I believe that something has fundamentally changed in EdgeRyders, and that it is causing cumulative damage to it’s ability to fulfil it’s own mandate.
In order for this post to be productive and inclusive I’ve tried to highlight these issues with respect to what has come to pass over the years. In good faith I have purposely avoided naming individuals, or making unreasonable targeted points. I have previously tried to raise these issues on 3 separate occasions, both in person and on the admin board, each time they have been effectively dismissed or undermined, in this respect this post should be read as a last attempt to confront and work through them.
When I joined EdgeRyders 3 years ago, the draw, enthusiasm and excitement for what I perceived in the future potential of what EdgeRyders could become was enormous. What I found at the opening conference in Strasbourg, was a diverse set of people looking for pragmatic solutions to very real problems found in the world - with a much longer term perspective than other groups, communities or initiatives that I had previously participated in. It was also rare to find a critical mass of people interested in values and practices such as decentralisation, open source and large scale collaboration. Many of the people I met have become friends and collaborators for life and since then the learning experience has been huge.
Bembo summarises this feeling well in this post:
“We talked of a Treasury of Wisdom, Rebooting Democracy, Resiliency Hubs, Transparent Budgeting, Creative Extinction, a Society of Inclusive Civil Survivalists. Among our slogans were indeed Collapsenomics, State in a Box, unCivilization, The Age of Crisis. It seemed to me that someone was finally addressing the Dark Arts of confronting the ghosts that haunt us.”
- Nearing the Edge
At this same event, a group of us came together to discuss building foundational infrastructure for supporting the development and lives of those doing important work - this conversation birthed the unMonastery project. Work on that concept continued in earnest if not somewhat erratically between myself, @nadia, @ola and @edwin in 2012.
Until later that same year when #LOTE2 happened, in Brussels, during the conference, a decision had been made that EdgeRyders would leave the Council of Europe and become autonomous. At that same conference, in the closing hours we formed a circle, and those who wished to make a pledge stepped into the circle and declared it. I stepped forward and said that I would lead the unMonastery project (the phrase I used to indicate modest facilitation, was “pick up the shit”), some pledged to projects that have since disappeared, others pledged to keep the lights of EdgeRyders on as it became it’s own entity.
In 2014 EdgeRyders played an instrumental role in supporting the development and opening of the first unMonastery in Matera.
And up until this point all was well - but going forward past this point, about a year ago now, things started to slowly degrade in the EdgeRyders universe, this has been for myself (and I’m sure for others) deeply upsetting and called into question many of those early visionary principles.
Saving specific details (because they’re not important right now), the characteristics of this decline in quality of experience can be recognised in:
- Steady and significant decline in numbers of individuals posting on the platform.
- Noticeable degrees of distrust and paranoia between key people instrumental to building ER.
- Personal attacks on individuals through back channels and over email.
- Unfounded defamation of character.
- Burning of bridges.
- Increased concentration of power - diminishing openness to disagreement.
- Continual degradation of a shared vision and loss of long term perspective.
- Closed meetings and groups becoming common place in the culture.
- Unpleasant and high tension posts being the most active on the platform.
One such unpleasant exchange, was catalyzed by my suggestion to @Alberto and @Arthur in person (then subsequently in the closed Admin group) that we were in desperate need of a cathartic, mending of fences and a safe space in which anyone could express their views. I believed this was fundamental for bringing people back to EdgeRyders, making people feel safe on the platform and working together to fix the issues. Unfortunately this suggestion led to the aforementioned exchange, and has as such now rendered the suggested exercise untenable (I have outlined these reasons to Alberto in a personal email, but would prefer not to go into depth here, for fear of going off topic but I can if it is required).
But, regardless of everything that has come to pass, I still consider myself an EdgeRyder and I would like to make the effort to try and fix, and work towards some of what I consider to be broken on a longer time scale. In order to do that, many things have to be said in the open that have previously remain undeclared, spoken in private or brushed under the rug…
Despite the machiavellian undertones of the previous post - there were some very important, and necessary questions being raised. Namely issues of openness and access, which unMonastery has sought to address.
As part of that process, I have been examining and reading back over documents relating to the ‘Company’ and the kernel, essentially to try and understand where the misunderstandings lie. During which, it struck me that a lot has changed in the way EdgeRyders’ expresses its function in it’s documentation and the way the EdgeRyders LBG board acts in reality.
And as a result of that, and in order to begin a mending process I have a few questions and observations to make, which I believe are worth discussing:
- In almost all discussion, documentation and more precisely the Company Structure and Governance page; EdgeRyders has been positioned as a sort of Github for social innovation, providing the platform, architecture and context in which projects can grow. At no point does it say that the legal entity (LBG) wields or would even seek to define how those projects will exist in the world - yet this seems to be a growing trend. Could we please clarify what the relationship between project, community member and ER LBG actually is? (Sidenote, most of the pages for the company and legals relating to ER have become impossible to find without googling, the company page no longer features any of this information)
- Who gets to use the EdgeRyders trademarked logo and branding - and what is the process for this?
- Over 2 years, next to no effort has been made to expand the board, or open out the governance structure - I think this is a major contributor to discontent on the part of those who view LBG as wielding too much power. But conversely, this also contributes to a situation where people don’t feel they have ownership or responsibility over EdgeRyders itself - creating unfair levels of work for those who have committed to the kernel. (Whilst this week there has been a call for replacement directors, this cannot be seen as any kind of shift in governance structure, and with regard to non-exec oversight see point 9 below)
- In an environment under which all content is automatically licensed with Creative Commons Zero - how do community members (who may not be interested in seeing their work financialised) say what can and cannot be pitched to funders such as a Rockefeller?
- How are decisions about who has technical rights on the platform articulated - after having contributed code to ER and having admin rights from the outset of ER - I recently logged on to find mine had been revoked, without prior communication. Arbitrary decisions such as these add to a sense of unease about who makes decisions on ER and the openness of those decisions.
- Who defines the meaning of ‘community’ on EdgeRyders? (There has been a continuous shift between representing LBG and community. LBG directors consistently fail to represent the company viewpoint as unique and not necessarily the same as community)
- EdgeRyders has increasingly begun to feel more and more like an agency primarily focused on financial interest - the core drive seems to be focused on generating revenue - projects that don’t appear fundable suffering at the expense of those that are. With things such as LOTE being seemingly discarded because they didn’t generate the necessary sales environment. It is entirely fair for this to be the direction of ER LBG, but it must be clearly stated to the broader community.
- What is the status of “The person who does the work calls the shots” as the primary modus operandi under which ER functions - this seems to have been repeatedly contradicted in recent months - with calls for consensus (for which ER has no mechanism or culture by which to fulfil such requirements).
- In the company structure page it states: “Openness is our best safeguard against opportunistic or misguided behavior. People vote with their feet: if the kernel abuses the community, the community will evaporate, and the kernel will be left without a viable company. They definitely don’t want that! But what happens if they don’t notice something is wrong? Or if there is a major disagreement? If somebody else does something stupid that threatens your project as it unfolds? Our second safeguard is the board of directors. We are giving it statutory powers to overrun management and act as benevolent dictator when it perceives a threat. At the moment they are: Ásta Helgadóttir Vinay Gupta”
In the past 6 months I have witnessed this clause be completely disregarded, as if it were never written - meaning that there is currently no mechanism in place that ensures protection of abuses of power; this is a problem. Was this ever written into the Articles of Association or have any legal standing?
And on this final point, I think it’s fundamental at this stage that EdgeRyders LBG engages and put forward a well defined, clearly articulated mechanism which ensures that it is accountable to it’s community. And within that, a clear channel by which abuses of this position can be communicated in a way they will be heard and acted on. Until this is done, there is no way that ER can act with integrity or with trust by those who choose to work on the platform and contribute to our future.
Final point: It’s likely been noticed that this post isn’t in the unMonastery group, because this is categorically not about unMonastery, this is about EdgeRyders, EdgeRyders LBG and how it relates to the community because these issues are ones that concern every member and project present within EdgeRyders. unMonastery has been used as an example since it has at times become a focal point for these issues and where I have seen many of these issues surface.
It’s also important to note over the past weeks since many accusations were leveled at the work of the unMonastery and despite mountains of work currently needed in Greece, Italy and Germany, we have actively sought to take the first step in resolving the issues raised (read here). Before any more demands, accusations or personal attacks are leveled at that work, I believe the above questions and positions must be clarified.