Proposition 3 — People are empowered when they can create things together

We need to create opportunities where people can work together to co-create new systems and interventions to solve the problems they face. In government this might mean working with citizens and the groups they form to co-design projects or services from the beginning. Let’s go back to our example of the Universal Credit Survivors Group — imagine if that group was convened and they worked with the government to design a benefits system within the budgets set? Imagine if they helped to construct the policy, voted on their priorities for the system and designed how benefits could be delivered. You might have ended up with a very different benefit system that not only functioned better but was much fairer and more humane.

Co-creation in Local Government

This form of co-creation is becoming increasingly common at a local level from pioneering councils like Wigan, Preston and Camden through networks like the Cooperative Councils and Compass. In East London, Barking and Dagenham Council has launched an ambitious partnership to set up over 250 community-led projects and 100 new businesses. The projects include community gardens, play streets, get-togethers for isolated freelance workers, even a listening barber. These activities bring the community together, and they are not just improving people’s sense of wellbeing — they also have a direct impact on tackling crime and unemployment. The projects are all free and local, showing how creative an empowered community can be.

Giving people the resources and power to create shared solutions is also a priority of Big Local, one of the most radical and exciting grant programmes ever launched by a major Lottery funder. Between 2010 and 2012, the National Lottery Community Fund identified 150 areas that had historically missed out on lottery and other funding. Each of those areas was allocated £1m of Big Local funding. This could be spent in any way local residents chose, provided they organised themselves locally to plan and manage that funding, involving the wider community in the decision-making process. Beyond that, the rules, constraints and priorities that define Big Local have been for local people to decide. By design, the programme is bottom-up and community led; there are no top-down targets or centrally imposed delivery models. The timeframe for Big Local extends over fifteen years, allowing communities to take their time, build confidence and skills, make decisions and deliver change, without the usual pressures to meet end-of-year- spend targets or other arbitrary, bureaucratic deadlines. By providing space, time and resources and trusting people with power they are opening up new forms of creativity in those areas. As one person working for the organisation explains “increasingly we are seeing significant positive outcomes from that work — and importantly, its not so much about the money that is being spent, much more exciting is the impact it has on power relationships and dynamics at a local level, turning local communities from applicants, supplicants and complainants into negotiators of their own futures.”

Technology, open source and co-creation of value

“Rather than simply compensating the ‘losers’ of the market economy, it aims to transform its institutions, so that many more people, places and firms can take part in, and shape, the future knowledge economy. We argue that an inclusive knowledge economy requires action to democratise the economy — widening access to capital and productive opportunity, transforming models of ownership, addressing new concentrations of power and democratising the direction of innovation.”

This is why work on alternative models of ownership, new forms of workplace democracy and company structures are so important and need to be examined. Furthermore, for them the current confinement of this new method of working to a few small professional sectors is also a problem. As Isaac Stanley argues innovation must be extended beyond just “frontier industries” and applied to the foundation or everyday economy of the goods and services people use every day. By empowering everyone working in every sector of the economy we unleash the collective power of human creativity:

“The confinement of the knowledge economy also leads to the confinement of human potential. At its best, the knowledge economy gives expression to our distinctive human ability to reimagine the world around us. A knowledge economy in which many can take part holds the promise of advancing human freedom and realisation. But so long as the vast majority of people, even in the richest countries, are excluded from forms of economic activity which give adequate expression to their imaginative powers and humanity, their potential is denied…Its central argument is that the knowledge economy does not have to be confined and contained; that an alternative approach is in reach which democratises it….Our story is not simply about economic growth, but about the power and potential of the individual and collective imagination. It is a story of people taking control as makers, not just as consumers. Our contention is that this story will resonate and inspire far more than the alternatives of trickle down or retreat.”

This analysis also encourages us to examine more deeply what we determine to have value beyond simply what we pay for. In a world of co-creation where value is created collectively, older economic concepts such as individual ownership of ideas or copyright start to seem increasingly obsolete.

For example, Wikipedia is still one of the most impressive examples of human co-creation. People all over the world work together to not only curate knowledge but find new ways to communicate, collaborate and curate that knowledge through tools that are built and created. Wikipedia has rules that have been constructed, a process for making decisions, codes and laws, customs and traditions. The creativity the structure has unleashed from participants is truly incredible. Yet this whole organisation, culture, movement relies ultimately on volunteers and its services are not bought or sold. It has no shares, no real economic footprint. It’s full value is hard to measure in conventional economic terms yet the project has succeeded in collectively developing a shared knowledge resource for the whole world and is used by millions of people worldwide (the home page of the English site alone has an average of around 500m visitors per month).

This is why the open movement within the tech sphere is instructive. It allows us to unleash, albeit in a confined way some of our collective creativity by giving people the code (or permission or access) to create new things. When you open up the code which controls a platform for example, then you empower people to design new features for that platform. This changes the power dynamic. If people are organising on a Facebook Group and want to be able to do more things in that group, an open source Facebook would allow them to build and customise their own organising environment according to their needs. The bounds of our technological environments can become more flexible when they are open. The knowledge can be shared and thus technological platforms become shared communal infrastructures which can unleash our creativity.

Opening up the code of technology companies is also important for other reasons. Indeed technology social network platforms like Facebook are currently monopolies which control a basic social infrastructure which is becoming ubiquitous. Traditionally monopolies were broken up by nation states introducing regulations or competition laws. The problem is these platforms are global and thus they require a more sophisticated response. One option (which has been explored by Ira Bolychevsky at Redecentralize) is an extension of the open source movement is to push for a move towards interoperability. The idea is that different platforms can talk to each other using open protocols so a user can move seamlessly from one to the other without any problems. A good example where this is already in place is email. Even if you have a gmail account, you can still communicate with someone who has a hotmail account, despite them being owned by different companies. Imagine if you could easily message someone from Facebook who is on an alternative platform? Or create events where you can invite people who aren’t on facebook? Many people stay on the main platforms because it’s where everyone already is, by making them interoperable you make it easier for people to move between platforms while still remaining in touch. By introducing interoperability to Facebook and other social media platforms you can break the current monopoly they have.

What could this look like?

  • National pioneers funding — if you have an idea in your workplace you are encouraged to submit a proposal… linked up with others who may have similar ideas
  • A co-creation clause, where contracts or money is provided to tackle particular problems in the public sector, there has to be evidence that the solutions have been co-created with the community that is affected.
  • Money, shared resources and architecture for community groups to draw on to support co-creation
  • A review of current economic measures to better understand what is creating indirect value and needs to be funded.
  • Incentives for the publishing of open source software — potential for companies that use open source software to pay a levy to fund it. Some sort of crowdfunding model for businesses?
  • Set up a government workstream to research the possibility of introducing interoperability.

Proposition 4 — People are empowered when the system is responsive



Labour Together

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