The venerable Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (est 1754) has a good chance of becoming one of the few membership bodies that combines a great range of face-to-face events and lectures with sociability and knowledge-sharing online, harnessing both to make-a-difference external projects.
Last week's RSA seminar about the social impact of the web - reported by Robin Hamman, Simon Dickson, Andrew Brown - was interesting in its own right. Just as interesting for me was confirmation from chief executive Matthew Taylor that the RSA is launching a major programme to network the 26,000 members (known as Fellows), as I trailed last year.
The head of marketing and communication, Susan Butler, is leading an exploration into how best to do this, including a major event in October when the whole of the RSA HQ will be used by staff, Fellows and well-wishers for creative sessions to help design what's appropriate.
I believe my friend Steve Moore, at Policy Unplugged, is involved, so I'm confident it will be fun and productive. I met Susan for a chat and enthused about the scope for using workshop games to play through possible online systems, as described here.
However, what really made me feel it could all be rather special was the number of smart online people I met at the seminar who were saying ... the RSA seems to be an interesting place .... I was thinking of joining up. That's in addition to those who are already Fellows. Subscriptions are fairly modest at £135 a year.
If Matthew, Susan and others involved are prepared to make this a fairly open process, drawing on expertise of current and new Fellows, the RSA could fulfil its promise of becoming a real collective-intelligence think tank.
I do have one slight reservation. As I understand it, at present the aim is to network the Fellows somewhat independently of the staff. That's probably with the best of intentions, so we feel some independence from the institution, and ability to develop new ideas and projects. However, I think that assumption - if correct - should be reviewed. Instead of an old-style staff-volunteers-members mentality, how about thinking of the RSA - and its wider relationships - as one big system of knowledge and creativity, within which people can mix and match around their interests and activities. Matthew's Blog is called "The view from the 4th floor ..." while Fellows are most frequently found socialising or studying in the bar and library in the basement. I think it's time we all met up in the same space.