WECHANGE – Online Collaboration for Social Transformation

This piece by Markus Kollotzek originally appeared (in German) on our partner’s blog, Green Net Project. We loved it so much we wanted to share it with you all. 

Whenever project teams work together, suddenly a whole host of various tools appear – Cloud, Calendars, Etherpad, mailing lists and so on.

The WECHANGE Cooperative solves this problem by supporting organisations in an ordered digitalisation and offers a platform that integrates the most important tools.

This post is the second in the series “Digital Networking of the Transformation Movement”, that first appeared on greennetproject.org.

WECHANGE in 3 Sentences

WECHANGE is an online collaboration platform for eco-social transformation. Changemakers register there and make themselves known amongst each other and the wider public. Beyond that, the platform offers practical functions for joint/collaborative work on projects.

Is it an existing platform solution or a stand-alone development?

WECHANGE is its own development, developed by the Berlin media agency, Sinnwerkstatt. But the platform also integrates several pre-existing tools, such as Etherpad.

How did it come about?

From the very beginning, the platform was developed together with users. There was a concrete need for a consistent tool kit for collaborative project work. At that time (2014), there were only a few such tools, that to this date are all commercial. Since the users had no interest in creating their own solution, their own open-source solution was put into action.

What is the purpose of the platform?

Changemakers should be supported in their work. WECHANGE summarises its purpose in three areas:

  • Make it visible: the transformation actors are visible on a map and in the search function and projects can also be presented with a Microsite
  • Networking: exchange is possible via direct messages and a shared forum
  • Collaboration: project teams are supported in their work with a range of tools

What stage is the platform at (idea, prototype, finished product)?

Wechange has been a finished product for several years and continues to be developed further.

At which target group is the platform aimed at?

Changemakers, both organisations and indviduals. A range of project groups already organise themselves using WECHANGE (for example, local foodsharing, transition town and common good economy groups). Whole networks also use WECHANGE, for instance netzwerk n and Netzwerk Wachstumswende.

How does the platform reach their users?

WECHANGE uses the following digital publicity channels:

  • de – here there is a group for the cooperative (35 members), as well as the Forum (around 7,200 members)
  • Facebook page – around 600 followers
  • Twitter account – around 30 followers
  • WECHANGE uses YouTube and Vimeo to display its tutorial videos and films from conferences and events, but does not carry out any active community management here

Furthermore, WECHANGE is active at events, for instance, as a co-organiser of PlatformCoops Germany in Berlin. WECHANGE is also active abroad, recently, for instance, at UkraineLab 2017, a forum for Ukrainian civil society.

A really effective medium is naturally the platform users themselves.

How big is the Platform’s community and how active is it?

As of November 2018, WECHANGE puts their community at:

  • 25,000 people who are registered on wechange.de
  • 300 groups – for organisations with multiple projects
  • 3000 projects – which are being collaboratively worked on
  • 500 events – event tips from the network

Alongside wechange.de, six further portals are operated, which have the same look and feel, but which are exclusively available to the corresponding organisation.

Does the Platform have a thematic focus?

The overarching focus is naturally eco-social change. It is not possible to narrow it down anymore since WECHANGE is used from the widest range of project groups. On a technical level, the focus is on online collaborations, the aspects of networking and visibility are results of that.

What are the key functions of the Platform?

Teams get together in projects. If there is an organisation, in which several projects run parallel to one another, it can open a ‚Group‘ and bring together the corresponding projects under that.

Within projects, there are the following functions:

  • News– similar to the pinboard on Facebook, current news can be published and discussed
  • Events– events can be added to a calendar
  • Polls– support with decision making, finding an appointment time
  • To-do‘s– tasks can be created and assigned to project members
  • Documents– here any number of Etherpads and EtherCalcs can be created and organised in a folder struchture
  • Files– files can be uploaded here and organised in a folder structure

Overarching functions:

  • Messages– messages can be sent to one or more people or projects
  • Map– there is a map on which you filter according to people, events and topics
  • Search– all users and visible content can be searched via the search function
  • Feedback– users can give feedback on usability, give suggestions for improvement, praise and criticism

What is the unique selling point of the Platform?

Bei WECHANGE sind bereits sehr viele Anwender aus der deutschsprachigen Wandelbewegung präsent. Es ist einer der wenigen genossenschaftlich organisierten Plattformbetreiber.

Are there similar platforms/competitors?

Es gibt diverse kommerzielle Anbieter von Kollaborationstools, bspw. Atlassian mit Confluence. Aber auch Open Source Anbieter wie Taigagibt es – hier liegt der Schwerpunkt auf agilem Projektmanagement.

How is the Platform built on a technical level?

The platform is implemented with Python and Django. The hosting is carried out by Hetzner, as commissioned by WECHANGE eG. Each portal can create its own independent WECHANGE entity, at the moment all platforms, apart from the Projektwelt DRJA, share a common registration and database service.

Is the Platform open source?

Yes. The code can be found on the GitLab server of the Sinnwerkstatt. Until now, however, there is still no process to involve external open source developers in the programming.

It is possible to download the whole code and to set up your own WECHANGE server.

Benefit: Independence from WECHANGE.

Disadvantage: Effort to install and maintain, no networking with WECHANGE users possible. Common webhosting offers are mostly more expensive than the 5 euros per group that a wechange.de usage costs.

Does the Platform interface with other programs?

Yes, currently the events calendar from projects can be exported via iCal.
At the moment, an API is also in the trial phase, in order to be able to process public content via WordPress, for instance in the form of a landing page. Further interfaces, for instance, WebDAV, are starting to be thought about.

What is the business model of the Platform?

WECHANGE offers the Platform according to a freemium model. As an end-user, using the Platform is free. Groups pay for instance 5 euros a month, portals 100 euros a month.
Until now, no call for donations has been started.

An extension of this business model is planned for Q2 2018.

Further development is often developed via development projects in cooperation with partners. New functions are then implemented or existing ones extended. When this is for functions that are suitable for wider use, these can then sometimes be taken over into the openly accessible Platform. A specific example of this is the Russian and Ukrainian translation. A development project was implemented for a project in Ukraine and since then, these translations have been available to all users.

Mathematically, the income is easy to grasp. Using the openly communicated group and portal numbers for the calculation, one comes to around 2000 euro a month turnover.

What is the history of the Platform?

  • First prototype: 2015 Netzwerk Wachstumswende
  • Winning of further partners: 2015 and 2016 (Auswärtiges Amt, netzwerk-n, Stiftung Deutsch Russischer Jugendaustausch, etc.)
  • Founding of the Platform in 2016

Who is behind the Platform?

There is currently a team of around 15 staff behind WECHANGE. There is an overlap of personnel between the Sinnwerkstatt and netzwerk n, amongst others.

Where is the Platform based?

WECHANGE is based in the Thinkfarm Berlin. It is a co-working space, in which those who are working for social change can meet.

What kind of legal entity are they?

Registered cooperative. WECHANGE eG’s Statute can be found on their website.

Are the makers of the Platform looking for support?

There are opportunities to work with the Platform. And those interested can become a member of the Cooperative, a share costs 100 euros.

Are the makers cooperating with other partners?

Yes, amongst others with us at the GreenNetProject. The list of partners is however a bit longer and can be seen online: https://wechange.de/cms/partner/

Projects have been funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, as well as the Federal Foreign Office.

What are the next steps for the Platform?

This year, the business model shall be adapted to make it financially sustainable. There is also a larger project to implement WECHANGE as an active civic participation platform in the Kiel region. With this, a central development step will be optimisation of the search function.

Further project applications have been made, but are not ready to be made public.

What is the verdict on the Platform?

WECHANGE has a truly large number of users and is in close contact with the transformation movement in the mostly German speaking area. It provides useful tools for project management and along with that supports the networking of the movement.

Our thanks again to Green Net Project for this post! Translated from the original here: https://greennetproject.org/2018/01/03/wechange-online-kollaboration-fuer-den-gesellschaftlichen-wandel/