It would be a community that aimed to work for the good of all above the needs of the individual, gracefully giving and receiving.
Campfire Convention was born in late 2014 as a blueprint for a new type of social network. My friend Mark Offord once said that “the love factor is severely lacking in social networking” and it was that comment that motivated me to address that imbalance as much as anything. I dreamt of a new community designed to provide the tools to empower individuals, a space where everyone has a story to tell, an environment aimed at enabling collaboration, developing skills and collating resources, whilst being mindful of ways we can build collective wisdom and be active for social change. Above all, it would be a community that aimed to work for the good of all above the needs of the individual, gracefully giving and receiving.
Less than two years later (and after many months of site building, based on the ‘open source’ Drupal platform) we’re close to opening our doors with the social network. Beta testers and the first ‘Trailblazers’ (contributing members) are enthusiastically putting the site through its paces, shaping the early community and within weeks, we hope to be in a position to widen our new members subscriber base.
We have also, in a short period of time, developed a team of volunteers and contributors as well as a steering group. Without this significant and humbling support for and belief in the concept, I would never have been able to get it off the ground, so I’m not taking for granted such generous and supportive gestures.
Now is the time to look at ways of evolving a new model that can become trailblazing as a blueprint for a modern co-operative.
There may already be precedents for models of organising – whether devolved, dispersed leadership theory or other concepts. We can learn from this thinking and bring in elements that are appropriate as we evolve whilst being aware that, at least in its early stages, Campfire has to exist pretty much as an exclusively voluntary ecosystem in its nature. As for future directions, we have the potential to base our structure around the proposed ‘kudos’ share scheme, where input is rewarded with a profit share according to metrics which the community can agree on. I have outlined my ideas for both the ‘kudos’ scheme and how a Campfire Foundation can give back to its members in this blog.
Following that outline, we hope the Campfire project will be able to support itself via a membership model where members pay an annual or monthly fee and that this will enable it to be profitable reasonably soon after its launch. What we then elect to do with any surplus after costs and 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:
- Setting up a Campfire Foundation - a body with a board elected by the community itself which would look at awarding a percentage 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.
- Working out our own Kudos share scheme based around input / output metrics. We can craft a work model that supports and rewards all, whilst allowing a wide flexibility 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 - whether volunteers or hosts for our events, whether the most active and dynamic members, 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 and the community makes the decision on how to reward and at what level. In this way, we have an additional community incentive to build resources for our members that benefit us all and hopefully wider society as the circles spread out from the heart of the community.
Few set structures and specific business models came to mind beyond this when the idea was conceived, aside from the starting point of recognising the value of a subscription model.
Lessons have been learnt from previous business decisions. The prospect of a natural evolution is important – a future direction unconstrained by major funding, without reliance on advertising, sponsorship or commercial partnerships. I have never started business ideas from a spreadsheet and have long since abandoned talking to investors primarily concerned with profits for shareholders. Almost without exception, they curiously ask about my exit strategy. I don’t have one. This is long term, a project - for life and beyond.
Some form of social etiquette is at least as important as any formal ‘terms and conditions’ and we should recognise that the ultimate good of the community may involve a degree of personal sacrifice.
Campfire is a balance as much about what skills, ideas, stories and life experience we can give to the community as it is about how we can individually benefit from its richness, content and interactive environment.
It feels timely to look at the thinking of key theorists in the postcapitalist model. Paul Mason’s book ‘Postcapitalism’ is important in helping shape some of new ideas for how Campfire could work within this emergent framework, which recognises the shifting dynamic towards the importance of networks over elites, horizontal organisations above top-down structures. The rise of communication networks is putting the means of production of intellectual goods into the hands of many people rather than a few. The keynote talks of Brian Eno and Scilla Elworthy also reflect and confirm a parallel ethos and vision.
In essence, the ‘stuff’ that human beings value can now be done by individuals who interact with each other socially rather than as market actors through the price system and this evolution is heralding the rise of non-market mechanisms, decentralised action by individuals working through co-operatives and voluntary forms of organisation. This leads to new forms of ‘peer to peer’ economics where money doesn’t have to be the primary focus and we can look beyond shareholder profits as the major motivating factor.
We are moving into an era of radically different ‘capitalism’ where there needs to be a redistribution of wealth and power away from dominant corporations, firms and elites to a wider mixture of individuals, peer networks and businesses that can adapt. There has been a collision between neoliberal economics and network technology. The utopian socialist, Charles Fourier had predicted that labour would merge with play and I believe that Campfire has an opportunity to play its part in blurring these distinctions, whilst recognising the need for change based on the rapid changes in labour requirements and the economy.
The type of company we shape is as important as what it does. For further reading a widely recommended book ‘The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Starfish_and_the_Spider)
There are a few key fundamental questions we need to ask ourselves which are relevant to the drawing up of any required community guidelines. For example, how political should we be? Aside from how ‘neutral’ or not our community policies and campaigns are, we need to address our Guild editorial guidelines and also discuss where we stand on such matters political parties, ecological matters, taxation, universal income, proportional representation, digital democracy as examples where it may or may not be necessary or desirable to draw up guidelines or policy.
There is also a strong case that the future lays outside conventional political parties and there may well be a role for Campfire in such a paradigm shift. Movement towards more general change – personal, political, economic and social as cornerstones - can perhaps better be facilitated through an ecosystem such as Campfire and through plugging into emergent democratic systems such as Ed Dowding’s Represent, which he talked about at CC001.UK, their online voting system now commissioned as official submissions to Government enquiries. Open government in action!
In terms of how we organise ourselves, roles and incumbent skills will emerge. Members earn their ‘kudos’ points as the community recognises, promotes and encourages individual talents and skills – not just the creatives, the analysts, the broadcasters, the artisans, the writers, the entrepreneurs, the satirists, the key influencers, the organisers, but the entire membership. All views are encouraged and need to be heard.
Campfire is all about empowerment – as individuals and as a community.
A model for a new organisation:
On a different tack, here are some received suggestions of ideas of Projects / campaigns for each Guild
Campfire Community : Campfire venues concept – our own arts and culture centres, how would they look and feel?
Art : Gallery at Campfire Convention 002.UK?
Sound : If we had a radio station / podcast, what output?
Vision : A ‘lab’ at Campfire Convention 002.UK
Stage : Best political comedy / satire and who we can feature at Campfire
Word : Already set up Book club, Storytelling Circle, Poetry Club
Explore : The ultimate Campfire retreat – what would it consist of?
Home : Designing energy efficient houses, how to share a co-operative living / work space
Taste : Planning food and drink policy for Campfire Convention 002.UK
Play : How to revive a declining sport, policy towards Sky and other broadcasters.
Style : Retail blueprints, workers pay policy, new co-ops, consumption addiction
Maximise : Universal Basic Income, Fair tax
Inform : Coming up with our own political policies
Balance : How to meditate, How we can become responsible stewards of the Earth
Connect : If Campfire had a dating site, what would it look like? In Praise of Loving Relationships
Tech : Alternative communication networks, Photo manipulation and how to do it.
Your comments are welcome. Indeed, they are the opinions and suggestions that we need to shape an evolutionary democratic community.
Pete Lawrence / October 2016