Mar 24, 2021

DIY research studio

Over the last couple of months, there have been a few discussions and proposed ideas around fellowships (me riffing off of Peter’s experience), and indie research[1] labs (Matt, Tom, Andy). For a few years, I’ve had the idea of a “consortium” where a few partners (2, 3, 4…) would support a yearlong research effort with some public outputs and some private reports, workshops, and the like. An idea largely cribbed from what Claro Partners (now FUSE) did a few years ago on a larger scale. I never put in the footwork for proper sales and a search for partners, but I rarely do, preferring serendipity and organic encounters. It’s a stance that has brought me all of my most interesting projects, but probably cost me some headache and slower progress. But I digress.

Client work

Recently I’ve decided to largely forget the multiplication of Sentiers membership types constantly floating around in my head, usually having to do with some kind of business format. Instead I’ve decided to pour everything in the existing membership (hence the recently greatly enhanced members’ page), with perhaps some professional or team levels coming—same benefits, voluntary price adjustment for the use you get out of it.

This year I’ve already completed a few one-off contracts and, alongside memberships, have enough recurring contracts to make a good dent in my yearly quite frugal needs / goal.

One thing I’ve done a few times and on an ongoing basis for some topic areas / clients is the monthly report. The longest running one for example is in healthcare. Through a couple of iterations, we’ve settled on something that looks quite a bit like an issue of the weekly Sentiers, at about twice the length, and loosely targeted at the intersection of technology and seven or eight high-level keywords of their choosing.

A different angle

Putting all of the above together and starting from a hunch about a price point, I came up with a new model during a walk today. I think it has some potential.

For all clients, the underlying pitch is kind of “there’s all this reading, searching, connecting, and learning I’m doing, lets layer your needs on top of that and I charge you for the time unique to you, not the rest of the thousands of hours I dedicate throughout the rest of the year.” Obviously, that’s actually folded into my day rate, but each client ends up only paying for a small fraction of that time. It’s what I enjoy doing, it feeds the weekly and Dispatches, and they get good value.

My day rate is $1000 USD (some exceptions apply) and I manage the monthly report above in about a day. So they get twelve reports over the year for $12K. What I’m considering here is a bi-directional grant. (What??) Both myself and the clients would cut price and expectations by about half. Which means:

  • I’d sell each “research focus” for $7000[2] a year instead of the usual 12K (still very much tbc).
  • The client / sponsor / partner gets 10 reports instead of 12, same length and quality as I normally deliver.
  • The reports are on a topic area we are both interested in (see below). That way I’m more involved and not setting up a whole other radar, just spending more time in an area.
  • The reports go out to the partner and to Sentiers members (if they want) and remain exclusive for two months.
  • When a new report comes out, another one is unlocked for everyone (when No.3 comes out, No.1 opens, etc.), 5 of 10 reports would be made public, with a small logo and footer saying something like “This research is made possible by Moment Factory” (just an example (hint, hint)).
  • Minimally, I’d get this started on two topic areas at the same time, ideally four (perhaps the ones below). With existing client work and this research setup, I’d be set for the year which would free up a lot more time and brain space for the actual work.

Sentiers and members get more interesting content, I get to spend more time on great topics, partners get cheaper research and some public presence in that topic area.
Win, win, win?

This is a quick post about the idea, I’ll be fleshing it out and hopefully writing more about it. But for now, what do you think? In general, in price, in topics, dumb, brilliant, cheap, expensive, huh?, etc.

Foci (topic areas)

Synthetic Reality (The Metaverse)

[This one was originally framed for Montréal clients but works elsewhere too, of course.]

«A term borne from science fiction, describing a shared, virtual space that’s persistently online and active, even without people logging in. It will have its own economy, complete with jobs, shopping areas and media to consume.»

This is a longer term trend, not imminent, yet various players are already starting to position themselves and think their products towards this “end game.” Montréal and Québec more broadly are well placed at the intersection of what will eventually make up the Metaverse: video games, special effects, cinema, VR/AR/MR/XR, and Artificial Intelligence. These different domains intersect with those of the city and smart citizens, culture, and digital arts, which are also strengths for Montréal. The Metaverse framework would allow to cross the interests and networks of all these domains, while investigating a medium and long term vision that brings them all together.

Smart Citizens

Smarter cities will happen, will they be corporation-led, with wide ranging contracts with big technology companies, bordering on surveillance while locking cities in proprietary solutions and relinquishing agency at all levels? Or will they be driven by citizen needs, bottom up, open source, transparent, collaborative, empower citizens, and add economic and climate resiliency?

We can also expand, or recenter this one towards fabrication / glocal / eco-industrial transformation / commons like the blogging I’ve been doing for Fab City Montréal. Or it could easily slide towards something like what Bryan Boyer is doing at the University of Michigan with Urban Technology.

Augmented Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence is one of the most used, denatured, over-leveraged, feared, and promoted technologies of the last few years. A lot of the promises offered up will not be born out any time soon but the technology is nevertheless promising. Even if the emergence of a General Artificial Intelligence and wide-ranging job destruction predictions are exaggerated, augmenting human intelligence, taking over menial tasks, crunching vast amounts of data, and «collaborating» with human users in white collar work, art, culture, and agriculture, to name a few, is a growing field and a useful and much more achievable perspective to track and study.

Distributed Work

The pandemic accelerated many trends already present around the transformation of “knowledge work” and more generally white collar jobs. This domain of research would look at remote and distributed work, collaboration methods and best practices, the promotion and fostering of creativity, lifelong learning, the capacity for unlearning and re-learning, knowledge management and sharing, writing, expressing clear opinions, flexibility, soft skills, transdisciplinarity, curiosity, and a number of other skills, which are all important components of an effective distributed work force and resilient career paths.

This one can be seen as a re-centered continuation of what I did with We Seek and Sentiers at Work.

Other area?

Something else you can think of, based on the weekly content? Tell me!

[1] I'm not talking about user interviews, an academic background and approach, or deeply name-checked and footnoted research. Call it perhaps “editorial research.” Expect the same kind of content as Sentiers usually delivers.

[2] Updated a couple of times during the day on March 26th, including a price adjusted for more visibility.