Understanding #LOTE: how institutions learn new ways

With the Living On The Edge (aka lote) conference, the Edgeryders team at the Council of Europe was trying to kill several birds with the same stone. Bird number one: starting to boil down the staggering amount of ethnographic data on the transition of European youth collected alongside the project to a synthesis that could act as a common ground. Even before the conference started we had collected over 400 transition stories with 3,000 comments from over 1,000 registered users: an overarching big picture to parse them is a must if we are to make sense of it. Bird number two:experimenting offline with the delicate interface between online communities and institutions. Can we design a format that Europe’s most radical and bright trailblazers and its civil servants can both find meaningful and fulfilling? Bird number three: gauge the potential for contagion of cutting-edge projects like Edgeryders with the institutions that promote them – but then need to give up some control over them to their community of users if they are to be successful at all. Will institutions experience some kind of anaphylactic shock and reject the transplant? Ignore it? Be inspired by it?

Killing bird number one was comparatively easy: we had aimed very carefully. We designed Edgeryders with native support for scientific inquiry. The legal infrastructure is such that all deliverables from the project are licensed in Creative Commons-BY, and therefore can be shared and re-used legally and safely. A volunteer Privacy Manager from the community, neodynos (thanks!), watches that we do this without compromising the sense of safety that a public space like Edgeryders should have. We extract data from the network analysis directly from the database, via a Drupal module called Views and an extraction script (thanks Luca Mearelli, my collaborator at the Dragon Trainer project, for writing it!). Both the script and the anonymized data are on github. We are proudly doing open science here. So, the rest is really just implementation.

Bird number two was hard. As we designed the conference program, I will freely admit it did feel contrived at times. Luckily my colleagues at the Council of Europe – and especially Gilda Farrell, the head of the division I report to – were patient if tough negotiators, and explained to us that yes, we do need opening remarks, and three closing speeches. And it is important that we make sure that several institutions are represented, as well as respect the balance of gender and nationality of speakers. This is about legitimacy, and a conference with insufficient visibility of the institutions would have sent the wrong signal that we were just playing around while the grownups were doing the real policy work.

It did work, though. It worked almost too well. Turnout was huge, with some people coming in from all over Europe, but also from places like South Africa and the United Arab Emirates. The online buzz was just insane – I don’t think any Council of Europe event had ever become trending topic on Twitter before. The Twitter wall backchannel worked like a charm. There was some disagreement and a lot of frank talk, but all of it was respectful. Everybody I talked to – both from the community side and from the institutional side – absolutely loved at least some parts, and learned a lot from what he or she did not like so much. The community went home incredibly energized, and got down to doing the most advanced stuff I have yet seen done within a government project. Check out DemSoc leading a collaborative “letter to the funders” to start a negotiation with the funding agencies about rewriting funding rules for increased effectiveness and fairness (I do hope the European Commission reads that one); or Nadia trying on herself the “life without using money” way of living, guided by moneyless sensei Elf Pavlik. The Council of Europe behaved magnificently, showing care and appreciation for the young Europeans who had made the effort to get to Strasbourg. When the security staff agreed to let into the building Elf – who does not believe in states and refuses to use national ID – I knew the cultural battle had been won. I learned two things: that a fruitful, inspiring offline conversation can be had between institutions and a self-selected group of citizens; and that prior socializing online is critical to that conversation not disintegrating into squabbling about rules of engagement and what is meant by what.

As for the third bird, I have neither full information nor the authority to speak for the Council of Europe, or any other institution. I do know that Edgeryders, that started as a completely peripheral project – just a little money and a couple of lowly temps at the margins of the organization – has now gotten the attention of the most senior decision makers; and that a prototype is being designed for using Edgeryders-style engagement to elicit input into ministerial conferences on the most diverse subjects. This was before #LOTE: the day after we got two new proposals – one of which is to redeploy Edgeryders as a community of experts advising European cities on how to fight poverty. Funding, it seems, is not an issue. A door has been knocked down, and the Council of Europe is exploring what lies beyond it.

If I were more business smart, this would be where I tell you how hard it was, and how we heroically overcame massive obstacles. The gist of it would be that I am a very smart guy, and you might want to consider giving me a lot of money to work with you. But I am famously not business smart, and the truth is that doing all this has been embarassingly easy. Of course we had to work very hard, but even that is more a consequence of the grueling timeline (seven months from launch to lote) than the actual content. It did not take new regulation. It did not require a change in leadership. It did not require innovation, other than some tweaking of Drupal and a few lines of Rails. It did not require flawless execution: we made plenty of mistakes, and I more than anyone. All it took was integrity, a respectful, inclusive stance, and careful deployment of existing Council of Europe administrative plumbing. I could do it again, and so could you.

This is cause for cautious optimism. All in all, I could not have asked for more to my year as a eurocrat, which has now come to an end.


Great project, congrats! You have done a really good job. The Coe and Edgeryders team has done a great job as well.

To be honest with you, I had never seen any organization pull together an event (lote) of this magnitude, in less than 3 months. Usually, it takes at least one year to prepare a conference. It must not always been easy for Véronique Foreau and Malcolm Cox.

It was amazing to observe how citizens got included at every step of the process.

It is true that the Council of Europe behaved magnificiently… The cocktail at the museum was grandiose. What a fantastic setting!

The Edgeryders team also behaved magnificiently. Participants felt supported and loved. Members of the team did not receive a specific training about how to behave and collaborate with citizens, yet everything flowed well. You gave each teammate the freedom to be who they are. You empowered the team.

I was especially proud to hear Gilda Farrell speak in French (twice) at the lote conference. It has never been done before, using French in an even aiming at collaboration with citizens. I was proud to see 3 women closing the conference, and glad that they spole about other initiatives of the CoE.</p><p>I think that it has been a fantastic learning experience for everyone. Citizens, and teammates, and hopefully too, the CoE officials, enjoyed the ride.

That is really good news, if the Edgeryders prototype can inspire more experimental projects. I was hoping that it would be replicated. It is such a big evolutionary leap from everything else done so far in terms of public-sector innovation, that it would have been a shame if there were no ‘babies’.

(Lovely pic. Sepia effect really nice.)

We made it

Nicely put, Alberto…

I think one important reason why our community responded so positively is that human faces are being attached to the Council of Europe as a big inter-governmental institution, for many just a name and blurry structure. Beyond professionalism and appreciation of Edgeryders from the people working for the Council, it was the interactions that were actually human that made the ice breaking easier. not easy, easier. It felt warm.

Yours is a pic from the beginning of Lote, I’m attaching one from the second day when things went wild and people made the Agora building their home.

Congrats! A SUIVRE…!

Edgeryders #LOTE « Comprendre : comment les institutions apprennent à faire de nouvelles choses… »

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Best regards,
Morgane BRAVO