Alone in the crowd

So I went to an event last night organised by The Young Foundation Accelerator Programme partly because it was in Camden, and partly because it was a live crowdfunding event for six emerging social enterprises. This was of resilience interest to me on two counts:

  • I’m a great believer in crowdfunding as an example of resilience in action as it is basically networking resources;
  • The projects themselves had a strong theme of networking and relationship building running through each of them.

I’m not going to comment on the projects, largely because I need to do more research on them before providing a more coherent opinion (see bottom of post for links to all of them), but I did come away with some observations about the event.

It really struck me how disengaged the audience was from the “giving” process. The event was trumpeted as a “People’s Panel”, a dragon’s den but for the masses where instead of huge sums of money being put forward by champagne socialists, an army of citizens could could provide smaller contributions and get behind worthy social causes. If I’m honest, I think the evening suffered from misunderstanding how crowds work. I’ve seen a few people try and use this formula in the past – put a load of socially minded people in a room, give them wine, gee them up via the medium of mid-level hipster and then sit back and wait for the magic to happen.

Unfortunately, I think this really misses the point of how crowds work, and rather perversely fails to learn from the very projects the event was trying to support. Openly pledging support in a room full of strangers is a hugely isolating and vulnerable position to put oneself in. Am I backing the right project? Am I giving the right amount? Am I going to be the only one? It isn’t just “vulnerable” people who need networks of support – we all do if we are placed in a position of vulnerability. Did people leave nearer the end because they were tired/bored, or because they felt alone in a crowd? Difficult to say but I have a funny feeling it might be the latter.

So big shot, what would you do differently? Two things spring to mind. First, be much more selective with the invite, specifically inviting a large community of people who already know each other and would be more likely to discuss between themselves what they like, chivvy each other to pledge, and micro-mobilise very quickly. Second, if you can’t get a crowd that already knows each other, work much harder at matchmaking the crowd before the pitches. Maybe clump together different sectors or neighbourhoods or interests. Create as many mini-crowds in your audience as possible. Think about seating arrangements to encourage this.

Who knows? Maybe this wouldn’t work. Maybe it is solely dependent on the quality of project and pitch. But with more events in the pipeline I’d be really keen to see the Accelerator get creative with the potential pledgers more than the potential pitchers.

Speaking of which, here are the groups who presented. Check them out. Make up your own mind, and if one of them speaks to you on a personal level, have a think about how you could help

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6 Responses to Alone in the crowd

  1. Darshan says:

    Great thoughts Alex. I think it’s also important to realise that many in the crowd (naturally assuming that they’re all about social impact) are probably already supporting other organisations who are tackling the same challenges and so, they might not have the capacity or motivation to pledge. Just a challenge to think about when putting these sorts of nights on.

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    • Alex Kenmure says:

      Thanks for the feedback man and good call about audience motivations. One of the disadvantages of using one’s networks rather oddly – if you over use them then their value gets stretched too thinly. It’d be quite fun to see an invite saying “if you really love coming to these sorts of events, don’t come to this one! But do recommend to a friend who wouldn’t normally” 🙂

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      • Darshan says:

        Excellent idea! Or perhaps “Come to this one but bring someone who wouldn’t normally” might work too.

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      • Alex Kenmure says:

        Yeah that’s nice variation – starts it completely on the right foot in that you’d be turning up knowing someone and with a view to finding out more about the event/content. Perhaps doing up some little badges/stickers to distinguish between the “converted” and the “sceptics”? Or some other more appropriate way of tagging people so that it can act as a bit more of an icebreaker than “name and company”.

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  2. Agree Alex and I had the same impression. I hadn’t heard of the People’s Accelerator before, let alone been invited to discover the projects from the start, let alone be involved in selecting what projects should go into the accelerator.

    I did ethnographic research on different civic initiatives across Europe and met two crowdfunding projects – Amsterdam Boiling and Common Soup. The first one charges £10 for people to come and have dinner chatting to the crowdfunding projects who then pitch their idea and takings from the dinner are divided up according to the number of votes each project gets. Common Soup take it one step further and get people to bring ingredients to make soup first. Here’s an illustration of the approach http://citizenspact.eu/blog/177 & http://citizenspact.eu/blog/103. What they do is focus on building a community of people to support each other, from which emerge people who “take the leap” and develop projects that they then pitch for crowdfunding. What that means is people feel a sense of ownership over the projects and are more likely to donate more than once, at each stage of the project’s development.

    This shows the challenge of maintaining a focus on collective impact rather than outputs (like an accelerator or like x£ raised).

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  3. Alex Kenmure says:

    Cheers for your thoughts man and the links (I never did get my head around your caravan-ing experience – makes much more sense to me now). I really dig what you’re saying about building a community round an idea/project throughout its life, right from inception, and the positive impact that can have when one is eventually calling out for resources. Much to ponder in your comments.

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