Edgeryders has been a foundational experience for me personally. Even though I am not being paid to work on it anymore, I find myself spending time on the website and interacting with members of the community in various ways. And it’s not just me. There are many signs of a powerful story unfolding: people around us treat Edgeryders as if it were a reality – from the Huffington Post to the many people and entities that offered help, free venues for future #LOTEs and so on. Nadia pulled off an amazing stunt, getting Swedish think tank Global Challenge to pay Edgeryders (which does not even exist!) for the Mission: Baltic gig. And of course the amazingly high-quality conversation on this website (that runs on community-donated time and money) is the strongest sign of all that there is something valuable in our staying close.
I think we might have a credible product for a social enterprise. In a nutshell, it’s this: we know how to produce a new kind of knowledge product. You can think of it as a hybrid between consultancy and consultation. Like consultancy, it is as technical and narrow-scoped as required: there are citizen experts on everything out there, and the Internet (and our own community-building skills) makes it cheap to reach out to them). Like consultation, it is open to everyone and scales quite well. Unlike run-of-the-mill consultancy, our method:
- is self-correcting. Radical openness guarantees that, if a particular group of citizen experts takes a wrong turn, their mistake is likely to be spotted and corrected early on by others – just like what happens with open source software.
- is truthful. For almost all participants being a citizen expert is not a job – although it can occasionally lead to paid work – and there are too many of us to buy us all off. This takes away the incentive to keep the client away from inconvenient truths.
Even more important than a model, we have great, world-class people in the community. I can think of at least half a dozen of the “young guns” in Edgeryders that I would definitely make a project with. And – as agreed in Brussels last December – the young guns have the support of the older Edgeryders who are too deep into their own things to want to build another company themselves, but will play ball (and bring along invaluable expertise) if the young people make the first move and build space for them.
If I am right, I would very much like us to morph into a social enterprise, because this would kill several birds with one stone. It would give a natural point of entry for “people on the edge” to interact with the policy making process, strengthening our democracy; generate the revenue to keep the community together and keep it growing (maintain a website, have people paid to explore the planet for more people riding the edge to join forces with, pay for a lote conference each year); and produce some paid work for, well, you guys, and even a couple of jobs. So, with Nadia’s help and inspiration, I developed a pitch for potential clients and gave it at the Stockholm seminar last week. The slides are at the top of this post.
The day after, we met with fellow Edgeryders present at the seminar in a sun-washed cafe in SoderMalm – and we agreed that the pitch has traction, and that we have in Nadia a powerful saleswoman. We also discussed various ways to make this idea attractive and fair to the whole community: I will write about this in a forthcoming post. I am very aware that making Edgeryders a business, even a social one, might shatter the sense of community. We all agreed that there is no way this is going to work without the active support of the community.
Encouraged by Alek Tarkowski, Nadia entered Edgeryders in the Knight Foundation’s Open Government Challenge. It would be nice to win, of course, but that was not the point: the point was, rather, to continue developing the idea and give it a written form. Now that it’s written, I would like to ask you all for feedback. What do you think? Can it work? Would you like to be involved? What am I missing here, besides the social contract with the community at large (a proposal is forthcoming)? My text (less than one page) is here: the best way to leave feedback is probably on the same website (until March 30th – on the odd chance that we get picked up for the next stage of the OG Challenge), but you are definitely welcome to leave it here too. Following James’s recommendations, even if we go ahead with this we are definitely going to prioritize revenue building over fundraising.