In the beginning, there was a public sector project.
The Council of Europe was tasked with producing a proposal to reform European youth policies, for both the Commission and member states. Makes sense: in a time of crisis, the ways young people transition over to adulthood have changed, and that might call for new policies. The expectations were not too high: split up the transition topic into issues (employment, education, family etc.), assign each one to a credentialed expert and task her with writing an essay, stitch the essays together into a report. Your taxpayer euro at work.
Except that, right from the onset, our group at the Council of Europe decided to do it differently. We recast citizens, regardless of age or credentials, as experts; asked them to share their life experiences and wisdom on an open source online platform; and refused to treat them as “targets” or “respondents”. Instead, we considered anyone who chose to engage as a co-researcher. We bestowed upon them the title of Edgeryders, in recognition of the difficult work done by those who explore the edges of a deep economic and societal crisis.
The result surpassed all our expectations. An incredibly diverse community of changemakers rose to the challenge: we realized that a vast, distributed operation of sensemaking, research and development was (is) underway. People were trying all sorts of cutting-edge innovation on themselves: open source software, eco-friendly communities, non-transactional economies, protest movements, urban agriculture, nomadic lifestyles, mutual emotional support in the face of a tough environment, sharing economies, you name it. Some of the smartest, most generous people I have ever met showed up, apparently out of nowhere. Most of them are not wealthy; some are struggling. Everyone found the time to compare notes, share, and help. We were humbled by such an open, generous attitude. Less than a year later, we had one thousand users from over twenty countries; five hundred blog posts; four thousands comments; and a 200-strong unconference, Living On The Egde, in Strasbourg, France. That was about three thousand pages worth of high-quality content. We aggregated them into a report via ethnographic methods. Mission accomplished.
And then something extraordinary happened: the community refused to go away. We see collaborations springing up everywhere (work-in-progress list), in complete disregard of national borders; many more, undoubtedly, we are not seeing. Suddenly, it felt like everyone was engaged in constant interaction, having a go at big, scary, interesting problems in a semi-coordinated way. This was way too good to let go. So, some of us spun off the website, started a corporation to act as a scaffolding and energy source to keep the community going, and here we are now.
One of the projects that resulted from this interaction is called the unMonastery, a new kind of institution that borrows elements from monastic life in 10th century Europe and repurposes them as a platform for collaboration and open innovation. It summarizes what I find so valuable in Edgeryders: the out-of-the-box thinking, the focus on delivery, the ease in making alliances (in this case with the Italian city of Matera) without giving up autonomy. Conceived at Living On The Edge, the unMonastery went from idea to prototype in less than a year: the building to host the prototype is being renovated as I write this. If we still needed any, this is living proof that we are willing and able to do the job that we came together for: colonize, expand and improve society, starting at the edges, because that’s where the action is.
It is clear that we – the Edgeryders already in the community, and those we will meet along the way – are powerful allies for each other. Just as importantly, we are a comforting presence for each other in times of exhaustion, pessimism and defeat, which are frequent. So, here’s the plan: we all meet in Matera for the next Living On The Edge. Our goal: tooling up and skilling up to get better and better at moving from talk to action. We have new tools at our disposal (Edgeryders-the-company and the unMonastery itself, perhaps others), but even if we did not one person’s usual tools and practices are new to another. We do it in the unMonastery itself: it is a spectacular building and what the hell, we can use the energy boost that comes with seeing something like that come true. It will be like a pilgrimage: the unPilgrimage of Edgeryders from everywhere.
Whoever you are, wherever you are, if you see yourself in all this, consider coming over. Everyone’s welcome, the best Edgeryders are those we have not met yet. The food will be good and the weather mild (this is, after all, Italy). The venue will be unique. The conversation will be high-powered and edgy. And a Halloween party in the unMonastery? Seriously. It’s going to be epic.
To do so, visit your user profile, click “Edit Profile” & fill in the LOTE-relevant info. If you don’t have an Edgeryders account yet, just create one and you’ll be able to do that right on signup. Just do it. We’ll be in touch soon after.
Update: a conference minisite with all relevant info has been set up.