04.02.2016 : Stephen Witherden

Crowd funding our changing world

Crowd funding is an excellent means of identifying projects held to be of merit by the general public and also funding them. So what does this mean for a firm such as Beca?

Crowd funding is an approach where typically someone with a new idea they can’t bring into being on their own can go out to the world at large and 'pitch' that idea. The world at large can then contribute to the idea financially, usually for some kind of expected return once the project is over: a product, an acknowledgement or maybe even some creative control. It’s resulted in many strange and wonderful things happening that otherwise wouldn’t have happened and allows individual backers to feel a sense of ownership and contribution towards something they personally value.

All of these positive things are not the best part about crowd funding, though. I believe crowd funding is great because for the first time ever we are able to use direct democracy to assess the merit of individual ideas and then pursue them as a community.

So what do I mean by 'direct democracy'?
When the Internet first demonstrated that we could connect millions of people together in real time, researchers theorised this could be the birth of a true direct democracy. The idea is that as you walk out your door in the morning, you could vote on the issues of the day, what we as a society should do about any given issue. Power to the people!

The reason that didn’t happen is your average person, even the above average person is not able to keep themselves informed enough on all issues and so people, when given the choice, will just take a wild stab, making direct democracy meaningless at best and dangerous at worst.

Research has found that when people are required to 'bet' their own money on an idea, however, they tend to take the time to research it. This is why prediction markets are more accurate at predicting the outcome of an election than polls: people have skin in the game, and are more likely to think critically and select the most likely outcome.

Crowd funding, it seems, is an excellent means of identifying projects held to be of merit by the general public and also funding them. So what does this mean for a firm such as Beca? What does this have to do with big capital projects or civil infrastructure projects?

Crowd funding for large-scale projects
Well, the concept is not limited to technology items and board games. The first crowd funded skyscraper (Bogota, Colombia) just put the last floor in place last year. The people of Rotterdam funded the Luchtsingel bridge for the privilege of having their name on it spacehive.com has been set up specifically to promote the crowd funding of civil projects in the UK.

Imagine a world where the public at large decide they want to upgrade a significant piece of infrastructure like a road or a school, and then funded most of it themselves. How does this change our world?

Well, for starters it’s not as simple as having lots of money and a great idea, you also need the skills, processes and relationships in place to actually follow through and deliver such a project. Organisations such as Beca are well suited to this kind of enterprise, but with a few key changes.

We go from stakeholders of a few key government bureaucrats to potentially everyone on the planet. Also, rather than being engaged at the point when the Government or a large organisation wants to build an infrastructure project, we can engage ourselves: coming up with the concept, selling the concept and delivering the concept, all not for a single aligned entity, but to many fractured stakeholders. The consultation activity therefore becomes even more critical to the success of the project, and more difficult.

Imagine if Beca approached the entire population of a country to secure funding to address an infrastructure problem we ourselves had identified. We convince the government to fund dollar-for-dollar (or even just some percentage) of what the general public is putting in. We come up with the concept, market it to the people, collect the funding, manage the project bring together the talent required to make it happen and then deliver it to the public for their usage.

I believe this is part of our future as a society in general and Beca specifically as the people who can make it happen.

About the Author

Stephen Witherden

Technical Director - Software Engineering

With over a decade’s experience in software development and attendant disciplines, Stephen has had the opportunity to work on projects ranging from enterprise learning management systems to near real-time military software running on an air platform and the usual accompaniment of business systems in between.

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ADD A COMMENT
Jon Huxley · 5/02/2016 9:46:26 a.m.
Great article, Stephen. Very thought provoking.