(from The Fellows Forum)
The paradox of creativity: Looking ahead it seems impossible. Looking back, it seems inevitable.
As a recent Fellow based outside the UK I was attracted to the RSA by its values and its vision to become a global fellowship. I have yet to unearth the strategy or timeline to implement this vision. The plans for the Coffee House do nothing to confirm this vision, but rather suggest it is only a vague well-intended aspiration.
Whilst I fully support the re-development I am concerned that the opportunity is being lost to take a major step towards fulfilling the vision of a global RSA through the incorporation of digital technologies to enable Fellows to connect, engage and collaborate, regardless of location, time of day or day of the week. There is a danger the CH will only benefit the c. one-third of Fellows that live in London and the South East and do little to attract, retain or engage those Fellows unable or unwilling to take advantage of its location and limited opening hours.
Existing digital platforms are broadcast in nature and largely inadequate for collaboration. Their presence in the CH will have little impact. Designing the space without new collaborative technology sends a message to global and regional Fellows that we will continue to be second-class Fellows and that the RSA only functions in London and during UK office hours. There is no vision or strategy to say otherwise.
I fear that the reasons given for not incorporating new digital platforms at this stage reflect a deep misunderstanding of digital technologies, as well as the essential role they play in engaging and achieving the goals of the Fellowship in the 21C. Digital technologies (unlike buildings) are ephemeral and a permanent experiment – there is no ‘long term’. It is entirely reasonable to expect any technologies chosen today will quickly fade, will fail to meet our ever-changing and increasing demands and better technologies will emerge. But even with these constraints, digital technologies are the foundations of an engaged and global Fellowship in the 21 C, 365 days a year, 24/24 and 7/7. A 21C CH that is not digitally globally accessible is no more than a revenue-earning flagship store for the RSA brand, valuable but not visionary or compelling.
My messages are these:
- If we have the vision to be a global Fellowship then let’s start acting on it with the CH, otherwise, let’s stop talking about it. We all pay the same fees, we are all equal and we all deserve access to the RSA resources, in-person or digitally. Increasing the RSA’s physical assets whilst not ensuring a digital equivalent is (unintentionally I’m sure) discriminatory and increases the gap between those in London and the South East and the rest of us, including those without the means, time or physical abilities to take advantage of the investment.
- Let’s stop using past IT ‘failures’ as a reason to do nothing, saying it’s too hard or expensive (it is and will always be). Doing nothing is not a neutral decision as presented but takes us back because the world continues to move forward without us, we fall further behind. Technology is a challenge we need to master if we are to become relevant in the 21C, our future depends on it.
- We have a golden opportunity to develop a 21 Century Virtual Coffee House – a parallel digital platform that will support all our growing global Fellowship in new and exciting ways and make it an unrivalled and easily accessible asset for the RSA, its research and staff. This is not an alternative to the Coffee House, it is a creative extension of the Coffee House, available globally and welcoming to all Fellows regardless of location, personal commitments & working hours, financial means or ability to travel.