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Open Business Model Canvas, or how to describe an idea for open business?

Open Business Model Canvas, czyli jak opisać pomysł na biznes społeczny?
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How beneficial can be working with nearly 500 people from 45 countries on one idea of a tool for developing new business ventures? Unexpectedly a lot, and even more surprisingly, in a very simple and clear form.

Business Model Canvas (and the accompanying book and working method) is a tool that has for many years made it easier for entrepreneurs and trainers around the world to think about new business models and describe existing ones in a quick and clear way. The effect of working with this template can be presented e.g. to an investor or as a prototype, which will help us to explain the idea to other people e.g. during workshops. Canvas, issued under a free licence, is one of the most popular tools for quick exercises and creating models of companies, products, undertakings. Since 2010, there have been many remixes, including the one about which this text deals, namely the Open Business Model Canvas.

First, the social goal

In a nutshell, the “Open Business Model Canvas” also allows for a clear presentation of the idea for a new “business.” The word “business” is written in quotation marks because, as you will soon find out, these can also be social enterprises and those that escape classification for profit and/or so-called non-profit activities. Thanks to the instructions and graphically described elements, your idea can be easily drawn and presented on one large piece of paper. It is a coherent idea, with all the parts that make up the description of the business model, but not yet a plan for its implementation.

The most important difference between an open business model and the one we are constructing the original template is that everything in economics comes down to trust and it is this trust that the model is trying to maximise. It does it by introducing transparency as a key principle into the way each project operates:

  • the involvement and commitment of individuals,
  • communications,
  • decision making,
  • conducting financial affairs, including remuneration.

For groups operating in an open business model, the most important objectives are to learn together and pass on knowledge in an open way to others (issues such as the choice of content or code licences, work tools, etc. are secondary to this). In the definition of added value, this model puts more emphasis on its non-financial face. Corporate Social Responsibility is inscribed in this model as a basis for action, not an additional element (i.e. transfer of part of the company’s profits to CSR activities). The following are therefore valued: accessibility, innovation, inclusiveness, the reputation of the company and its activities (as opposed to the brand building). The differences between the two types of business can be heard in an episode of the British podcast “Reasons to be cheerful” about social enterprises.

The creators of the OBMC argue that its use supports not only the efficient use of the project initial resources but also its stable development. An additional benefit may be to identify the risks associated with potential copyright infringements. Materials under Creative Commons licenses are as protected as those not openly licensed. At the same time, as in the case of knowledge sharing, business increases its chances of using ideas from users of its products in the future thanks to open access to research results (so-called Open Access).

How does the Open Business Model Canvas work?

The companies and projects described in previous texts often included publishing under various Creative Commons licenses, e.g. Open Stax Publishing House or Tribe of Noise music label in their business models. This is not necessary either to use the tool or to create an open business model, but it can be very useful in the process. So let us see how it works.

First of all, it is worth printing the template in the version we want to use (original for a typical business idea, “open” for a social enterprise). Secondly, before we start completing the template on our own or in a group, let us get to know the instructions that will tell us exactly what the different fields mean and why it is worth completing them properly.

We start with big questions. What is the context in which your company or undertaking is to operate? What open environment is already working in your environment? Will your action be based on it or participate in it (e.g. in the environment of open source programmers, in the environment of open action grant organisations, etc.)? In the following modules (with a list of questions and tips):

  • key partners,
  • activities,
  • resources,
  • licenses,
  • added value,
  • common good,
  • recipients,
  • customer/recipient relations,
  • distribution channels,
  • sources of income.

We create a full picture of our undertaking. This can be compared to a graphical description of a project that is worth doing, not only creating a business plan, but even writing a grant application. The description of the business model will help us to see the broader context of our operation and, most importantly, to assess its potential, also beyond this one grant per action. If your aim is to create a company, organisation or project that will pursue a social objective, promote the common good, especially in digital form, e.g. by publishing open resources of knowledge or culture, then working with the Open Business Model Canvas can help you develop a more sustainable and clear plan.

You can read more about specific business models (and in most cases also profit-making models) of open companies in this entry by the author of Made with CC, Paul Stacey, who has put together several examples from around the world.

How to start using the Business Model Canvas and Open Business Model Canvas?

Here you can try it out online in its original version. A very detailed guide on how to complete the Business Model Canvas you will find in this entry by Anastasia Belyh from Founder Jar. To print and write the version for open projects directly on the page click here (English and Polish version). And here is an example of a completed (in English) open model on the example of the K-12 publishing house from the USA.

Text co-authored by Kamil Śliwowski and Klaudia Grabowska