What can membership organisations learn from Harry Tuttle?

I'm inspired to write this post following a tweet from David Wilcox, in which he says:

more value in a couple of hours of Tuttling than a yea's membership of .... no, no we aren't snarky here are we

No, we are not! But the point is a valid one nonetheless.

The Tuttle Club is an informal gathering organised every Friday morning by Lloyd Davis around a wiki and a blog. Originally called the Social Media Cafe, it was retitled in honour of the freelance heating engineer from Terry Gilliam's film Brazil.

It's a club without a membership - whoever can make it on a day are those that compose the members. It's without place too - at the moment the Coach and Horses pub in Greek Street, London provide the venue, but that could change at a moment's notice. It's without any kind of organisation, other than the wiki pages which are edited by the members themselves.

This stage is described by Lloyd as just a 'prototype', though when the prototype works this well, you have to wonder what the finished article will look like. 

What it does do, though, is work. I've been just the once, lucky others more than that. It's a chance to catch up with people, meet others for the first time, get some work done (if the wifi is operational), talk through projects and develop ideas with like-minded folk. There's even talk of similar groups organising themselves in Birminghm and elsewhere. It's a post-organisations organisation: What Clay Shirky writes about in practice.

How can a traditional membership organisation take the best elements of Tuttle (organic growth, agendas set by members, significant amounts of goodwill flying around, genuinely productive environment) with the advantages of the membership organisation (established member base, administrative backup, well defined remit), I wonder?

re: Tuttling

Thanks Dave ... another social media demo: how a few characters on Twitter provokes a blog post and a conversation. Anyway, I wasn't of course taking a pop at any membership organisation - but rather, as you say, hoping to start just the conversation that we are now having. If people can self-organise to get great conversations leading to social and business connections, will they pay membership subs? Or rather, what will membership organisations need to do to provide additional value?


In fact it isn't self-organising in this case. Tuttle is really down to the subtle non-directive leadership that Lloyd Davis is providing. And it isn't going to be without "organisation". As you'll see in the video, Lloyd was using time today to put some ideas/requests on the wiki about Things To Do. If the club is going to have premises, help on recruitment, consulting etc it will need to incorporate and have some governance structure. How do you do that without the network turning into a centralised clique (classic problem).

Incidently, I was experimenting with a new service Qik which allows you to stream live video from your phone to the web. There's a couple of other Tuttle conversations here.

It is incredibly simple ... and if a group of people at an event do it, their videos can be grouped together. That begins to blend the online and offline a bit more.

Is private ownership inevitable?

"If the club is going to have premises, help on recruitment, consulting etc it will need to incorporate" 

Not necessarily. If there was a will to do so then it could be run as a syndicat, cooperative, crowdsource enterprise or social enterprise to give just a few possible alternative to the limited company model. The fact that Lloyd has chosen to go down the incorporation road isn't by any means evidence that a self-governing collective without any seperation between  owwnership and membership couldn't work in practice. 

The  only way to prevent the classic problem  (network turning into a centralised clique) is to build in safeguards against that from the onset, and to nurture a healthy culture of debate and tolerance with diverse opnion being expressed in an open process of decision taking.

Cooperatives can be Companies Limited by Guarantee!

Some of the best-known large cooperatives are Industrial and Provident Societies, but it is possible to use many other legal forms, depending on what you're trying to do with it. You don't know whether it's a cooperative until you see how it behaves.

(This comment is free for any use, not CC-by, and the CAPTCHA is hindering my participation - see http://www.w3.org/TR/turingtest for why.)

re: Cooperatives

Thanks for the point on cooperatives ... and yes some would be relevant for this project if they are providing external benefit.

Sorry about the CAPTCHA requirement on commenting (requirement to type in a word or do a sum). We had a lot of trouble with spam, and CAPTCHA stopped that. If you register for an account, CAPTCHA will not be required.

Is private ownership inevitable?

Andy,  I'm not interested in the separation of ownership and membership either.  My choice of the Company Limited by Guarantee model (which hasn't been enacted yet btw - if there's a better way, we can still do it) is that it gives us a legal entity that can enter into contracts which we can all own.

but my knowledge is currently limited to what wikipedia has to say :)


and the advice I've had from people who've come along to meetings and told me what they think. 

If you have other ideas or advice based on experience, please do share it.  There's a page on the wiki here:

http://londonsocialmediacafe.pbwiki.com/Setting+up+a+company and there's been some activity on it overnight already. 


re: is private ownership inevitable?

Great points , Andy. I know Lloyd - and others - are really keen to find the lightest, most appropriate structure both as a practical solution for Tuttle and a way of showing what's possible. Can you spare any time for a Tuttle govenance group?

Govenance for non orgs

Yes, I'm definitely interested in the activities around "Govenance for non- orgs"  as you put it. I advocate that no private communications channels should be set up and the aim of any steering group should be to dissolve itself.

Good stuff, Andy. This is a

Good stuff, Andy. This is a point I have been meaning to blog about for some time: the relationship between online collaborative communities and the co-operative movement. The point is that while the tools are new, the relationships aren’t, and people have been working together to tackle problems since the year dot. What the tools do is make the process easier and more transparent and because they also make it easier to do without forming institutions or organisations, they also remove some of the political undercurrents too. More needs to be written on this, I think.

Organisation and

Organisation and incorporation are interesting topics. You can keep good ideas going on a minimum of organisation and admin overhead, but once the numbers go up, or the complexity of the ideas grow, then you need that backup.

Wikipedia is used by Clay Shirky as an example of a nonorg, but really the governence arrangements are terrifically complex and well defined. It's possible that it wouldn't work any other way.

Maybe the history of organising and administering groups is something membership orgs have to offer the less formal groups that are springing up.

organisation and incorporation

Having just read through the comments above, it occurs to me that the newer collaborative communities - such as the aforementioned Tuttle - are able to provide more 'quick win' solutions such as immediate conversations, swift replies and changes in direction because they aren't bogged down with historical working practises and mindsets that accompany long-standing membership institutions.

But as is pointed out above by Dave, once the complexity of the ideas or the community grows, it can help to have the backing of such an organisation that can provide a track record in respected research and prototypes to help develop ideas, media clout and a public voice to disseminate findings, and financial and admin resources to back projects.

Pulling back to the RSA specifically - we are moving relatively slowly, as organisations are prone to do. But I believe that the experience and facilities we bring with us will benefit in the long run.

re: incorporation and organisation

Laura - I think you've hit it! We need some middle ground between existing organisations trying to change, and nonorgs finding they have to organise after all.

Tuttle is now having to think about how to organise - as Lloyd says here. OK - here's an experiment: how about RSA offers to be a "godfather/mother" to Tuttle ... as an alternative to grow it all yourself? Both groups would learn from the discussion of the pros and cons, even if nothing came of it.

re: incorporation and organisation

David, sounds like a cool idea to me,

Laura, I'm glad for whatever help we can get - would you be able to come along to one of our meetups to see what we're doing and talk through this further?

incorporation and organisation

A copy of my email reponse to David and Lloyd..

I don't want to start this email by being a party-pooper, but it seems that David has suggested more than I can provide in terms of time and resources to 'godfather' the development of Tuttle.

My priority is to foster and learn from the networks and project ideas being initiated by the Fellowship on the online platform. And I am taking part in the Membership Project in that capacity, and from a specific personal interest relating to my job role at the RSA.

However, I don't want to be all doom and gloom. We are encouraging Fellows to move their discussions off the platform and into face to face meetings. And if you think that Tuttle has something to offer to this process, by all means do register on the RSA platform and let people know about it. Fellows might be able to help you develop your thinking around this. http://networks.thersa.org/

Ideally, the RSA itself will become the 'middle ground' between organisation and non-organisation. Our Networks platform will have the same freedoms that Tuttle does, with Fellows and others sharing ideas online, and moving offline to develop ideas further - independently of the RSA's input as an organisation bar the provision of an online platform and a bit of facilitation (the non-org bit). The added bonus the RSA would bring is there being a process whereby the RSA can then step in to offer different levels of support and development to some projects (depending on whatever criteria are eventually decided upon and resources allowing) that will both inform and create the Programme of issues we cover (the org bit).

Reciprocally - ideas that are started in other forums (fora?) could be taken up by Fellows and brought into the RSA platform...

I'll put a version of this email on the membership project page so that people can see where the conversation went.

re: incorporation and organisation

Thanks Laura - sorry to drag RSA in bit too enthusiastically!  Your response is really helpful in highlighting the "interface" issues between - what shall we say - new/light and older/mature organisations. Is it worth you or someone from RSA Networks going to a Tuttle Club meeting: open, but takes time? Is it worth someone from Tuttle Club registering on RSA Networks: easy, but closedish. Let's see.


Yeah, wikipedia is a really poor example. It was set up and continues to be run by a multi-millionaire advocate of Ayn Rand's Objectivism philosophy.