“A civic economy is emerging, one which is fundamentally both open and social. It’s an economy which is fusing the culture of web 2.0 with civic purpose.”
The notion of ‘business as usual’ has been widely discredited. New business models and forms of sharing resources are generating alternative types of employment. Against this background, ‘Compendium for the civic economy‘ invites us to build social capital to widen our opportunities for innovating. “Civic entrepreneurs are doing just that. Their initiatives are a source of optimism and resilience at a time when we sorely need both.”
This fascinating collection of case studies and lessons on the civic enterprise has been researched and created by 00:/. It captures the technological, cultural and organisational trends that are changing the fabric of our economy and society. It shows how civic entrepreneurs are achieving change through the use of collaborative and open-ended approaches, seeding new ideas, attracting diverse collaborators to shape their propositions, and achieving a variety of associated social, economic and environmental outcomes. “They make innovative use of new technology, innovative finance and wider social networks. They enable better use of undervalued resources whether physical or social.”
Understanding the civic economy
The definition of the civic economy given in the book may not be the easiest to grasp. “We define the civic economy as comprising people, ventures and behaviours that fuse innovative ways of doing from traditionally distinct spheres of civil society, the market and the state. Founded upon social values and goals, and using deeply collaborative approaches to development, production, knowledge sharing and financing, the civic economy generates goods, services and common infrastructures in ways that neither the state nor the market economy alone have been able to accomplish.”
Yet, when you look at the stories that the manual thoroughly describes, it all comes together.
A good example is Fab Lab (short for fabrication laboratory), a 21st century workspace where people engage in product design. It functions as a manufacturing workshop equipped with everything from 3D printers to wood-cutting and computerised embroidery machines. Its aim is to empower communities, enterprises and members of the public “to do it themselves.”
Around 50 Fab Labs across the world encourage the creation of everyday objects as well as the development of new ideas.
They also actively support collaborative learning. “Online platforms facilitate the exchange of knowledge and experience between Fab Lab users across the world, while within each Lab people are encouraged to document their work for future reference and to teach others how to handle equipment.”
The idea of the Fab Lab is particularly interesting for a number of reasons: it taps into people’s desire to build on their ideas, create their own products and share them with others. It also integrates a ‘play and experimental’ culture with high-tech opportunities. Plus, it combines work with a social meeting space breaking down barriers to participation while also encouraging an informal exchange of know-how.
Re-using existing assets
An illustrative story about the power of rethinking waste and vacancy comes from the Studio Hergebruik (Re-use Studio) in the Netherlands. The book describes it as “a meeting place, a knowledge centre and a platform for creativity in the growing re-use economy.”
Re-use Studio displays and sells work by artists from all creative disciplines who focus on recycling materials and concepts.
This place combines a number of functions – beside the shop, it serves as a documentation centre, exhibition space, gallery and conference room.
“One of its most important goals is to inspire people – both designers and the general public – and to bring them together around a platform from which to exchange knowledge,” reads the book. Aligned with this vision, the studio also organises lectures and masterclasses, and offers internships and educational workshops to international art academies and universities. It also runs team-building events for companies.
Through these activities the Studio is able to generate direct income as well as create value to its members, further strengthening the ability of artists to scale up their activities.
“How do we grow the fertile ground for the next generation of change-makers? This is about more than the careful design of space alone: it is about hosting open networks and building peer-to-peer communities of practice.”
I was pleased to see The Hub Impact featured in the book. This global community for social entrepreneurs is made of a network of workspaces in over 70 cities worldwide.
The Hub was born out of the desire to be not just a workspace solution, but also a place that encourages a deep sense of being part of a movement. As such, it serves as a model for exchanging ideas and a shared sense of purpose.
The physical space of each Hub is purposefully designed to host a variety of events and meetings. By doing so, it establishes a social atmosphere.
Yet, while the physical architecture is important to communicate its ethic and set the right conditions for its use, “The Hub model goes beyond physical space.”
Hosts are a key part of the community that The Hub is seeking to create: they are permanently present in the space, welcome newcomers, manage everyday business and help members to connect one another.
All of this is backed up through the use of social media and online knowledge sharing tools such as Yammer, which allow to build and sustain the global network while retaining its key principles. The book explains it well:
“Entrepreneurs across the world can adopt and adapt the Hub model with practical support from a core Hub team. Certain elements, such as the mission, key components of the space and the ‘hosting’ model, are a part of the shared concept but the kind of space, local network and focus of activities can vary significantly in response to local conditions. Whilst this has enabled a rapid growth of The Hub model, the challenge is to generate the resources to support this process and create a strong shared network of know-how and experience.”
Behaviours of of the civic economy
A number of key points highlighted by 00:/ are worth summing up to better understand what makes the civic economy unique.
First, its protagonists are driven by passion, purpose and commitment to deliver a plurality of values and outcomes. It is based upon participation – far beyond mere consultation, it invites co-production.
It recognises and re-combines physical assets, human capabilities and aspirations. It also generates an holistic experience of space: “creating places that tell stories about their purpose, often surprising and delighting users and helping to generate open conditions for people’s participation and collaboration.”
It is an economy that uses different sources of finance and invests on a range of ‘currencies’ – from people’s time to trust and social networks.
Finally, rather than strategic planning, it relies on agile, incremental and iterative practices – it starts small and grows in response to evolving needs and opportunities “through networks and adaptation rather than through replication.”
Creating fertile ground for the civic economy
The civic enterprise described in this book is challenging the way we perceive the idea of workspace, creativity and communications. Ultimately, this is a shift with profound impact on how we experience work and the nature of our relationships with the wider ecosystem.
‘Compendium for the civic economy‘ makes the perfect read for those interested in understanding how to navigate a landscape where new type of organisations are emerging – disruptive and innovative on the one hand; social, welcoming and inclusive on the other one.
“Provide fertile ground for civic entrepreneurs is about embedding a different way of thinking and doing, not about quick fix solutions, extensive new legislation or huge capital investment programmes such as in business parks or other physical infrastructure.
“A positive, optimistic and collaborative culture is the most important platform on which the civic economy can emerge and grow.”
This article originally appeared on simply-communicate