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  • Mainly about engagement and collaboration using social media and events, with some asides on living in London. More about David Wilcox and also how the blog started.
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    http://partnerships.typepad.com/civic/

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Great to read how social media is augmenting (which is its beauty) the RSA's core values and operations :-)

re: community framework - needed, but are much looser, transitory and fluid nowadays (at least online). Doesn't mean they are less important or effective as you've already discussed.

Check out Matt Locke's seven spaces to add a different flavour to the discussion:

(Blog is down at time of posting: http://www.test.org.uk/)

Be interesting to see how it develops...

Thanks DK. You can register for the RSA Networks site, and find discussion about membership here and site development here. Thanks for the link.

Hi David, thanks for your thoughtful post. I suppose my starting point is to be sceptical about your assertion that civic innovation cannot take place behind a login. I think there are loads of projects and initiatives which are led and enabled within 'bounded spaces' - e.g by employees of organistions like charities, consultancies,agencies. People inside those organisations collaborate across the boundary with partners - groups and individuals in society - to make change happen. In doing so, knowledge is shared. I feel when you link 'goodies' and 'selling membership services' to decisions around openness, you are suggesting that the notion of boundaries and community only arises through financial self interest. However, there are many good reasons for limiting access in certain situations, just as there are reasons for open access in others. In the case of RSA, I do not think it is automatically bad and wrong that other Fellows are the first port of call for anyone trying to initiate an RSA-supported project.

I think your point about finding community and potential working partners on the web, is an interesting one. I think the reason you can do this is that you are a very active and articulate blogger, and you find others who are the same, and of course it's a great way to connect. But those who find this way of working effective sometimes discount the experience of others, like me, and the vast majority of people working in organisations, and I hazard, many fellows of RSA, who do not spend much time online. We will not find our way into the blogging establishment, we don't blog often enough to be credible. We need different, fast, efficient ways of establishing common ground. One immediate point of common interest is that we've all agreed to join RSA and pay a fee in support of an organisation we value. That for me suggests a level of commitment that puts me in a good frame of mind to meet and greet someone who wants to join my project. If you have to keep asking yourself 'why am I paying to belong here?' then different (free, open) ways of building community are likely to be attractive. But walled gardens can be extraordinarily beautiful places...
With all good wishes, Fiona

Hi Fiona - thanks so much for re-joining our RSA bar conversation here.
I agree that loads of very worthwhile projects are developed within bounded spaces - but then, as you say, the initiators have to collaborate across boundaries with partners to make (innovative) change happen in "civic" space.
My point is that any online systems, developed to support this collaboration, should work both for the initiators and the later partners. If the initiators have a system where only they can work together, they are going to have to set up another system to work with their partners - or forgo the benefits of online tools.
Hence my assertion that you can't do civic innovation behind an (organisational) login. You can initiate, but you can't collaborate.
In practice it isn't an either-or choice. RSA could configure the RSA Networks system so that project leaders can choose whether/when they go public with their projects, and when/whether to invite others in. Technically it is possible to configure lots of different accesses and privileges.
If you are developing a project without benefit of an RSA Networks system, you can set up on something like Central Desktop (and there are many others) to give the project team private space for day-to-day development and relationship-building, and different levels of access for other actities. It's just the equivalent of deciding who you invite to what meeting, who you cc in your emails.
The issue for me is that any system should be fit for its purpose. Problems arise if systems for innovative project development - like RSA Networks - get tucked into systems designed for other member-only processes. To me it's a bit like saying to collaborators "I'm sorry I have to leave you in the corridor while I go and talk to my friends behind closed doors. When we've done, I'll come out and tell you what we have decided". That's fine at the start of a project, but not further down the line.
In order to decide what system to set up, and how to configure it, you need first to work through the sort of processes you want to support online and who will be involved. You need a business-innovation model. Then you can either build your own system - as with RSA Networks - or configure a general-purpose system (like Central Desktop) to meet your needs. I think the next step for RSA Networks - before making technical decisions - is to do that modelling work by developing some project scenarios and working through the storylines for different participants.
On the question of working online, I agree of course that there's a big difference for those who do it day-to-day and those who don't ... just as some online enthusiasts may have difficulties in face-to-face meetings! I think that for collaborative working we all need to get better at blending different media.
However, after the brilliant November 22 open space event the RSA chose to make the online RSA Networks space the main framework and system for project development. Fellows can choose to meet face-to-face (and phone each other); there are facilities on the system to support events. In practice people are spread around the country, and it is difficult to get together. That's why online systems are so useful. Being another Fellow may help start the relationship with a project collaborator - as you suggest - but you still need somewhere to meet, for real or virtually, to take things forward. Yes, a walled garden is a great place to start that relationship, but you then have to venture out to meet and work with other partners. Why leave all your gardening-working tools behind?
I think these issues confront all organisations trying to work collaborative with others, and pose particular challenges for membership organisations - and that's why we are promoting the membership project to explore and learn. It's great that RSA is prepared both to innovate through RSA Networks, and share learning through the membership project. The great strength of RSA is that it has among its Fellowship an extraordinary range of talents to bring to bear on these issues. I think the next step for RSA - and any other organisation - is to create good online-offline spaces in which staff and members can together work through the issues and practical implications before making decisions on the architecture of technical systems.

Thanks David, yes I agree with much of what you say, particularly the necessity of deciding on a business model for project initiation and development before making technical decisions. And you are opening my mind to the range of technological solutions available. I suppose what's coming out for me is the difference between the initiation and management phases of a project, and their 'relational' implications. To extend our gardening analogy, I see RSA networks as a greenhouse for tender young seedling projects before they get planted out into the harsher but more roomy outside world. This is how I see the value of bounded space, to talk about things with other like minded, trusted individuals, and I don't feel I need or want the world and his wife to be able to come in when I don't know who they are or what their intentions might be. But I agree, once you have partners you need a way of supporting communication, exchange and wider reach. It's great to know that technical solutions are available to support this.

The only bit that I found difficult in your post was the bit about leaving people in the corridor while you go inside to chat with your mates. I can't see how this would happen, unless you STARTED a project with the assumption that anyone could join - RSA or not, and then had to use ONLY RSA restricted software to initiate the project, thereby excluding some of your original partners. I think if I wanted to gather people together for a project and it didn't matter whether they were RSA or not, I wouldn't bother to do it through RSA. But I feel that there is something enjoyable and meaningful about committing to do something under the auspices of an organisation that I value and which carries its own weight and presence in the world. If I was desperate to include one of my non-RSA mates in an RSA supported project, I'd ask them to become a Fellow! For me, the 'we' starts as an RSA 'we' and it extends from that core to embrace partners and collaborators in the wider world.

Couple of quick thoughts on this interesting debate.

There is merit in being able to chew over half formed ideas in relative private. But on the other hand it may be more productive to be open from the start. Could the choice be laft to the initiator (like publishing GoogleDocs is for instance)? There may be more than one "gateway" at which to make this choice, eg I suggested a three step process; the decision will be influenced by for instance "do we have the expertise and funding we need?".

The other aspect that might prove thorny occasionally is intellectual property, for all sorts of reasons. For instance some innovative "open" thinking may be approapriated by someone for private gain.

Thanks Fiona - I think we are in agreement if we pick up on your staging distinctions. RSA projects start with RSA member i.e. Fellow (and maybe staff) discussions, and then, where appropriate, move to wider engagement with partners.
The question then is whether RSA aims to provide an online system that will support projects beyond initiation.
1. If initiation-only, then the system can be behind a Fellows-only login integrated with the rest of the site, and Fellows and their partners will have to find their own ways of collaborating online if they wish to during development.
2. If initiation and development, then the system needs a more sophisticated access and permissions otpions and probably more tools to accommodate partners and collaborative working.
The danger lies in falling between the two - creating a system that is quite costly and complicated for project initiation, yet doesn't provide as good a solution for collaborative working as off-the-shelf solutions.
I don't think a technical choice is possible until there is - as you say - a business model for project development. Is that a project:-)?

Peter - I agree with leaving open-closed, public-private decsions with the project initiator, and as you say Google and other free or low-cost off-the-shelf tools provide these options.
There are indeed risks with intellectual property on going open, but see what was said last year at a NESTA event about the benefits. Again, it is an issue of the business model, not the technology.
If RSA were to follow the NESTA philosophy in promoting open, collaborative innovation it raises the question of whether it is worth spending money on designing a new multi-partner online systems for RSA Networks, or looking at bundling together existing tools. Then the RSA Networks site could be integrated into the existing site behind a Fellows-only login, with emphasis on creating a friendly place within the walled garden for finding services, raising issues, and flying project idea. Maybe that was always the idea ... and if so, fine provided it is explicit. I've alerted people within the RSA Networks site to our discussion, so hope they'll join in with some clarifications - or maybe just some questions. It is a learning process for all of us.

Oh, just a few small points. I'm signed up to the RSA network but am not a fellow. I found a common cause with two projects - one of them David's. But even though I am online a lot, blog sporadically, and understand this 'software reality', I find the RSA site lacking in its design. For example, there is no overview of projects, and following the thread of an exchange (even one I'm in) is confusing at first.

I'm all for Open Source, but the understanding of it is sometimes difficult for those outside those that understand it. If the hub only has a label, but isn't understandable without passage through a set of 'rituals' (eg posting, designing, uploading...), then it may as well not exist. Even if what I do is connected to it.

I may have lost the thread!

Carl ... I think this is picking up another face to face conversation, with you rather than Fiona. Thanks. As you say, the RSA Networks site does need improvement; to be fair, it is a prototype. Equally important is the other issue ... that of going with the grain of project-conversation development, which shouldn't be "ritualised". The challenge seems to be on the one hand recognising the need for some sort of framework, loose business model for the way that projects may develop, but on the other allowing for flexibility. That's where one needs good facilitators like you:-)

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