If you’ve had a very imaginative idea but are struggling to scale up or duplicate through regular enterprise models and methods there is a chance you have created a Social Collaborative Platform without realising it. I have only recently come up with these observations, as always I am keen to know what you think.
Here's what SCPs could possibly look like
- They are imaginative social ideas that a group of people were compelled to try out under their own steam.
- Sometime over the last 5 years the idea was adopted by other groups of people from around the world.
- These ideas are replicated largely on a voluntary basis and are not social franchises.
- The idea founders often encourge new groups to create their own logos, plan their own events, while creating some supportive infrastructure through websites, guides and advice.
- These ideas are often strategic and have multiple effects in the communities where they are implemented.
- These ideas spread in a sustainable way by the founder groups adopting a high autonomy/high trust model of collaboration.
I have at least 6 or 7 examples that I think fit this description, by how they have been developed and how well they have scaled, but below are 4 that I know sufficiently well to describe.
Example 1 Social Media Surgeries
Started by Nick Booth & co in Birmingham. An idea to set up free social media sessions for local community groups with a group of professionals working voluntarily. There are now 90 groups registered on their site which support the organisation of local events.
Example 2 Sunday Soup
Started by InCUBATE, an arts based research in Chicago in 2007. Sunday Soup is a ‘meal-based micro-granting' model. The basic formula is that a group of people come together to share a meal and all the income from that meal is given as a grant to support a creative project. Everyone who purchases the meal gets one vote to determine who receives the grant. There are currently 66 groups across the world – the majority have been started in the last 2 years. They have different names and logos.
Eample 3 Trade School
Started by Caroline Woolard & co in 2009 in New York. Trade School is a project that where people barter for instruction and offers everyone the chance to learn something new in exchange for skills, spaces or objects. Laura Billings has just completed the first run of Trade School London, and there are Trade Schools being started in Cardiff, Milan, Singapore, Paris …. Trade Schools often have different logos and supported by the team in New York who are setting up the network as a co-operative.
Example 4 Community Lover’s Guide to the Universe
I put the book Hand Made together collaboratively in 2010. The series has become the Community Lover’s Guide to the Universe – with nearly 50 local voluntary editors across the world collecting stories about new types of community projects to publish. Rotterdam was published last month and May will see the publication of Amsterdam, Birmingham and Hackney. Editors are using the process of putting the books together to create supportive knowledge sharing networks.
These projects are working to a different model and because they are a bit confusing and the funders are not recognising them sufficiently yet.
- They are largely voluntary – but they aren’t charitable. They are about groups of people wanting to do something good in their communities and see something valuable in these ideas. The groups recognise that the projects either help spread knowledge, bring people together sociably but productively and can be used strategically to connect people and build trust at local level.
- A group of people would likely be unable to pay some sort of franchise fee to the project originator because the group would be unlikely to see any sort of business model in the idea – but there is a social model. The idea would therefore be limited in its spread by the ability of people to turn them into businesses or charities of some kind.
- Their value is often a secondary benefit and often difficult to measured (Social Media Surgeries are doing a brilliant job of capturing effects) e.g. connection and relationships potentially reduces unemployment or depression, or even crime.
These projects challenge the idea of scalability in that they are spreading because they don’t involve money. For example with Community Lover’s Guides if we had budgets we would have to limit the number of issues we created by the amount of budget we had. The core of these projects is money free…. But people need to survive so how are they doing that? In a number of different ways:
- Founders are achieving funding to develop the infrastructure around the project to support the networks of groups e.g. websites
- Value and content is being created around the project from the learning and network – giving people an opportunity to help others with technical support or consultancy.
- Local groups are supporting their projects by simply chipping in for refreshments or are using empty spaces … and generally gathering existing resources.
- Sometimes people have other paid jobs and do this on the side. It may not feel the same as volunteering for a charity, but people still don't feel they have to be paid for everything they do - particularly if it does some good in the world.
But overall, despite the difficulties, I wonder if there is sufficient evidence for funders to start to recognise this as a new model, that could start to sit more comfortably in their understanding of what works and why. Sometimes it’s a social enterprise model, sometimes it’s a charity model and sometimes it’s a Social Collaborative Platform – that needs funding at the top – but not through every transaction.
If we want to see more of these very practical, very strategic and imaginative projects (which can be views as 'social tools') being developed we need to rely on more than the love that some of these projects are currently sustained on ... The model calls for funding at the top end for development and support - and smaller scale funding at community level to help with logistics.
Big Lunch is one of the few Social Collaborative Platforms which started on a fully funded footing, knowing from the start where the funding was needed - but it would be great to see a lot more funded in this way.
In the social innovation sector we worry about the difficulties of scaling a lot. I wonder if a more sophisticated and nuanced understanding of when to use which scaling and funding models wouldn't help us all achieve a lot more?
If you wanted to you could argue that The RSA and The Hub share many of the characteristics of a Social Collaborative Platform, but they achieve funding through mixtures of membership, co-operatives, enterprise etc. But these two examples also create brands, ideas, tools, methods, start up funding etc, and foster networks and collaboration which enable others to start something (network, enterprse,etc) at local level - very successfully indeed.
I can think of 3 projects that are struggling to be social enterprises at the moment who should be thinking about becoming a valuable Social Collaborative Platform, but through lack of funding/sponsorship are unable to make what feels like an enormous leap…. To give it away (strategically) to grow.