Just before Christmas I put together a kind of internal minisite for the Edgeryders Corporate stuff (we also have a linkedin Company page ). The idea is to aggregate all relevant information about the Edgeryders company in one place.
So far this is what we have in terms of Coporate structure and governance:
Edgeryders LBG is a corporate shell exacty analogous to shells for computer software: an interface between the client and the collective intelligence engine of the system – which does not live in the shell, but in the community.
“We have a fighting chance where other consultants don’t, because we, as a company, are wired very differently from anyone else: we area corporation without permission. In other words, Edgeryders is a do-ocracy”
Here’s how it works:
Anybody that has a project that might resonate with the Edgeryders ethos is encouraged to think of herself as being part of Edgeryders. Anyone can propose and discuss the project with others, but also look for a client for it without having to ask for permission. Anyone can claim to represent Edgeryders: people can ask for an edgeryders.eu email address and we will issue one without too many questions, provided the project is not in contrast with the community’s values. If the project does find a client (like it happened for the unMonastery) the person who leads it gets hired for the duration of the project. Edgeryders LBG provides the corporate infrastructure to deploy it: team building, technology, outreach and engagement, invoicing, banking, whatever. This is regulated by ad-hoc agreements between project leaders and the company, because every project is different. Once a contract is signed, the company’s board of directors takes on legal responsibility for delivering on it, just as with any other corporation.
This setup results in self-selection, lots of it.
Each individual in Edgeryders does what she is best at and what she is most passionate about. Anyone can propose ideas and lines of work; any of these ideas can get picked up by the community and gain momentum ((but by no means all of them will). This much openness guarantees a very high rate of idea generation – and an equally high rate of idea rejection by lack of momentum. Anything that lives through this much natural selection has to be very, very good – and clients stand to benefit from it.
A structure to serve both clients and community members
Making Edgeryders into a social enterprise means closing successfully two very different deals at the same time. One – the client-side deal – entails making a convincing case that we, the Edgeryders community, have the means of harvesting and conveying in a unique way valuable knowledge. Based on the interest we have generated in the last few months, we see this is realistic. The other one is the community-side deal. It entails making a convincing case that we, as individuals, would benefit from joining the Edgeryders community (or staying, for those already involved) revenue-raising social enterprise. Internet culture, as we know, is vulnerable to exploitative types that encourage you to “express yourselves”, then sequester your input and use it to get rich (Huffington Post, anybody?).
What follows is an outline of a fair and realistic deal which is advantageous to as designed and discussed by the community in the run up to registering the Edgeryders coporate entity.
The kernel consists initially of the people that have put in the legwork (and, in some cases, their own money) into spinning off Edgeryders from the Council of Europe. These people are also directors of the actual company.
- Matthias Ansorg, CTO: Rock-solid German open source hacker. We have seen him do stuff with tech that borders on witchcraft to Muggles. He is reconverting a 1968 firetruck to be his mobile home. Need we say more? email@example.com
- Noemi Salantiu, Head of Community: Young social scientist from Romania with a knack for nurturing social dynamics conducive to collective intelligence. firstname.lastname@example.org
- Arthur Doohan, CFO: Irish apostate investment banker (“I was sick of being a professional gambler with other people’s money”) from an engineering background. He is the founder of the Irish Pirate Party. email@example.com
- Alberto Cottica, Head of Research: Economist, data scientist, open data activist. The leading voice on open government in his country, Italy. firstname.lastname@example.org
- Nadia EL-Imam, CEO: Swedish-Sudanese-Ethiopian user experience designer, activist and change-maker. Has more than six years' experience in sales, interactive advertising, design and community-building. email@example.com
The structure of Edgeryders-the-social enterprise is characterized by:
- Multiplicity. We are a very diverse community. This is critical: almost anything we have achieved rests on that diversity, so the social contract needs to preserve and enhance it. We need to build different incentives to appeal to different people.
- Openness. It is essential that we stay wide open to an influx of new people, with their insights and skills. This means building a deal that works for people that we have not yet met. It also means that Edgeryders can never be a membership-based organization. The minute you draw a line and say “Here, we are on this side, the outside world is on that side”, the community begins to asphyxiate and die.
- Self-selection. Individuals should be able to choose their own role, as long as this does not limit the autonomy of others.
- Mobility. People should be able to move as effortlessly as possible from one role to another.
- No veto power. The focus of any deal should be to empower and encourage each one of us to do stuff. Should Edgeryders become something that can prevent you from doing stuff… I guess no one would be interested (certainly not the founders). Remember the mantra: who does the work calls the shots. No one gets to sit on the sidelines and tell people not to do stuff. If you want to make it better, get involved!
With those design principles in mind, we are building the following structure. It is layered, like an onion.
- A (tiny) incorporated kernel. This subsystem is for “keeping the lights on”: running and energizing the online community and finding the resources to put together one \#LOTE conference a year for all of us to get together. Since it needs to generate revenue, this part must be able to find and pitch clients that will pay in return from our advice. People in the kernel need to do the hard work of bringing a social startup to financial viability; they should aim at making Edgeryders their day job.
- An open layer of operatives. These are people that see value in enlisting the help of the Edgeryders community (as well as the Edgeryders name, which, at least in the space I am in, turns out to have a little value – it appears we are cool!) for something they are working on or they wish to work on the future.
- A host of domain experts. These are the repositories of living knowledge of Edgeryders, ready to come online if the project is right. We have people that hack almost anything: urban agriculture, defense policy, pandemics, open data, social currencies, urban regeneration, you name it. Even more importantly, we have reached the critical mass where one of us is one handshake away from world class, cutting edge experts on pretty much anything. These people are too busy (and sometimes too senior) to work in Edgeryders – yet they made a tremendous difference in reaching out to a broad, diverse range of communities of practice, thereby driving our initial successes. It is important to give them some reason to hang around the community - and occasionally contribute to the debate – even when they are not on the payroll.
- An outer layer, hanging out on the website and occasionally contributing to the online discussion. A mixed bag of newcomers, formerly active people that are drifting off, passers-by. They reach the website as a result of engagement and community management efforts; maybe they follow a link from Twitter, and are provoked into a response. This is mainly a recruiting and self-recruiting ground, a vantage point where people can get a front seat to the community and decide whether to engage or re-engage. Experience from Edgeryders 1 shows that it only takes a successful post to establish oneself as respected member of the community – so the outer layer acts as an effective springboard to the inner ones.
The first two layers are the people that generate revenue, and drive Edgeryders as a social enterprise. The kernel focuses on keeping the community going, and this is critical because without the community none of this can happen. The operatives focus on projects, and the projects will be as diverse as they themselves are. The two outer layers provide content and discussion; the domain experts also act as relays to specialized communities that we might need to reach out to. The kernel people work for Edgeryders. Everyone else does not, but is eligible for packets of paid work. Critically, everyone in all layers donates a little bit of time too – hopefully that’s not too bad, because they get to interact with smart people and the kernel makes LOTE events happen for them. Also critically, we build in ways for layers to interact: for example, recruiting the board by picking some Edgeryders registered users at random. Everyone gets a chance to serve in the board.
You do. That is, if you are prepared to do the work. It works like this: you can kickstart an Edgeryders project by positioning yourself as what I above called an operative. And anybody can be an operative – this is why that layer is open. As an operative, you can mobilize the community towards your project even if you are not part of the incorporated kernel: you will be collaborating with it. I am not sure how to frame the legal status of the cooperation, but from an operational point of view this should follow three rules.
- You don’t need anyone’s permission to start a project. Anybody can put on and Edgeryders hat, provided they subscribe to the community’s core values. There is little danger of abuse, because, if someone starts a project that conflicts with the Edgeryders broad worldview (“let’s advise Big Bad Evil Corporate on how to make even more money reducing young innovators to brainless zombies!”), the community will simply ignore it, and the project will fail. For Edgeryders to work its magic, anything we attempt simply must be beneficial! No reputation damage either: the fact that an evil Edgeryders project failed will only reinforce our reputation. Distributed quality control, yay!
- If you bring in a project, you have to lead it. This means you have to decide on how resources are allocated, choosing people you put on the payroll, prioritizing goals etc.
- You have to give back to the community. Need a domain expert? Try to hire it from the community. Organizing a conference? Try to get some of the speakers invited from the community. This is in your best interest too – some of the smartest people I know are in Edgeryders. You can find world-class expertise on so many things in here! No brainer. Also, you’ll be using community resources (online platform, LOTE events etc.) which are maintained by the kernel, so you’ll need to contribute towards those.
Operatives don’t work for Edgeryders: rather, Edgeryders works for them. Each of them gets to legitimately speak for the community and make the calls within the project he or she is leading. People in the kernel can initiate projects too. In fact, they must – they need to generate revenue to maintain community resources!
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