I’ll be live blogging the RSA Digital Summit here from 3pm UK time. The summit is taking place on Zoom and lasts for three hours. Please keep refreshing the page for updates. You can also follow the summit on Twitter.

It’s been 8 years since I last live blogged an RSA Fellowship Council meeting. At the time, I was an elected Fellowship Councillor for London, and co-chair of the RSA Digital Engagement working group.

Plenty has changed! But digital engagement with the Fellowship – and how to do it well – is still a live issue. Even more so since Covid-19 changed the way we all need to interact.

Ann Longley has been a Fellowship Councillor for the last two years. She’s done brilliant work in pulling this RSA Digital Summit together.

Welcome from Ann

3:05 Ann introduces the event and tells everyone to say hi in the chat and take a break when we need. (So I might pop off for a cuppa or two).

Hello from Matthew

3:10 Matthew Taylor (CEO, RSA) tells us all to invest in thermal underwear so we can socialise outside now we’re hitting Tier 2. On to more serious things…says he’s very pleased RSA has launched its new website. RSA now moving from broadcast to engagement.

How can we provide the best possible digital tools for changemakers? How can we provide a seamless experience for all fellows. Process today is going to inform RSA’s emerging digital strategy.

I’ve been at RSA a long time. We have done this (attempts at digital engagement) two or three times. It hasn’t really worked. Too often the conversation has been led by digital enthusiasts who maybe want to run the RSA. Most fellows don’t want to run the RSA. They want to change the world.

At the heart of our strategy is programmatic working. We’re going to choose areas to focus on and work in them for extended period of time. Themes include sustainability and education.

One other thing is our living change model: think like a system, act like an entrepreneur. We’re looking to provide a change toolkit to our fellows and to the world. Digital is a key part of that.

A word from Pip Wilson

RSA Digital Summit - Pip Wilson, Chair of Trustees
Pip Wilson, Chair of Trustees

3:30 Pip Wilson is Chair of Trustees. We’ve tried digital engagement before. Now is the time to get it right. In a recent fellowship survey, 63 per cent rated digital engagement as really key. But same number said they weren’t aware of the tools that were already there. I’m very excited to hear the ideas that people can come up. We know we need to deliver value for money. Today is the joy of exploration. Blue sky thinking and understanding the art of the possible. How do we get tools that allow fellows to engage with other likeminded people and find ways to change the world?

For this to work it needs wide buy-in across the fellowship. We’re fascinated to hear what ideas everyone can come up with today. And how to work with the team to co-design this.

Ann: thanks Pip. Very open honest and refreshing. Sets a good tone for the RSA Digital Summit. I think it’s worth learning a little from the past. We’ve got Anton here who’s going to run through 200 years of history.

Anton Howes on RSA history

3:40 Anton: I like to call the RSA an improvement agency. It’s continually reinventing itself. It often has to reinvent itself structurally to deliver on that improvement.

Back in 1754, 11 blokes walked into a coffee house. They set up a fund. The control was one person one vote. If anyone wanted to use the fund for a specific purpose, they’d vote on it.

Things got complicated, so they decided to transition to a representative society. Small groups would have small coups of the organisation. Use it for their own ends. A whole host of interesting projects.

At the same time, staff became increasingly dominant. Fellowship Council has taken a more advisory role. We have many different bases of power within the organisation. Things like transition to calling members fellows, things like adding “Royal” to the organisation’s name, these things made it seem like members were recipients of some kind of honour.

Recently RSA has been trying to wrestle itself away from that past.

Towards a social institution? We’re moving towards a new vision of the RSA. Reinventing ourselves again.

Time for breakouts

3:50 Ann introduces the 6 themed breakout sessions, and the speakers who’ll lead each discussion.

  1. RSA as a platform – Katz Kiely
  2. RSA as navigator – personal experience – Heleana Blackwell
  3. Virtual coffeehouse – Anton Howes
  4. RSA learning lab – Jim Knight
  5. From Insight to Action – a future-focused track – Phil Harvey
  6. RSA maker playground – Mike Butcher

As it says on the Eventbrite page, the aim of the RSA Digital Summit is to kickstart a dialogue on these topics, “sparking ongoing collaboration, creativity, leading to a legacy of lasting change”.

We’re in the exploration phase, says Ann.  We’re not looking for any shiny finished objects!

I’ll be listening to Katz Kiely (RSA as a platform). We’ll be back in the main room at 5pm for Show & Tell.

RSA as a platform

RSA Digital Summit - Katz Kiely talks about RSA as a platform
Katz Kiely inspires us to think about the RSA as a platform

4:10 Katz starts off by saying technology is a great enabler. Let’s think about our vision. What network effect can we create if we unlock the problem solving potential of this crew? 30,000 of us. Imagine a decentralised platform.

A decentralised way of working. Where Matthew and his team are at the heart of a fully empowered fellowship. What will it mean to be an active member heading towards a clearly defined north star. where fellows are rewarded for participating and collaborating and contributing. Imagine a fellowship where the best ideas and challenges can bubble up and its easy to match the best ideas with the right funds and people to make realise them.

Imagine where we can gather around shared interests and challenges, create content shared on our platform. Maybe some awards where we can reward fellows who’ve supported others the most. Measured by open data. Where we can share our learnings openly, and with the world. Imagine if our vision, our project was so widely shared that we encouraged more and more fresh thinking into our network. People of all ages, all beliefs, all ethnicities want to join. Thereby bringing in more funding for more projects.

Mini breakouts

As a warmup/ icebreaker, we’ve just been sent off with one other person to talk about why we are awesome. We all had one minute each. And then we had to report back on the other person. I so should have seen that coming. (It was like that bit in the Generation Game where the contestant has to watch a conveyor belt of consumer items – toaster, Teasmade etc – and remember as many as possible. Except I wasn’t prepared).

RSA Digital Summit - Don asks Katz a question
Smiling as we share (and try to remember) how awesome our breakout partner is

What do we want to see?

4:30 About to do this…will report back. Involves popcorn.

What does RSA as a platform mean to us? According to the event description, it’s about “creating an open accessible inclusive platform and digital toolset for Fellows to use to develop their own collaborative initiatives (decentralised) and for the RSA’s research teams to use to engage Fellows on the programmatic work of the RSA (centralised). What do we mean by platform? Why do we need it, how might it be manifested? What will make it successful?”

There were three people in my first group. One said they loved Twitter for ideas and finding like-minded people, and would be great to replicate that experience. Another (RSA staff) said they were worried everyone expected RSA platform to be as good, intuitive and easy to use as Facebook or LinkedIn. I was really concerned about being inclusive, bringing everyone on board and connecting properly with people’s every day lives and lived experiences.

How do we make it work?

I’m just back from a second breakout. This time it was just two of us. We had to talk about the key things needed to make a new platform work. We both agreed that collaboration and co-creation was really important. It was essential to have (nearly) everyone on board. Communication was key – people needed to know the purpose behind the platform. Really important to harness the full collective intelligence of the fellowship.

5:00 Ten minute discussion with Katz – we’re trying to agree what to present back to the main room 🙂

5:10 Back in the main room. Participants now feeding back from their sessions.

Insight to Action

Tina Woods is up first. She’s been with the Insight to Action group. Their aim was to look at how RSA fellows could best analyse societal needs and harness data and tech to solve problems.

Tina explains they decided to focus on one theme: community health. Concerned about the ethics of data capture. Important to present a shared truth rather than individual truths. Needs to support mental health and wellbeing.

Learning Lab

Jim Knight from Learning Lab session talks about their idea for a college for informal peer to peer learning rooted in our purpose — learning for activism
. Need flexible accessibility to fellows knowledge
: how do we get them engaged to share their knowledge?


Charles Veal talks about creating a navigator, an AI-driven search engine for fellows. Likes the idea of a Value Exchange: RSA needs to be rewarding. Fellows need feedback on their ideas. Needs to be rewarding for individuals. Make it a human experience. A buddy system would be great. Also something like a random 30 minute chat with other fellows. Needs to be light touch, reactive, simple. Very like the new RSA model: think like a system, act like an entrepreneur.

Virtual Coffee House

5:30 Alex Mecklenburgh reports back on virtual coffeehouse. What do the metaphors actually mean now? Love the idea of forced serendipity: matching people with someone they don’t know. Exploring what’s going to happen when these amazing people get together.

Robbie Stamp mentions the importance of a chaordic structure – combining elements of both chaos and order.

Rachelle Denton added that maybe all fellows should have an obligation to participate in some way.

RSA as a platform

5:38: Yemi Adeola reports back on our group, RSA as a platform: We really agree with points brought up by Navigator group – this has to be easy to use! Engagement really has to come from grassroots level. People need to use it. We liked the matching idea. The platform needs to be a means by which we harness that collective intelligence. It has to be co-created, we talk to fellows about what they want. It’s really important that fellowship appeals to a younger audience. Working on social issues on a longer term basis is really important.

Giles Bailey reiterates the point on serendipity. Essential that this platform reignites pride: fellows feel they get value back from participation. Start small, run experiments, iterate.

Makers Playground

RSA Digital Summit - Clive Grinyer describes the Makers Playground
Whiteboard from the Makers Playground session – with Clive Grinyer speaking

5:45: Clive Grinyer sums up the discussion at Makers Playground – and shares their whiteboard: thanks to Mike Butcher for his provocation (talking about how Techfugees used a hackathon approach to create portable wifi for refugees). We came up with the idea of a Change Distillery/ Sandbox. Clive talks us through the whiteboard.

(We had a virtual whiteboard too but only one person had access to it. It was great to see how another group’s ideas took shape. The app is Google Jamboard).

5:50 Matthew Taylor: Thanks for all your fantastic ideas. Really hope we can keep this great community together. I’ve got to go and cook dinner for my dad now – but I’m going very happy and pleased with what we’ve achieved here today.


  • I have this image of the RSA and it’s really stuffy – a colonial trope. But we can have a future that’s anti-colonial and anti-racist. I’m looking forward to getting involved in some way.
  • Where do we go from here?
  • Next step for me is capturing everything that happened here this afternoon and gleaning the insights.
  • It’s been awesome.
  • Generally agreed – great positive energy 🙂

6:00 Everyone waves goodbye.

Well done Ann for organising the RSA Digital Summit. It was a great event. And fun to be part of. Will the Fellowship finally become fully digitally engaged? Now’s the time to make it happen.

RSA Digital Summit - Ann Longley welcomes everyone
Ann seems very happy to wrap up a successful summit