Towards a minimum viable Satori co-op


We’ve done a lot of work since we published our “Who’s with us?” post and boldly announced that we were planning to become a co-op. We’ve had a lot of supportive comments and a lot of interest in membership… whatever that means.

We also found ourselves in the groan zone for a bit.

The Groan Zone

But we have made some progress. This is thanks in very large part to the generosity and enthusiasm of a whole bunch of people (who may well become members) who have endured our naive questions and given us really helpful insights.

Minimum Viable Co-op

So we’ve started to think about a minimum viable co-op. What’s the simplest, most straightforward model that meets the needs of potential members? (Membership here is freelancers and small businesses who, like us, want to help public servants develop the right tools, right skills and right culture to deliver excellent services in the digital age).

Here are some of the key user needs we think we’ve identified:

  • as a freelancer I need to be able to work on bigger projects with people who I trust and have confidence with so that I can earn money and have a real impact
  • as a freelancer working with public services I need access to peer support so that I don’t feel so alone and can learn from their experience
  • as someone thinking of leaving public services to go freelance I need access to a supportive community of people who have done this before so that they can help me get up and running quickly
  • as a small business or freelancer I need an easy way to find people with specialist skills who can join me on contracts so we can compete with larger companies
  • as a small business or freelancer I need someone who knows about putting in tenders and bids to do this so that I don’t have to spend lots of time and probably not get the work
  • as a person who cares about public services I want to be part of a collective of like-minded people sharing knowledge and news so that I can keep my mental / skills axe sharp
  • as someone helping public servants I need access to training and development opportunities that are tailored to my role and that I can afford so that I can keep my skills up

One member…

We used the Enspiral model as a starting point. They have three tiers of participation, Friends, Participants and Members.

Friends, participants, members

As we’ve spoken to people we’ve struggled to fit the sort of people we regard as potential members into those categories. So in our minimum viable co-op idea we’ve gone simple and old-school. There’s one sort of membership. And you are either a member or not. Members have a vote. One member, one vote. Members get a set of benefits by dint of their membership.

One type of membership, many different people

Lots of people might just want to be a member and take the benefits of membership.

Some people will want to get more involved. They’ll want to join projects and earn money through the co-op. They may want to really drive things forward within the network. They might want to offer services to other members. It’s a complex situation and, in our minimum viable approach, we think probably best de-coupled from membership. If members commit more time or money to the co-op they should be able to receive a dividend that reflects their investment.

Just Members

So: to kick around totally untested figures. What if membership was £10 per month. Members would get (for example) access to a paid Slack team and some community management to help them get the most out of the network of other members.

Then some members might choose to buy additional services from the co-op (training or ICT infrastructure) or they might contribute to projects set up through the co-op (by other members).

Some of those members might commit most of their time and energy to the success of the co-op.

What’s next

The next stage is to take this minimum viable model and start to understand the business and financial model that it suggests. We’re going to work on 3 models:

  • the minimum viable co-op, what is the lowest cost infrastructure that would be helpful
  • the gold-standard co-op, what would we really like to do and what would that cost
  • the middle ground, balancing the number of things we’d like to do with the wish to keep things as lean as possible

Get in touch

We still would love to hear from you if you have ideas, experiences or suggestions that would help. And if you see yourself as a member then we would very much love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading

I’m Ben Proctor from The Satori Lab. We support public servants so they can develop the right tools, skills and culture to deliver excellent services in the digital age.

If that sounds like your sort of thing, we’d love to hear from you.