21 questions about Supercommunities from Fellows of the RSA
Updated: Feb 27, 2021
On Mon 22 Feb, I gave a talk on Supercommunities to Fellows of the RSA. The talk was heavily over-subscribed, so if you couldn't get a ticket, apologies, you can watch a recording here, and we are discussing follow-up events. We started with some chatty introductions, and it was good to see attendees from Europe, the US, and Canada as well as from all over the UK (though not so many people attended from countries further east of the prime meridian, for whom the 6pm UK slot meant it was the small hours of the morning).
Even with 30 minutes of Q&A, there wasn't time to address most of the 21 questions asked, so I'm going to try and answer them all here - short answers, otherwise this article would be unreadably long! Please reach out to me if you would like to know more. The questions are given in alphabetical order by first name, and surnames with other potentially identifying comments are omitted.
Charles asked about the regulatory implications of the stakeitback model for diverting funds from global capital markets into small-scale social trading. UK regulation is not yet in place for cryptoassets. For now, the Jul-19 Financial Conduct Authority Guidance on Cryptoassets defines 3 types of token: exchange, utility, and security. Stakeitback stakes are neither exchange nor utility tokens. They are similar to security tokens, but the only tokens to which regulation may be applicable are "those that reach the definition of specified investments under the RAO" (p.16). The RAO is the The Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Regulated Activities) Order 2001. Under the RAO, Stakeitback stakes (which have no intermediary, no end date, and a fixed return) are not specified investments but commercial arrangements (for use of funds in exchange for delivery of information services, until a target is met).
David asked: "Do supercommunities replace the current economy or layer on top of it? I am thinking of the section in Debt that talks about the return to credit over currency in the middle ages. Could supercommunities do the same to free the majority from the financialization of society?" The model does not advocate any replacement of fiat currency with tokens or other forms of exchange, and personally I worry that cryptocurrencies may de-stabilize society. What it does provide is a way to divert more of the $177.6 trillion in global capital markets into things that are good as well as profitable. According to the Global Impact Investing Network, in 2019 only 0.28% of such investments were into social impact.
Ewan asked: " My worry is that for Supercommunities to work they need headspace to get the process started. As with personal behaviour those with little headspace often move in a downward spiral. If this concept was to take off could it not just exaggerate inequality?" A fundamental principle of the Supercommunities model is that wellness depends not only on having a personal wellness plan but also on having a personal support network of friends, family, neighbours, and professionals to help you create and implement it. As the RSA found in 2015, connection with community is the single strongest correlating factor with overall wellness - it provides the additional headspace needed for PsyCap (Positive Psychological Capital).
Jane asked: "How does the Supercommunities model fit with the need to live within a fair share of the earth's resources and to achieve net zero carbon? Is there a role for targets within this?" Data and associated metrics underpin the Supercommunities model and are the strongest argument for also having its tech enabler, the Internet of Communities. As well as metrics associated specifically with community capitals, assets, and wellness, the model recommends tracking progress using the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Jane also asked about how her community group could replicate the connections they built in person since covid-19 put paid to face-to-face meetings. This is a long-term question, since some aspects of covid may be here to stay, and things are unlikely ever to go fully back to how they were in a post-pandemic world. We need both to transform the personal support networks discussed above into extended support bubbles that can meet face-to-face, and also to use these networks to help people become more digitally enabled, so that they can interact online more easily.
Jane asked a third question: "Many of our local community groups have no online presence. How would they fit into the Supercommunities model?" The model proposes that communities use digital hubs as a way for local groups to create an online presence and connect with people through social media. In other words, each group doesn't need to build a website, but rather to maintain information about its services online using a simple, interactive platform designed for community organisations.
Julie mentioned how "the most super of supercommunities are often the poorest and most marginalised - e.g., the women who ran the soup kitchens etc. here in Durham during the Miners Strike" Yes, people who have the least often give the most, don't they. However, sadly it's also true that deprived areas often have much less in the way of community assets than communities that are more prosperous, despite their comparatively greater need. This is why we need to enable global capital markets to fund grass roots social change, as described above.
Karen said she "still needs to understand more about what type of data is in the data stores that wouldn't cost a lot to collect and keep up to date locally." The data is about community capitals (natural, industrial, and human), community assets (that use capitals to create services of value to community members), and community wellness (the efficacy of wellness plans that use those assets). The secret sauce in keeping them up to date is to use a platform (the Internet of Communities) to maintain the assets and capitals and to deliver wellness services. Then the data drops out of the activities, rather than being a separate administration burden.
Kate asked: "How do communities keep the energy going to grow useful collaborations … How do we set up our digital community? Is there a platform for this?" Research shows that volunteers actually accrue great social benefits (more than those they help, when measured financially), but to keep energy levels high, people need to be recognised for the impact of their contributions. This is the third C of the collaboration methodology underpinning the Supercommunities model. In other words, give volunteers frequent, public shout-outs - not money, which devalues their contributions by treating them as poorly rewarded public servants.
Mark asks about "the role of local government and how they can facilitate and support local communities and vice versa", wondering "where you see political capital fitting into your model, as I see a key part of wellness is the way in which decisions are taken, who has the political agency to have their voices heard, listened to and make change happen." Broad-based ownership is the basis of the Supercommunities model, reaching well beyond local government and anchor institutions to include all forms of community organisation. This is the basis of stakeholder theory, which holds that the inclusive decision-making is, the better it is.
Mary asked: "How is this different from other existing models e.g. the Community Wealth-Building model? (See Cleveland, Preston etc.)" Cleveland and Preston are inspiring examples of what a community can achieve. However, all involved with Community Wealth Building acknowledge that historically its pace has been slow and initiatives don't always address wellness needs holistically. The initial exploration of such models has paved the way for a structured, step-by-step approach that can operate at scale and pace to more rapidly deliver benefits across the board.
Mathijs asked: "The UN has a global owned community for its development programme, Spark Blue. To what extent is this a supercommunity?" Spark Blue is a form of social media platform, rather than a Supercommunity (which uses asset ownership and social trading to become antifragile through social trading).
Mitchell asked: "Could slide 7 be circular, like feedback loop? Seems to me that Community Assets might then feed into the three capitals on the right." Yes, you're right, Mitchell. I couldn't make the graphic work in this way, despite trying. Suggestions gratefully received!
Mitchell also asked: "So much capital seems mis-directed, even capital that is purported to be philanthropical ends up not really having a significant positive affect, and so much human capital/volunteering gets frustrated by not having the means to make change. Are there some pointers you can give that that they become more aligned and effective?" Direct efforts into the two arrows shown in the Supercommunities graphic - sustaining wellness using assets, or sustaining assets using capitals. Manage effectiveness of these efforts by capturing the data described above, and identifying gaps and overlaps in provision. Be open in showing your progress.
Patricia asked: "Do you feel the mapping communities and they way they work will be inherently undermine them?" A great, subtle, and complex question. Patricia is asking why people prefer to keep some relationships and ways of working below the radar. In my view, for fear that the system is set up to destroy them. Change the system - for example, to the open, inclusive, rewarding Supercommunities model - and you remove this fear.
Peter asks if Citizens UK is a Supercommunity. As for the UN Spark Blue platform, Citizens UK is a platform where groups can connect with each other and share ways of working, not a Supercommunity as such.
Pippa mentions how "Elinor Ostrom's principles on how communities share and sustain assets are useful when commissioners and funders doubt the ability of communities to make decisions about funding." Yes, Elinor Ostrom's seminal work to dispel the dangerous Tragedy of the Commons myth is discussed extensively in my book.
Roy asked: "UK lockdown has damaged our social fabric. As we build back do you see the supercommunities approach as a multiplier or a fundamental factor?" The latter. Lockdown has generated many new community groups, but it's questionable whether these will form a solid basis on which to grow a different approach to society as a whole.
Ruth asked: "With the focus on communities how do you make sure those who are in digital poverty are able to benefit from the supercommunities?" If you are not digitally enabled, part of your wellness plan must be to redress this, and that will be a key focus of activity for those in your personal support network - apart from anything else, it will help them stay in constant contact with you.
Shelley asked: "Could you share a specific example of a community data store within Internet of Communities to bring the concept to life? (what data, who would own/ house the data, and what value would gained by the community from the mining of this?)" Specific examples are the digital hubs built in Somerset and West Midlands. These showed, among other things, that the small town of Frome (pop. 27,000) had about as many community assets as the city of Birmingham (pop. 1m). As discussed above, the places with the least assets often need them the most.
Finally, Simon asked: "What type of de/regulation needs to occur in and through Government (Central and Local) to enable the model to flourish?" More powers for local government bodies of all kinds (councils, health care, police, and so on) are a big enabler for the Supercommunities model, since they allow for locally customised variation to national policy. These powers should be accompanied by a correspondingly greater share of tax revenues (council tax, business rates, and so on) to avoid giving responsibility without authority.
That's it - thanks to the RSA and to all who attended the meeting, and if you have further questions, why not start a discussion on the Supercommunities LinkedIn Group?