How to join the MOOC education revolution: a new free way to learn/create together with other RSA Fellows

September 19, 2014 by · 10 Comments
Filed under: Fellowship 


“The collaborative learning process took our Fellows to places where they delighted in connecting with people of diverse experience and expertise, sparked new ways of thinking about topics and gained the sorts of insights that led to genuine revelations”
- Peter Clitheroe FRSA (RSA East of England regional team)

East of England Fellows working on their Human Centred Design MOOC

East of England Fellows working on their Human Centred Design MOOC

The emergence of MOOCs (‘Massive Open Online Courses’) – where tens of thousands of people can learn online together, mostly for free – has taken the education world by storm. Coursera, a MOOC provider, has 7m+ users. But it was when Stanford University’s artificial intelligence Mooc, announced in July 2011, attracted 160,000 sign-ups that it became clear a powerful new phenomenon was emerging.

“It has been an effective key-turner for our local network by giving a real purpose to working together on a specific, focused and time-bound project”
- Peter Clitheroe FRSA

RSA Fellows are increasingly finding MOOCs to be a great way to come together both to learn and to work on real-world projects collaboratively.

For example three Fellow groups in the East of England region recently enjoyed taking part in ‘Human Centred Design for Social Innovation’, a free MOOC put together with the leading Design/Innovation agency,

Enjoying the +Acumen Human-Centred Design MOOC in Sao Paulo

Enjoying the +Acumen Human-Centred Design MOOC in Sao Paulo

The Fellows’ groups chose these real-world challenges to work on together during the seven-week course:

* Enabling more young people to become social entrepreneurs – in which the team proposed new systems and devised ways to strengthen existing programmes to help young people tackle civic/social issues as a career path.
* Healthier food options for people in need – Two separate groups tackled the healthy food challenge (one of them based at Suffolk County Council). One group focused on first year university students living in self-catering flats, who were surveyed about their eating habits. The result was a plan for a street-food events run by – and for – students in collaboration with local food producers.

Our MOOC quartet made Fellowship tangible and meaningful, more so than any other RSA encounter I’ve had
- Kate Hammer FRSA

Peter – who informally led one of the groups of Fellows – also commented that: “It has been an effective key-turner for our local network by giving a real purpose to working together on a specific, focused and time-bound project”.

“It offers a model that could be usefully deployed in developing a coherent network across the county and possibly the region.”

The MOOC runs regularly and is provided by +Acumen, the community/education arm of the global anti-poverty organisation Acumen that was founded in 2001 by Jacqueline Novogratz.

Want to join a MOOC with other Fellows yourself? Get in touch with your RSA Regional Manager to discuss.

Working face-to-face with your group
+Acumen is unusual compared to larger and better-known MOOC providers – because its courses all rely on weekly face-to-face ‘Lab’ meetings with your group, where you will be working on… [Continued]
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You can help the the RSA improve its website: please complete this survey

December 19, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

Please note: this survey is now closed. We had a fantastic response from our blog readers. Many thanks to all who replied!

As December ebbs away at an alarming rate, many people begin to think about their resolutions and plans for 2014.

At the RSA we’ve been thinking about next year for some time as in 2014 we will begin to replace our existing online technology with an up-to-date and fully-integrated website. The aim is to provide better services for our global audiences, including those who visit our websites, read our blogs, attend our events and engage with all aspects of the work we do.

To ensure that the changes we make next year bring real value to all of our users, we are trying to find out more about the people who read our blogs and engage with our website and services.

If you can, please spare us 2 minutes to answer 8 questions that will tell us a little bit about yourself and what you are interested in.

The survey is hosted on the SurveyMonkey website, and doesn’t ask for any contact details. It’s a quick survey, but it could make a big difference to our future services.

Thanks in advance!

Matthew Mezey is RSA Online Community Manager. Twitter: @MatthewMezey





Q&A: Maria Ana Neves FRSA shares her inspirations… and social media challenges

August 12, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

Maria Ana NevesNow that the RSA has it own Fellows’ network of Regional Digital Champions – see their profiles and blog post about the Champions’ role – to support and inspire Fellows’ online activity, we thought it would be rewarding to hear from individual Fellows (including RSA Catalyst project leaders) about their challenges, hopes and experiences in the online space, and beyond.

Our first interviewee is Maria Ana Neves, the co-founder and Design Strategist behind Plan Zheroes, an RSA Catalyst-funded project to connect food businesses with charities that can donate their surplus food to people who need it – and reduce the 1.6 million tonnes of surplus food the UK food retail industry sends to landfill every year. (You can read more about her project in this Fellowship blog post: ‘The Big Idea: surplus food to those who need it’).

As well as sharing her passions and inspirations, Maria Ana also shares some of Plan Zheroes’ unrealised opportunities – and invites help from digital-savvy Fellows.

Matthew Mezey
(RSA Online Community Manager)

Q 1: What are your key challenges/passions/inspirations?
My current key challenge is how to balance ideas and capability. It really is great to have great ideas and visions, but is as important to build capability and that sometimes means stop the ideas-machine and focus on implementation… sometimes the two clash!

Leadership – I love teamwork and flat/shared leadership – but I still need to learn how to get it right!  With everything I’ve been involved in, the ideas were more important than the people. I am now starting to understand that people are much more important than ideas – this is a fantastic shift and a challenge for me.
Being an unreasonable person with a fertile imagination and not that much focus on financial returns is a challenge!
Keep up to date with technology! It really is challenging for me, as I am not that literate in this field.

Being an unreasonable person with a fertile imagination and not that much focus on financial returns is a challenge!

My passions are learning, travel, and ideas – discover new things everyday! Also Design. And Zero Waste: as a designer, I am obsessed with finding solutions to human needs, and a big passion is to design out waste from our world. Design out is not about creating solutions for waste, it’s about creating systems, products and services which are 100% waste-free. It’s starting the journey with the simple design principle: we cannot have waste.

Social challenges (homelessness at the top): I really dream of a 100% inclusive society.

Inspirations: first (and probably the most important one) is nature. I believe nature has all the answers.

I am now starting to understand that people are much more important than ideas – this is a fantastic shift and a challenge for me

My mind works in a funny way – it is constantly making connections between things that have not been connected before. In innovation management we call it “intersectional innovation”. For this reason everything is an inspiration: a bird or a cloud, a word spoken, the music in the underground, a biography, a product that doesn’t work, a conversation in the Gerard bar, a discussion on Linkedin…

Q. 2: What has worked out well for you on the online/social media front?
For Plan Zheroes, we are still in the early stages with social media and we know it will play a great role in developing our mission. At this stage I am conscious we are still learning and building capability. But without an expert (or maybe a team) we can’t take the best from such great resource. You know the African Expression “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others” ? I think social media seems to give us a new paradigm:  “we can go fast and far with others“.

Q. 3: And what has not worked so well?

Up to this point we have only used Twitter and Facebook at a very basic level, knowing we are missing out on their great potential. We haven’t had the time and expertise to look at social media at a strategic level.

We haven’t (yet) asked the right questions such as…  “what would happen if we used Twitter to get more food businesses on to the Plan Zheroes map?” or “to find the top influencers” or to recruit volunteers… or “how can our community build stronger relationships through social media?”

What would happen if we used Twitter to get more food businesses on to the Plan Zheroes map?

Plan Zheroes we still have a challenge to consider: most businesses do not want to shout about what they are giving, and people at the front line are not willing to be exposed -  and many charities are not online and even less on social media.

There are many things we can solve with social media – but we need to better understand it first!

Q. 4: What are the areas where you would like online-related (or other) help from RSA Fellows, or feel that you could be missing out on potential opportunities?

Plan Zheroes only has a simple mission: connect businesses and charities and do whatever it takes to get them to give/receive the surplus food to people in need and prevent food from becoming waste.

Using online tools and social media to connect these two groups and raise awareness of the issues of poverty and food waste comes naturally for us.

It’s still a learning curve for us! Looking to the future however, learning from RSA Fellows who have previously used online platforms and social media as fundraising tool and a way to better connect with potential donors and receivers of food would be invaluable to Plan Zheroes (especially when many of the people we communicate with are not in offices or using computers!).

Additionally, not having an office (we will have a virtual one soon, using Basecamp!) and managing a diverse range of volunteers, from a range of different backgrounds, with a variety of different commitments is a constant challenge for Plan Zheroes, it would be brilliant to hear how other RSA fellows have overcome this in the past…online and offline!

If you think you might be able to help Maria Ana in any of the areas she mentions, please contact her (via Maria Ana’s e-mail or Linkedin profile).

Good online tools or resources that might be useful for lots of Fellows can be added to the ‘Fellows’ tools & techniques’ page. Get in touch if you have something.

If you are a Fellow with successes and current challenges to share around social media – and would like to be a future ’4 Questions’ interviewee – please contact me.


Matthew Kalman Mezey
(RSA Online Community Manager)

A live dashboard webpage showing RSA online activity is here: (online community)
Want to become an RSA Digital Champion – or need help from one?:
Is there an ‘RSA Connector’ for your country yet?:
‘7 Ways to become an online Fellow’:
Need support for your Fellows’ meetings, network or projects? Go to the Fellows’ tools & techniques page - – for guidance, how-tos and other support.

How can you make the most of your RSA Regional Digital Champions?

July 19, 2013 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Fellowship 

A  growing network of digital-savvy RSA Fellow volunteers is now on hand to help other Fellows with advice and guidance on virtual engagement with the Society,  including the social media side of local RSA events, Fellows’ projects and suchlike.

You can view all the profiles of members of the network (and your own region’s ones) on the Regional Digital Champions network page.

The Digital Champions are becoming closely integrated with the RSA Regional Teams in every region (nb a link to the profiles of your RSA Regional Team members is also included on the Regional Digital Champions (RDCs) networks webpage).

Photo of Lee Hazzard (SS3 VENTURES) – tweeted from local FRSA Reboot event by Regional Digital Champion Jemima Gibbons

Erinma Ochu, one of the NW Regional Digital Champions team commented: “Our Regional Digital Champions in the North West have been blogging and tweeting about events and encouraging event partners to create Storifies too. The goal is to create a buzz around Fellows networking in the NW.”

“We’ve also been sharing and exploring ways to measure social media impact.”

The network was initiated by the RSA’s Digital Engagement group (RSAde) – one of the RSA Fellowship Council’s seven working groups. Here is an early blog post about the network: The Digital Champion’s Manifesto – and a more recent one: Digital Engagement: Regional Digital Champions.

The goal is to create a buzz around Fellows networking in the NW
– Erinma Ochu

Charlotte Britton, Chair of RSAde, said: “Going forward RDCs are a key aspect of the online engagement with Fellows. Getting Fellows engaged regionally in the projects and conversations online will be a big step forward. One of the improvements from the Fellowship Survey was that Fellows wanted to connect with other Fellows regionally. We’re hoping the RDCs – and building the networks online – will help Fellows connect online and get involved in what’s happening in their area”.

Activities that Regional Digital Champions can lead – or support – include:

  • Offering 1:1 advice to Fellows with specific social media-related queries
  • Social reporting: using blogs to report from – or about – RSA-related events  (here’s an example of a live-blog: ‘RSA Fellowship Council Live Blog’, and an event report blog: ‘How to run an FRSA Reboot session’ (a fun and energising meeting format you might want to try using in your region!)
  • Support RSA Catalyst fund projects with digital aspects of projects including development of their online communications strategy
  • Support regional teams – as well as Fellows regionally
  • Feed into RSA’s digital strategy development (eg via RSAde’s Moderation group)
  • Host and contribute to online discussions on forums such as Linkedin, etc.
  • Social reporting:  use Twitter to report live from an event and collate a report later (here are two example of Digital Champions’ Storifies – tweets and other content – from the July 2013 RSA West Annual Conference and from a local RSA Reboot event: FRSA London City Reboot
  • Add useful new how-tos, online tools to the RSA’s ‘Fellows’ tools & techniques’ webpage
  • Use Twitter to disseminate ideas and links to other materials
  • Curate an online collection of regional information and resources
  • Manage a local email list
  • Moderate discussions on an RSA (or other) online community network (the separate RSA regional online networks are largely moving to the main community – do join your regional RSA online group)
  • Take photographs to add to a Flickr collection  (such as the RSA Flickr group)
  • Host online video Google ‘Hangouts’ where Fellows in up to 10 locations can meet and have a discussion about a relevant topic or project
  • Suggest other innovative ways of using technology to engage and encourage Fellows to get connected.

The Regional Digital Champions network has its own group on and has also been using Google Hangouts to video conference together, featuring interesting social media speakers.

Would you like to be a Regional Digital Champion?
If you would like to put yourself forward as an RSA Digital Champion for your region, please have a chat with your Regional Team members (you’ll find their link on Digital Champions network profiles page) to find out whether they need more Champions and whether your fit seems right for the role. Let me know what you decide.

Helpful links
- The Digital Champions network profiles page
- ‘7 Ways to become an online Fellow
- RSA Connectors network (RSA contacts, around the globe)
- RSA’s ‘Fellows’ tools & techniques’ webpage

Matthew Mezey is RSA Online Community Manager. Twitter: @MatthewMezey

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

February 14, 2013 by · 10 Comments
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)



Understanding your values – a group exercise (+ new UK values report)

February 5, 2013 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Fellowship 

Discussing values at the report's launch

An invitation from leadership coach Lee Chalmers FRSA enticed me to a very enjoyable launch event for an interesting research report by the Office for National Statistics and the Barrett Values Centre on the UK’s national and community values – including the UK’s very high – 59% – level of ‘cultural entropy’, a measure of dysfunctional values.

what would a private detective think about your values if they followed you around for six months?

But it was the way the event really engaged its large audience at London’s Conway Hall - a historic centre for free thinking – that particularly impressed me.

An exercise to decide on, and then discuss – in pairs – our own values, beliefs and behaviours did indeed seem able to ‘help you meet someone more deeply, even if you’ve worked with them for ten years’, as one audience member put it.

The exercise had three steps:

  • Please choose three values that are important to you in your life
  • What are your beliefs that support this value?
  • What behaviours do you exhibit that support this value?

We were offered 70 suggested values to help us with the first question – everything from job security to wisdom.

You can download the guidance page for the Values exercise – and use it to generate a revealing discussion at your own meeting or event. (A less cluttered version of the exercise sheet is here – though it offers fewer examples of values to choose from.)

The UK values report – ‘cultural entropy’ in the UK

The Office of National Statistics/Barrett Values Centre report itself revealed that UK citizens value meaningful, close relationships and operate with a strong sense of integrity. Top personal values included caring, family, honesty, humour and fun, friendship, fairness and compassion, as well as independence, respect and trust.

But, when asked about the values of the nation as a whole, a rather depressing picture of the UK’s values emerged: bureaucracy, crime and violence, uncertainty about the future, corruption, blame, wasted resources, media influence, conflict/aggression, drugs/alcohol abuse and apathy.

‘Cultural entropy’ – a measure of  the proportion of dysfunctional and negative values – was found to be 59% in the UK. Bhutan, by contrast, had a cultural entropy level of only 4%.

Some people will quite rightly point out that our espoused values can all too often tend to be rather more uplifting than the values we in fact exhibit in our day-to-day behaviour.

The audience was encouraged to look candidly at whether we are really living our values: ‘what would a private detective think about your values if they followed you around for six months?’

(An automated values analysis of the texts of Matthew Taylor’s Twenty-first century enlightenment pamphlet and the RSA’s Purpose, Vision & Strategy is here. It uses a version of the ‘Hall-Tonna values inventory’, a precursor model to Richard Barrett’s).

The current controversy over how best to work with values for effective behaviour change: two models at loggerheads

For me, the most intriguing – and crucial – argument around values at the moment is between Pat Dade’s Maslow-based ‘Values Modes’ approach (articles and a free ‘Values Modes’ assessment are here) and the approach outlined in the WWF’s 2010 report ‘Common Cause – The Case for Working with our Cultural Values’.

They are both very influential amongst  numerous organisations seeking behaviour changes towards more sustainable, environment-friendly behaviours – but each believes that the other approach contains a fundamental flaw which will derail its hopes to enable behaviour change.

Common Cause warn that the Maslow-based ‘Values Modes’ approach is wrong to encourage strategies which dress up eco-friendly actions so that they can also appeal to status-conscious – dare I say selfish? – ‘Outer Directed’ people. Rather than satiating that level of Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ – and thus prompting people move to new more globally compassionate, caring needs – they will just strengthen the values of selfish consumerism, they argue.

Pat Dade, by contrast, warns that Common Cause’s advocacy of deeper green language – that his research finds appeals particularly to a narrow subset of the population called ‘Concerned Ethicals’ – will just alienate many, perhaps even most of the UK population, who don’t enjoy the feeling of being lectured in worthy-sounding Guardian-esque language, and rarely if ever change their behaviour as a result of it.

One attendee at the RSA’s recent Social Entrepreneurs Network meeting – who had worked for a leading environmental communications agency Futerra Sustainability Commuications – told me that while her radical heart would love Common Cause to be right, for effective communication and behaviour change,  she would always opt for Values Modes (which have in fact been used in recent work the RSA has done in conjunction with The Campaign Company).

Matthew Mezey is Online Community Manager. Twitter: Matthew Mezey

- The United Kingdom Values Survey – Increasing Happiness by Understanding What People Value (pdf)
- UK Values Alliance
- Barrett Values Centre (their free values assessment is here)
- Plainer version of personal values exercise worksheet (though with fewer suggested values)
- Action for Happiness
- Cultural Dynamics/Values Modes (includes free values assessment)
- Common Cause
- ‘We shouldn’t simply try to change people’s values when it comes to the environment‘ [Blog in The Independent by recent RSA speaker Tony Juniper on the ‘Values Modes’ approach ]
- Common Cause’s critique of Tony Juniper blog about Values Modes

How I quit my RSA job and started a social venture

December 12, 2012 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

Jamie YoungGuest blogger Jamie Young shares the story of how he left the RSA in order to start up his own social venture.

I recently stumbled across a case study of a social entrepreneur who fixed a problem in the energy market. Energy suppliers were colluding to fix the market and charging over the odds for fuel in winter, straining household budgets and pushing people into fuel poverty. The entrepreneur responded by devising a fund that would buy fuel in bulk when the price was low, store it and sell it for a fair price in winter, when rates were artificially high. Facing an initial lack of interest from potential investors, he started with £2,000 of his own savings, but when the project proved popular he was able to recruit more subscribers, and grew the fund to over six times that value. His efforts saved people in his local area about 35% on their energy bills.

One of the partners describes the programme’s aim as being to “get people to quit their jobs and start social ventures”, which turned out to be exactly the effect it had on me.

You could be forgiven for thinking it’s a new case study – but it’s not. That social entrepreneur was William Shipley – founder of the RSA – and his Fuel Scheme was launched in Northampton in 1751. Shipley’s success with his fund is credited with giving him the confidence to found the RSA three years later, with a wider remit to encourage projects and inventions for the public good.

Jamie Young

Jamie talks with the Design Council's Mat Hunter - at the pitching event held by Bethnal Green Ventures (photo credit: Seb Junemann)

Over 250 years later, the RSA has evolved and responded to the 21st century world, but I think it still shares Shipley’s value for early-stage innovations that solve real problems. For the last few years I’ve been able to contribute to the RSA’s modern-day mission from the inside, while working on projects in the Action & Research Centre. I enjoyed the variety; from researching how teams could remain innovative while under resource constraints, to running a micro-funding scheme for environmental activists, to even encouraging cab drivers to adopt more fuel-efficient driving behaviour.

We’re influenced by the idea of being a ‘lean startup’ and are iteratively developing and testing different approaches to overcoming these barriers as quickly and cheaply as we can

Earlier this year Bethnal Green Ventures, an accelerator programme for technology startups working on “things that matter”, called for business proposals. One of the partners describes the programme’s aim as being to “get people to quit their jobs and start social ventures”, which turned out to be exactly the effect it had on me… Working with a friend, we applied with an idea for a digital service that would encourage homeowners to invest in their home’s energy efficiency. We were accepted on the programme, and with the promise of their support (in the form of cash investment, access to their network of mentors, and office space at Google’s Campus) I evolved from being an employee, into a Fellow, of the RSA.

Though the energy business is dramatically different to Shipley’s time, fuel poverty is still a problem and market-fixing isn’t unheard of. Our fledgling idea, Homely, provides personal and unbiased information on measures that improve a home’s energy efficiency. The social benefits of greater efficiency are reduced fuel poverty, lower levels of illness due to under-heated homes (and the associated cost to NHS), as well as cutting our collective greenhouse gas emissions. Though the benefits are attractive to most people, there are barriers that get in the way: the high cost of some of the possible measures, lack of awareness about what’s right for each home, and the inertia that comes with any change that involves some hassle. Government schemes like the Green Deal will make warm homes more affordable – but may not do much to resolve other barriers.

The RSA approach also has a valuable ‘incubation effect’ on its staff, giving people like me the confidence, access to networks and experience to begin new initiatives of their own.

As we develop Homely, we’re influenced by the idea of being a ‘lean startup‘ and are iteratively developing and testing different approaches to overcoming these barriers as quickly and cheaply as we can. Our current hypothesis is that there’s a need for a trusted intermediary between homeowners and the companies that provide energy efficiency measures – and that homeowners are more likely to trust and act on energy efficiency advice from someone similar to themselves. To that end, we’re providing personal and tailored advice on warm homes (and lower energy bills) through the Homely website. In practice this means we’re interviewing people from a wide range of homes who’ve already taken steps to make them more efficient – do drop me an email to if this describes you!

Shipley established the RSA to incentivise and incubate innovation for the public good. Over the years, the organisation’s approach has included premiums, grand (and small) projects, networks and published ideas. But I suggest that it also has a valuable ‘incubation effect’ on its staff, giving people like me the confidence, access to networks and experience to begin new initiatives of their own.

Jamie Young is co-founder of Homely, a startup that provides homeowners with relevant, personal and unbiased advice to help them warm up their home. Before starting Homely he worked for the RSA, researching projects on behaviour change and innovation, and prior to that worked as an engineer. Twitter: @dt99jay. Email:


How to run an FRSA ‘Reboot’ session – guest blog

November 30, 2012 by · 4 Comments
Filed under: Fellowship 

Jemima GibbonsSixty RSA Fellows enjoyed an evening of lightning talks and speed networking at 3Space in Oxford Street – and heard about a range of innovative and exciting Fellow-led projects. London Fellow – and Regional Digital Champion – Jemima Gibbons guest blogs about the event, and how to organise one yourself.

I live in London and have been a Fellow since 2006 – but I only know a handful of Fellows here. In fact, I know more than most – around 80 – but that’s still just ONE per cent of the 8,000 Fellows who live and work in London.

So that’s a huge living resource that I could be connecting to in order to make a difference, develop projects and more. But I’m currently mostly missing out.

It was a great event and we had amazing feedback. People seemed to feel really energised and inspired – just as we intended!

One reason for this, as with so many RSA regions, is that there’s no structured face to face networking. Our regional drinks dwindled out. The London committee has events, but they are usually paid (due to venue costs), and are topic rather than network-led. And there’s the public lecture programme at John Adam Street (which we’re lucky to have), but again, these talks are very specific and – unless drinks are scheduled – there’s no real space to gather afterwards.

The venue
Back in March, I went to an RSA Mental Health workshop at 3Space on Oxford Street. It was a great venue and, it turned out, free for charities (such as the RSA) to use.

Bingo! How about hosting something there?

The great thing about 3Space is that it’s UK-wide. As well as London, the organisation currently has venues in Aylesbury, Blackpool, Bury St Edmunds, Cardiff, Falkirk and Wigan. So if any FRSA would like to hold events in those areas, you’ve a free venue readily available.

Lee Hazzard tell Fellows about his project, Game Plan

Designing the London #FRSA event
I got together with Roxanne Persaud (London Region Fellowship Councillor) and Matthew Mezey (RSA Online Community Manager) to hatch a plan.  We wanted an event that met Fellows’ needs while also encouraging engagement, collaboration and community (things we’re all passionate about through our work with RSAde).

Feedback from the recent Fellowship Survey, and from previous London Region events, showed that the two main things Fellows want is to:

1.    Connect with other Fellows who share their interests in their region
2.    Hear about current projects and initiatives they can get involved with

So, we agreed what we hoped would be a “magic” formula…

The format

1.    Lightning talks
2.    Speed networking
3.    General chat and “collaboration huddles”

The evening would run over three hours with each activity repeated in short, sharp, bursts. The idea was to keep things moving and create a dynamic atmosphere to get everyone buzzing, spark conversation and maximise idea-sharing. This is the schedule breakdown.

A Wordle created from Fellow's feedback on the event

The name #FRSA London Reboot! was inspired by the Reboot Britain event three years ago. A “reboot” is, of course, what you do to a computer to get it up and running again after a software update. We felt it was a great way to re-ignite the London network and kickstart collaborative activity.

Lightning talks
For added inspiration, we gave the event a broad theme, “Positive deviants”. This was the “peg” for speakers’ presentations. We offered ten slots of 4 minutes each, broken into three “rounds” (at 6.30, 7.15 and 8pm). The speakers were allowed to talk about any type of project or initiative they wanted – the only requirement was that they needed some kind of input – whether it be skills, support or funding – from other FRSA.

3Space provided a projector so were able to show one slide containing basic information (name, website etc) behind each speaker. There was no time for multiple slides although in retrospect some of the speakers could have done with more illustration (Mark Power, for example). But equally, it would have been quite possible to run the talks with no slides.

In feedback, people said that there was a lot of information to take in and at times they felt quite overwhelmed. One attendee suggested we hand out speaker details so they could keep track of all the projects, and make notes. (Next time we can send these out with the reminder email so that people can print out and bring with them).

Collaboration huddles
After each round of lightning talks, we split the room in half: people had the choice of either chatting with one of the speakers in a “huddle” (on the Oxford Street side of the room), or taking part in speed networking (on the Soho Square side).

Read more

The global ‘RSA Connectors’ network: China, Canada, Colombia and beyond…

November 14, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

The growing international network of ‘RSA Connectors’ has broken through the 40 barrier – with our latest Connectors being added in Singapore and Canada.

25 RSA Fellows gathered at the British Council, in Berlin Alexanderplatz, for a live video-streaming of RSA Chief Executive Matthew Taylor’s annual lecture - with a get-together and refreshments afterwards

You can view all the profiles of RSA Connectors here:

RSA Connectors is a new and growing network of RSA Fellows worldwide who act as a first port-of-call and a ‘friendly face’ for new Fellows who want to find out more and get involved, and who help local Fellows to organise events and collaborate on projects. (The focus has largely been away from those countries with well-established RSA structures or staff, such as the USA or Australia/New Zealand).

The long-term target – of course – is to have Connectors in all 101 countries where there are RSA Fellows.

a first port-of-call and a ‘friendly face’ for new Fellows who want to find out more and get involved

Live-streaming the Chief Executive’s Annual Lecture – in Berlin
Fellowship activity that RSA Connectors have initiated include a live-streaming video showing of RSA Chief Executive Matthew Taylor’s annual lecture (link to video) – at the British Council, in Berlin Alexanderplatz. Another event is planned for January.

Led by the Finnish Connector, a delegation of 10 Finns involved in a manufacturing project recently visited John Adam Street – for activities including a workshop led by RSA Director of Enterprise Julian Thompson.

In Poland, the RSA Connector – along with UK-based Fellow Edward Truch – has investigated opportunities for partnerships with the Fellowship, through meetings with the British Ambassador, politicians, academic institutions and think-tanks.

Other countries such as Denmark and France have organised meetings to bring Fellows together and look at ways forward. Following the Paris meeting, a powerpoint presentation was producing – looking at the composition and aspirations of the French Fellowship, ways forward and more. It was sent to every Fellow in France.

* RSA Connectors webpage:
* How-tos, resources and advice for organising Fellows’ meetings, networks or projects (including how to run an event using live-streamed video from an RSA lecture) are available on the  Fellows’ tools & techniques page:

RSA Catalyst in action: Justice Citizens show their stuff

September 10, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

RSA Catalyst supported Keith Heggart FRSA, a teacher and activist who has been working with young people in Australia to develop short films about issues of importance to the students and the local community.

The first Justice Citizen's Film Festival

Keith worked between February and June of this year with more than 100 Year 9 students from McCarthy Catholic College (situated between Sydney and Brisbane), for an hour every fortnight. He took the students through the processes of researching, storyboarding, shooting and editing films. The films themselves covered a range of topics that participants had identified as being important, including racism, refugees, domestic violence, water pollution and much more.

I think that it is important we encourage young people to be active in their local community. Too often, we don’t listen to their concerns – or allow them to be part of a solution. That’s what this film festival is all about
- Keith Heggart

Keith’s project received £1,000 from the RSA’s Catalyst seed fund for Fellows’ projects in January 2012 – and was the first Catalyst-funded project in Australia.

The resulting films were shown at the first annual Justice Citizens Film Festival, held at Kingswood Neighbourhood Centre, to a packed house of more than 50 people, including friends, family, community members and local councillors and politicians. Getting into the spirit of things, Federal MP, David Bradbury, recorded his own film introducing the evening.

Keith said, ‘I think that it is important we encourage young people to be active in their local community. Too often, we don’t listen to their concerns – or allow them to be part of a solution. That’s what this film festival is all about.’

I totally think that people would change their mind about dirt bike safety if they saw our film. I guess we are being active citizens by doing this – we’re helping out our community
- Daniel Spicer, student film-maker

The films that were shown on the evening can now be viewed on the groups Facebook page:

The students were assisted by local journalist, Bernie Burke, and worked through the RSA Australia and New Zealand branch to secure the Catalyst funding. Keith plans to work with more local schools in the next year to make the project even bigger than it currently is!  After the success of the first event, a second Justice Citizens Film Festival is also now planned.

Reflections from a student film-maker

Student film-maker Daniel Spicer comments:

We made  a film about Dirt Bike Safety, because we thought that was an important issue for us. We both like to ride dirt bikes, and we know that people can get injured if they don’t ride them properly. For example, my brother was badly hurt when he came off his dirtbike. That’s why we made the film we did. Our film gives dirt bike riders lots of tips to remember when they are riding their bikes so they don’t hurt themselves.

Justice Citizens was good because we learnt lots of things about accidents and stuff. Like how many people in Australia are injured every year on motorbikes. We also learnt heaps of stuff about how to make a film – like adding music, and using cameras and even doing voiceovers.

I totally think that people would change their mind about dirt bike safety if they saw our film. I guess we are being active citizens by doing this – we’re helping out our community.”

Useful links
Catalyst Fund homepage

Matthew Mezey is Online Community Manager. Twitter: Matthew Mezey
* Is there an ‘RSA Connector’ for your country yet?:

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