Making a living reloaded

We are now in the phase of making sense of transition and building the Transition Handbook for Policy Makers together, as a community and with the help of a small research team. The outcome of this process should be useful at the level of the individual Edgeryder. If we want the findings to have a chance at having an impact in the policy world we want it to also speak to individuals in institutions charged with addressing specific issues. It is a considerable challenge. So we are breaking it down into a number of steps, clustering the material into edible chunks that a small research team have helped read, analyse and put into context. 

This is a summary of Dunja Potocnik‘s paper, where she analyses Edgeryders’ innovative ways of making a living and identifies corresponding weak spots in youth policy, making a case for citizens experts as source of inspiration for evidence based policy making. Do you recognise yourself in the description? Are there questions or issues you feel should be included? Any questions of your own you would like help in getting answered? Please leave comments either below or directly on to the google doc: full report available

Making a living reloaded

- summary -

1. Changed paradigm of youth values in the times of crisis

  • Reducing youth unemployment is critical to ensure young people achieve their professional aspirations, to prevent deterioration of skills acquired through education, to prevent dependence on their families with respect to housing and money
  • Part time work and temporary contracts are very popular among youth because they’re easier to access than permanent work, but are not sustainable in the long run and the risk is they will perpetuate a cycle of insecurity and precariousness
  • Countries in Mediterranean and Eastern Europe (the latter being less represented in the Edgeryders sample) display higher youth unemployment rates (>30%) and need more elaborated policy solutions
Edgeryders profile
  • they speak to a threefold audience: peers, researchers and policy makers
  • are in a much better situation than an average young person in danger of social exclusion and adverse economic situation, NEETs or low educated 
  • a majority live in multiple cities across Europe
  • make a case for increased mobility: a 2011 Eurobarometer revealed that 77% of youth have not experienced living in another country, and the implication is they lose an opportunity to gain skills and exposure to ideas, people and goods.
2. Horizon of the skills: Learned vs Reality
  • educational systems are perceived as outdated, theory-focused, and failing to equip young graduates with the skills needed for in the labour market
  • Edgeryders place a lot of value in peer to peer learning and opportunity learning, online and through ICT technologies - this may be of value to the extent that labor markets are able to absorb this less specialized and more interdisciplinary oriented individuals
3. Making a living: Clash of generations
  • young people today are adopting an employment model that’s fundamentally different from their parents’; but non-linear, portfolio careers may result in precarious jobs, difficulties in changing jobs due to high unemployment, sectorial and geographical (im)mobility, hierarchies that make it difficult to advance in one’s career.
  • meaningful work is a priority for Edgeryders, and it often trumps paid work; in the case of  unpaid internships, they are inadequate because interns seem to be extensions or replacements for regular staff (European Youth Forum 2011)
  • recruitment processes are most often deemed to be ill-suited in matching skills with needs, often idiosyncratic, and those in the community having experience with applications aren’t seeing any value in the process.
When institutional “safety nets” are failing
  • family is one traditional structure that’s perceived by Edgeryders to be an ally, in line with studies showing that young people nowadays leave parental homes later than before; a 2007 Eurobarometer cited 44% of young adults saying it’s because they couldn’t afford to move out, while 28% believed there wasn’t enough affordable housing
  • peer networks are valuable for mutual understanding and learning, moral and even financial support
  • government is not perceived as supportive when it comes to funding innovation or offering incentives to pursue funding: the backdrop here is that encouraging entrepreneurship has been a target of the European Commission, for its potential to foster economic growth; In the “Youth on the move” Eurobarometer, 43% of young respondents stated they would like to set up their own business, but there is a widespread perception of financial and administrative barriers, and risks associated with them.
  • the Eurobarometer data present “an average” European, but in the Edgeryders community there’s much more interest (a “nerve” for innovation), and entrepreneurship is a way to find meaning in one’s work
4. Policy 2.0: objects becoming creators of new framework for decision making
  • Policy 2.0 (coined by Emiliano Fatello): requires a bridging of local, regional, national and international scale issues through the digital tools Edgeryders are already adept at employing.
  • an additional aim of Council of Europe’s project: to restore trust of young European citizens in their institutions
  • the Edgeryders model: citizens are no longer objects of policy, rather they are citizen experts actively engaged in policy-making
  • lessons for policy-makers: looking at Edgeryders approaches they should take next steps towards real “evidence based policy”

Edgeryders related posts on MAKING A LIVING:

Quest for paid work

Carlien Roodink, We should organize our society around something else that employment

higiacomo Passion->Volunteer->Job->… Passion Again?

Noemi Salantiu, I look for recognition in my work.

edwin, Mo Money, Mo Problems

Charanya Chidambaram, Paid Work - Challenges & Path Forward

Hexayurt, The Subtle Art of Precarity

hkjovin, The profile of the future worker

Andrei Joan Stan, Basic skills or even skills for success

Noemi Salantiu, How do we make most of our portfolio careers? Strategically and less riding edges

Amalia Diosteanu, My first interaction with a job: what's going on?

hexayurt, Going beyond work: separating meaning and money, and surviving in the meanwhile

Jonathan Sundqvist, Finding a job is hard work

benvickers, Post Art School Hinterland: Earning in the grey zones of artworld

*** Making a living on the edge series of posts by Cataspanglish:

(Making A) Living On The EdgeElf Pavlik

(Making A) Living On The EdgePete Ashton

(Making a) Living On The Edge - Andrea Goetzke

(Making a) Living On The Edge - Olivier Schulbaum

Surviving recruitment

Anca Magyar, Advantage this disadvatages

Lyne Robichaud, Out of the box

Alberto Cottica, Two fails, one partial win. In general, not worth it

Razi Masri, Skills beyond what we were looking for

Bring on the allies

Darren, Inspiration through 1s and 0s

Alberto Cottica, Academia as a space for radical exploration

Razi Masri, Accepting non-employment

Social innovation

Alberto Masetti-Zannini, Like Alice in Wonderland

Tiago, I've got a plan!

james, Access Space, A New Model for Individual and Community Development

Justin Brown, Setting up

demsoc, Funding 2.0 Edgecamp session: “Dear Fundersletter

neodynos, To EXIST or not to exist…

Opening up discussion

My comment is related to ways to classify employment: from policy papers and surveys reffered in the paper it would seem that part time or temporary jobs are forms of underemployment, and in large part are a result of young people’s inability to find a full time job.

The European Labour Force Survey on 15-24 aged youth brings some data on reasons for part time and temporary work. Inability to find a full time job, followed by “other” reasons, taking part in education, own illness or disability, looking after children or incapacitated adults and other family or personal reasons, lead the list of reasons for engaging in part-time employment. Unlike the part-time employment, temporary employment is more often related to unreliable and uncertain job patterns that could deteriorate position of individuals participating in this sort of employment. High rate of temporary employment usually is related to the precarious jobs some social group makes a living from. In this respect, youth engaged in precarious (and temporary) employment lacks certainty and stability that could enable them to start or continue life independently from their parents. Harmfulness of the temporary contracts to the youth reflects in possibility that they get caught into alternation between temporary contracts and unemployment, damaging their status even beyond the age of thirties.

Now from policy end it seems quite clear there is a problem… what happens when our message, Edgeryders, seems to be this?

"Our way to tackle this is twofold at least:  1. taking up these small jobs, many times menial, only to do what matters for us… until you come up with better offer, starting with education!

2.Or the rest of us refuse employment per se, going for what we call non-employment, a life lived with minimum means, and only doing what we like, and if we have some sort of a job at one point it’s because you also happen to call it a job!  For us it’s just work that makes us happy"…

Question: where do these meet? What are we missing in the paper to make these meet and make a point?

The elusive liberators

Ok, here’s a story.

In 1998, the main Italian trade union confederation started a branch called NIDIL, or “New work identities”. The idea was to organize workers that were not, well, employees (still there). The Bologna chapter approached me (then a young economist-musician) asking me to sit in one of the committees trying to make sense of the effort.

In principle, the charter of the new trade union stated that new, less hierarchical work relationship could be an opportunity to de-dehumanize working to make your living, and we should find forms of unionization that enhanced the worker’s autonomy. Also, the experience of the more autonomous workers could be redeployed to increase the autonomy of the less so. In practice, we were stonewalled immediately, because “new work identities” included people with some degree of market recognition (me, I was on MTV: if my record company had pulled off, peple would still recognize my face) and poor guys doing call center for a pittance, with supervisors breathing down their necks. There were more of them than there were of us.

Perhaps more importantly, the trade union employees that made up the new branch operational structure had no idea what they could do for us (and, honestly, we did not know what to ask for). But when they saw an underpaid call center precarious worker, all became clear: they needed to infiltrate the place, organize some form of mass protest, then open a negotiation with management. Standard trade union stuff.

So, the new trade union ended up focusing on the low end of the “New work identities”. Their efforts were directed toward making their condition more like an employee’s. They were not wrong: there was, and still is, a lot of exploitation hidden behind autonomy, and it is quite difficult for the chicken to be autonomous from the fox in the wild. But the result is that the “liberators”, people who were trying to craft a path that would allow them some control over what they did, when and with whom, drifted off and melted back into the shadows.

I would suggest that, in Edgeryders, we make every effort to distinguish work subordination without rights from true autonomy. It would be such a waste if individuals with integrity and autonomy shared their experiences with the Council of Europe and we treated them as people who would really need a steady job, but they have not enough common sense to wish for it. Based on my experience, this risk is very real.

Where to start?

So I don’t know quite where to start, since everything for me right now is a bit fuzzy. As you picked up on I think my working practice shares many of the common values of EdgeRyders and is similar in its patterns or rythmn.

Case in point, I’m currently subletting my room in London, staying with family in Prague, whilst I do two things, the first is to rejuvenate my bank balance through freelance webdesign sourced within my personal network. The second thing i’m focused on is producing a book for an exhibition in London, the book functions as an art work; the funds I make here will be used to produce the work, which has no hope of financial renumeration. And so the cycle continues.

The point Alberto makes about autonomy; the fox and the chicken. Is one i’ve come to recognise within my own network and within my own work only recently - this is seriously unsustainable. Add to the mix that I recently turned down a high status, full time job (essentially because I wasn’t prepared to build what they wanted because I felt it was misguided) -  this has provoked the question though: What now?

I’m not sure a highly distributed career path, living hand to mouth is the best option for attaining autonomy, particularly in a world that appears to be getting poorer.

Myself and peers are under no allusion about the impact a contracting economy is likely to have on our daily lives, in London at least I sense a stark correlation between this and a contraction in imagination which by proxy is reducing optimism for the future. But how can the transparency of this situation begin to aid policy makers? Or even begin to address your question on how we draw conclusions 1. and 2. closer together?

For me, in a moment of transition I recognise the need for compromise, inorder to break the deadlock - my route up until now has been radically outside the mainstream, however for me the diffusion of innovation has held true and much of the work I’ve been involved in is beginning to occupy a Mainstream space. Therefore I’d ask what casestudies exist in the ‘career history’ of other EdgeRyders that illustrate a transition for a culture, practice or thing to something a Mainstream audience can assert value in?

Projects like the UnMonastary i think go some way to elucidating this further, I think actually it is for us to devise the metrics by which this value can be read and translated. In an ideal world the policy implementation would be to give us space to use on our own terms and trust our intentions - so pretty unrealistic.

But to return to the innovation point and for the sake of argument, lets say EdgeRyders are squarely in the ‘innovator’ bracket, should the focus then be that as precarity increases, the ability to incubate new innovative ideas is decreased - which is bad for everyone because our propensity to solve problems dissolves. So why do people ‘innovate’? I think we can safely say that it’s not to retain the status quo, it’s probably to change things, do the jobs currently available offer the opportunity to change things? In most instances, no.

So in policy terms what can we derive from this? That google have got it right?  I’m not sure this is the right outcome but I know a greater number of individuals would take job security over precarity if that were ensured a reduction in the working week and recognition that not all work should be made accountable.

Hopefully this helps, if you’d like to narrow the question, I’m happy to continue the conversation and hopefully this reply wasn’t to freewheeling!

My summary so far

I would go as far as to suggest that for our work model(s) to become object of policy, therefore scalable, certain assumptions are at work. For me this is the skeleton on which we are building a case:

1. Edgeryders are changemakers, but not necessarily by choice (I know a greater number of individuals would take job security over precarity if that were ensured a reduction in the working week and recognition that not all work should be made accountable.)

  1. Edgeryders’ is a complex, mixed model of work: current employment model often converges with search for alternatives outside mainstream; a refusal to enter the first or a mixture of both is often the case

  2. In all such cases, Edgeryders work produces value, social and economical, and could produce a lot more if it was leveraged. -> eloquent case studies here are Access Space, the potential for the unmonastery, work in the open government sphere or towards enabling commons,  volunteering and in general unpaid work.

What’s missing for me, or maybe not very clearly spelled out, is what you ask precisely: devise the metrics by which this value can be read and translated

  1. Any step to further integrate Edgeryders work in the mainstream would have to consider what for us have been deal breakers so far: jobs that lead to dehumanizing and autonomy loss, skills that are not valued, learning that is not certified, and social innovation work with the funding issues attached…

EDGERYDERS : young and not so Young…

In the Report,

Remember :

The Edgeryders community grew up to 2200 members,

young and not so Young…!

Best regards,

Morgane BRAVO

Only findings?

Am i missing it in the summary or is this document only aiming to showcase findings?

I do not see any solutions as such that have been suggested to be implemented ot that can be researched further about.


Thanks for taking the time! Well in general, the report showcases edgeryders findings on one hand, and on the other it paints the picture  from the policy angle (legislation, reports, surveys& statistics), formulating policy guidelines. This is not v visible in the document structure (I’ve been following the structure myself in the summary), but if you feel recommendations should be more concrete or better highlighted in the handbook, feel free to state this in a comment. The whole content for the handbook is being built as we speak, so nothing is set in stone.

But before, here’s a couple of examples of policy guidelines: encouraging the extension of mobility programs with focus on raising awareness of existing European schemes, since many of us have attributed part of our personal and/or professional growth to traveling and living abroad, and a majority of young Europeans haven’t had the chance to experience it.

Another point is the Edgeryders perception of unpaid internships adds to the existing data: reports showing that most of the unpaid interns are young people, and most internships (66%) don’t result in a job afterwards => policy guideline: the need for a legislative framework regulating prerequisites for acquiring work experience and financial independence. 

Does this help, were you expecting something else? I made my own comments, more punctual, in the doc… where formulations seemed a bit vague or too general, and thus weak.

I agree it’s vague. Here let me try a rant.

I got increasingly annoyed reading the paper to the point that I had to let off steam in the form of a rant :slight_smile: It is far from perfect and I would appreciate holes being poked into it :slight_smile:

It’s not your fault. No one knows how to fix it. We’re trying to figure it out together. Come help.

Unpaid internships. Minimum wage work with little prospects for personal or professional development. A freelance lifestyle of working around the clock to chase contracts, produce the work and then chase the clients to be paid. It is true that there is a lot of exploitation on the labor market, that many are in a situation of work subordination without rights and are excluded from the privilege of "having a steady job". At the moment a "steady job" is out of reach for many people. Perhaps the job paradigm of our parents generation is running out of steam, perhaps it isn't.  Actually let me rephrase that. The Job paradigm is already not accessible to many of us. This has implications for how we think about society and the role of the state in ensuring that the basic conditions for ensuring that we can enjoy the priveledge of going about the business of living our lives in peace, relative prosperity (read you have a roof over your head, garments to protect your body and are not starving) and personal freedom. Peace, relative prosperity and personal freedom. Things that most people in western Europe take for granted.

We all know that many of the challenges we are facing in our daily lives are heavily influenced by large structural challenges that act on a global scale. The pace at which conditions are changing is a key factor in our ability to react appropriately: many people are caught in the middle as they have neither been prepared for what is to come, nor had enough time and experience to be able to navigate it successfully. Formal education was pushed as the main ticket to a promising future, but in many directions formal educational institutions are coming under attack and access to them is becoming constrained. Whatever the underlying reasons we  cannot rely on formal education to equip our young, and not so young, with skills required to make a successful navigation to autonomous adult lives.

Well can’t we just get more young people to innovate, start companies and create jobs?

Well, there are three major problems with that line of thinking. The first is that it assumes that we as society, and especially traditional markets are good at recognising, supporting and rewarding our innovators. The second is that it assumes that tomorrow’s innovations increase or at least do not lower the demand for human labour. The third is that tricky little issue of our only having one planet of natural resources to sustain us and the reasoning above presumes that the young have no right to devise alternatives to the growth paradigm that threatens their very ability to survive.

Markets <3 radical innovators?

Given that we all agree that we need a lot of innovation to solve large urgent challenges like global warming, ensuring food security, dealing with the fallout from financial crisis, upgrading our educational systems to better prepare our young…we can’t afford to lose any of the talent and skills we have. In fact radicalism is a cheap way to try new things that with small probability may work. But it costs a lot in personal terms as the sources of support that are practically accessible to new kids on the block acting outside the formal spaces are few and far in between. Whether or not promising initiatives can come to fruition depends on many different factors. So we need to learn to recognise the value of this work and come up with ways of supporting it which do not rely on market value. Because the traditional markets are just not doing the job.

Five cases:

  1. Doing good for the common good: especially in the cases where the output of the work is a contribution to the commons or the common good. E.g. Hexayurt and or occupy as taking care of
  2. Doing something radically new or that threatens the market position of an established player: Private sector you have IP lawsuits threatening the hell out of everyone and raising barrier to entry. Monoculture and risk aversion:  Lack of access to funding/ financing opportunities (compare to China’s black finance market) with banks preferring speculation to risky investment in radically new initatives.. Jacky and the model.
  3. Lack of social maneuvering space: criminalising squatting, killing of social infrastrucutre and projects which have community support, argument making clear that enclosures of commons as a threat to innovation friendly ecosystem.
  4. Sorry state of finance: Lack of access to financial support [See Michel Bauwen’s article on underground access to finance in China..]. (Tie to banks not investing in innovation) and general distrust of  exploring alternative currencies like bitcoin.
  5. Most labour policy targetted at incentivising employers making it easier or cheaper for them to hire people but not rewarding individuals to explore alternative paths.

Where are the real allies?

In part due to the professionalization of education we see that formal educational and research facilities face decreasing autonomy and access to resources. Some argue that this is due to education having been a playground for different political and technocratic interventions and changing priorities (see Swedish jounalist  Maciej Zaremba’s excellent investigative series on the sorry state of Swedish public education). Others would point the finger at more political presence in education with members of the scientific and academic communities increasingly having to dance to the tune of funders political objectives: places that  fact that once served as sanctuaries for the priveledged few giving them the resources autonomy to pursue groundbreaking work and make great contributions to culture in Europe. Others till would fault the formal education community for failing to adequately equip young people with the skills neccessary in order to be able to  form frames of enquiry and means to test the relevance of what they were being taught to help them navigate their way in the world. They are made to feel as though they are somehow to blame if they don’t manage to live up to older generations, and the immediate social environments, unrealistic expectations of constantly ascending career trajectories.

Europe needs a space program?!
So Jacky mentioned this during Edgecamp, that Europe would need the equivalent of a space program to stay together. And around a month later I heard someone from the European Commission (Florent Bernard, Innovation Policy Officer) say the same in his TEDx talk: what will the big achievement of our generation be? The European Project 1.0 achieved peace. By interweaving economic interests of member states but the big driver was centralising the administration of  steel production.
I think a sense of purpose is a core issue. Beyond the narrow focus in phases. For example in Education that manifests in the progression: being good equals the progression: get the grades, graduate, get into university, pass the exams, get the degree, get a job, shut up, put up and pay your taxes.

It is true that there are many people with autonomy and integrity who are doing important work contributing to the social, physical and mental well-being of people in their communities. They are doing things like exploring alternative ways of living and better coordinating between what we produce and the needs that are out there. Some, Like Alessia, are fighting political battles against enclosures of common resources that better equip us to be able to weather more dire economic prospects. Some, Like Licas, are committed to addressing needs such as ensuring food security in urban environments or equipping communities to better coordinate volunteer efforts to keep health systems going in areas where essential services are cut. As the state retreats on parts of the social contract we need to be asking ourselves who is responsible for ensuring that our communities are providing for our basic needs? And how do we get resources that are currently, or should be, put aside for this to people doing the work?

The reason I ask is that it seems that at the moment our young, and the Edgeryders among us, are currently bearing a disproportionate amount of the cost but are offered little support in return. They are pushed to become more “employable” in a shrinking market where demand is contracting, i.e. there are not enough jobs to employ everyone period. They are also pushed to be “entrepreneurial” and “innovative” and faulted for not “starting new businesses”. So is it possible to start asking some bigger questions that frame all the smaller policy hacks or initatives that we can patch together? What would your big questions be? And would you be up for trying to get answers to them?

Employment guarantee schemes? Anyone?

Hi guys,

So re-reading the report it dawned on me that we don’t have a position towards this particular policy that is advocated for or implemented by some govs.

I’ve just been reading some articles on youth unemployment and how it’s projected to be on the rise still, and a recommended solution, in policy jargon, seems to be in the form of these youth guarantee schemes. I’ve also heard MEP Emilie Turunen speaking about those

They are meant to facilitate employability of young graduates, reduce the period of unemployment, not being in any sort of training or simple inactivity, so that they dont miss the startup in their professional life, which seems to be highly inhibiting for their future. And this seemed to work well in Sweden and Finland in the last few years.

I was wondering if any Edgeryders have experience in trying to find work through such assessment and placement centres, both for studying and finding work? We don’t have much data on that I guess.

Thanks for putting up the summary report.

One thing that jumped out at me was:  ‘meaningful work is a priority for Edgeryders, and it often trumps paid work’.  Personally, yes i do value work that I deem to be meaningful but in the world we live in (especially when you lack other forms of financial support) it is unrealistic to expect people not to want to earn a living. I think earning a decent living whilst also feeling valued in your job and making a contribution to society are all equally important factors for me.

Maybe some people in the Edgeryders community see no opportunity/liklihood of working within the current system without feeling compromised (in their values or the goals they want to achieve) but ideally we’d want to take what we’ve learned here with the creative minds at Edgeryders and somehow mainstream (excuse my using this unattractive term) it so that together we may bring about a positive change in the way things are done.

Seeking global/common solutions in still localized world

Thanks Noemi, Alberto, benvickers, Nadia and idilm for reading the paper and giving useful comments. It’d be useful to incorporate some of them in the final Handbook. Still, something has been bothering me since the very beginning of this project. The Edgeryders are trying to conceive global/common solutions in still very regionalized/localized contexts. Despite online technologies we all act in very narrow regional or local context, with very strict structures. Recent economic crisis has proved how Europe is fragile and diverse, depending on regional/local politicians/policy  makers/industries/businesses/educational systems/labour markets, etc. We may set some agenda/make recommendations to the policy makers, but these solutions can be implemented only via concentric circles, by spreading the examples of good practice.  There isn’t a magic wand.