In this article, we’d like to explain Goteo’s follow-up tracking process for successfully crowdfunded projects and their collective returns: how it’s performed, what results we obtain, and what conclusions the process allows us to draw. We do this together with Vicky Anderica and Raúl Magallón, our “tracker” collaborators in charge of following and analyzing the results of Goteo’s successfully financed campaigns.
We’d also like to take this opportunity to explain why we place so much importance on collective returns as an added value, and the ideology behind it. With collective returns at the very heart of our design, we’re focusing our efforts on spreading information to make the concept more comprehensible, creating ways to improve what we can learn, and following those returns closely to gauge the extent of their reach.
One of the distinctive characteristics of Goteo is its defense of the digital commons (as well as the commons in general), that content on the web which remains available for free use through the implementation of open/free licensing. This is what we’re referring to here as “collective returns”.
One thing we’ve always been concerned about is what happens with a project after a successful campaign. Right from the beginning, we’ve been committed to offering a special kind of guarantee for completed projects, one that ensures the fulfillment of the rewards and collective returns promised in the contract between project creators and Fundacion Goteo, once the project achieves its minimum financing goal.
However, beyond the legal obligation, we’re much more interested in learning first hand how far these projects have gone, what they’ve created, what difficulties they’ve encountered during their production process and most of all, what digital returns they’ve made available.
That’s why we’ve been collaborating with Vicky Anderica (lawyer, project coordinator in Access Info Europe) and Raúl Magallón (journalist and professor at Universidad Carlos III)) to work out the details of this tracking process. So far, they’ve covered 191 completed projects whose campaigns were successfully financed after one year (the contract-specified period for the fulfillment of promised returns), checking their websites and social media and getting in touch with the project promoters one-on-one.
One of the clearest conclusions reached is that we need to strongly emphasize the meaning of collective returns to the promoters and users, so that everyone involved is aware of their importance (from our point of view, collective returns have an even greater importance than individual rewards).
Of course, since seeing is believing, here are three examples. The first is from the health sector, a project called Child Poisonings (from the call Crowdsasuna) published a practical guide with the most effective preventative measures; the second from the field of open government, Project Sentry (proyecto Avizor), provided a database to facilitate checking on parliamentary activities in development against poverty; a third from the Collective Architectures platform, crowdfunded in the first UNIA matchfunding call, which opened its source code, its hosted content and resources as well as the tool itself to facilitate communication among entities on this network.
This post is meant as a step in the same direction, to be followed with more details about our new proposals to enhance our services: to reinforce the information first shared with project promoters; to improve the accessibility of public returns; to share a recap of the main contractual commitments (but in friendlier terms) before the campaign; to create a basic calendar of “deliverables” for the entire process (pre-, during and post-campaign); and performing more outreach activities.
Since the analysis of the returns is being done for blocks of project, we’re presenting here the results of the second round, covering 131 projects:
92 out of the 131 projects reviewed completed their returns properly. The remaining projects had had some pending questions, but were in progress and had a launch date.
22 were late with their collective returns, but had made a public announcement about the reason (production complexities, problems with outside agents or distribution channels running behind with deadlines, or other unexpected delays, etc.)
3 had made changes to the promised collective returns, as circumstances had changed and the original commitment no longer made sense.
14 did not reply and apparently had not published any announcement.
While we continue to seek ways of ensuring the fulfillment of pending returns, which is the commitment we've made with the Goteo community and the projects, to us this figure seems to represent a strong indicator of the courage and commitment which can be created in the present context of crowdfunding, where, in general, there are still very few methods of tracking or guarantees, despite the proliferation of many types of platforms.
Regarding collective returns by category:
Why do we open knowledge (and not just acknowledge donations): returns vs. rewards
According to Vicky Anderica, promotion and monitoring of collective returns is in the Goteo "DNA": returns are necessary because nourish the commons. And ensure that there is part of the responsibility that we wanted to take as a platform, to facilitate further financing tool.
In that regard, Goteo covers the entire process of generating the return, supporting project creators from the very beginning phases of their campaigns with our advice, workshops, and specialized articles like this one, right through tracking and promoting those returns once published. However, in her opinion, we should strengthen the task of educating, try to get a better understanding and a greater awareness of the political significance and social responsibility that comes with open knowledge.
As an example, a good case of the widespread impact focused on direct democracy is Escaño110, an Andalusian project within the UNIA matchfunding call on innovation in education and open knowledge (UNIA is an entity that supports co-financed projects, publishing and disseminating the results). Escaño110 offers not just a practical guide to developing a popular legislative initiative, but also offers the code itself for its web platform that promotes the ILPs and collects signatures. This makes it possible to replicate the process in other territories.
But we also find examples from culture that broaden the area of citizen knowledge management, such as Fundación Robo, whose collective creations are fully copyable and shareable, or Demodrama Faces, a stage project that shares its manuals, content and the software code used for their audiovisual creations made with sensors, enabling other artists to integrate these technical advances in their own works.
Collective returns form one of the greatest added values we can provide to projects, as the expression and realization of our conviction: that privatizing our knowledge is not a source of development. Instead, sharing, opening and adding our knowledge is what builds possibilities and a better society.
Therefore, documenting processes (like that of GoDrone, the research and practice of a Catalan secondary school student who has already achieved crowdfunding for a second project, GoHand), capturing our experiences and digitizing this material (such as the education platform Reevo, whose content, resources, database and source code are open for free access and use) helps us extend the value of each project, taking advantage of the freedom and expanding possibilities offered by the Internet.
The tracking being done by Vicky and Raúl shows that, in many cases, greater importance is given to sending rewards than to the publication of returns. In their opinion, Goteo should provide more education and better dissemination around the commons and the creation of participatory communities, among other things, to promote the creation of synergies between projects which include open DNA,"peer-to-peer", and other projects beyond the technological environment.
In this respect, #AperitiusCrowd in Barcelona or the #LimonaData meetings in Palma (informal meetings to debate and share resources with campaign promotors) are becoming feedback channels among disparate projects, where in a first-hand, face-to-face way, they can collectively discuss and debate their issues and share positive experiences that have helped to produce and reproduce these open processes. We also help with publicizing the returns from projects funded through Goteo which we consider exemplary, for instance Nodo Móvil from the last #AperitiuCrowd, whose manuals, video tutorials and firmware code you can see here, here and here. Even if you don't quite know what to do with the firmware, it could be interesting to browse the manual and encourage someone to help build a Nodo Móvil guifi.net for an event!
Education through use
From the point of view of most "co-sponsor" users in Goteo, we appreciate that having direct access or use of the collective return usually isn't their main motivation for contributing to a project. However, it is often closely related to the core values of the projects they’ve decided to support. “I’m not going to use it, but it’s good that it exists”, says Vicky Anderica regarding the source code shared through the platform tuderechoasaber.es, or the film Cerca de tu casa (Near your house). “The important thing is that it exists, that people see this film, to the extent that film can help transform values”.
That is, the fact that a project shares something openly, even if that return might not be of direct use to the donor, is often a motivation in itself and “a boon to the project by its mere existence”, following the Goteo motto ‘CrowdFunding for CrowdBenefits’. Wherever the uses of these returns is promoted (providing consulting, manuals, installation instructions, promoting replication of online platforms, festivals, open-content publications, disseminating educational or creative content, creating events, etc.), infinite possibilities are also opened.
That teaching that the analysis of Vicky and Raul demands of us will undoubtedly improve the visibility of good practices and create new uses for these collective returns. Can a project promoter who needs to launch a Goteo funding campaign enrich his own project with returns that other similar projects have shared? Can someone feel encouraged to replicate a project in another area or professional field, and create a network? Of course they can! It improves their production, advances the processes others had followed, opens up possibilities for joining related communities, and expands the chances for the success of their campaign.
It's also imperative that we improve our explanation of the process of publishing collective returns. To that end, we have created an FAQ specifically to help, which will be updated with references to other hosting platforms with open, horizontal, independent and neutral content. However, in order to further improve traceability, it will be important that projects specify in their Goteo dashboard what content they share. This way, they are shown to be compliant with the system, and help Goteo to be, more and more, a valuable index of free content for everyone.
Apart from tracking and in bringing more efficiency in the publication of returns and the quality of their content, we would like to be able to define good indicators of the real impact those returns are having. According to Vicky and Raul, a unique feature of Goteo is the fact that the return allows us to measure the impact or results of the project, that is, "to see the traceability of the result from the point of view of their contribution to the community". For that reason, they suggest that we add a question in our communications with project promoters about what they believe the expected impact of their returns could be.
The valuable follow-up work and that particular suggestion raises a parallel question: to what extent could this process of analyzing the generated impact be decentralized?
In reality, the challenge is in exporting the dynamics of free software communities, where ongoing community participation is a fundamental part of each project, and where the distribution of responsibilities, such as spreading the benefits of the project, improvement, and measuring impact is more often guaranteed. 'It has to do with the project's ability to maintain this active community,' they say.
In any case, the management of these communities and the information they can provide is in itself a great challenge for any team leader, one that can be facilitated by hosting discussion forums (like the one we’ve linked to the Facil community, promoters of the Clé Facil project), publishing articles for discussion and information (like the GNUPG project blog), organizing events like the one MediaLab Prado organized to collectively co-define what to do with the open data from the Madrid city council, etc. In this sense, in 2015 we have begun, as a sign of our collaboration with UNIA, a study dedicated to the definition and improvement of the impact indicators used for Goteo projects, which we will soon tell you more about.
We can already talk about how Goteo is making connections between related projects and how we’re refining our commitment to promoting and spreading common and free digital space, but we must still go a step further in facilitating and creating synergies among the different communities that cross on the platform. This presents a new opportunity to strengthen the positive experiences of Goteo users, be they project creators or donors, in line with some of the improvements made this spring, such as publishing the Goteo API to enable the use of data generated on our platform, and improving the efficacy of campaign management to optimize chances of success.
Our journey continues.