RSA Fellowship Council – live blog of sixth meeting

1330: I’m live blogging the RSA Fellowship Council (FC) meeting at RSA House, London, which is about to start. Please keep refreshing the page for updates. 

1332: New chair Bob Porrer welcomes everyone to the meeting (Go Bob!)

He and (new deputy chair) Irene Campbell will aim:

  • for constructive dialogue
  • to meet needs of fellows
  • to improve communications all round, and to ensure FC has more of an impact on policy etc at RSA House.
  • to make the fellowship council more representative, with more elected members
  • to listen to the regions and better understand what they want
  • to set realistic goals
  • to find out new ways of working together, through digital engagement etc.

He hopes the FC will join him in seeking to achieve these aims.

1339: announcement about liveblogging: just so everyone knows meeting is being blogged live.

1340: 2 vacancies on FC due to resignations. As elections are coming up later this year, the general feeling is to leave these positions unfilled for now. The resignations came from 1 elected and 1 co-opted member so the balance (19 elected/ 19 co-opted) still holds. To ensure continuity, it’s proposed that the current elected members be invited to serve an additional year, rather than renew the whole FC in one fell swoop.

We are hoping to move towards a more fully elected FC – the sensible solution at present is that 35 are elected with 5.

Comment: my heart sank when I heard that the elected members had to continue for another year.

Bob: they will be invited to continue, they won’t have to.

Comment: I disagree, I think the elected members should stay on as we need to ensure some continuity from one FC to the next.

Comment: Unless we want complete disruption every year with the whole FC standing for re-election, then the elections will have to be staggered.

Bob: the elections will be held on a regional basis, as last time.

Comment: if there are only 5 co-opted members, won’t this create some kind of co-opted elite?

Comment: the difference between being appointed and being elected is only a fine line.

Comment: In the spirit of openness, we should try and get new blood. That’s why everyone should stand for reelection.

1349: Bob: are we agreed that we should move as soon as possible to a more elected membership (ie: 35 elected/ 5 co-opted)?

Carried unanimously.

1352: Bob: are we agreed that continuity is important (ie: that elections should be staggered and some of existing council members should stay on for an additional year to put this split in place).

2 against/ everyone else for. 

1354: Are we agreed that the existing council members who stay on should be the 19 that were elected? 

2 against/ everyone else for.

1355: If an elected council member doesn’t want to stay on, how do we decide who should fill their shoes (general chat ensues with no decisive outcome for now).

1357: All council members will be aware that there are some genuine concerns about the establishment of the Governance Advisory Group (the unfortunately named, GAG) and these are summarised in two proposed motions put forward by Tessy Britton via email.

While I myself have some concerns about the way the formation of the GAG was agreed at the AGM, and appreciate concerns of Fellows, unfortunately, legal advice sought by the RSA’s CEO is that a resolution passed at the AGM cannot be reneged. If the trustees departed from the wording of the original resolution, they could be subject to legal action by the proposers of the motion. So as it is, we need to go with the resolution as agreed that only elected members of the FC would be allowed to stand for the GAG.

I propose we make a strong reocmmendation to the GAG that one of their first actions be to co-opt some of the co-opted members of the FC. 

[General murmur of agreement]

1403: (Bob) I’ve received quite a few emails in the last few days berating the FC for getting stuck in structural matters and not devoting enough time to general, wider matters of far more genuine concern to the Fellowship. 

[General mutters of “here here”]

1405: comment: I would propose that FC members be considered for the co-opted 3, but the wider fellowship should be considered.

Comment: has the proposer of the original motion (Rudi) being invited?

Comment: as far as balance is concerned, we shouldn’t be asking for some bias in favour of the Fellowship Council.

Comment: as a co-opted member I think it’s right that I shoudl have been excluded from the GAG. It’s very bad democratic process to appoint a bunch of people to then take a vote on how democratic they think they’re going to be. Advisors can be called in but they don’t need to have a vote.

Comment: as another unelected member I do feel that I have a responsibility to talk to fellows about what they want so I have been actively trying to understand and deliver the views of the wider fellowship.

Comment: this view starts from a viewpoint that the elected FC members are better than the non-elected ones.

Comment: there is a presumption of bias and it seems to me that this presumption is justifiable. The bias in the way this group is set up actually reflects the purpose of the group.

Comment: the past is the past. There are 3 more places. It would be wrong of us to give preference to other FC members. If there is some original bias so be it. This group will come up with sensible conclusions and if it doesn’t, it won’t be accepted by the fellowship.

Comment: some of the elected members of the FC weren’t elected because there weren’t elections in their area. While the co-opted members were sometimes 3rd or 4th in their regional vote and the decision to appoint them was made by the nominations council. This really is a false dichotomy.

Comment: an awareness has being created that the whole Fellowship should be considered when it comes to co-opted appointments to the GAG.

Comment: surely the existing GAG members are capable of identifying what skills are missing.

Comment: if anyone knows anyone with particular expertise in their field, please could they let Bob and/ or Matthew know.

 

Matthew Taylor: if we’ve any hope at all of getting any resolutions to this year’s AGM, then the GAG has to work fast. We need recommendations by the time we get to the summer. We’ve a lot of ground to cover in the next four or five months.

Comment: the trouble with putting a call out to potential GAG members to the wider fellowship is going to hold the process up and if we get more than a few who want to stand then we aren’t in a position to hold elections. Also, some members of the wider Fellowship have already put their names forward.

1419: Next up: Irene (new co-chair): We sent out a questionnaire to find out how FC members were feeling about the progress of the FC. Unfortunately we only had 6 responses.

Comment: when was the questionnaire sent out?

Irene: just before Christmas.

<hmmm>

Comment: I’m worried about inconsistency: some working groups have completely disappeared, the RSA road show caused a great discussion, and then completely disappeared. We need more consistency.

Comment: The trustee elections motion was withdrawn after a long discussion on the FC. I think that was a great achievement.

Comment: I don’t find discussion of the structure of the FC very satisfying. Nor the fact that the working groups are doing good work doesn’t mean that the FC as a whole is achieving anything. We don’t want to get stuck up in a kind of organisational hyperchondria. I don’t think we’ve begun to make any kind of impact on the RSA at all.

Comment: I think the one thing the FC has done is create a state of chaos and disruption. The good thing that’s come out of that is that we’re now looking to make the RSA’s governance more democratic.

Comment: lots of people at the RSA and in the fellowship want to change the world. As a result these people are extremely ambitious and extremely impatient. I think we can sometimes be over-ambitious and unrealistic about our goals. I feel very nervous about too much introspection. The best meeting for me was the one back in June where there was a lot of discussion about different initiatives and I was able to go back to fellows and flag up ways in which they could get involved.

Matthew: the trustees under Gerry agreed to the establishment of the FC. I felt I was bringing Fellowship issues to the trustee board that the board was not equipped to deal with. A challenge to the FC is to ask itself are we the activist core of the Fellowship? We have more fellows doing more stuff than ever before, eg: we are getting 20 catalyst bids a month. It’s a challenge. A real challenge. 

David Archer: one thing we have achieved is a Fellowship voice on the trustee board. The emphasis on Fellowship has significantly alterered. We’ve been asked by the trustees to seek FC views on certain matters and vice versa. We have a channel there that wasn’t there before.

1433: Comment: do people have a clear view about the purpose of the FC, and is that a shared view? If we could develop a clear view about our role then we’d have more success.

Comment: Certainly 9 months ago there wasn’t a way for fellows to get their projects funded, now we have Catalyst. Which could be bigger and better but at least it’s out there.

Comment: re Matthew’s point re the activist network, that’s very much while I’m here. And the fellowship spoke with a full voice by not electing me to be on this committee. But we have been mostly focusing on structural and governance issues that have been brought to us. It’s too much about what the FC are doing and not enough about what the fellowship are doing. I don’t want to waste my time talking about bylaws. Let’s do some stuff.

Comment: we don’t have any way of systematically monitoring the change processes that we’re involved in. Do we have a list of the stuff that the FC has done since it’s been established. The FC has had a dramatic impact in terms of it’s relationship with trustees, but not in terms of its releationship with staff. For example, when I was trying to establish a certain initiative, I couldn’t do it without a considerable amount of negotiations with RSA staff. That’s fine. But there doesn’t seen to be any sort of proceedure for FC members wanting to initiate something with RSA staff. We always under estimate the scale of the problem of change. People are always in a tremendous hurry to bring about change. Understanding the underlying problem is not always given enough time. We shouldn’t undersell ourselves.

Irene: we have only been going for 15 months. I think we have had an influence.

Comment: I didn’t think the FC could work. Because the FC was simply another layer of bureaucracy. It was not a constructive move. It was a sidestep. There’s a much better dialogue now. 9 per cent of fellowship voted in the AGM. In my region, I get at least 30 per cent of fellowship there to attend my events. Nothing will change until the FC realises where the problem is, we’re just going to be a talking shop. No body can function successfully when there are split objectives. We are here to encourage arts, manufactures and commerce, to assist the poor. We can’t do everything. We must stop getting diverted.

Comment: the overwhelming feeling within the FC is bottom up: there’s stuff going on out there in the Fellowship and we want to push that up. But we need top down as well. I feel a dissonance between Matthew’s work at a policy level (which I totally support) and what happens on the ground. We are seeing activity being internalised and contributing to that policy role. We need to interpret our mission in a more modern way. This is the place where that should happen.

1446: Irene: what are we collectively and individually doing in our regions?

Comment: FC is about what’s happening out there, being taken in and shared among us. I said in the very early days that we were in danger of becoming a division 2 Trustee group. And I think that in some ways is the case. 

Comment: one of the issues is, what do the fellows out there want? And I think it’s not a lot. I did a survey a few years ago and there’s a fairly high level of apathy.

Comment: I represent the London region, and the three of us London representatives decided we’d try to report back to the London Regional Committee after every meeting. And I’ve been drawn into projects which are being led by fellows and being taken to new places as a direct result of being on the FC.

Comment: I feel the opposite, I was very involved with my local region before I stood for the FC, and now I feel less involved.

Comment: I get very worried when I hear that the role of the FC is to be involved in strategy and policy of the RSA. That is the role of the Trustees. And we must not get diverted. If the trustee board isn’t doing it’s job then we need to let them know.

Comment: I’ve enjoyed the chance to be able to link fellows together in my region: geographically people are very far apart and I’ve enjoyed being able to really help them. I agree, can we leave the strategy and the policy to somebody else, please?

Comment: The trustees recently had one of the richest conversations they’ve ever had on fellowship. There was a great slide with some cogs on it: as each cog turns, then the other cogs should turn. That’s the process we are trying to achieve.

Comment: I wanted to just note that not all the fellowship engagement happens here at the FC and we could maybe have a better relationship with fellows who are actively doing stuff. I keep going back to the social entrepreneurs network and maybe the FC should put more weight behind this. How do we bring in people who are doing interesting stuff and help them be part of this network. Let’s try and amplify.

Comment: I don’t want this council to get deeply involved in RSA strategy but I would actually like to know what that strategy is.

Comment: we as FC members have responsibility to listen to what others are doing and taking that back to the regions to invigorate them.

Comment: I don’t believe that strategy and policy should be left to the top layer. There are many different ways of contributing to strategy and policy and everyone in the organisation should be able to play a part. For example, that’s exactly what the digital engagement working group is trying to do.

150O: Irene: okay, thanks everyone. Now back to Bob.

1502: Bob: now, let’s move on to possible reference to the FC terms of reference.

Comment: why are we no longer going to have co-convention of FC working groups? It’s worked well so far having co-convenors, one on staff, one on the FC.

Bob: There will still be at least one member of staff on each group, but they will be convened by a member of the FC.

Comment: how often will the terms of reference be reviewed?

Bob: every two years or so? The TOR need to constantly evolve.

Are people generally happy?

[Yes]

1509: tea break.

1524: back at the tables with our cuppas and cookies. Next up, it’s Zena Martin and David Archer reporting back from the last Trustee meeting.

[RSA Strategy 2011-13 is handed out]

David: Now, points arising from the last Trustee meeting. First up, we would like ideas from FC as to how RSA academies might be supported.

Matthew: The RSA trustees created their first academy before I became CEO. The new model is to develop three other academies which will partner with schools in deprived areas. The original model was to take over a failing school, the model is now working with schools that are already doing well in deprived areas.

Comment: is this just in the UK, as part of the Opening Minds project?

Matthew: no, we also have schools in Europe.

Comment: there was initially a lot of anger in the fellowship when the first RSA academy was set up, because the fellowship weren’t consulted. I can see some anger in the fellowship now, with this new phase. RSA should focus on Opening Minds and not on creating an academies network. Andy Burnham is already arguing that switch in academies policy is going to alienate 50 per cent of the young population.

Matthew: we want to put together a system of regional hubs. In relation to the academies, it’s a trustee decision and I have to support that decision. The RSA academies would have been government academies anyway.

Comment: this to me would be another example of the trustees not consulting with fellowship on such a politically sensitive matter.

Comment: our original academy was built on Opening Minds and has shown great results. I am totally fine with expanding Opening Minds and establishing academies that are linked to demonstrating the power of Opening Minds. I’d be very concerned if any of our schools picked up organisations that weren’t committed to Opening Minds.

Matthew: We should look at the wording. We must always look for new forms of innovation. One of our schools wants to build a hostel for its pupils who are helpless.

Comment: The RSA academy is fantastic. In fact, we should do a feasibility study into opening this up as a revenue generating model for the RSA.

David: okay, let’s look at other points. RSA strategy has come up at a number of FC meetings over last year, and has just been circulated to you now.

Matthew: at your next FC meeting you will have a new director of programme who spans both projects (Julian Thompson) and fellowship networks (Michael Ambjorn). This is a radical change to what’s gone before and will take a while to bed down.

Comment: there are two pages on strategy re Fellowship. I’d have liked it if the FC had been consulted before these decisions had taken place and not simply seeing them now, and asking to react.

(Absolutely!)

Matthew: nations and regions have their own sense of what the RSA can offer and it is different in each region, reflecting fellows interests. What matters is our influence in these matters. I don’t think the trustees would want to second guess that. If the Scottish committee decides they want to focus on say design, that’s great and completely up to them where they want to focus resources. The more we can move towards projects that are funded on a regional and national basis, the better. It’s a very tough job getting funding for projects. I hope we’ll see more projects get funded at both levels.

Comment: can we know more about fellows undergoing RSA training to become accredited RSA project managers in their areas?

Matthew: because of the research and funding we’ve got, we’ve got quite a good idea of what works and what doesn’t. It seems a good idea to pass that info on.

Julian: one of our plans is to create a platform for people who can help. What we’re hearing from charities etc on the ground is that they need some kind of quality assurance about individuals who are coming to them offering help and saying they have experience in certain areas. 

Comment: the first mention of fellowship is on page 2. This is a fellowship organisation. I do not pay my subscription to the RSA to fund a thinktank in London. Look what happened to the Work Foundation. It was very like us. Now it’s bankrupt.

Bob: I think we’ll put this strategy document on hold for now and discuss at the next meeting when we’ve had time to digest it.

Comment: can we circulate to wider fellowship, will there be an e-version?

Matthew: that can be arranged.

Comment: I think we (the RSA) are a thinktank and an actiontank.

Comment: we are a thinktank with delivery.

David: just wanted to add that with regard to fellows concerns about access to RSA House, we’re setting up the house development committee chaired by Andy Gibson looking at ways in which house can be of more use to fellows.

1555: Bob: thank you. We’re now running quite late so will need to speed up. Now, the Report on the Meeting of Regional Chairs and the Review of Regions (and I was really keen that we got to this point before the GAG started its deliberations). The main bullet points are as follows:

  • It’s clear that each region and nation has its own distinct ambitions and needs. 
  • How about reporting back? Should this be through the FC? 
  • We need to improve communications between all the national and regional committees.
  • How do we get the best out of the regions and nations, and the FC’s relationship with them?

Comment: I’m surprised you’re not being a little more radical. The regional committee has no role otherwise than as a treasurer. How do you have local networks, local initiatives? If you are going to have elected chairs, it’s quite an arduous task. I propose you’re elected to become deputy chair for a year and then become chair subsequently.

Bob: a member of our East network recently said he appreciated the support he’d had from the committee and we are looking to replicate that.

Comment: it might be helpful for the nations to have more focus on what is the difference between a region and a nation. There should be more awareness of the distance in Scotland between Dumfries and Shetland. The meetings in London are very good in terms of opening your mind and engaging but £200 doesn’t even begin to cover the cost.

Comment: there’s a different narrative coming from government about how we define communities, even how funding is distributed (more locally for example). Has this influenced the RSA at all?

Bob: you need people on the ground defining the issues.

Comment: I live in one region and work in another. We need to look at the distinct needs of each region, and at population density, eg: London region has a third of the fellowship: should it be broken into north and south?

Comment: I think this document gets parked in some sense because of the work of the GAG.

Comment: whatever funding mechanism is decided, it mustn’t be too rigid.

Bob: absolutely.

Comment: and not necessarily about only making it happen in your own region. You can share a successful project with other regions.

Comment: I think this is a very good document but there should be clarification between the regional committees and the regional fellowship teams. I think it’s a good idea but worried there will be too much overlap.

Bob: yes, the idea is to share objectives. Ideally what you’d have is a team made up of activists – people who are actually doing stuff.

Comment: RSA Scotland is developing a project with RSA USA so it’s possible to collaborate with other regions.

Bob: how we share this information across is one of the fundamental issues.

Matthew: each region is very different in the way they organise: South Central has 9 local committees, London has just one central one, there is another region with no committee at all – they just want to act as a catalyst for local groups. Having said that, getting alignment is absolutely crucial. Just want to say a word for regional managers. They work very hard and where they’re working effectively with regional committees, they’re really getting results.

Bob: That’s good. I just wanted to see general support for this report. Thank you very much for that.

1615: report back from working groups:

Gerrard (Catalyst group: we’re moving forward and it’s great to know that even those who haven’t recieved funding have appreciated the feedback they’ve got.

David (Projects group): do we wish to re-constitute the projects working group?

Comments from floor: yes

Jackie (Charter group): we reckoned it was done and dusted. The recollection was that it would go to the AGM and be approved.

Matthew: the specific holdup is that the new charter should be considered in the light of the RSA rebrand which has been put on hold due to a staff bereavement. But things should move forward soon.

Jemima (and yes – that’s me, your loyal live blogger) (Digital Engagement): latest development is that we’ve put together a Digital Engagement Quick Guide which we’ve uploaded to the RSA Fellowship Social Network and would love FC members feedback and comments. We’re also very pleased that our proposal for a full time RSA member of staff for digital engagement has been taken on board, the job spec is currently being written up and we’re hoping to see that role filled in early summer.

John (Education): we’d like ideas on how to help with Queue-East. Please email me.

Bob: nothing to report from Youth as Rosie isn’t here. I went to a meeting in Cardiff and they are trying to work out an appropriate model for Wales: how they make things happen while still keeping bureaucracy to a minimum. If there are any burning issues?

Comment: can we have more information about changes in funding for the regions?

Comment: could we have a summary of the recent staff changes in the next fellowship newsletter?

Comment: can Matthew be present at each FC meeting?

Next meetings: Tues 19 April; Wed 21 September and Thu 8 December. At least one of these will be out of London, most likely at the RSA Academy (Birmingham New Street).

Comment: well done Bob on excellent chairing.

1630: Bob: thank you, and I’d also like to say thanks to Belinda (Lester) for being here. We all know how much effort you’ve put into being Director of Fellowship and on behalf of the FC, I’d like to say thank you for all you’ve done.

1635: Meeting closed – now we’re all off to the pub, I will tweet when I find out which one!

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