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Why you should hire a tech co-op for your next project

By Richard Edwards, 26 Jun 2017

Last week we were super excited to see ourselves featured in Co-operatives UK’s report on the 2017 co-operative economy (look out for us in the video!)

The report shines a light on the growing number of tech co-ops in the UK, like Outlandish, and the burgeoning tech co-op movement.

But what’s so great about tech co-ops?

Well as well as being a lure to talented people who want a say in how their companies are run, tech co-ops also bring major benefits to organisations looking to commission their next digital project.

Here’s just a few of the big wins:

1. Tech co-ops deliver better value

The designers, developers, project managers, UX leads, and everyone that works as part of Outlandish (we like to identify as “Outlanders”), share our passions for positive change and challenging the status quo. And this is fed back into the projects that we take on.

This isn’t some fluff that any agency can get away with saying. We do this in a real world, financial sense: we reinvest our own profit into new projects that we believe are going to bring about real social change.

We co-invest in projects we believe in

So how does this work? Basically, instead of being taken by shareholders, the profits at Outlandish are allocated to the people who made them (the workers).

Instead of taking the money as a bonus, Outlanders can reinvest the surplus they’ve each generated in future projects, prototypes, tests and initiatives that help make the world a fairer place.

And it’s this that leads to better value for clients.

Let’s take a look at School Cuts as an example…

School Cuts: from internal passion to MVP to client’s election-shaking project

School Cuts's data-driven homepage

School Cuts is a tool that shows how policies would affect funding for schools in your local area.

It started when a member of Outlandish attended a meeting of parents, teachers and other people concerned that the government was planning to slash funding to inner-city schools. One of the main problems was that the government’s proposals were complicated and difficult for a layperson to understand – even the experts didn’t know the exact repercussions of the proposals.

This is exactly the sort of human/data problem that Outlandish loves so we proposed to build a tool to help people understand the proposal.

The member who attended the meeting started an internal crowd-funding campaign and as a result raised £10,000 to fund a School Cuts prototype. The costs – the research, the design, the build and the project management – were met by the Outlanders, using their accrued allocation of the income surplus.

Once we had the prototype in place and the potential of the tool was plain to see, the NUT brought feature requests, data and design changes to the table, along with budget.

The result? For a smidgen of the cost and risk that comes with commissioning a digital project from a traditional agency, the NUT got an advocacy tool that they were confident would be effective.

And it was! 670,000 users during the six weeks before the election!

Nearly 1 million searches on cuts in users’ local areas!

And more importantly, surveys show that 750,000 people changed their mind on who to vote for because of the issue of school funding. We’re proud that School Cuts had a big part to play in this.

2. Tech co-ops deliver more innovative projects

Traditional agencies with employees are often caught in a locked-down approach to idea generation, build and the technologies they rely on. They draw on the experience and skillsets that they have available in their on-contract teams.

And whilst this is great for standardising and productising what a company does (“We’re a Drupal company!”, “We do ecommerce!”, “We build real-time data apps in Node.js!!”) it ultimately boxes-in creativity, limits potential, and leads to same-old products.

But your project is unique, right? Which is exactly why you should consider a co-op.

Co-op structures facilitate innovation

As a co-op, Outlandish still has structure (for the curious, here’s the background on our legal and operational setup , plus a great read on how we do performance management as a co-op).

However, we’re fundamentally built around a large pool of trusted, like-minded tech people with whom we enjoy long-standing relationships. As a worker cooperative, there is freedom in their level of involvement in the co-op’s projects.

Wait – aren’t these just freelancers then?

Nope. Outlanders find projects, bring in projects, and can even elect to join a project where their skills will improve the end product. Which makes Outlandish pretty nimble.

And as already said above, as well as needing to share our values, Outlanders have the power to initiate projects and have a say on the projects and causes that we will work on.

All in all, the Outlandish co-op means flexibility, freshness, and a huge pool of talent that can be leveraged for your unique project.

3. Co-ops are connected and trusted:

Co-ops are thriving, and we’re part of that! We’re a co-founder of the CoTech network of tech co-operatives (26 member tech orgs, 159+ tech creatives and counting).

Co-ops are active! At Outlandish, we’re moving in all sorts of circles: election hackathons, advocacy events, tech meetups, you name it. As I write we’re sending people to the 2017 Election Tech Debrief and Amsterdam’s AI Hackathon.

Co-ops are people people! At Outlandish, we love people so much we’re launching a co-working and tech event space, right under our very feet. (Literally, it’s on the next floor down).

It’s going to be full of creatives, campaigners, coders, and replete with innovation, hack events and outreach events.

And we’re going to be in and out of that place every single day, so just imagine the people, skills and approaches that we’re going to be coming into contact with (yes, we are very excited about this).

If you want to find out more, you can reach out now to polly@outlandish.com.

4. Integrity

And this is something that we can’t stress enough. Hopefully, if you’ve got this far you’ll see how integrity is central to what we do.

We’re about using tech for positive societal change. And we put delivering great products that achieve this before margins and profit.

All in all…

… these are just a few of the reasons to consider a co-op like Outlandish for your next project.

We’re across innovative campaigns, effective advocacy and how new technology can be leveraged for social change…

We have the passion and the structure to invest in the causes you’re working on…

And we know people, and are getting to know more, all of whom could be contributors to your next project…

(Whilst we’re here, we should also probably plug that we were nominated for Growing Cooperative of the Year!)

If you’d like to find out more about what we do, would like to discuss a project or just want a bit of friendly advice, then pick up the phone and say hi.