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Magazine

18 October 2021
“GOTEO encompasses access to culture, democratization of financing and the right to sustain long-term citizen projects.” An interview with Olivier Schulbaum

Montse Badia

Social Entrepreneur, co-founder of Platoniq and founder of the ethical collaborative financing platform GOTEO, Oliver Schulbaum works as a consultant in numerous national and international organizations, applying his knowledge and extensive experience in methodologies for social innovation through ICTs. We talked with him, via Zoom, about crowdfunding and, more specifically, GOTEO, and about match-funding as a form of shared commitment between citizen initiatives and administrations in the financing of projects with social and cultural impact.

Montse Badia –What is Platoniq and what are your lines of action?

Olivier Schulbaum – Last year we merged GOTEO and Platoniq Lab under the same umbrella, which is the Platoniq Foundation. We define ourselves as a citizen laboratory where you can find designers, developers of civic technology, sociologists, activists and “doers” who combine their expertise by using culture to build more democratic societies. We use two words to define ourselves: creativity and democracy. Most of the founders of Platoniq come from a cultural background. I made documentaries for many years, hence my interest in new ways of licensing work and knowledge products, especially when digital ones. We come from the world of open culture, that is, Creative Commons licenses, and everything that applies to possible intangible products such as software. The GOTEO platform is open-source. The foundation of our values ​​are openness, transparency and democratic methodologies. Culture is an essential element to do things from a perspective that goes beyond the purely technical, with a consideration of the context of who meets to decide or cooperate at a more anthropological level. We are interested in methodologies and digital tools to ensure that groups of people, citizens and public entities can create things together or make decisions together with marked guidelines and clear rules of the game.

GOTEO applies clear and transparent rules to crowdfunding. We get all the tools and methodologies we develop from a series of transparency, accountability or efficiency elements. We are particularly interested in projects that were previously supported or subsidized with public money. Projects that received public subsidies before the 2008 crisis and the current health crisis have had to seek alternative financing after these crises. We ask citizens to finance these projects through crowdfunding, but we do not want all the responsibility to be on the civilian population. That is why we designed the match-funding method, to guarantee co-responsibility and to ensure that the link between public and citizen initiatives (both cultural and social) is not lost. In this model designed by GOTEO, citizen contributions are multiplied by public contributions.

We work to make this model of co-responsibility apply to and be traceable by the public, in a way that forces public entities to consider, in terms of financing lines and decision modes, to support these programs, and so that they trust the citizen criteria when setting priorities. To decide which projects create the most social impact, we carry out data analysis and send the report to public entities. We consider that the analysis of data from participating platforms such as GOTEO or Decidim has great potential when it comes to influencing local policies or designing training programs. The important thing is to ensure the link between the public and what is shared.

MB – How many people work at Platoniq? How do you finance yourself?

OS – There are 20 of us in Barcelona, ​​Palma and Madrid. Platoniq is a foundation that is financed 50% by its own services and the rest from public subsidies. We try to rely less on grants because it takes a long time to elaborate the proposals.

MB -What are the operating dynamics at Platoniq?

OS -We are obsessed with the evaluation, or better, the self-evaluation that we demand of ourselves and that society also demands of us as a foundation. It is not only about having our accounts published each year, but also about analyzing our impact through the support of projects and entities and how we involve public entities both in the financing and in the decision making in terms of what type of citizen initiatives have the greatest influence.

We use Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) whose influence is more public than civic. To analyze the impact of the projects we help finance or co-create, we have simplified it by representing it in the form of footprints. The most classic is the ecological footprint, which has its own parameters and its own tools. The second is the social footprint, since there is no proven model in analyzing the social footprint of the civic projects of public institutions. The third is the democratic footprint, little contemplated in the SDGs but which seems very relevant to us. We have created a data model to analyze the data from the platforms that we make available to civil society, that is, funding platforms and collective participation platforms. We work on this analysis framework on both types of platform. This is what allows us to be able to obtain reports and detailed analysis of all the data that is generated through these platforms. This is possible because we create Apis that allow university researchers to do their own analysis. Our GOTEO platform is one of the most analyzed, at a European level, when it comes to measuring the impact of initiatives financed by citizens.

The concrete impact of the Foundation’s match-funding programs is to attract public entities to multiply citizen contributions. Our mission is to establish links between public entities and citizen initiatives in order to guarantee this model of contrasted and balanced governance between the two parties.

MB -What kind of projects apply to GOTEO?

OS –The difference between us and other platforms is that we do not have a project definition. The common denominator of all our projects is their social commitment: reinforcing democratic values, creating culture, employment, or more gender equality. Within a specific line of culture, we work a lot with cooperatives that create culture and in turn reinforce internal democratic and social values ​​. We select the projects in terms of their impact, determining if their impact is valid and if it has the capacity to attain the impact they propose.

MB -In the past, you founded a bank, the Common Bank of Knowledge (BCC). Is it still active?

OS – The Common Knowledge Bank is a very old project that contains the roots of what we are doing now. It was an idea far ahead of its time. The analogue part, “the human software” of organizing knowledge exchange markets and putting together experts with experts, worked very well. We also created battles between academics and citizen experts with life-based experience. It was a lot of fun and we saw the importance of creating a tool to organize these markets and measure their impact. The most interesting part was to organize the flow chart of a citizen initiative that sought to autonomously manage this exchange of knowledge. It is a project that has a methodological part and a software part, which has been transformed into what is now GOTEO. The methodological part continues to exist, working with people who contact us to learn about methodologies. Everything is documented, which is part of our mission. We have seen variations of BCC in other countries, we have seen collectives on a global level use and modify it in much more efficient ways than we could imagine when we first designed it.

This is one of the reflections that also allowed us to detect some problems of our own endogamous social, cultural and open-source world: how these initiatives are sustained. The Common Knowledge Bank was not sustainable and that was a great lesson, thanks to which we came to create GOTEO, because we experienced it firsthand. We saw that in our sector it was taboo to talk openly about financing. I think we have helped a lot so that this no longer happens and that it is something more natural within the life cycle of initiatives. We also seek replicability, that is, a sustainability model that can allow us to guarantee that the tools we create will have a long life. We applied all the lessons of the BCC to the design and production of the GOTEO tool. The Common Knowledge Bank was an empowerment project that forced us to systematize a moment of citizen activity, creation and collective governance.

When Platoniq was born, I was making documentaries for the Franco-German channel ARTE, with high quality standards but with a low budget. When we used television archives, both private and public, I began to realize that this was a totally closed rights system that did not allow access to essential knowledge. We began to be interested in open licenses, which were more flexible, and which came from the open software culture. We fought at that time for the democratization of culture, to give free access to culture and knowledge. The second way was the Common Knowledge Bank, or how a citizen initiative can generate collective knowledge. The third logic was how to maintain those initiatives, and this is how GOTEO started. In other words, we have lived through the life cycle of a citizen initiative that is learning from mistakes based on hard lessons and through empathy. For example, our community building was impressive, but we also acquired a high level of responsibility by seeing how many times there was no activity if there was no tool to guarantee that after a certain event you can continue to survive, where everyone returns to their regional territory and applies the lesson or replicates it at a more local level. GOTEO encompasses more or less all of this aspect of access to culture, financing and sustainable, long-term citizen projects.

MB – Is it very important to quantify, to put value on cultural and social actions?

OS – Yes, but also to put value on non-monetary contributions, which are intangibles. In GOTEO, a budget is requested and within what we call the optimization of the life of a project, non-monetary collaborations are requested. We are very careful that these non-monetary contributions add to the project, but that they are not “unpaid tasks.” We strongly insist that when closing a project a minimum budget is in place so that the project can continue, with fair wages. At GOTEO, we measure the impact of the two types of contribution, monetary and voluntary.

MB – The involvement of public institutions changes radically in this model that you propose.

OS – We can view GOTEO as having several arms, with the arms of citizenship and public institutions intersecting in what we would call match-funding, organized by open calls. For example, we have worked with city councils, such as with the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa for six years in projects, applying match-funding to cultural projects with social involvement. In this case, the Provincial Council made € 70,000 available to finance up to 15 cultural projects located and promoted by agents and groups in Gipuzkoa. The selected projects have the support and guidance of GOTEO throughout the process and, when launching their crowdfunding campaigns, they receive € 1 from the Provincial Council for each € 1 contributed by citizens.

This open call, called Piztu META, has achieved 97% success in its last five editions, with 78 projects fully funded. € 739,737 has already been raised through more than 12,861 donors with contributions not only from the Basque Country, but also from the rest of Spain, Europe, and even countries as far away as Bulgaria, Lithuania and China.

MB – Do universities play a role in rethinking models and dynamics?

OS -One of the first match-fundings we carried out was with the International University of Andalusia, which at that time had a specific program to analyze commonality and culture. Within their mission, they became interested in searching for projects through GOTEO, “matching” them at the funding level and doubling the citizen contributions. The required that that what we call collective returns (that is, the knowledge created within the project) had to be digitally documented so that others could learn from it, so that this open knowledge with an open license could also be useful to the university.

We also have had experiences with the UPC in social engineering projects of cooperation and we have a relationship with the UOC for the analysis and evaluation of the data.

MB – In these times of savage capitalism that makes it difficult for small projects to survive, do you think that there is more awareness and a desire to change people’s immediate surroundings in the cities or in the local government?

OS – The ones who are generating the most value at the local level are often the local governments. In the case of Barcelona, ​​we have worked with Barcelona Activa, which tries to incubate projects of this type and to seek new ways of financing them, with new forms of accountability. We haven’t had the time to go door to door in smaller cities, but we have worked hard to find partners to reach rural areas, which is a relevant issue, as there is a certain dependence on European funds, such as ERDF. We are nearing the end of this model and I believe that match-funding scenarios with smaller cities representing a diversity of regions will be seen in GOTEO. We are also in various working groups to combine alternative funding with European funding. Match-funding is a precedent for these forms, and we are proposing that social innovation funds, including ERDF, be derived from a co-responsibility between civil society and those funds. Our experience tells us that when citizens are involved in financing and in making decisions about the production of cultural or social projects, they end up being much more effective, are better documented, are more replicable and help build community if they do not depend on public subsidies, which is basically where GOTEO helps the most. It is not so much a question of financing as of building a community. How do we combine these? We use digital methods and tools that allow us to analyze the data. We are more effective than large European organizations that depend on capacities that the initiatives often do not need to have, on the technicality of the justification of funds from the public entity. We believe that it is necessary to ease up and to make the quality of the time dedicated to the projects be focused more on the execution, on guaranteeing their legacy and their replicability, and not so much having to take a three-month course to figure out how to justify the projects presented to the European Commission. Platforms like GOTEO can help many projects that deserve to be considered for funding by the European Commission.

 

Montse Badia has never liked standing still, so she has always thought about travelling, entering into relation with other contexts, distancing herself, to be able to think more clearly about the world. The critique of art and curating have been a way of putting into practice her conviction about the need for critical thought, for idiosyncrasies and individual stances. How, if not, can we question the standardisation to which we are being subjected?
www.montsebadia.net

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