The anatomy of failure

Disclaimer: This post has a fairly high chance of being censored and/or elicit a slew of unconstructive commentary. It’s unavoidably personal and reflects negatively on my experience with LOTE5, which may cause people to draw out their swords in defence. Nevertheless, I believe it is a story worth telling for a few reasons. One, that there is a chance I may never get the opportunity (again) to tell my side of the narrative, which experience has told me is one of the crucial elements in retaining self-respect. Secondly, one of the themes of LOTE5 is failure, so in an ironic way, I’m contributing to this element in a very tangible way. #yolo

TL;DR: I’m not doing a storytelling workshop anymore. LOTE5 is a social pyramid scheme.

First, the chronology:

  • On Januari 14th, I was asked over email by @Noemi to do a workshop on Storytelling on the last day of LOTE5.
  • This was flattering enough for me to reply the next day (15th) with a very rough outline of what I would do.
  • On the 17th, Nadia starts a chat on Facebook with essentially the same question, but subtly different. For some reason, an event is already made in the program, not mentioning me, but I think nothing of it. The chat continues for two days, with all kinds of vaguely related issues.
  • On the 19th, I send a full 2 page proposal to Noemi, outlining the workshop in detail. In the post script of the email I mention that I might be able to help out with the outreach, possibly in return for a LOTE5 ticket.
  • On the 21st, the workshop is given the OK over email, asking me to give a lot of attention to capturing material (text and video) as outcome of the workshop. (I'm not sure where, but I do agree to this.) Most of the remarks on both Facebook and email seem to be more like demands than anything else, but since I'm getting paid for this, I approach it mostly as a negotiation and reply with what is and isn't possible.
  • After this, things get a bit confusing. Event pages have been setup on this website and Facebook, but I'm nowhere mentioned. I'm asked to write an outline on a wiki page, which I do on the 25th. It's not clear what's supposed to happen then.
  • The wiki page suddenly attracts all sorts of feedback and response from the community. @Natalia_Skoczylas and I have a very confusing experience as she is under the impression that she'll be co-hosting, while I hadn't heard of that at all until that moment. (Natalia: I do not blame you at all for this, I hope that is clear.) My methodology is also called into question.
  • When I push back on this, I get a (long) phone call from @Nadia, which essentially comes down to the statement that "this is how Edgeryders works", namely that every project and/or idea is under the scrutiny of the community. Note that we'd already been going back-and-forth for 11 days with Nadia/Noemi/Kira at that point. I push back (over the phone) and basically say that I want to protect the creative integrity of the workshop, to which Nadia agrees.
  • Somewhere in that chaos, I get asked by Nadia to translate text into Dutch and French. It's hard to say exactly what was supposed to be translated or who the target audience was, but it clearly has to do with outreach (getting people to come). I'm also asked to contact people I know in Belgium, connected to care projects. I more or less agree to this (verbally), with a deadline set for February 3rd. Now, the important bit here is that outreach was never part of my workshop proposal, so it basically is under the "work for your ticket" provision.
  • Admittedly, I drag my feet a bit on this outreach stuff.  There are many reasons for this (bad habits, other stuff going on, not sure if I could even make it to the rest of LOTE5, etc etc).
  • Monday evening (1st of February), I get some short Facebook messages from Nadia (noone else is invited to the conversation this time, as with the phone call before). There is low registration on the workshop (3ppl), where she simply suggests to cancel it. I am a bit flabbergasted, but reply I think such a decision is basically up to her, not me. I do not get a response, which leaves me in limbo and very unmotivated to suddenly start translating stuff. Note that my workshop is still not mentioned properly anywhere at this point, the event page keeps saying what's been there all along.
  • On Thursday, the Facebook chat with Nadia opens again, basically stating she has no choice but to cancel the workshop. I'm not going to copy the entire conversation, as I can see how that can be used as an argument to censor me, but Nadia's most relevant message is this: "The time is dragging out and seen from here it is neither feasible, nor particularly fun, to push if we do not see signs of commitment?  You had committed to doing outreach and recruitment to activist groups etc doing relevant work in Belgium. This was in the exchange for the ticket. The first step was to produce invitation materials in French and Dutch. You asked me to foillow up with you about this, I respected this commitment and wrote to you 3 days ago with no response. This leaves me at a loss for what to do. Suggestions?"
  • Quite an angry conversation ensues, as I'm quite let down with the whole experience. Nadia offers all the way at the end for me to "do some video", which I decline.


First off all, emotionally, this was a much rougher experience than I expected. Looking at possible explanations, I think the main thing is that registrations for LOTE5 just weren’t running as well as certain people wished. Most of the talks I’ve looked at have quite low registration numbers, so it definitely wasn’t just a problem with my workshop (which hadn’t been communicated properly anyway). In a way, I understand the drive for last minute outreach, but I was never in a place where I had time to truly pick up responsibility to bridge that gap. (Note that giving a one day workshop is way lower in commitment than chasing people for weeks.)

Secondly, there was an enormous confusion of communication channels, but also methodology. As the workshop was paid for, most of the feedback seemed to be quite hierarchical (customer-supplier style). However, about halfway through the process, it got mixed with community driven “horizontallish” feedback without the direct instructions becoming less in volume and intensity. Looking back, the worst moment were invariably the one-to-one contacts with Nadia, which felt like an angry customer on the line every time. To me, these two approaches (community feedback and direct management) are profoundly incompatible and feel enormously and needlessly stressful. I would also argue that from a project management perspective, community driven efforts should have way more time to sort themselves out. To this point it is still unclear who decides anything in Edgeryders, but from a practical point of view, it was Nadia that made the most crucial decisions by herself it seemed.

Thirdly, and I think this is very clear from Nadia’s message during the cancelling of the workshop, outreach was hard-tied to both obtaining a ticket, but in the end also to the seemingly unrelated professional request for a (paid for) workshop. In a very literal sense, it meant that in order to come to LOTE5 myself and to earn a small amount of money (about 1/2 of my normal rate), I had to bring other people. I’m not sure how many people are being asked to do the same kind of outreach for LOTE5, but I believe that this essentially makes the whole conference a social pyramid scheme. You can’t come unless you bring other people.

Fourthly, and this is my saddest realisation, my run-in with Nadia has the potential of closing the door between me and a lot of people I would have truly enjoyed seeing again at LOTE and later Edgeryders activities. It feels a lot like becoming an outcast, fitting I guess in the spirit of monasteries and the like. So, at least for me, this whole approach is damaging for relationships that are important to me. I’m not sure if it is a good thing that such a decision can lie in the hands of one single person. Realising this, I can only come to the conclusion that I would advise anyone to be incredibly careful in making commitments within Edgeryders, as the commitment does not seem to be with a community or even a company, but with a shadow owner. The top of the pyramid is closer than you think.

That’s it. I’m assuming I’ve broken the netiquette rules enough to be swiftly removed. So be it.

Sorry to hear, I’d been looking forward to the ‘walkshop’

Hope to see you in Brussels and clarify

Thomas, in my books this looks like misalignment of expectations: I didn’t know or wasn’t made aware that the payment was too low for you for the estimated work or that you would be doing a favor to anyone by taking on the gig. From my very first email I specified what the work would entail, part of it being outreach and part postproduction: “It should take a small build up to the event, namely call for participation with maybe a video of you and your own story as exhibit A? (posted until Feb 20) + 3 hrs session (on location in Bxl or a dedicated corner for this… dunno) + a couple hrs of work after to upload the materials (no edits needed).”

What you saw as uncalled-for outreach responsibilities looked as lack of commitment to the other side as over two weeks passed, hence the disappointment in both parties.

I guess sprinting to get the event done in time and posting work-in-progress writeups is not how you are used to work, which is not right or wrong, it just is. Even when the work is paid for, there’s always a process to build it up, which is where the community engagement comes in - I can see some of the confusion and would have welcomed request for clarifications of terms, in one of the weekly community calls maybe? It’s why I am here all the time, facebook, hangouts, emailing, and everywhere. Having channels to discuss this at length - with suggestions and going back and forth - well it’s how most stuff gets done. NB: None of the event pages are final, in fact just today I managed to clarify stuff for my own session and change it to a great extent! It’s the reason why you could edit yours - fb event and wikis at a minimum. All our comms say speakers are not speakers per say, and everyone contributes to the event.  The speakers pictures on the event page I add personally and gradually, simply because folks need to be reminded. Why take offence? I don’t get it…  If anything was a deal breaker to you, you should have said so. Instead what we got was agreement to terms.

Not trying to minimize your distress or other people mentioned in your post (they may be distressed too), hope we all learn from this.

Honestly and in peace,


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Thank you for your reaction

Hello Noemi,

First of all, thank you for your reply. I can see that you are too trying to figure out what happened. I guess that’s the only way to really learn from this.

I think one major factor here was the splintered communication. If I would compile all expectations that were voiced at one point or other, I’m guessing we’d come to a long list, some of which simply wasn’t compatible with each other. The fact that there were at least two people (first you, but later mostly Nadia) sending me new expectations every couple of days (over email, then Facebook, then email again, then wiki, etc), made it a head-ache to figure out. It was also often unclear which expectation was still “standing”, which was “just an idea” and which were “hard expectations”. (Often it seemed like every loose idea was a “hard expectation”, which surely can’t be the goal.)

And, to complicate matters even further, I had in my mind that the outreach was separate from the workshop. The former would be for a LOTE ticket, the latter would be paid for. It seems this got lumped together fairly quickly.

Formally, I do disagree with the “two weeks passed”. For the outreach, I had serious concerns of where to point people and there was one semi-formal deadline for two translations that I might had made if the workshop wasn’t held up for cancellation before we even got there.

As for the updating of the event pages: Since there were other “co-facilitators” involved with other engagements and there were other people mentioned that I had no idea of how they would line up (e.g. the guy who’d do video?), it was virtually impossible for me to update those pages (both FB and on ER). But I can understand that it must have been unclear for everyone as to whose responsibility it was to figure it out and update the page. I could have pressed this issue a bit harder.

As for how things are done, I don’t know… I’ve been organising conferences, events, festivals (1000+ visitors) and the like for 8 years now and currently have about 5 people working for me, so I do imagine knowing a bit or two. Most of the time, when we deal with a workshop provider, they do not get so heavily involved in the communications part, precisely because they often don’t have enough overview of timing, registration. And because it would economically be an unrealistic demand.

The economics themselves are fairly simple: if I would like to earn the average wage within my sector (at my age and experience level) and assuming I can make 200 days out of the year billable (which is hard enough), then the average cost per day would need to be minimally between 250 and 300 EUR per day on average. This also tells you that it’s just not feasible to expect providers to take part in “community calls”, unless they have free time to spare, which I don’t. It would, effectively, always be volunteer work. Now, Edgeryders has other benefits, which are the reasons I joined in, but the current economic model doesn’t work if you actually have a house and “average lifestyle” (which I do). I’m surprised that this is surprising. I think in that context, it is also easy to see that “working for a ticket” for a conference where you don’t even know how much you can actually participate in is not necessarily an easy trade-off to make.

I think it would be worthwhile to reflect on the fact that - all things considered - most of the work done on Edgeryders is volunteer work. That in itself is ok, but it does not warrant such a disconnect between expectations and feasibility, never mind such a harsh treatment of volunteers when they can’t meet those expectations.

Most of these concerns are often waved away with a “but we’re doing a new kind of economy” rationale. However, to me, that’s not that different from unpaid interns, spec work, etc. (“Do it for the experience/exposure/…”) If you want people to do volunteer work, then allow them to truly take ownership and decide what they will and will not do. Do not pull the rug from underneath them. And if you do decide to pay someone to do something, pay them properly. You can’t eat the cake and have it too.


Hi Thomas,

I thought I would chip in. I am a sort of insider/outsider to Edgeryders. I help the company function and am on the board of the “social enterprise” but I don’t get so much involved with some of the day to day. I am on the edge, so to speak.

I admired your honesty in sharing your experience as you did. You are not the first to find dealing with Edgeryders difficult and confusing. On the other hand I don’t know of any experimental on-line network/communities/organisings where there aren’t issues. You are quite right that the economic model hasn’t been worked out. I have some explaining to do with my wife as to why I am involved :-)  I suppose my economic model is I get paid enough with other work to cross-subsidise my time spent with Edgeryders,  and I find such stimulating company in the Edgeryders crowd that I’m quite happy with that. That’s not going to work for everybody.

I think you’re right that it’s also not a true democracy - those who work to hold the thing together do feel the need (or the right) sometimes to intervene and take an executive decision and that can easily lead to disenchantment for those who thought it was a self-owned community.  There is no easy answer to this one.  From my perspective, as a student of organising methods and structures, there is almost always some element of domination and control,  intended or otherwise, in any sort of organising.  I trust that as the community evolves, we will get better at communicating how the community operates.  I know from my perspective, the more self-organising and self-governed we can be, the better.  But it’s a journey.   Thanks for sharing your story, so that we can carry on along that journey.

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Hi Patrick,

Thank you for taking the time to have a look. (I must say everyone is incredibly nice so far, so I’m happy I posted my story to begin with. I did feel very queazy about it, as you can probably imagine.)

What you would call “cross-subsidising” sounds to me like just another word for volunteering. You put in time for free, which you compensate with paid-for work. That’s the essence of a volunteer position. And I do think it’s important to call it what it is, because we’d otherwise be ignoring all of the lessons learned from other volunteer-based organisations.

As I see it, Edgeryders uses a mixed volunteer/non-volunteer approach, which is not so new either. Most larger volunteer organisations have people “on staff”. However, where I do see things go wrong is where - as I think was the case here - a mixed approach (volunteer+non-volunteer) is applied to a single person. What I think ended up happening is that expectations from one (like outreach, which I considered volunteer work) ended up mixing with those of another (workshop, which would have been reimbursed).

Extrapolating from this, other troubles that come with mixed volunteer/non-volunteer organisation are bound to follow. I really do hope that the wheel doesn’t need to be reinvented too much, as it would invariably come at the cost of quite a few of these conflicts.


melting down pyramids

Dear Thomas

I’m sorry to hear it’s been a rough ride. I can partly relate to that.

Can I somehow encourage you to still do your workshop? I had not signed in so far, because it would mean commiting to one activity during the entire day, even though I’m very interested. I was still pondering on giving a workshop on “Apprechiative Inquiry” on sunday and was indecisive, because your walk sounded so nice (It lost a bit of its attractiveness, when it was sized-down to a less free walking tour, which I found to be a pity).

But I wasn’t stressing with pressing the “I attend” button, because I thought LOTE5 (and especially sunday) was unconference style! As in

  • Whoever comes are the right people
  • Whenever it starts is the right time
  • Wherever it is, is the right place (walking tour, yeah!)
  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
  • When it's over, it's over (within this session)

You said that the idea is that the community decides on the workshops to happen. And if I understood it correctly, one person said it had to be cancelled. If I (as a member of the community) say now “it IS going to happen” - what now? :slight_smile: Are we even and it’s up for discussion again? I’m sure I can find a couple of more voters … Maybe I’m missing the point, but this is an attempt to encourage you. And maybe that makes no sense, because the decision is made.

Cheers and I hope this sorts itself out in best way possible, so you can still attend LOTE5 and look forward to it, even.



Sounds really nice

Hello Kaja,

Thank you for your concern and for trying to fix things. To be honest, I have no idea how to truly respond to it, as even now it is unclear to me how the program and budget actually gets decided. But, in retrospect, it does not seem to me that it is truly a community decision.



To be clear…

Everyone coming is doing sessions because they want to use them as ways to figure things out, to present their work, new methodologies, build networks etc. There is no need for permission and the’re no kind of payment for the sessions. So @Thomas_Goorden the question is: are you willing to do a session because you want to or can afford to, time wise?

The problem you mentioned above was mostly related to management of paid work, and that workshop fell through in my understanding. From all LOTE program, only OpenCare sessions have resources being put into because that is a funded project and LOTE is where it launches. Which is how Nadia could offer you payment for a workshop, and requested specific things to come out of it.

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Wow. Hmm.

Hi Noemi,

OK, in retrospect, it’s funny we didn’t consider this earlier. To sum up quickly: if there is still time and sufficient interest (which you’d have to estimate), I actually would love to try to do “hyperactive listening” + the experimental identity stuff and probably a walk :). Yes, voluntarily, provided it’s a lot smaller in scope. Ideally, I’d see happening:

  • 3-4 hours.
  • Up to 8 people max, preferably more than 5.
  • 2-3 of the participants can bring a "project or problem they can't figure out/explain" - for me it doesn't matter if it is OpenCare or not.
  • Thursday or Friday, rather than Sunday.

(And I can still bring a DSLR + mic, to experiment with confessionals. But I wouldn’t make promises regarding output or editing. You’d definitely get the raw material though.)

It’s like basically a small “steam cooker” for projects and people.

Let me know if you want to do that still (and if so, when).

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I would still love to be your guinnea pig

Together with @ireinga.  We were looking forward!

(If it happens of course. Does Sunday work for everyone?)

Sunday seems the one

OK, looking at the program, it does seem like Sunday is the designated spot to do it in. However, I’m a bit concerned on how much interest there actually is. Anyone know how many people plan on coming that day?



Lovely to see these reactions

Hi all,

Thomas, you already know that I understand your point of view, so that’s not what my reaction is about. I just wanted to say that’s it’s great to see the reactions of Tom, Noemi, Patrick and Kaja above.

Public fora tend to be trash cans for all sorts of useless and offending comments that help no one go no where, but this is constructive and non-judging. Faith in online humanity: restored.


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Follow-up: some good news

So, this story does appear to drift towards a happy ending.

After some encouraging conversation with @Noemi and @Irene, and hearing overwhelming interest for this at the LOTE apéro, I’ve decided to do the workshop anyway. The critical change was to take money out of the equation, which allowed me to set up the workshop exactly as I’d want to (making it shorter, smaller and less focused on a particular outcome). I also felt I really did not want to lose my connection to this amazing community, which is the most important motivator for doing this.

If you are around on Sunday and feel like joining, please register for the event, which I’ve renamed “The Pressure Cooker”. Just because I can wink

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