Our Big Question: what to say to the Cat

Alice and the Cheshire CatAlthough we started this project by Throwing mud at the wall, I think we are coming to the point where we need to address the Cat Question, from Alice in Wonderland:

"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don't much care where--" said Alice.
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat.

In other words, what and who is this project for, in the digital wonderland. We have said that it "explores how the social web and other factors are changing the ways in which we may belong to groups and organisations" - but we'll need to be more specific if we are to engage people, as we hope, in a collaborative exploration that produces something useful at the end. I've found two main strands emerging: one with a research focus, and the other around products and services. I think we want to end up with:

1. Ways to understand better what membership and belonging may mean in a networked world. That ties in well with the research (here and here), and Guide proposed by Megan Griffith of the NCVO Foresight team. I think it may also interest our partners at the RSA. We are meeting next week to see how, among other things, we best draw on experience from the RSA Networks project that helped inspire this project. The RSA is a particularly useful testbed because its 27,000 members get a mix of services, recognition (through being termed a Fellow), and opportunities to work together on socially-useful projects (that's the RSA Networks strand). I hope we can get more reflections from Paul and others on what members of organisations really want - and what they may contribute.

2. Ways to help membership organisations - and people seeking to organise without with organisations - embrace a mix of new online and face-to-face methods for consuming, communing and co-creating: getting information and services, connecting with others, doing good stuff together. On that front I think we'll be concentrating on what you can do with a mix of free or low-cost tools. New heavy-duty online systems will be needed in many cases: but if we are examing the challenge that social media brings to organisations - because members can start doing things online for themselves - then it makes sense to focus on the low cost tools. It also means that we can develop some products and services that will provide direct benefits to individuals and organisations. Prototyping those will be a great way to explore what works and what doesn't, in what circumstances. Simon Berry has given us insights into how that might work.

If we have some idea of "where do we want to get to", how do we get there? When and where? In order to put some drive into the research and tools development, I think we need some energising milestones along the way. We have some small events in mind - about which more later - and I'm very hopeful we will soon hear more about a London event this summer to rival Reboot (Copenhagen) and LIFT (Geneva). I hope that could provide us with a face-to-face festival where we can find a small corner for the ideas that we are developing here, and at least a partial answer for the Cat.

Oh, I almost forgot. This is a collaborative process. Do you think that's where we should be going?