Reflecting on the OpenRSA – modelling the future…

Being drawn in

Joining the RSA as a Fellow has been on the fringes of my attention for some time now. A couple of years ago I was invited to a meeting to tenatively formulate ways forward to do things differently there by Steve Moore. Since that time I have been observing the process of OpenRSA from a distance – infrequently dipping into the emerging activity coming from that direction. So when I saw, what seemed a pivotal workshop, pushed out through Eventbrite on FaceBook (I think…), I decided to turn up and see what had had happened in the intervening time. I’m not a Fellow but I’m interested in becoming one – perhaps – so getting the back story, the current state of affairs and the debate around the concept of OpenRSA was very, very appealing. The fact that I wasn’t a Fellow and could turn up and have the opportunity to engage was a big plus. Certainly the Social Media mechanisms drew me in gradually like a small comet into a parabola of interest around the OpenRSA’s growing gravitational field – so whatever they had done to get my attention had finally worked – I was there and am now blogging about it in depth.

Similar patterns

It is interesting to observe so many similar patterns beginning to emerge in different contexts in various spheres around Social Networking this year. From my focus,  Education, E-Learning and EdTech, there is the growing TeachMeet phenomenon; smaller cadres of smart educators like the teachers at the  EdtechRoundup weekly Flash Meetings on a Sunday night;  larger and more aggregated events like Amplified (facilitated and recognised by NESTA) and, indeed, direct action like the recent writetoreply site rezzed up in a couple of days by people responding to a need within the community to easily feed back and comment on Digital Britain and other forthcoming interim government reports.

All this activity does seem to be pointing the same way like iron filings around invisible social magnetic fields and there are opportunities to effect systemic change from the ground up in a distributed way –  in part. But each group seems to share some of the same frustrations, cul de sacs and challenges that involve such emergent change.


How to reach out to wider communities beyond the tech savvy individuals that inhabit these various worlds without alienating and excluding others used to more traditional forms of communication? How to gain the attention of and to co-opt top down initiatives to co-create new ways of working but have those emerging models break through into the mainstream and effect change so that the innovative and creative becomes more the norm? How to wrest power and resources from older centralised systems to empower more localised activity that is sustainable, configurable, extensible and can be given wider scope? All key questions in the overlapping Ven Diagram of groups I inhabit.


I think people do lose sight of the fact that it really is about people – the solutions to smarter ways of connecting together both online and in the physical world – it does start from the local community – where these Social Networking tools do score is that they both help, drive and augment community involvement but initially at the point of need within the physical world to cement and reinforce engagement – use and takeup is most definitely event driven.

Digital Refuseniks

And I don’t have a problem with technological refuseniks – theirs is a healthy skepticism or obliviousness –  force of numbers and direct need will make many migrate over time when models of social use have been scaffolded enough by family and friends and significant opportunities or serendipity act as fortuitous drivers to effect change through face to face traditional meetups or ‘meatspace‘ as a few of my more wired colleages might say…  I do think Open Source software, Open Standards, Data and ubiquity of portable mobile devices may well underpin this.

Opening up opportunities

In the workshop people mentioned development of strategy and databases- yes – but underlying that, I believe, are those Open Collaborative opportunities – and they have to be exactly that, open, to have greatest effect. No more silos despite whatever economic conditions we find ourselves in at present. In my opinion the reason why Twitter has scored so highly recently is entirely because it drills down to the individual via iPhones et al and skips over institutional ghettos connecting peer to peer – it’s a technology that’s ubiquitous, accessible,  wired into you, highly personalised – highly configurable – highly extensible. For me its power lies in the ability to access communities of interest that I would never had access to before and on a global scale. Want an example? I sat with an academic recently and asked him to give me the most obscure term he could think of in his field. I did a Google search – nothing. I did a Twitter search and pulled up about 10 conversations around the subject; all people he could have the possibility of contacting or researching with further links out to communities from there.

Network weaving

And as someone also pointed out at the RCA Workshop, the ability to be able to weave these different forms of communication to optimise use and provide concrete solutions is probably an emerging profession. There is an opportunity there for the business of making things happen. People who are smart filters, enablers and can offer commutativity of ideas between both the online and physical will be in high demand. How that can be scoped beyond the individual is a challenge but that’s where top down facilitation comes in perhaps. But not everyone will have the grammar and syntax to use adopt and run with these new systems – good! that makes for opportunities for me and others to provide solutions…and to expand our networks and level of expertise and insight.

The RSA Workshop

Well from that long lead in I guess I should blog about my experiences of the day. The workshop was run by David Gauntlett (whose site I have just seen and I’m amazed I have never come across before!) and was excellent. I made a very quick mind map of the points people started to raise during the background that both Lauras (Billings and Bunt)  and Malcolm Forbes gave about the whole process up to that time (If you fancy adding to it or putting me right just mail me and I’ll give you access for collaboration). It’s merely my own personal note taking and reflection on the processes of the day. It doesn’t say how much fun it was though. As a teacher and someone who has spent quite a bit of time teaching early years children this was a lovely exercise in reflective thinking through the modelling of concepts in diverse media. This sort of thing always reminds me of John Davitt’s Learning Event Generator – it’s also an excellent excuse for breaking down barriers to social interaction through play or Serious Games.

As we modelled our ideas we fed back and reflected on and aggregated what we’d done. I will include all five videos of the event with pictures of the constructions below. Because they are all High Definition Vids it might take a few days to upload but you might like to return to get a flavour of the day as I upload them.

All in all I felt it was a very productive afternoon – am I going to become a Fellow?

Well quite possibly – this feels familiar territory to me – far more of a structure that I can work within. If you don’t know the work of the RSA then it may prompt you to investigate further – certainly for me in education – it makes more sense than any of the more traditional organisations I would want to be involved with.

I’ll publish the results of the plenaries as I upload to Vimeo – for the time being there will be placeholders with Flickr pics for each group. If you were there – you might like to click on the pictures which will take you to Flickr where you can annotate parts – or then again you might not…

Group 1’s Models

Plenary / Reflection / Elicitation / Explanation

First of several videos from the Plenary from the RSA Workshop 19th February 2009

Group 2’s Model

Group 3’s Models

Group 4’s Models

Posted on by leoncych in Adult Learning, advisory, art, BSF, Continual Professional Development, databases, Digital Divide, Digital Literacy, Digital Media, distributed networking, Educational Change, informal learning, Innovation, pedagogy, Peer to Peer, Personalised Learning, Web 2.0

2 Responses to Reflecting on the OpenRSA – modelling the future…

  1. Mike Amos-Simpson

    Brilliant summary. People 1st, technology 2nd – much to learn from that I think 🙂

  2. Pingback: Socialreporter | Rethinking RSA networks, playfully