There is more than one way to price a workshop: experiments in shared economy

For those of us who work in participatory design, what does it look like to extend engagement to questions of money as well?

So you’ve got a small budget set aside for professional development. You find a training that looks good on paper, costs say $100 to attend and you register by paying the fee and submitting your name. At the end of a long day of powerpoints, you leave with a few notes in hand and your receipt/attendance confirmation for the human resources department, never having given much thought to the cost or value of the workshop.

At Percolab events that doesn’t happen.   

For many years now, we has been experimenting with different ways to engage with with cost and value of trainings. Percolab has taken inspiration from practices in the Art of Hosting community, from The Commons, and in particular, a practice that our colleague Ria in Brussels introduced us to: the shared economy.


With each of the open workshops that I was a part of hosting in 2017, we experimented with different ways to present this useful practice. Most of us are not comfortable talking about money. We have very little practice being open and transparent about how much we would like to earn, how much we can afford to pay, and the value we receive from a training. With inspiration from my colleagues around the world, this is what I have learned so far about how to present the shared economy in a way that is inviting, clear, reassuring and effective.

Experiment #1

At the self-management workshop we hosted back in May, we gave participants two options.

1) Register and pay the listed price on Eventbrite ahead of time

OR

2) Engage with the shared economy by paying a small registration fee (so that we know you’re actually coming) and then paying the remaining amount, of your choice, at the end of the event.

It sounds like a pay-what-you-can model, or a sliding scale, but that’s not the idea behind it. While we do want our workshops to be accessible to anyone regardless of their financial situation, what we were aiming for was a shared economy practice. It’s an opportunity to take into account the budget of the event, and then choose what to pay based on the information available, including the number of participants. i.e. “sharing” the cost.

What’s unique about this model, is that it’s an engagement. You are agreeing to share the responsibility, and cover the minimum cost for the event to run successfully.

At the end of the workshop, we share our budget with you (including how much we would like to receive as hosts/facilitators/trainers). We then divide the total cost by the number of participants and everyone makes a choice based on that proposed average cost.

The result?

For that particular event, about half the participants paid the listed event price ahead of time, and half engaged with the shared economy. Our budget included the cost of the room, catered lunch, printed materials, and the time and expertise of the facilitators.

In the end, it turned out that this two-option, shared economy acted like a sliding scale. If you had a company paying your training bill, you paid the full listed price. If you were an independent, or coming from a non-profit organization, you participated in shared economy. Some paid a bit more than average, some paid a bit less. Everyone has a fairly good idea of where they fit on a scale of income, so they know for themselves if they can contribute a bit more than the average, or not. We covered all of our costs, and paid ourselves. And we learned something about the demonstrated need for accommodating different budgets.

But there was more to be experimented with.

There is also the question of perceived value. Are you engaging with the budget and making a choice that is not just a matter of what you can afford, but the value that you have received? Are you consciously participating in the financial reality of your learning experience?

For those of us whose profession it is to increase participation and engagement in events and organizations, this is an important question. For the trainings that are based on, and designed for engagement, it seems pertinent that we extend that engagement to the question of money as well.

Our good friend Frederic Laloux asked similar questions of his readers when he published the online version of his book (which was a foundational building block of our self-management workshop) Reinventing Organizations.

The idea is, “I cannot know what the book is worth to you, so I’m not sure a fixed price makes much sense.” It’s an experiment in abundance where I trust that when I give, I will also receive.”

When our colleague Nil was in town, co-hosting The Money Game with Cedric, they took inspiration from the gifting economy and asked participants: “What would be a contribution you could offer that would give you joy?”

This consciousness around our relationship to money is important to us. We are shifting our budgeting and allocations for project work internally away from a time-based model (how many hours did it take you to do this?) to one that factors in complexity, expertise, and value. Some very human qualities of the work.

Experiment #2

At our most recent evening workshop, on the topic of generative decision making, we decided to combine a few of these ideas, and encourage an engagement with the value of the event.

As we closed the session, we asked participants to write down on one side of a paper what they learned, or are taking away from the workshop.

On the other side, thinking about the value this event has had for you, write 3 numbers:

1) A contribution that would feel unjust or too low,

2) An amount that would feel like too much for this evening of learning,

3) A number that you would feel good about contributing to this event, based on what you have learned and what you can afford.

The first step was about reflecting on value and money on your own.

The second step was to share the budget of the event.

We listed the cost of the room, the snacks we provided (essential for an event at the end of the workday) and what we hoped to receive as hosts of the event. For the line item relating to the honorarium for the facilitators (our pay), we set a range for what we would each be willing to receive, on the low and the high end, for this evening of work. We had a similar range for the percentage that we would put back into the Percolab pot for overhead as we do with every project.

We counted the number of people in the room and did the math together for the average amount each person would need to contribute to cover the cost. We were left with a range depending on whether the facilitators were to receive their low-mid or high honorarium amount.

With that, we told participants which methods of payment were available, and left the rest up to them.

The result?

The added step of having each participant reflect on their own about their relationship to the value of the event was important. It changed the nature of the conversation and the participants were more engaged with the budget we presented.

For ourselves, it felt more honest to list a range for the pay we would each receive (and to be clear whether it would be split 50/50 between us and why). As organizers of an event, it is not easy to declare how much you would like to make. Mostly because we don’t practice it very often. And then to discuss with a co-host whether we are splitting the profits evenly or not, for whatever reason. It’s a step that I push until the last minute every time. But being able to include it in the presentation of the budget makes it that much more transparent and that much more clear.

Things to experiment with next time:
How could we include the collective aspect of shared economy? Until now participants have been making the decision on their own, with or without time to reflect on value first. What if we had a discussion about it and shared the responsibility openly as a group?
This is something that was factored in when the Shared Economy was first piloted at a learning village that our colleague Ria was a part of. To read more about the origins of this idea: https://slovenialearningvillage.wordpress.com/how-much/

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