1330: The seventh meeting of the RSA Fellowship Council (FC) has just kicked off and there are 12 apologies – clearly some members prefer to be outside in the glorious spring sunshine 😉 I’ll be liveblogging the whole meeting here so keep refreshing the page for updates.

Impact of the RSA FC

1335: Irene Campbell (FC deputy chair) on what we should actually be doing as a Fellowship Council and whether we are actually achieving it. She says this is an issue that’s been taxing her a great deal over the past two years. There are four bullet points on what we do: house-focused stuff (we spend a great deal of time doing this); regionally-focused; liaison role – reporting back from individual Fellows and administrative.

1336: I don’t think the regional focus has developed very much at all. Our liaison role – sharing the best practice from the regions so we can learn about them here at the FC; hasn’t been going on at all. We do also represent the individual Fellows in our regions. How are we doing that? How are we speaking to them?

The final bullet point was an administrative one, how should we be logging the achievements (or not) of the Fellowship Council. I don’t think we’re doing this either.

How about we actually have an away day – or away session – where this stuff is discussed, outside of the House?

1340: comment: I doubt the fellows in my region even know who their representatives are.

Comment: all these issues seem to be around engagement and we do have a “digital engagement” group but that’s only focused on engagement digitally (obv.)

Comment: a lot of discussion over governance and a lot of changes, I don’t think the structure is quite clear yet.

Comment: are the emails of council members on the FC members page? So people know how to contact them.

Discussion about emails and email addresses with no clear outcome.

Comment: re the recent fellowship survey, we should look at how fellows are engaging now and where there are gaps and how Council can fill those gaps.

Comment: we spoke about doing an induction session for new fellows in specific areas (I’m from Bristol) but nothing has materialised.

Comment: in South Central we run induction evenings for new fellows. They’re actually quite a useful retention device.

1347: Irene: all these are really good ideas and I’ll pick them up from the minutes (or liveblog).

Comment: new fellows get a welcome letter, but then nothing happens. The most common question is who’s a fellow locally?

Matthew Taylor: first of all there’s been a major shift in how we recruit fellows: most fellows are now recruited by other fellows, or because they approach the RSA because they are fans of its work. So that’s helped becasue we’ve got fellows coming in with a better idea of what the RSA is.

One idea being floated on the trustees is that every new fellow has an induction interview where we can find out what they’re expectations are and try to meet them. Using this group to bounce ideas off would be great.

Comment: this would be great. In Scotland we’re developing an induction pack for all fellows which we;re sending out prior to the Scottish AGM. It’s a two-way street. I think that message should come from the central body. I like Matthew’s idea about having a conversation, face to face or otherwise.

1350: Irene: thank you very much. I can presume you’re all in favour of me looking more into this and I’ll take it forward.

Bob: it is moving forward, perhaps not as fast as some would like. Okay, on to the next item.

Governance Advisory Group

1354: Just to remind people what the GAG [pronounced “Gee-Ay-Gee” people, not the other way] is actually all about: it looks at the composition of the trustee board, including sub-committees etc. [Note: sorry there was more on this slide but I didn’t get it]. The GAG It needs to find the right balance between proper representation of the Fellowship, efficiency and effectivesness in manageing the RSA and its resources, meeting the requirements of the Charity regulators, minimising bureaucracy, developing a governance structure that best reflects the purpose and aims of the RSA.

We need to think about a communications strategy – David will update:

David: we’re keen to ensure that FC, fellows etc have a say in proposals. Aim is to get a draft out to fellowship council and regional chairs around 7 May. Get it out to fellowship via website by 7 June. With feedback gathered back by 4 July. We’re conscious there’s a lot of different people to reach. We have to think about what goes on paper, what on the website etc.

Anne: we felt it was important for individual fellows to have their own chance to respond, not just through their committees.

Comment: we need to come together to discuss this. It’s a fairly significant piece of work. We need to discuss and then vote on the proposals. As a body we should endorse or not.

Bob: it would be useful to have an open discussion.

Comment: theres the possiblity we make this an over complex consultation.

Comment: maybe a wiki would be best for the fellowship council.

Comment: some fellows aren’t even on email.

David: we’re mailing papers to the fellows who aren’t on email.

Comment: I’m not in favour generally of wikis but in this situation it might be the easiest way.

Comment: I think we need a proper meeting of the Council to discuss this. We need to give it the gravity and weight it deserves.

Comment: we’ve already had a great deal of discussion around this issue.

Bob: I am sensing we should do this electronically.

Comment: if we have to vote, I’m not sure how we do that electronically.

Is the draft report going to go to the Fellowship Council before anyone else?

David: no it will go to the FC and the regional chairs at the same time. Otherwise we won’t have time to finalise it before it needs to be included in the papers going out for the AGM.

Comment: it’s right to talk about the right structure but surely it’s up to the GAG to make the final decision. It shouldn’t need a substantial amount of input from us.

Comment: our role is to advise. The question is, are we content to put in our input as individuals or do we need to come together as a group?

Comment: I feel that if possible, there should be a collective view from the Fellowship Council prior to the AGM. Either we develop a collective view electronically or we have to have a extra-ordinary meeting of the FC.

Bob: I think it’s up to the GAG to comment constructively how to accommodate this feedback.

David: that would be possible. Draft report goes out on the 25 May.

Comment: the digital option is to have a draft discussion and then have a special meeting with a one item agenda where we vote as to whether we support it or not. Do we need to vote to endorse it? I don’t know.

Bob: I think the chances are the FC will agree with 85% of it anyway.

Comment: exactly. The main objections are likely to come from the Fellowship itself. So let’s not focus too much on what the FC wants but more on what the FEllowship as a whole wants.

Bob: Irene and I can get a brief summary of the consensus.

Comment: the advantage of a wiki is that the comments are all available centrally.

Bob: I think we should look into setting up a wiki and that’s something the FC members on the GAG should focus on.

David: GAG next meet on 5 May. We can then publish timetable – give you a clear idea – and get comments back from this group.

Specific issues

1415: Bob: these are the specific issues on which GAG has requested comments.

First: the proposals for governance: that the Fellowship Council should move to 5 co-opted members (to ensure representation) and 35 elected members including 14 elected regional chairs. All these elections would take place at the same time through a ballot of all fellows in each region. This is a big change for regional chairs because at the moment different regions do different things: usually the chair is proposed by the committee, and then endorsed at regional AGMs. It’s a bit of a mess. Holding the elections at one time would mean more publicity and hopefully more fellows voting.

Matthew: there’s a paper going to next GAG meeting about regional governance – we want to give regions scope for having the kind of model they wish to have (panel or committee selection) and move from AGM to regional conference – making it an event for broader discussion.

Comment: it seems fair that anyone who wants to become a regional chair can just get enough people to vote for them and then become chair.

Bob: some regions have different structures: there’s the question of continuity: sometimes the deputy automatically becomes the next chair. At the moment, it’s difficult for anyone to challenge this system. If you are elected as regional chair you become ex-officio member of the Fellowship Council [but you don’t have to take this role up]

Comment: I don’t want to increase the bureaucracy but anyone who wants to stand for chair should at least have been on the regional committee for a year.

Comment: I think it’s up to the fellows to decide that.

Comment: what if you want to stand for the Fellowship Council but you don’t want to be a regional chair?

Comment: I think there’s a bias built into these options. The more dynamic model is more complex. The traditional model is still there. The model we’ve got is Fellowship Council members activating the regional committees. But the committees should be adopting a much more grassroots, regional approach.

Comment: re electing the chair, I don’t think it matters if we have panel or committee. The risk is having someone elected who has no experience of the regional committee or the fellowship council. There should be some qualification element.

Comment: the only criterion you should need is being a member of the fellowship. I have a problem with the issue of chairs automatically becoming FC members. I thought the whole idea of the FC replacing the advisory council was to bring in fresh blood and fresh ideas?

Comment: we need to build some links because that’s what has been missing in the structure. We’re all getting hung up on the electoral process. Why do we have to have all the elections at the same time?

Bob: I think the idea was that if you were elected to the FC, you should be elected by the people in your region. And the same goes for the regional chairs.

Comment: the flipside of that is that you look at de-stablising some of the regions.

Comment: there are two roles: being a regional chair is different to being on the Fellowship council. It’s a great idea to encourage people to engage in a democratic process.

Comment: I don’t know enough about regional committees and how they’re structured but it does occur to me that this a bloody big job. I wonder how many people might actually be able to do this job.

Bob: This was actually requested by the regional chairs.

Comment: no it wasn’t.

Comment: I believe that there is a reasonable number of reginoal chairs already on the Fellowship Council.

Comment: that might be a happy coincidence.

Bob: The idea is to cement the link between the regions and the fellowship council. The GAG have been giving a great deal of consideration to this.

Comment: the other issue is the regional representation: so is the intention that everyone on the FC should be representing the interests of a region? So what’s the role of the FC?

Comment: what’s the point of us being elected to represent regions when we don’t get a vote on anything anyway? It seems to me that representing the regions is a particular skillset.

Comment: I represent a region and I haven’t found it too ardous – we give feedback after meetings, the lines of communication are open. I think.

Comment: but I don’t define my relationship with the RSA by where I come from. It’s defined by my interest and the projects I’m involved with.

Matthew: that’s a good point. We wanted to ensure a good representation of skills on the FC. It’s interesting to note that the co-opted FC members are younger than the elected ones, for example.

Comment: I’m not here to represent my region because they didn’t vote for me. I’m here to help with other things.

Comment: the entire regional set up gets £40,000 a year. That’s woefully inadequate. There is a confusion and Matthew this needs to be addressed. The regional managers get £700,000. Where does that money go?

Matthew: the figure is nothing like £700,000. That’s the total cost of fellowship services. Everything that network managers do is a reflection of what the fellows ask them to do. If the regional group decides it wants to spend money on ski-ing, painting, that’s what the money gets spent on. As long as the use is within the charitable remit of the RSA, the money gets allocated. There is an issue aroudn getting regional and network managers to work together. That’s what we have to work on. It’s not about network managers being sent from here. We have 9 network managers with an average salary of £23,000.

The big question is getting that bottom up resource and Catalyst to work better. We can’t mandate regions to work well with network managers.

Comment: we need to keep this simple enough so that everyone understands it.

Bob: what I’m getting here is that we need to see the right mix of skills and backgrounds. Can I basically say that there is general support for what is proposed [FC becoming a council with 35 elected mems, including 14 regional chairs]?

Comments: NO!!

David: we don’t have to vote on this now.

Matthew: to be helpful, GAG was set up by the Fellowship on a vote, with delegated powers. It seems to me that if we go back and disagree with what the GAG says, then we risk making the Fellowship rather angry. GAG was set up by the Fellowship. If we start having minority reports, we could be in a lot of trouble. These should simply be recommendations.

1452: Bob: Let’s take on board all those comments.The GAG is also looking for a combination of 6 elected and 6 co-opted members on the Trustee board.

Comment: but how about the 5 co-opted members of the FC?

Matthew: it could be said that the co-opted members of the FC weren’t eligible.

Comment: I think we’ve done this item to death. Can we move on?

Interim arrangements

1455: Bob: I’ve circulated a paper. The idea is to extend the office of current elected FC members by one year. But as the idea is that we should be moving to a more elected council, maybe we should just leave things as they stand. Are people happy with that?


Fellowship survey

1500: Matthew: There was a lot of discussion last year about what fellows wanted. So we decided to run a survey on what fellows wanted. The survey run 9-28 March. WE got 1,950 responses. 10% of fellowship. It was incredibly representative, more men than women not much we can do about that. Slight under representation of over 75s.

98% were aware of the Journal.

94% were aware of the lectures.

Surprisingly, RSA Animate has been watched by 27m people around the world but only 23% of members are aware of them. By the way, RSA Animate has been nominated for a Webby award: please vote for RSA Animate here!!

90% were aware of their local network.

The general description of RSA fellows is “happily unengaged”

Nearly 20% have attended a local network event in the last year.

70% were aware of the Felllowship council, although a significant percent weren’t sure what they think about us [Oh dear!]

56% are aware of Catalyst.

41% are positive about the RSA – feel it’s got better in recent years. Less than 2% feel it’s got worse.

26% of Fellows want us to focus investment on web based services and support (top choice for investment).

Only 8% weren’t aware of any of the RSA’s public platforms.

There’s lots more interesting stuff and I’ll try to find if full results of survey are posted online anywhere.

1510 Break for coffee

1530 Back from coffee; brief discussion as to whether FC members are happy to have their email addresses given on RSA website; suggested that links to LinkedIn/ Ning profiles might be preferable.

RSA strategy

1534 A strategy paper outlining aims for 2011-13 was circulated with the agenda. What do FC members think/ any comments?

Comment: this seems very ambitious, lots of stuff in there – how will RSA meet its ambitions?

Matthew: yes we need to ensure our aims are matched with resources.

Comment: is there something that links the results of the survey with the strategy? I like the strategy but it is aspirational. What does the survey tell us about the granularity for the potential of fellows projects etc.

Matthew: we hope for some cross-tabulation. If we get a region with only ten respondents it might be hard to do that. Engagement is very age-related. Young fellows tend to be more engaged and more positive. There obviously are exceptions but generally that’s the pattern. We’ve got to look for multiple levels of engagement. The uber-task we have is aligning eveything we do: ensuring that each bit of the RSA turns another bit of the RSA. More and more fellows are coming together to discuss the same issue: what can places offer at a local level? This ties in with the top level research we’re doing on place-shaping. When you start to see that, then we have a proposition that no other organisation does. There are a lot of thinktanks etc. Number 10 find the idea of an organisation combining grassroots input with professional insight is a very useful things.

Comment: by September you hope to have 10 per cent of fellows in the directory seems a bit unambitious.

Matthew: you can’t force fellows.

1540: Matthew: we have much more discussion on the trustee board about fellowship matters than we’ve ever had. Our levels of engagement are higher than ever. Every weekly meeting we get input on what the fellows are doing. I’m being asked all the time on how you get these levels of engagement going.

1543: Comment: how about new fellows? No of new fellows has gone down.

Comment: our strategy on fellows is quality not quantity. We’ve seen two massive bursts and that relates directly to direct mailing campaigns. Then we get a bunch of fellows joining who don’t really know. We want to reduce the number of fellows who join AND the number of fellows who leave. So we get a stronger, more engaged fellowship. Growth follows engagement not the other way around.

Comment: what have you been doing in relation to retention?

Josef (RSA operations manager): Retention starts with recruitment. We are making sure we contact fellows throughout the year personally. When they leave, we need to find out why. We’re looking at conducting an exit interview.

Comment: the main reason people leave is not getting time to get involved, and money.

RSA digital engagement

1550: Jemima (yes, me, your faithful liveblogger) gives a brief overview of RSAde and asks for input from FC.

Comment: you should speak to RSA projects about semantic representation of their work.

Comment: data visualisation becoming increasingly important; might be a tie-in with RSA animate.

Matthew: we’re about to launch a competition to find the next step after RSA Animate.

Comment: one of problems is RSA brand doesn’t have a personality. There’s a distinct lack of personality.

Comment: Euan Semple is writing about this a lot. His line is organisations don’t tweet, people do. And the personality of an organisation comes its people.

RSA website review

1555: Josef (operations manager) runs through changes to the RSA website. (Sorry I would list them all here but you’ll see them when the site is refreshed next month).

Brand redesign

1605: Matthew: the new logo is meant to be a platform, so that the space below “RSA” can be used for any words or phrase depending on the context (eg “21st Century Enlightenment”), and it can be in any colour, so for example when addressing fellowship issues, it will be in green, which is the fellowship colour.

The reason the RSA website doesn’t have the new logo yet is because we are going to incorporate that when we re-launch the site next month.

Chief Executive’s Report

1610: Generally agreed that this was really useful to read and requested that this be circulated regularly.

Comment: I’d like to extend thanks and appreciation to Matthew for sharing this.

Comment: are you and the trustees responsive?

Matthew: there are a few fellows who are hostile to the way in which the RSA is going, but there’s not a great deal I can do to respond to that.

Comment: there’s a lot of work to be done, that’s why I’m here. A lot of work at the RSA is with English government but a lot of good work happens over the borders in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Matthew: there is a history of collaboration with Scotland. We share your frustration that we do not do as much work with Wales as we’d like.

Report from Trustee Board

1615: Zena Martin: I’ll just report back on a couple of things. First, the family of schools. We’re pleased to report that Whitley Abbey in Coventry would like to be part of the family when it becomes an academy in July. The board’s approved the creation of a new committee. That’s really exciting. It’s very near and dear to my heart. At the last meeting there was concern about the FC not being consulted about the family of schools, strategy paper etc. The board said the issue was not so much about transparency, it was about timing. Really it’s got to be a case by case basis.Sometimes the FC can be included a bit more and sometimes it can’t. On a good note, the FC has seen a lot more of the survey than the trustees have seen. As we take more shape and really understand our role, we will see more of engagement.

Bob: the key issue seems to be to plan as far as possible so that we will be consulted.

Comment: With regards to the family of schools, the point really was that if we could balance this off a bit – it was really about ciriculum and not so much about academy, if there was stuff we could share with other educational establishments, that would be great.

Zena: we want to make sure there’s consistency across the board. We don’t want schools adopting the opening minds curriculum when they haven’t been accredited to do so.

Matthew: it was intended to be a collaborative model ffom the very beginning.

Comment: It shouldn’t just be about schools. That curriculum could be used in community centres etc.

Comment: I’ve sent a letter to Michael Gove pointing out that academies are not necessarily superior institutions to other schools. The verdict is still open. There are good academies and bad ones. This structural change may not be the most significant factor.

Matthew: there are a number of schools that want to be an academy, and they’re deciding who to be an academy with. If you look at Tipton, that’s a very progressive academy.

Comment: this academies issue, I’m still not clear on what the RSA is contributing. Looking at the survey, only 17% wanted money to be invested in education.

Comment: this is a completely different model to the Tiptree academy where there was a lot of capital investment.

David: The new Great Room project: we can open up the room to give access to simultaneous events nationwide. The idea we’re floating is that every month there should be a free fellowship activity. I’d like to talk in more detail but there’s not enough time. The plan is to complete it by 2012 as it would be so great for Olympic-related events. There’s an opportunity for people in this room to get involved in focus groups.

Matthew: our new house manager Matthew Bates has seen that with the new Great Room, we can have two big events going on at any one time.

Working groups and regions

1630 Bob: Any questions on the reports from working groups?


Bob: Just to note there is a meeting coming up for regional chairs on 13th May. Hopefully that will tease out issues which we can then bring forward.

We dicussed holding the FC meeting at the Tipton academy but that proved tricky. Are all agreed we should organise a visit to the academy as a separate event?


Next meeting

Re the next meeting, would be like to incorporate feedback/ presentations from regions/ other groups on good practice?


Comment: maybe we should take governance off the agenda, then we’d have more time!

Comment: if we had a Fellowship Council wiki then we could actually discuss a lot of this stuff online.

Comment: maybe next December we might have some time for a bit of informal networking?!!

Matthew: the budget might stretch to that.

Comment: I was hoping we could have a few minutes on the agenda so I could take back to my group some ideas from the fellowship council. My group (Norwich) wants some guidelines back. So you have an intersection between what’s going on nationally and what’s happening locally.

1638: Bob: any other business? Nope, okay.

Meeting closed.

RSA Fellowship Council 8: development of RSA House

Photo: Elliott Brown (via Flickr)