Creating a self-organising collaborative crowd
For the last 2 years, I have been traveling around the world, working with and learning about social innovation and collaborative communities working on social change. My core inquiry in this time has been around catalytic moments in society — and how we can leverage them to create intelligent, ongoing collective action.
More plainly put, we often come together for conferences, programs, protests and events of all sorts and create fantastic energy and willingness for change, only to see it dissipate almost immediately in the weeks and months that follow.
In the middle of 2015, I found myself sailing with friends around the Auckland Harbor islands in New Zealand, submitting an application to the POC21 innovation camp. A couple months later, after a number of Skype calls and a bit of fundraising, I was boarding a plane to France to help setup and participate in POC21 with a team of friends and colleagues from Enspiral and Loomio.
This was a catalytic moment if I’d ever seen one.
What was POC21?
In October 2015 100+ geeks, designers and eco-hackers met in a castle in France to prototype tools for a fossil free, zero-waste society. Our goal: make open source sustainable products the new normal.
Over 5 weeks we developed 12 sustainable lifestyle technologies and built an international community of innovators and supporters. Together we created self-filtering showers, portable solar power systems, micro-agriculture tools and wind turbines. We cooked locally grown food, pooped in dry composting toilets, and powered up on solar energy. The gathering represented the unfolding convergence of the open source and environmental movements into one force.
The end of a moment — saying goodbye to the castle and community
Near the end of the POC21 camp, we found ourselves asking “What’s next?” One of the facilitators held a beautiful ceremony where we all shared our intentions and dreams for life-after-POC.
As you might expect, different people had different ideas about what they wanted to do next.
Some were really excited about instituting a permanent space like the POC21 camp — where people working on open source and sustainable lifestyle might come to work on their projects full-time, without the pressures of the external world to push their projects to the margins of their lives.
Some were interested in creating consulting companies — to leverage the networks and expertise available in the community to help bring open source, circular economy and sustainable technology to the mainstream.
Others wanted to set up some online infrastructure — to help the community persist after the event, and make sure we could find new opportunities to work together and support each other after we went our separate ways.
The general sense was that we wanted to stay connected, and find ways to help each other out. After all, we’re all in this together right?
The trouble was, no one knew exactly how to do that.
Our final proof of concept
The Enspiral team at POC21 was a bit of a wildcard. Our expertise is in creating software for group processes, not hardware. But after connecting with the organizers, we were initially accepted as a sort of shadowy 13th project team.
Our team’s main project at POC21 was Cobudget — an open source online tool that helps communities of purpose create more together. Cobudget lets groups crowdsource and crowdfund ideas, with (what we hope is) an easy an engaging process for collaborating with money.
Having processes for collaborating with money is at the heart of what makes Enspiral work. Most online communities exist for discussion alone, but like Enspiral the DNA of POC21 is all about action. So as POC21 transitioned from an in-person to an online community, our hunch was that giving people a way to fund each others projects might enable us to sustain collective action beyond the moment.
How we work together — protocols for collaboration
The system we came up with looks something like this:
Then, rights to spend that money are distributed evenly among the community members who have opted into Cobudget. Each person gets to decide individually what they want to support with their portion of the funds.
The strength of this approach is that it’s easy to engage with. People simply give some money if they want to, and fund each other’s ideas when they seem valuable. Cobudget gives us a protocol for financial collaboration. No one is required to seek consensus to do anything, but our work is aligned by our shared values and intentions.
It’s early days, but projects funded by our process have already started. Most recently we funded a community goals workshop to be hosted online, funded travel expenses for Faircap to go to a clear water trade fair and funded community members to manage our online tools and harvest content for our patrons.
Not everyone from the POC21 camp is engaging in our online community. And that’s totally okay. Some people are contributing money, some people are working on projects for the community as a whole, and some are back to their normal lives.
In our recent community goals workshop, many in attendance were happily surprised to find that though people have gone their separate ways physically — “this community is still very much alive.”
The community forming in the wake of POC21 is different from the community that came together in a castle in France, and it’s evolving and transforming into something else entirely.
This small but growing community represents a much larger convergence between disconnected movements and networks.
For the first time at POC21, environmentalists, open source hackers, self-management practitioners, creatives, social change conveners and more gathered with the focused time and resources to get stuff done together. Connecting during community dinners, dialog circles and all-nighters, we realized we were all working on the same thing.
If we really want to transform a moment into a movement, we’ll have to reach across our silos, explore new ways of working together, and create new platforms and protocols for sharing and supporting one another at larger and larger scales.
COP21 has just started, and now more than ever we must work together to build power in citizen groups to make real political change, and viable alternatives to the destructive and unsustainable society that got us here in the first place.
If you want to support the work of the POC21 Community, or just stay up to date — check out our Patreon page, share it, or become a patron if you’d like.