The RSA’s new website, Fellows’ database and community platform – what’s happening when?

February 14, 2013 by
Filed under: Fellowship 

Guest blogger Charlotte Britton FRSA – Fellowship Councillor and Chair of the Digital Engagement Working Group – brings us up to speed on the major technology and digital developments which will offer many new possibilities for the RSA Fellowship.


Based on feedback from the Fellowship survey, the Fellowship team recognise that Fellows need to:

  • Provide an up-to-date directory of Fellows – accessible to all (unless unsubscribed) and improve SkillsBank
  • Ensure uniformly high standard of intellectual debate and address identified areas for improvement
  • Online communities may require more moderation and quality assurance
  • Help improve regional Fellowship offer
  • Leverage the existing high usage of social media by Fellows, particularly Linked-In and Facebook, to encourage more intra-Fellowship networking and collaboration

a group of Fellows that will be recruited to assist in testing the system and clarifying the functionality

With that in mind, as the Chair of the Digital Engagement Working Group we are pleased to update Fellows on the new Digital and Technology Programme, which will be rolled out later this year.

The aim of this programme is to provide a platform which enables the Fellowship team to deliver these specific aspects of the recommendations from the Fellowship survey.

Digital and Technology Strategy Delivery Programme

The IT team at John Adam Street has been working on deploying a new customer relationship management (CRM) database, which is Phase 1 of the planned Digital and Technology Strategy Delivery Programme.

The Trustee Board have approved budget for 2013-14 to complete phases 2-4 of the Digital and Technology Strategy Delivery Programme, which will run up to December 2013. This is subject to a final review at the March Board when the final budget will be submitted for approval.

The Programme will put in place the two key fundamental components of the new technology infrastructure on which all current and new digital services will run. These are the Social Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system and the Social Content Management System (CMS). These are both major installations and will be in place and connected together by late Summer after which we will be able to start providing a whole range of useful digital services.

Recruiting Fellows for User Testing

The team at John Adam Street is committed to ensuring that what they deliver are what our Fellows want most. They will do that through involving a group of Fellows that will be recruited to assist in testing the system and clarifying the functionality.

The team at John Adam Street will be working with the Fellowship Council’s Digital Engagement Group throughout the entire delivery process, particularly on the user testing activities where we aim to involve groups of users who are representative of the whole Fellowship and not just ones who are very active digitally.

Timescales for Phases

The majority of the work will commence at the beginning of April and there will be some early user testing work from late February. Work for finalising the selection of implementation partners for Phases 2, 3 and 4 is currently underway.

Communications to Fellows

Communications are currently being developed to keep the Fellowship informed on what is happening and when to expect what. The team at John Adam Street will be working with the Digital Engagement Group and Regional Digital Champions on this throughout the year. The communications will focus on what it means for the Fellowship, rather than any technical updates!

What will be delivered in each phase

The phases will overlap and the services that are actually delivered in each phase may vary depending on the evidence form our user testing research, which will indicate what is most important to our users. Using this evidence will guide what is chosen to be delivered first.

Phase 1 (October 2012 – February 2013)

This phase is almost complete.

  • Replacement of the outdated CRM system (Progress) with a modern industrial-strength platform (Salesforce)
  • Significant improvements in the quality of our Fellowship data from an extensive data cleansing exercise (50% of records have been ‘cleansed’ and 60,000 old records removed). The implementation process has already driven improvements in RSA business processes and created opportunities for further efficiencies
  • Full integration with RSA financial services
  • Provision of online payment via Credit/Debit cards & Direct Debits as part of online Fellowship application and Student Design Awards.
  • The CRM will be further developed in preparation for a self-service portal where Fellows are able to manage their own information and profile. Part of this will run in parallel with Phase 3

Phase 2 (February 2013 – may 2013)

This phase builds on the platform created in Salesforce for Phase 1 and works to develop some of the features of the Fellows’ portal. The work will commence with further user experience research to ensure input from Fellows and other users. The main features will be:

  • A number of ‘quick win’ extensions to Salesforce (e.g. integration with our Eventbrite system to feed attendee data from public events into our CRM)
  • The interface design and underlying infrastructure to support the initial Fellows’ Portal with self-registration & ability to manage profile, search for other Fellows with similar interests and contact them and renew membership and make donations.
  • Initial scoping of Skills Bank.
  • Grant management system to support RSA applications for funding & support provision of funding (Catalyst).

All of the above will be integrated so that all relevant and useful data on any activity is captured and can be reported on. These are features which have a particularly high priority for Fellows, and management of profiles is something which most membership organisations would hope to provide.

Phase 3 (February 2013 – October 2013)

This is the largest project in the programme and is focused on creating our new Content Management System, migrating the RSA website over to it and connecting it to our CRM. Once completed, it will enable us to start delivering a wide range of improved and new services, the majority of which will start appearing in phase 4.

The Phase will involve:

  • Migration of the RSA website to an improved platform (EPiServer) for managing RSA’s expanding web content and services, including increased mobile use;
  • Greatly improved search facilities and more reliable hosting
  • Integration with Salesforce CRM so all data can be captured/shared to provide new and improved content & services
  • First delivery of personalised content & services as we build and extend the Fellows’ Portal.
  • Much better support for International and digital marketing.
  • Flexible, well-supported and future-proof platform which will accommodate RSA’s growing needs with little technical resource required
  • Scoping and feasibility study of a comprehensive and all-encompassing events managements service covering all events (Public, Regional, Paid-for, ARC-based) within RSA. While potentially very beneficial, this could be a very complex business change project so this study will provide us with evidence of need, benefits, complexity, scope, costs and will indicate if and when best to deliver it.

It had originally envisaged including the scoping and trial of a basic version of a new community platform (a replacement for the, Virtual Coffee House ( and the regional Ning community sites) but we are rescheduling this to accommodate the Digital Engagement group’s project to compete the consolidation of the Nings by August –enabling easier migration of content into the new community area of the CMS.

Phase 4 (September 2013 – December 2013)

The key services which will become available during this phase are a new community platform where Fellows can find other like-minded Fellows and share ideas and collaborations, together with new project workspaces which Fellows can use to organize and deliver projects and activities they are leading on or are involved with

This phase builds new services on the connected CMS/CRM platform including:

  • Further incremental delivery of the personalised content & services requested by Fellows in a greatly extended Fellows’ Portal
  • Implementation of a full-featured version of community platform (Ning replacement)
  • Creation of collaborative workspaces to replace Basecamp where Fellows and staff can manage projects in a secure and structured environment.
  • Support for improved, extended and more integrated (with Salesforce) digital marketing and engagement channels
  • Integrate all separate blogs into main RSA website with improved publishing management.

Throughout the programme there will be regular updates on the progress of the implementation of the projects. In the meantime, if you’re interested in joining the user testing group please get in touch or leave a comment on this post.

Look forward to hearing from you.

Charlotte Britton
(Chair, Digital Engagement Group)




  • David Wilcox

    Thanks Charlotte for such a comprehensive update, and also to Clive Holdsworth, the interim head of the IT team. Clive gave us a taster and joined a Google hangout discussion earlier this week. Together I think this shows a really good working relationship now developing between Fellows and staff on this front, thanks to the Digital Engagement group.
    This update now provides a better basis for discussing what I think is the key issue: the type of co-design process, involving Fellows and staff, needed to relate platform development to the discussion about RSA mission and the Fellowship model.
    While user testing is an important part of the process, it isn’t enough on its own. It would be a bit like developers asking potential residents what sort of homes they would like in a new town without relating that to the master plan showing what sort of place it may be. University town, innovation hub, dormitory, gated neighbourhoods?
    There was, I think, agreement in the Google hangout that these were valid issues – and that they fell outside the remit of the technology team. Enlightened community engagement practice is to run charrette or other community planning events involving professionals, residents and other interested parties. Might the digital and comms equivalent be appropriate here?

  • Kevin Cahill

    I have read this with great interest. The major problem at the RSA is the inability of the Fellowship to connect with each other.
    Let me ask na simple question. I have a project of national significance. I want to communicate that to the whole Fellowship. Will I be able to do that using Fellowship Portal of this proposed system ? Or will 8JAS go on censoring and editing inter Fellow communications ?
    Also, it is clear that this system is essentially an update of the administrative systems at 8JAS, rather than a new tool for better communications between the Fellows.
    Kevin Cahill FBCS.CITP

  • David Wilcox

    Picking up Kevin’s point, my understanding from participation in the hangout discussion was that there would be a “community” element at some point. I’m guessing this might be provided by Episerver Relate. Could Clive or Charlotte confirm? That would allow us to see what may be possible technicality. It looks flexible. Episerver say:
    “EPiServer Relate provides web managers with a fully-featured online community product, all with the familiar EPiServer interface. The community features of EPiServer Relate include user profiles; posts, discussions, news feeds, forums, blogs, calendars and polls; direct messaging; image and video galleries; abuse reporting; activity tracking”
    Online management policies are another issue, of course, that I think should be addressed together with the way the community platform should be configured, in a co-design process.

  • Andrew Soltau

    Sorry for this being a duplicate post also made on another thread:
    Why is the RSA contemplating using proprietory software instead of FOSS? This is an automatic path to headaches if for any reason the company goes out of business or takes a new direction. I think an organisation of this nature should be committed to open source software as a matter of course. And in particular, all documents should be generated in an open source format also.

  • Charlotte Britton

    Thanks for the comments.
    @twitter-793919:disqus We’re currently at the stage of selecting a vendor to work with on the project. Until we’re at the scoping stage, we won’t know specifically what functionality we’ll be using. So bear with us on this.

    Certainly co-design is intended for the community platform and for understanding what fellows what. We’ll be recruiting fellows for this user group in due course.

    @c85ff0cef32489da056e40eee96a1c24:disqus Being able to connect with other fellows is a key aspect, so if you want to find other fellows with similar interests you will be able to do this later this year.

    @878d33306db4a20b1a379d745b3ac675:disqus I’m awaiting feedback from Clive Holdsworth on this as I know they’ve discussed this aspect in depth at the Technology Strategy Board previously. Stay tuned, I’m working on getting an answer.

    • David Wilcox

      Thanks Charlotte – really appreciate your work on this.

      • Pete Burden

        Yes, this is a big challenge Charlotte, well done for taking it on.

        I think you’re also right David, it is the big architectural questions that need to be answered – probably through some kind of co-design process, and one that gives the Fellows a real voice.

        I am sure everyone wants to build a system that mirrors and enhances the participative, collaborative 21st century organisation that the RSA aspires to be.

        The challenge, I think, is to be aware of, and stay aware of the internal – and external – cultural tendencies that may prevent such a system emerging.

        That probably means discussing these tendencies – and ways to head them off.


        • David Wilcox

          Thanks Pete. It sounds as if decisions are being made on the architects (vendor) but we don’t know what genre (culture). We are heading towards system building (proprietary) rather than bespoke (FOSS).
          As I think you indicate, the issue is how to help develop some conversations around the cultural issues rather than the tech.
          Good for Charlotte in opening the door, and staff for offering updates.

          The question now is whether anyone will convene that non-tech discussion – linking existing discussions about mission and Fellowship to this one. Challenging.

  • RobinThompson
  • johndowdle

    I have noticed when I have tried to book a place at an RSA talk that I am sometimes too late to get in. As a Life Fellow, I find this annoying, as it leaves me wondering what is the benefit of being a Fellow if non-Fellows can book up places ahead of Fellows? Is it not possible to pre-allocate a proportion of all the places at talks to Fellows for a limited period of time, then open the remaining places to non-Fellows after – say – 48 hours? This might also encourage others to take out Fellowship, if this means they gain priority where RSA activities and facilities are concerned. It would mean revising the existing system to ask interested people to register on the main RSA site before booking places, which would permit the identification of Fellows and their preferential treatment through a separate procedure from non-Fellows.