Ever since the first Edgeryders event in June on the one hand there have been different threads of discussions both on and off the platform about moving beyond sharing experiences and actively collaborating. p2p. And on the other there is a plethora of organisations, causes, initiatives, processes and projects that try to engage people in supporting them with time, knowledge and or skills. Many if not most of these calls for participation will fail. I would argue that at the heart of the many reasons as to why is the lack of solid social contracts that both ensure that objectives and responsibilities are met and high quality results delivered AND make credible commitments that protect participants from exploitation as free labour. No matter how many times I come across it, it never ceases to amaze me how good intentions and normative thinking blinds people to investing serious thought and effort into giving an attractive (as perceived by those whom you wish to engage) answer to the seemingly simple question: how can I justify spending time or other resources on this instead of the many different things pulling me in other directions- what are you offering that is of value to me that could not be gotten anywhere else? Why do I care about this? Spaces that bring people together to interact, learn from and support one another are valuable and much needed. I think with Edgeryders 1.0 we did a reasonable job of a tentative first step and it’s starting to show some signs of being sustainable given a little more time. That #lote2 is at all happening is one of the many signs that support that statement- a community organised event that happens because community members decide it is time to meet and just get on with making it happen. I have been thinking long and hard and have come to the conclusion that the failure of so many initiatives to engage people to actively participate in them is intimately tied to three issues that have been raised time and time again in the discussions we had during the last year. They fall into two categories. The first has to do with the ways incentives are aligned and Im not going to get into this here because it is beyond my influence. The second category is one where I feel there more space for me to make a positive contribution addressing 1) differences in understanding of the value of work and what makes it meaningful 2) gaps between how some understand and encourage participation and how those who they wish to involve in their efforts wish to go about doing so as well as 3) building little awareness of how to build participatory online spaces so that they are not contributing towards what Clay Shirky refers to as digital sharecropping. More often than not it is not feasible to pay everyone to contributed (limited resources or other external constraints on how resources can be allocated). We cannot claim to be making a contribution to improving the situation for ourselves and our communities on the one hand if we with the other unreflectingly contribute to a culture of exploitation which is exacerbated when times are hard (dead-end unpaid internships being exhibit A). I think we can and should do so much better.
- Number one in my rulebook (which is always evolving) is build for re-usability. And to build it in such a way as to at least not make it impossible for those who see a value in it to keep it going or building on it. Edgeryders Sweden is a membership based organisation not formally tied to the original Edgeryders project or platform but as you can see from their website it's clear that they were inspired by it as they are remixing the graphics we produced for the platform. Not only does this make me personally very proud, it also means that the investment made into graphic design is a much better one because someone else is reusing it. Releasing all content including visual material under sharing friendly licences such as Creative Commons removes a large barrier from others adopting and building on the work you do. Using open source alternatives when you can and releasing the codebase (with good documentation please) on repositories like github and setting up sandboxes for people to use is another.
- Try to give back to the people who contribute. Put some effort into making whatever you do beautiful, interesting and emotionally rewarding for those who are generous enough to give you the time of day. Especially if the people you are dealing with are having a hard time in life.
- Don't put valuable resources into one-offs and "pilot" projects. If you have to at least make sure you don't spend it all up front but put aside a significant chunk away so that you can act on the feedback and or ideas that participants contribute. That way maybe you'll end up leaving behind you something that contributes in a direct way to solving a real issue or problem for the people. Lowering the costs of coordination is one such real problem.
- And finally put some (of your own) skin in it. Don't ask or expect people to go out on a limb, take risks and or be generous with their time, skills and other resources unless you yourself are willing to lead the way in doing so.
Great. Another list of generic how-tos that don’t solve THE problem What does all of this really mean, how do we live up to this in deed as well as in intention? A good place to start is by collaboratively crafting a social contact that is credible because it is perceived as being fair, pragmatic and allows for flexibility. If we want to make any participatory, collaboration oriented online community space healthy and sustainable we need to weigh all kinds of different factors in. Because the different stakeholders in this will have different objectives, priorities, working rhythms, access to resources, ways of recognising impact and results… A lot of work and attention to detail went into designing the social contract for Edgeryders 1.0. And it went reasonably well. So I though I would take a crack at designing a new social contract for future iterations of Edgeryders and or other projects to use as a basis for constructive discussions at #lote2. Please help by poking holes in it!