About this Commonspace

This site was originally created for The Membership Project - described below - to "explore how the social web and other factors are changing the ways in which we may belong to groups and organisations".

The two major partners in the project, NCVO and RSA, have now fully developed a research programme, described here. I'm currently exploring how best to complement that research by restarting work on other elements of our original programme - a guide, products and service, and a toolkit. At first that may be limited to bringing together work that I and others are doing in the field, and exploring new directions through blogging.

David Wilcox



 The Membership Project - as originally planned

This is an outline of the project ageed with our initial partners, the RSA and NCVO Third Sector Foresight Unit, February 2008. See below for history and links, and here for development plans.

The Membership Project explores how the social web and other factors are changing the ways in which we may belong to groups and organisations.

We believe that these changes will have major implications for civil society institutions, ranging from national charities to local groups.

Put simply, will people still pay subscriptions if they can get information, meet and collaborate through social networks? As individuals, how do we turn connections made online and in other ways into deeper relationships and ways of working towards a better society? What benefits must organisations offer in future to survive?
We are inviting anyone interested to join us in a exploring how 'membership' and the act of 'joining' is changing, review the implications for civil society institutions, and then to develop services, support or guidance to help them meet the challenges and opportunities.

The precise objectives and outputs will be agreed during an initial project design phase, when we will also consider the drivers behind change. We wish to situate our discussions of how 'membership' is changing within a broader exploration of changing patterns of involvement/participation, which have been driven by a range of technological (including social media) and social factors.

You can join our Commonspace web site http://www.commonspace.org.uk to contribute to discussion, promote your existing products or services, and collaborate with others to develop new approaches.

As part of our project design phase we will invite people to formulate proposals for research into what membership means for people now - and how that may change in an increasingly networked society.

We'll also be organising events, and bids to potential funders and investors. You can join in that too.


The project has developed from the RSA Networks initiative, where a 250-year-old institution with 27,000 members (known as Fellows) is exploring what it is to be an RSA Fellow, and how Fellows can collaborate to develop networks and projects for civic innovation. The membership project is being led by two RSA Fellows, Simon Berry and David Wilcox, in partnership with the NCVO Third Sector Foresight unit and the RSA.

Our inspiration

The inspiration for the project comes from past work in social enterprise, charities and social media, and most recently experiments in open, collaborative innovation now being developed in both commercial and nonprofit contexts. The NESTA Connect programme is supporting a number of initiatives, including RSA Networks. Last year Simon Berry and David Wilcox put some of these ideas into practice by leading an open process to develop a bid for a £1.2 million Innovation Exchange. Anyone interested was invited to join in the bid development on a multi-user blog system - and about 90 did. We were shortlisted, didn't win - but gained first-hand experience of a different and energising way to create projects and build relationships.

Developing the project

There will be two initial strands to the project, with more emerging as we develop.
The first strand will be to create an online market place for ideas and tools around the challenges that social media and other developments pose to civil society membership organisations.

We'll do this by background research, meetings, and setting up an online Commons - http://www.commonspace.org.uk. This will be modeled on the multi-user blog system that worked well for the Open Innovation Exchange. It will be open to anyone with a relevant idea, product or service - provided they are prepared to share their thinking, and collaborate in developing or improving their tools.

The second parallel strand will be development of proposals to funders for additional investment. Anyone contributing to the Commonspace market place will be able to join in. That's where we will be inviting proposals for research into the changing nature of membership, and its meaning to people in future.

Main contacts:

David Wilcox Blog at http://www.designingforcivilsociety.org

Simon Berry Blog at http://beamends.typepad.com/simons_blog/

Earlier development

RSA Networks

NCVO Foresight

Ruralnetonline and Networksonline

NESTA and open innovation

The Open Innovation Exchange