicely, with good local support and "splendid food and drink". Lovely. The East of England RSA Committee was very supportive too, inviting all the fellows. Not sure how many people they had, I'll try to find out.
1:51 Ah, ok. 10 fellows attended the meeting, 14 expressed interest, including some quite important people locally, and notable people in education and pupil-voice organisations.
1:53 Aiming now to identify the community issues and other contextual factors affecting education locally, create links with other organisations, and with the local communities. Next meeting on 3rd November, and aim to share best practice to help other regions set up their own groups. Support from the Chair about the importance of this project and also of connecting to local communities.
1:55 Now we have people dialling in from Chattanooga - oooh! Shifting the agenda round so they can join the conversation at the right point.
I should have had a sandwich.
1:57 Update now from Gerard Darby on one of my favourite projects, the RSA Catalyst fund. A streamlined process has asked fellows six questions about what they want to do and the impact they think they will have, to apply for small grants to kick-start new fellow-led projects. Fellowship council representatives on the assessment panel (Gerard, Charles, Rosie and Charmian) judge partly whether the project is good enough, but also whether money would be the most useful thing, and the intention is that all interesting projects will at least receive in-kind support and advice from the RSA, which is great. (Big thanks to Alex on the RSA staff for his work making this process really work well.
2:01 Hello to Sharon from Chattanooga who has called in on Skype to discuss her project which received funding to support the project to regenerate Alton Park (recently voted the 10th most dangerous neighbourhood in the USA).
2:02 Oooh, we have video! Sharon looks very polite and organised, with a lovely smile. (Why is dental care so much better in America?) The project sounds very interesting, using art in schools to engage kids locally, with many kids involved.
2:04 The Skype video link was short-lived, the sound kept cutting out - but we're soldiering on. Not as bad as last week though, when I got to ask Bill Hicks' brother a question about where he saw Bill's influence in the world, and then Skype denied me the joy of hearing his reply. Frustrating doesn't cover it.
2:05 Now we're seeing some fantastic artwork from the kids, really impressive and it sounds like they really got very engaged in the project. I'm seeing the "RSA Fellows rescue school" headlines now... Opening up to questions next.
Or a bagel.
2:06 Question from the floor: was it community-led and delivered or run via formal educational establishments? The answer, interestingly, is that they were keen to circumvent the council, which are seen as "holding pens" and very mistrusted. They held their own graduation ceremony for this project, which was the only graduation many of these kids will have. They worked with Bethlehem Centre and some churches, but basically the community has been destroyed by crime and social breakdown and there are few institutions and social networks right now to work with.
2:09 Good luck to Sharon, who's leaving us now - sounds like a great project. She very graciously thanked the RSA and the Catalyst Fund, without which there was virtually no way the project could have happened, and also signposted to future projects elsewhere using the same model.
Heather Wilkinson from Breakout Media next...
2:10 Heather has joined us - no video though so can't offer a comparative study of UK-US dentistry I'm afraid. Hi Heather. Her project is helping young ex-offenders and prisoners I think, by offering them meaningful employment opportunities rather than them just being "cheap labour".
Tessy has started reading my live-blog and is now collapsing with giggles next to me...
2:13 Breakout media formed in April 2010 and sought seed-funding, and launched in August. Struggling to hear the details a little bit on this Skype connection, I'll see if I can find a web link with more info... Ah, here you go. More support from Heather for the Catalyst Fund, "it's very difficult to get money for capital equipment for a project like this" - couldn't agree more, great work being done by this fund, really plugging a gap in the social investment market I think. Thanks Heather!
2:18 Now Paul, Chair of RSA Australia and New Zealand is giving us another international update - but this time he's here with us in the room! Thanks for joining us Paul... Lots of interesting things going on over there, starting with formal talks about things like "modern-day slavery" (sounds v interesting...), and major events based on fellows' interests. Now they've moved on to fellowship networking, with the cracking "Big Ideas for Breakfast", a morning networking and discussion meetup, and "Evening Enlightenment" where fellows can share their passions and network around them rather than their day-jobs. Sounds like they're doing a great job over there.
2:20 Fellows there were asked what support they needed, and the result was the "Passion Proposal Progress" fund, similar to Catalyst, which enables fellows to bid for money and also support e.g. connections, promotion, for their projects. It's a similarly small grant level, c. $2000 per project per year, but has funded some interesting projects including an environmental education centre. Lots of passion from the fellowship, but they've decided they need to support fellows in bringing focus and clarity to their projects, so they've started offering visioning workshops too to help people write better PPP applications. Latest application is from an aboriginal reconciliation organisation, which they're all very excited about.
Ooh, I passed a nice-looking sushi place on the way here. Should have grabbed some sashimi to nibble...
2:25 The Catalyst Fund has given out around £22000 so far of the £40000 pot, and they'll be adding an extra £10K from the reserves next year. There's a possibility that next year the Catalyst Fund will also offer follow-up grants to projects of £5000 in addition to the £2000 grants currently, for those that have received funding this year who can show impact. Question from the floor about the international proportionality of the grants, are we going to fund projects internationally in proportion to the size of the fellowship? The answer is that the committee will fund great projects and does not have a quota for the international elements. Comment from the floor that we should target replicability and international successes based on what's working already, but Gerard is sensibly suggesting that we need to take it step-by-step for now. Paul from Australia is keen to emphasise that it needs to be bottom-up and led by fellows.
2:30 Another comment from the floor is that in Scotland the similar Venture Fund has existed for a while too and should be recognised for its excellent work - perhaps we can get an update on that next time... All the links are on the RSA website for people who want to read more about the funds.
2:31 Comment from the floor that RSA Fellows are people with skills and we need to focus on the high skills and connections of the fellowship and prioritise projects that tap into the expertise of the fellowship, which marks us out so much from other societies and organisations. The response from Gerard and others is that RSA Support is very much about that, allowing fellows to give their skills to good fellowship projects - although I think the point is well made. Good point too that RSA Support only has 27 fellows signed up and really needs to be promoted more - another good point I think. It needs more communication and promotion and should be seen as by far the most important and valuable part of the mix. But there has been some good work done to connect fellows to projects via digital channels, and strong emphasis from the staff that the network is vital and they work very hard to leverage the support of the fellowship - but the Council must support this.
I wonder if there will be biscuits in the coffee break...?
2:37 Request from the floor that we develop a framework of criteria for the funding decisions, and particularly focus on sustainability of projects, and how they fit into a broader strategic vision of change for their particular communities. Response from Gerard that we need to avoid putting too many blocks in place though - and I couldn't agree more. But there is definitely an issue of accountability and consistency here, and the point about getting the criteria right and publicly available is important. Sustainability is important of course, and is definitely a key consideration, as is the potential to leverage further funding.
2:39 Question about what happens to failed applications - can they be sent to region reps for support and further consideration?
Awwwww, Vivs Long-Ferguson from the RSA staff has apparently gone upstairs to get me something to snack on. And who says no-one reads these live-blogs?!
2:41 Thanks from Zena to all the contributors. Bob Porrer now reporting on the regions, and begins by acknowledging that we've all been sat here for a long time and should probably have coffee and biscuits. I love you Bob.
Vivs has brought me a pile of biscuits - yay! This is real power you know...
2:43 Bob's talking about trying to assess what the fellows want in the regions, and has had a lot of good responses to the survey of Regional Committee and Panel members. He's reading out some of the points, but I've got biscuits to eat...
Ah, that's better. Thank you Vivs. :-)
2:44 Lots of interesting observations from the fellowship which I won't go into now because I'll get chocolate biscuit all over my keyboard
2:45 Now identifying what this all means in terms of support, and also the Fellowship Council. Next step is to widen the consultation and discuss the points raised with fellows to identify "the key points that need to be dealt with in our review", with a view to writing a skeleton paper about how to address these actions. Careful progress here from the ever-steady Bob and his colleagues.
I really fancy a cup of tea now.
2:47 Someone has astutely pointed out that Scotland is a Nation not a Region. Bob agrees, and apparently this has been recognised. Thank god eh, I was really worried about that one.
Now Tessy is pouring me some water to drink. You get really well looked after doing this live-blogging stuff.
2:48 Coffee break!!!
2:49 Oh, I spoke to soon. Next up are some breakout sessions addressing the following questions and setting ourselves some targets:
- How can we increase the number of Catalyst applications from our region?
- How can we increase the number of fellows registered for RSA Support?
- How can we encourage fellows to pick up successful Catalyst projects and pilot them in other areas?
Someone just called my name and I'm panicking in case I've been naughty
2:51 We're being divided into the groups now, but hopefully we can have some coffee first. They work us hard here you know.
(It's ok, it was another Andy)
Right, 2:52 Coffee Break!!!!!
2:52 (and 10 seconds) no such luck, someone's just asked another question. It's about the importance of our intended review of how projects across the RSA are decided, funded and managed - a vital point actually, so I guess I'll let her off. We did say we'd review the overall RSA approach to projects, and there hasn't been enough communication on that one - but there is some discussion going on behind the scenes as part of the Catalyst discussions. The intention has always been to have a standardised process for fellowship projects, Catalyst projects and RSA staff projects - but they aren't sure if this is entirely possible yet. More discussions needed on this one, but everyone has giant biscuit and teacup shaped lights flashing in their eyes and I think they might riot if we don't all shut up soon.
2:56 More discussion from the staff side emphasising the openness of the discussions but acknowledging the difference in how staff-led projects are conceived and the smaller-scale Catalyst pilot projects - convergence is the aim, but we've only just started the journey. It's definitely not been forgotten though.
The people who had stood up for coffee have now sat down, defeated.
2:58 Some criticisms from Council-members that they feel side-lined from these discussions and are unhappy, and that it is vital to engage the Fellowship Council in this review of projects. We need tea, and quickly.
Ok, right, 2:59 COFFEE BREAK!!!!! (no, I mean it this time)
Half-time update: well, it's been a good clean contest so far, with both sides pretty evenly-matched and some attractive gameplay all round. A few stand-out individual performances too, which is good to see. Difficult to say who's going to win it, but my money's on the Australians.
3:12 Just realised I wasn't listening when my group was called. Bad Andy. Now milling aimlessly.
3:13 My aimless milling has been spotted and I've been placed in my appropriate grouping now.
I think this is a good moment for me to slow down a little and let the caffeine sink in. I'll blog the notes from the London sub-group rather than the discussions - unless anyone says anything particularly hilarious.
3:20 Very lively discussions here, mainly about governance issues and the role of the Council. Zena is bravely trying to make us focus on the three questions, the trooper.
3:21 Michael's brought the baby in. Maybe that will calm everyone down a bit. You can't be annoyed about governance when there's a baby around.
3:22 Awww, the baby's gone now.
3:31 The baby's back, and he's crying. Maybe he's upset about the lack of democratic accountability in the RSA Trustee Board.
3:32 No, I think he's just hungry
Comment from @melanieshearn via Twitter "I think @gandy types fast. Imagine if he'd had lunch first!" I've had quite a lot of coffee now Melanie, who knows what I may say next...
3:37 I've been quiet for too long and my fellow Councillors have been missing my pithy input. All eyes turn to me and I have to say something intelligent to justify my existence.
3:38 Think I got away with that one...
3:40 Good discussions here, well done Zena. Now we're rejoining the collective to report back. I'll try to blog what the various groups say in the feedback round next.
Question from @kmachin via Twitter: "wondering why you're not using coveritlive - this refreshing the page lark is a pain" Good point Karen, I'm new to this live-blogging thing but will look into it. Jemima who normally does this taught me everything I know so you can blame her for my inadequacies...
3:42 Not sure which group this is, but they think communication is an issue for the Catalyst, the Ning is a start but we need to share success stories and communicate better, e.g. via regional meetings and AGM. Also feeling that the Catalyst application form might be off-putting, so can people share their passions and ideas up front informally to get people thinking and spot good projects? Also identifying local needs would be good so fellows can respond. They don't want to put a number on it, but suggested 60 applications as a good target.
3:46 And now the results from the Australian (well, international) jury. Different abroad, much smaller organisations and communities and identifying people's passions first - and can't assume that these passions are transferable, they can be very local.
One comment I missed earlier from @stuarthoneysett via Twitter: "I particularly like that your liveblog is followed by an "All you can eat in London" advert from Google. Targetted marketing FTW" All part of the plan Stuart, I'm making a killing on Adwords.
3:48 The Scots now, the "working core of the RSA". Support is crucial, and so is encouraging sharing best practice and getting fellows to tell their own stories. Personal invitations to join RSA Support is also vital - good point there I think. Person-to-person is always best.
Grrr, internet fail so I lost that last one, can't remember what they said now...
3:51 Leaving that last group trailing in our wake, we're on to London. We need to lead by example with the RSA Support signups, and also we should start a mentors network - and again, a direct ask from a peer is the best way to recruit people. The notion of encouraging projects to be ported to other places is also being questioned: those addressing national needs might work as pilots in multiple locations, but many projects are just locally-specific and should stay that way. We also refused to set targets - yeah, that's how we roll people. Up the revolution.
3:54 More nations and regions banter is followed by some nice thoughts from the next group on returning to the first principles of the society, the promotion of arts, manufacturing and commerce. Also important to ensure local projects flow from the central purposes of the RSA, with clear criteria for selection so people can tell whether they should apply. We should aim for fewer, more relevant applications. We should also be able to tell the difference between an RSA project and projects by other organisations like the Rotary Club etc. Point from the floor: what distinguishes RSA projects is that they involve lots of RSA fellows - but others respond that this is circular and unhelpful. Movement for clearer sense of central, core values steering our work emerging again here, a theme I've heard before.
Fanmail now from @lulabellalondon "@gandy your live-blogging skills are remarkabl....y entertaining! Guardian needs YOU! for the next election." Lucy, you're too kind. Maybe I could get David Dimbleby to bring me a fruit pie next time.
4:00 Some suggestion that people come to the RSA for something different, and we want to define what that difference is. Beats me sir.
4:01 The last group is frustrated at how difficult it is to get fellows to list their expertise, but we still need to try. Also a suggestion that, when doing big projects with the RSA, the best way is to bypass the bureaucracy of the organisation and do it yourself. (This guy's holding up bits of paper too. Must be important.) Also huge praise for one of my idols, Tim Smit, who's just been called "the best fellow of his generation" because of his support of this project.
4:02 The last group just said they agree with everyone else.
4:03 Oh no, actually they've added something: we should have an open database and web platform for fellows to share skills and support each others' projects. Now where have I heard that before...?
4:05 And now the bit I've been waiting for: Zena is thanking the outgoing Chair Tessy Britton and Deputy Chair Paul Buchanan. We've made huge progress on embedding the new Council, the Fellowship Charter, engaging fellows, and reviewing the regions - and huge thanks to Tessy and Paul for their work. Tessy's been given a huge bunch of flowers, which she is very grateful for but also worried about being laughed at on the train home, the shy shrinking violet that she is. Well done particularly to Tessy, who's my favourite RSA Fellow and has genuinely done an amazing job under very difficult circumstances at times, and deserves our full and enthusiastic respect.
4:06 And welcome new Chair Bob Porrer, and Deputy Chair Irene Campbell - congratulations to you both. Bob's opening speech now... Greater synergy is needed between John Adam Street and the Fellowship. Bob and Irene will be focusing on "facilitating productive and co0operative dialogue between all parties", accepting that there has been frustration in the past, and intending to work in an even-handed way to resolve all these issues positively. Fellowship Council needs to be developed to meet the needs of fellows, to enable them to input properly into the organisation - not an easy task, but a noble one I think. They also intend to be more visible at regional meetings, and online - and also to lift the profile of the council via the newsletter, journal and elsewhere. Bob is keen to stress that we need to be realistic about what we can achieve in a year: we're all busy and it's not always possible to progress everything we want, and we must set realistic timescales on group work particularly. But Bob and Irene will work hard to connect fellows, support project groups to continue, embed the charter, and improve the work of the Council. We need a committed Council, but also to recognise that we are all volunteers; we need support from staff and an understanding of the pressures on their time too. Most of all, Bob is keen that the Fellowship Council will look forward, not back, learning from the past but focussing positively on the future. Principles must be debated, and new ways of working must be found, and Bob and Irene are very committed to making this happen.
4:11 Lovely round of applause for Bob and Irene - welcome guys, and good luck.
4:12 Awww, now they're thanking me. They obviously haven't read what I've been writing about them all. Hopefully I'll make it out of the building before they find me out.
4:13 The next meeting will be in January - and preferably not on a Tuesday this time apparently. And in the interests of international co-operation, the next meeting will be held in Chattanooga! You heard it here first folks...
4:14 Close Big thanks to David and Zena for chairing the meeting, lovely work. I'm off to find myself another snack, and possibly an ice cream. Thanks for all your comments, texts, e-mails and tweets, and particularly for the biscuits. A draw was a fair result all round I think, difficult to separate the sides even after extra time. For my part, I hope I have entertained, if not necessarily informed. Until next time...