A Utopian Model - from dreams to pragmatism

Pete Lawrence on Campfire Convention's self funding co-operative potential to give back to its members


 

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What are we aiming for? Obviously a thriving community, a vibrant website and exciting events, but our vision can extend a lot wider. We can play our part in social change, in helping create a fairer society and in empowering our own membership, both individually and collectively by providing an environment where ideas can lead to inspiration, debate can lead to determination, co-creativity can lead to collaboration and empowerment, which in turn can lead to recognition, confidence and financial rewards too. 

It is abundantly clear that the age of the knowledge economy has not delivered all that it promised. Algorhythms, robotics and automation have hugely reduced the need for human work; at the same time the service economy has produced many bad jobs (maybe we should take it a stage further and called them toxic) with zero hours contract, poor wages and low or zero job fulfilment. 

Larger tech companies have increased their turnover exponentially and become the biggest companies in the world, but delivered precious little towards social infrastructure, education, skills and health. They've also been very efficient at escaping what many consider to be their fair share of taxation, by a long shot. Not only does it mean government working together with industry and unions to create a new environment which takes on board the new economy and the way jobs have changed, but also government needs to be pro-actively supportive towards the rapidly growing numbers of owner-managed businesses, sole traders, self employed creatives as well as becoming savvy to the potential of new communities to foster and promote collective intelligence and create value through their membership.

I have a few ideas to hopefully get the ball rolling, particularly relating to communities and specifically what we can achieve as a new community. The creative process for conceptualising can take various paths - it might well start with the absorbing and unravelling of a wealth of fast-flowing information, spotting trends, looking at what isn't working, reaching some form of consensus feeling amongst those around us. Then allowing time to mull over and meditate on the raw material - dreaming of how we might shape the future, in effect, before starting to create and shape ideas which are able to adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing world. From there, seeking out new models that can map onto a morphing social and work infrastructure, using as the central tenet the time-honoured (though previously unfashionable) altruistic notion of 'the good of all'. 

Whilst there may be more scientific or logical ways of arriving at solutions, that lightbulb moment is equally likely to come from a few moments of utopian dreaming. We all know what we feel is most wrong with the world...what if our daydreams actively worked through to practical solutions which could then be applied to structures, policies, models of behaviour, interaction production, marketing, sharing or selling? 

Building 'castles in the air', constructing frameworks in the mind, scenarios with a range of potential routes and outcomes can start with a daydream, but usually then require a more ordered follow-through to test methodology, concepts, budgets and timeframes. Bridging the gap between lightbulb concepts and everyday reality can often evolve more efficiently with input from others - collaborators can bring insight and new perspectives, the hive mind can add a wealth of resource and direct experience. The hidden value of the community's collective genius - or 'scenius' as Eno describes it - is immeasurable and invaluable, both in terms of the power of collective application and in the advantages of a ready-made market-place for those ideas. Ultimately, gut instinct often plays the most important part in deciding whether or not to get started and remains, to this day, a valuable business and social  tool.

So the process of converting ideas into art, media or business initiative is often random but the potential of all these realisations is huge - and Britain, over time, has been well respected worldwide for its ideas, its humour, its music, its capacity to trailblazer new inspiration and fair-mindedness. 

How could this apply to Campfire? It's clear that we as a community can start to form our own model that works as we move into a post capitalist world. 

Naturally, we hope the Campfire project can support itself based on a micro-subscription model where members pay a monthly fee (proposed at £8 per month with lower initial year introductory offer) and that this will enable it to be profitable reasonably soon after its launch and subsequently it's a question of what we elect to do with any surplus after costs and how that can feed back into the community and beyond (the global economy).

My proposal is that in our ongoing financial planning, we initially identify our main cost centres. For example, development of the website (developers, software, licenses), general running costs (staffing salaries/wages, hosting, admin), events and professional fees (legal, insurance, accounting etc). 

Beyond those and associated costs, we would look at investing in two initial strands of community funding:

1) We might aim to set up a Campfire Foundation, a body with a board elected by the community itself which would look at awarding a % of profits to members Projects. Our members would pitch, as they might for a grant and award and those who selections might be decided annually.

2) We can work to build our own Kudos share scheme (anyone fancy giving this a name?) based on input and output metrics. We can craft a work model that supports and rewards all, whilst allowing a wide flexibity in terms of the input levels people can manage, taking account of time pressures, other work and personal commitments. So the ones that contribute most to the good of the community, perhaps the most active and dynamic in the community, the ones whose work becomes most influential and iconic gain rewards based on their input and creativity and the rating of their output. The community reacts to their editorial work, their posts, their Project ideas, their Guild participation, and of course photographic, design, writing, talking, music skills. In this way, we have an additional community incentive to build resources for our members which benefit us all initially and hopefully wider society as the circles spread out from the heart of the community.

A percentage of profits then are distributed back to the community based on 'kudos' points attained by members, measured on a simple metric which allocates points for activity, comments, likes, shares, ratings accordingly. We are already working with NationBuilder for our holding site and social media aggregation and mail blasts and interestingly, their software already has an inbuilt points system for 'kudos' which is manageable and flexible. This can be used even more effectively as we integrate NB into our own community network database.

This model could ultimately be very rewarding for its members but it requires a leaf of faith. It requires time input, it requires recognition of the wider vision for where we could go with this, it depends on the belief in the triumph of hope over fear, it requires faith in community spirit as well as a steadfast defiance of Thatcher's oft-quoted "there is no such thing as society" mantra. In practical terms, it requires a commitment to a subscription model that turns its back on the potentially corrupting influence of advertising and sponsorship and provides a self-model that negates the need to chase private equity investment. That subscription model would probably be equivalent to a three or four beers or cups of coffee a month.

Profitability and efficiency remain central to a more linear, less centralised mode of work. An increasingly agile, more mobile workforce who are now looking beyond the dwindling arena of traditional jobs, aiming to control their own time and funnel their creative instincts into a process or end product that looks for a more meaningful end result than pure profit, the holy grail pursuit of dividends to distant inactive shareholders and speculators. the time is surely right for progressive models that combine a new industrial strategy with co-operative conceptualisation that challenges and upstages the 'hour glass society' where wealth trickles down only at the discretion of a wealth and powerful elite and the workforce loses its sense of worth through subsistence wages, being on call at all times and lack of inherent job satisfaction. My sense is that we need to be getting on with this right away.

It is perhaps a glimpse of a model that can deliver, not just financially but socially and spiritually, to fuel and drive a socially based, community focussed hub that prioritises rewarding its own members rather than profit-seeking shareholders. A community that can provide an environment for a peer group learning experience, based on a nurturing philosophy where members are surrounded not only by like-minds but by a wealth of divergent interests and passions from which they can learn and grow, whilst forging new links and collaborative opportunities.

This community can organise itself, pool resources and produce new, fresh media and art which in itself is capable of setting a benchmark editorial tone that its own members can believe in and subscribe too in the broadest sense. It can then go on to project and share ideas and inspiration, as well as the fruits of its labours outside its own city limits...

An unconventional convention.

If there's a will, we just have to hone it, adopt it and get busy!

 

Pete Lawrence 26.02.16

 

Further reading : Tom Watson's essay 'Making Technological Change our Ally'

Paul Mason's book 'Postcapitalism - Guide to our Future' 

Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams 'Inventing The Future - A World Without Work'

 

 

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