Idea submitted for the European Social Innovation Competition in December 2012.
Summary : unMonastery is a new kind of social space, akin to co-living and co-working spaces, that serves the local communities of towns or small cities by enabling a process of co-creation and co-learning between the community and unMonasterians. By embedding committed, skilled individuals in places with a deficit of diverse skills and knowledge it can solve social and infrastructural problems by enabling native inhabitants to realise their own potential.
The unMonastery recreates the best of the social functions of the traditional monastery: by giving the unMonasterians a collective purpose, a chance to develop deep relationships with one another and a reduced need to generate personal income so time can be dedicated entirely to serving the local community.
Why is your idea innovative?
The unMonastery has been designed to solve a number of pressing social issues that are becoming increasingly ubiquitous throughout Europe; large numbers of empty and disused housing stock, brain drain from provincial towns or cities and most hauntingly the dramatic reduction in services as a result of growing austerity cuts. Radical times call for radical solutions: unMonasterians practice lifestyle innovation to be able to support ourselves and our peers in helping communities unlock their transformative potential and surface hidden, underutilised or wasted resources. Regardless of whether the market recognises and acknowledges the value of our skills and positive contributions to helping our communities adapt.
The project is unique in that it draws from a large pre-established network of highly skilled and motivated individuals known as EdgeRyders. Edgeryders is an international community of more than 1300 members (of whom 150 are very active) that assembled itself in 2011 as a “distributed think tank” of citizen experts advising the Council of Europe on European youth policy.
How will your idea have an impact? How will you measure your impact?
Please explain how your idea will have an impact on helping target people/groups move towards work or into new types of work.
Activities depend on the location and and and and include:
R&D on sustainable technology to support local infrastructure
English language training
Social Asset Mapping
Support for the repurposing of disused spaces
Developing peer-to-peer and community-to-community local exchanges ?
Business advice workshopping technical skills (coding, web design etc)
At the end of each 12-18 month run of the unMonastery, the local community is consulted as to what should happen next. The activities begun may continue in the hands of the local people alone, or new ideas may have begun to develop for a new wave of activities.
Impact will be measured using the ‘prove and improve’ model outlined by the New Economics Foundation. Impact must be understood in terms of the needs of the community, defining areas of potential impact. The unMonastery can then draw on a range of tools and measures, to tap into constructs such as wellbeing, social connectivity, skills development, enhancement of local social assets, and communal sense of purpose. Where possible, baseline measures will be taken.
One prospective location for the first unMonastery is Matera, in Italy. In this example a number of key social and infrastructural problems/opportunities have already been identified. Including the two highest costs to the local authorities; poor urban hygiene and a high population of stray dogs. In these cases the unMonastery would gauge its impact by reducing or eliminating these costs in real terms. In considering potential innovations, unMonasterians will look to local conditions - such as Matera’s large natural reserves of limestone and natural water - to bolster the development of solutions to known problems. In examples such as this we will measure our impact by local residents’ ability to replicate the innovations made on an ongoing basis.
At what scale will your idea operate initially and how do you think it can be implemented in another EU member state in the future?
This initial iteration will pilot the concept with a group of 10-20 core team members, plus additional short term residencies to support the core-team throughout the 6-12 month period. Providing the pilot is a success the intention is to continue for a further 12 months.
The unMonastery is structured conceptually with a view to being reproduced, the first month of the project is earmarked exclusively as a listening period, in which dinners and events will be hosted for the benefit of (and to meet) the surrounding community. In order to build strong ties with community leaders and develop a mature understanding for needs or social problems relative to a specific area, prior to proposing any interventions, this approach of not announcing a solution prematurely will ensure the project can be adapted to any given locality.
After 6 months, a selection of the core team will visit other towns and cities to produce scoping reports for new prospective sites. The unMonastery as a concept is designed to work best when there’s more than one in existence so as to allow for the circulation of skills and working solutions to be enacted throughout a network of buildings and localised communities across Europe.
How do you think your idea could be sustained over the next five years?
The primary skillset the unMonastery is designed to develop is resilience, in its myriad of forms. The true litmus test for any unMonastery is it’s ability to establish autonomy and self sustaining infrastructure during the first 18 months of its development. This form of resilience focuses on both infrastructural utility in the form of solar, water collection, permaculture, urban farming and other appropriate technologies, as well as effective governance models and community activities for building sustainable and resilient cohesion for the locality each unMonastery finds itself in.
The intention is to export and share the techniques learned so that not only is the unMonastery effective and resilient as a reproducible model but that it gives to the community in which it’s placed those same skills for dealing with unpredictable scenarios and ongoing sustainable methods of development.
At a very base level though, two issues raised earlier in this proposal are projected to rise significantly in the coming years; large amounts of unused or empty housing stock and a lack of provision for services due to cuts. In this context perhaps the more appropriate question is how will we sustain a decent quality of life without places like the unMonastery?
Please explain what you need to make your idea happen for example: money, office space, permissions, supporters or partners.
unMonastery has several fixed offers for buildings throughout Europe, as such the money awarded will be spent on these core areas:
Telling the Story (est 3000) - We plan to create a standalone website for telling the unMonastery’s story as it develops with videos, blogs and most importantly online courses to share the skills developed with a broader audience.
Scoping Exercise (est 3000) - members from the core team will travel to prospective sites for 2 week periods to meet with local authorities to evaluate the viability of an unMonastery in proposed locations.
Network Support (2000) - as previously stated, unMonastery is a satellite project born from the EdgeRyders platform, the platform itself is currently transitioning from the Council of Europe to a decentralised community run server. Some funds will be contributed to its upkeep, to ensure the sustainability of the community from which the unMonastery draws its members.
The unMonastery Pilot (est 6000) - Once a site has been established a significant part of the award will be used to establish the first iteration, this will include but will not be limited to: travel, modifying the building, creating sustainable infrastructure and technical equipment for work as per local requirements.