Enspiral defies simple explanation. It is many things to many people at once. It is a mutual aid network. It is a social impact entrepreneurial incubator. It is a future of work and new economy catalyst. It is a collection of channels on different mediums punctuated by meet-ups and retreats. It is a network of colleagues and friends. It’s none of these things and all of them at once. You’ll get a different answer for what it is from each person you ask. Myself, Emma Buck, and Emmi Bevensee, through Rebellious Data, set out to try and get an answer, if not a definitive one, then one that captured all of this complexity. In May, we proposed, and got funded within Enspiral, to do an impact report of the Enspiral Network. Doing impact evaluation on an organization like this is far different and more complex than on anything else we’ve worked on. We are so pleased to be able to share it with you now, here, and with an infographic of key findings at the end of this page.
People at Enspiral believe in a paradigm shift in how we all think about work and social impact, and they’re trying to create utopia and prepare for collapse at the same time. Much of the work that an organization like Enspiral does is intangible and personal, defying the logics of traditional qualitative and quantitative methodologies in its subtle approach to transformative subversion. Impact reporting requires finding the thread through an organization’s theory of change and seeing how it lines up with the data. To understand Enspiral, we started from the catch phrase, “More people working on stuff that matters.” From there, we began by building a bottom-up understanding of what that looks like, engaging in around 20 different preliminary conversations and meetings around “What is Enspiral?”
In a traditional organization, an impact report starts with the mission. That mission breaks down into different goals that can be evaluated against in some form. Since Enspiral is an “ecosystem of purposes,” rather than a traditional non-governmental organization or social impact venture, making sense of how Enspiral is contributing to the social change it envisions is difficult. Enspiral is not just building one better world. Enspiral is trying to help nurture a range of experiments all with their own unique, and even contradictory, theories of change.
At each possible point of entry into thinking about the impact of Enspiral, we encountered differing views. Some members think that Enspiral is primarily offering a value proposition to those seeking to create next-generation ventures. Others believe that ventures are essentially fictitious entities and that all that really matters are the people and the various forms of initiatives they take. To address this tension, we ultimately decided that it was easiest to look at a wide range of initiatives — not just those that would be considered “ventures.” We then began to attempt to map the relationship between the impact of those initiatives and what roles Enspiral played in that process.
By choosing this thread among many, we tell an incomplete story, but a meaningful snapshot nonetheless. We hope this report will continue to open the door to other glimpses and reflections around both Enspiral and of the landscape of other next-generation organizations charting similar unmapped terrains.
We surveyed 27 initiatives in the Enspiral landscape, interviewed around 20 individuals, and maintained various online discussions around impact evaluation of Enspiral. Enspiral provides a fertile ground for exchange of resources, experience, and support in various forms. Its primary impact is in helping individuals get connected to each other and collaboratively experiment with new forms of organizing projects and ventures. The more measurable impact though has to do with how Enspiral helps various initiatives to achieve their impact through things like increased access to goods and services while also helping to cultivate new ideas. This report helps outline the varied impacts of this complex social organism.
Check out some of our report highlights in this infographic below! And then explore the full report, here. Special thanks to the many Enspiralites who helped forge this report with their thoughts, feelings, suggestions, keen eyes and helpful words.
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What is Enspiral?: was originally published in Enspiral Tales on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.