Multifactory Models for the Community Economy

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* Article: The rise of community economy : from coworking spaces to the multifactory model. By Lorenza Victoria Salati, Giulio Focardi. - Sarajevo : Udruženje Akcija, 2018.


"We want to understand and to show this new idea of workplaces: local, fast, easy, versatile, sustainable under a social and environmental point of view. ... The result of this research is the Multifactory Model, a model of intervention designed to be a guide for all those who want to create, from scratch, a shared workspace based on concepts of collaboration, mutual aid, social innovation, sustainability, and the free flow of knowledge"

The Context

By Lorenza Victoria Salati and Giulio Focardi:

"We reject the distracting pessimism of those who see a grey future subjugated to global and sprawling multinationals, but also of those who uncritically superimpose the concept of “enterprise”on the stereotyped image of seventeenth-century steelworks and consider every entrepreneur as a ruthless and predatory subject. The reality is very different and is made up of innovative and environmentally friendly business models, and new sustainable companies led by a new social class that perceives itself as a driving force for social change and takes up the traits of crafts-people, artists, professionals and entrepreneurs, hybridizing and adapting them to the times. These pioneers of a new way of doing business are among us and successfully lead companies and projects based on concepts of community, social inclusion, professional exchange,mutual help, and responsibility towards the community.How did we come to these conclusions? By exploring, touching, and traveling to discover innovative projects. Between 2012 and 2018 we visited over 120 different workspaces, travelling across 20 countries and three continents in search of successful models, inspirations and experiences.We made traveling the core of our research, adopting an ethnographic approach and using many theoretical tools from visual anthropology and participatory anthropology. To some places we went only once, to others we went back regularly. At some we stayed half a day, at others for months at a time.

The result of this research is the Multifactory Model, a model of intervention designed to be a guide for all those who want to create, from scratch, a shared workspace based on concepts of collaboration, mutual aid, social innovation, sustainability, and the free flow of knowledge.


Since 2014 we have begun proposing the Multifactory Model to both institutions and to private individuals as a tool for urban regeneration and as a means of generating local job opportunities. Some of the resulting negotiations have come to an end,while others are still ongoing. Between 2014 and 2016 we spent several months working at FreiLand, Potsdam, to continue refining the model. In the meantime we have visited many other spaces across Europe and we have begun to lay the foundations of the Multifactory Network and for the development of the ‘Invisible Factory’, a project designed to scale the Multifactory Model. The Multifactory Network is a project aimed at fostering and enabling direct collaborations between members of workspaces in different countries. The Multifactory Network aims to re-move obstacles in terms of design, sustainability and work-life balance that usually makes it difficult for artists, craftspeople,professionals and small economic players to travel and develo international projects. The idea of the Invisible Factory first came to us at MAGE in 2013. Currently our focus is to consolidate a transnational structure of companies, artists and professionals linked by stable relationships that is able to imagine, design, develop and produce complex products and services, utilising horizontal coordination between small local producers. Our research continues on other bases to the current day, our aim being the implementation of the Multifactory Network and refining the development of the Invisible Factory. Between 2012 and 2018 we visited a total of 120 spaces of all kinds in Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal, the UK, the Czech Republic,Slovenia, Poland, the Netherlands, Croatia, Greece, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, the United States and Ecuador. "


This book is an examination of a collaborative production space in Milan, called Mage, and a quest to find similar places abroad:

"MAGE in Sesto San Giovanni (Milan), also known in Italy as the “Town of Factories”. MAGE is an industrial building of 1700 square meters, formerly used as warehouses. At MAGE now you can find 17 small companies and/or associations: crafts makers, sewers, dressmakers, two bag factories, a bikefactory, laser cutting, 3D printing, photographers, architects, jewellers, filmmakers, and artists. We produce goods, ideas and culture since 2010.


What emerged from the interviews was that our interviewees viewed MAGE as more than just a collaborative space. It was areal organisational structure based on exchange, mutuality and sharing. To some extent, it seemed as if these different artists,companies and craftspeople, working horizontally together,were part of a single, large “invisible factory”, in which everyone could represent a company function.Perhaps MAGE was a unique experience, an anomaly, a particular combination of factors that had led to that result. Or perhaps, if that structure had taken place, there were reasons linked to a more general change and it was the expression of asocial change, related to people who began to have other values and other priorities than in the past.In any case, if it had been possible to identify the basic mechanisms underlying the relationships between the different components of the system, to understand which ones were functional with respect to an increase in the overall level of competences, it might have been possible to identify solutions to make these mechanisms reproducible, so as to define a model that could be exported.




To continue with the work, we decided to follow a double path. On one side, we decided to propose the same interviews to a group of farmers from the South of Italy, in Basilicata, who were all part of a project meant to create a local supply chain, to see what the answers would be in a totally different place from Milan. From different people, in a different context, we expected that we would receive different answers.On the other hand, we decided to look for a space outside Italy. That period was economically very difficult in Italy, so we speculated it might only be the lack of money that was pushing people to get together and then, once they had started to earn enough money again, all these experiences would be doomed to disappear.


After Pollino, we anticipate results in London. We needed to understand if, in a land of social experimentation, we would find something similar to what we had observed to date in Italy. Our departure was scheduled for February 27th 2013. We had the ticket, but not destination. Yet! Our journey into the world of shared workspaces has only just begun: we needed to focus ourresearch and we decided to concentrate on spaces that had the three characteristics that we considered important:First of all, they should be places where something concrete is being produced: objects, prototypes, small scale production. They could also be somewhere to accommodate ‘workers of the intangible’, those who might only need a desk and a computer,but a productive element would be mandatory. Then, they should be places characterised by broad heterogeneity; young and old, artists and craftspeople, start-ups and established companies, traditional craftspeople and 3D printers,architects and cyclists, local companies and companies with aglobal outlook.Finally, they should be community projects. We are not prescriptive about which governance structure would be acceptable. Be it privately owned, perhaps with an established management structure or typically anarchic, our only concern is that the bodies or individuals using the space should be an active part of the space’s governance. The ethos of ‘from below’or ‘grassroots’is non negotiable.

On 9 February we contacted Building BloQs, a new-born space in the North-East suburbs of London"

The Questionnaire

  1. What does “work” mean to you?
  2. Who are your main suppliers?
  3. Who are your main customers?
  4. How do you sell your products?
  5. Do you have collaborations with other economic subjects?
  6. Do you plan with others?
  7. What do you think about the craftspeople?
  8. What do you think about the factories?
  9. What do you think about fixed job?
  10. Are you an entrepreneur?
  11. If not, who are you?
  12. How do you organize your work?
  13. How do you organize your time?
  14. What does “culture” mean to you?
  15. What does “doing business” mean to you?
  16. Why did you decide to do the job you do?
  17. How did you find the funds to get started?
  18. What are your biggest professional motivations?
  19. How do you see yourself in a year?
  20. In 5 years?In 10 years?
  21. What does “ professional updating “ mean for you?
  22. Which relationship do you have with technology?
  23. Are You Happy?
  24. Do you know what the other organizations in MAGE are working on?
  25. Do you work with them?
  26. In which way?
  27. What did you learn from others?
  28. What did you teach others?
  29. Had it not been for MAGE, would you have been doing the same job?
  30. What drove you to come to MAGE?
  31. Which were your expectations?
  32. What did you find?
  33. How did MAGE make you grow?
  34. How did MAGE limit you?
  35. What do you expect from the institutions?
  36. What is actually the role of the management body?
  37. What should it be?


  • 3 Key Elements Of The Multifactory Model
  • 3.1 Community Project, Diversity, Productive Vocation
  • 3.2 Thinking Of Itself As An Enterprise
  • 3.3 Multifactory And Manufacturing Companies
  • 3.4 Starting From The Community, Not From Space
  • 3.5 Community Economy
  • 3.6 Knowledge Exchange
  • 3.7 Invisible Factory
  • 3.8 Flexibility
  • 3.9 Importance Of Private Spaces
  • 3.10 Systemic Approach
  • 3.11 From A Community Of Purpose To A Community Of Care
  • 3.12 New Tools For New Needs
  • 3.13 A Viable Solution
  • 3.14 Economic, Social, Environmental Sustainability
  • 3.15 Entrepreneurs As Cultural Mediators
  • 3.16 Multifactory And Gentrification Processes
  • 3.17 Role of Art
  • 3.18 An International Environment
  • 3.19 Politetto
  • 3.20 A New Social Class
  • 4 R84 Multifactory
  • 5 Community Economy, Not Just For Shared Spaces
  • 6 To Know More About The Multifactory Model And The Authors


The Multifactory Model

By Lorenza Victoria Salati and Giulio Focardi:

"The Multifactory Model reflects our approach, our filter, our vision. It focuses on the idea of a community made up of economically minded subjects, such as SMEs, craftspeople, free-lancers, or artists and non-profits that adopt an entrepreneurial approach in the search for economic sustainability.

In a multifactory, each company keeps its own operational in-dependence and private spaces and is responsible together with all the others for the common parts and strategic choices concerning territorial development (calls, institutional relations, common events).

The three key principles of the multi-factory model are:

  • to be a community project,
  • have diversity and
  • a productive vocation.

A multifactory is a community project since all the companies that are part of it are also members of the managing body of the multifactory itself. All companies are responsible for the decisions and performance of the multifactory.


A multifactory is first and foremost a community of purpose,where the common purpose of its members is to work and d-velop their own businesses. In this context, mutual support ia shared tool that helps them to work better, not a moral principle to defend. The everyday experiences and sharing of work and existential challenges then turn the community of purpose into a community that takes care of a place, but also of shared values that emerge over time." (

The Invisible Factory

By Lorenza Victoria Salati and Giulio Focardi:

"THE INVISIBLE FACTORY IS BASED ON THE IDEA OF DEFINING OTHER ECONOMIC SUBJECTS IN THE SAME WORKING ENVIRONMENT AS POSSIBLE RESOURCES. There are peer resources that carry out their own individual activity, but that can be activated in case of need in order to plan demanding projects, on the basis of a structure of pre-debated and pre-accepted agreements within the system of the multi-factories. Always available buffet of resources, of which everyone is part, and from which everyone can get the necessary skills when required. One of the advantages of the Invisible Factory is to enable a group of small companies to tackle large projects by supporting a low initial investment and taking on a low business risk, unlike what happens when a small company acquires a large order and finds itself in a financial and resource crisis as it is highly exposed as a prime contractor or has to incorporate human resources which, once the project is completed, are then difficult to fully employ." (

Community Economy

By Lorenza Victoria Salati and Giulio Focardi:

"Community Economy is a theoretical framework within which it is possible to develop effective economic solutions to support the development and transformation of these entities, companies, associations and NGOs. Community Economy in its wider sense is based on the idea that any economic fact is the direct consequence of choices made by individuals, as members of community. We challenge the idea of the invisible hand of the market; the market is made up of people with needs, people who are part of communities and who, within these communities, perceive their own needs.Organisations and companies are also constituted by people who live most of their conscious time at the workplace and interact with their colleagues, and are themselves a community. Community Economy means identifying and highlighting the existence of these communities, defining their boundaries, determining their characteristic traits, understanding how they can interact and structuring a series of actions that can foster certain interactions rather than others. The traditional pyramid-shaped organisational model of companies is obsolete, inefficient, and ineffective. The management structure based on the idea of a command chain in which lower levels of the company have lower importance, autonomy an lower decision-making capacity is now obsolete as it fails to respond to the need for flexibility which is characteristic of con-temporary markets, that means being able to address every day a new need. The lack of flexibility of this structure slows down innovation in the company and creates a distorting effect on internal communication. Of course, it also has advantages, ranging from the control of processes to the management of the working environment, to the optimisation of the lead time. However, these advantages are only relevant in the presence of well-established businesses where the top management really have full control over all aspects ranging from production to the market, while for small or medium companies that have to respond to the needs of different customers every day, the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. Of course, for associations, NGOs and also for small businesses, these advantages are not perceptible. An association is not a company, even if it provides services to users and has an important economic dimension.Just think that for a non-profit, in the vast majority of cases, users will never turn into customers.Community Economy helps organisations to grow and trans-form by focusing on the heart of the organisation, which is the community made up of employees, partners and collaborators. The solution is to create horizontal structures in which decision levels and responsibilities are distributed among functional cells belonging to decision clusters.If there are issues or if there is a change in progress, it is essential to avoid acting on the dynamics, and focus on the nodes of the structure instead. For example, if there is a change in progress, it is perfectly useless to define in detail all the individual tasks that must be executed, but it is instead of fundamental importance to identify within the community those who want to take responsibility for leading specific areas of change and to outline their motivation and skills to do so in order to build a group commitment to that specific area of change. The main question that growing organisations have to answer cannot be where are we going, what we have to do and how to do it, but rather it should be, what are we becoming, who wants to be part of this change and whether we have the necessary skill." (

Case Study

R84 Multifactory Mantova

By Lorenza Victoria Salati and Giulio Focardi:

"To better understand how a multifactory can start, we will briefly talk about the evolution of one of them, R84 Multifactory Mantova. The story of R84 Multifactory starts in December 2013. In that month IES, Italiana Energia e Servizi spa, decides to close the extracting part of its refinery in Mantua, a Lombard city in the heart of the Po Valley. Two months later, the entire refining plant is shut down and only the logistics hub, that is the part used to store and distribute the products, remains active. The resulting loss of jobs is considerable and in order to mitigate its impact, IES launches a selection process to identify external projects to be located in unused spaces. The task of managing this transition is assigned to a Milan-based company specialised in corporate crisis resolution, Sofit srl. In those months, we are in touch with Sofit and we de-cide to answer to the call for projects, proposing they create a multifactory in a part of the area. Two years of meetings, negotiations and crises talks begin involving representatives and administrators from the municipality, the region, some ministries, trade unions, and the regional environmental protection agency (ARPA). The negotiations are extremely confidential and it is forbidden to talk about them to anyone, so we go several times to Mantua, to explore the city,but always incognito. The three selected projects are finally announced in spring 2016. One of them is ours, aimed at establishing a multifactory. In June 2016 we also launch a Call for Projects to identify the initial group of pioneers who will start the multifactory. In September the initial group of companies that will start the project is constituted. It is agreed that the multifactory will be taken over by a trade association, formed by the companies belonging to the Multifactory itself. During the first few months, we all work together with the future members of the multifactory on the statutes and the forms of governance to be applied. In the meantime, IES is carrying out basic maintenance work to make the spaces accessible, including the removal of some asbestos pipes and the installation of new gas-fired heating boilers.In December we start to discuss the name of the associationwith future members. After numerous meetings, three names remain to choose from: Yes Multifactory, La Raffineria delle Idee and R84. We entrust the final decision to the citizens and launch a public survey. The survey is published on January 6, 2018 in the “Gazzetta di Mantova”and on social networks. About ten days later, the votes cast award the name- R84: R for the refinery and 84 is the sum of the numbers identifying the first three buildings that the multifactory will occupy. On 31st January the association R84 is founded, on 21st February the contract between IES and R84 is signed, on 2nd March members receive the keys to their spaces. Thus R84 Multifactory is born. R84 Multifactory covers a large area called “ICIP villas”, consisting of green spaces and six buildings, once a mixture of residences, warehouses and workshops formerly used by the workers of the refinery. These spaces are now used as offices, studios and laboratories by around 40 professionals, craftspeople, artists and small entrepreneurs. R84 Multifactory Mantova is part of the project to renovate the eastern suburbs of Mantua and is part of an extensive urban renewal project, aimed at regenerating a place with special characteristics, since the conversion of a former refinery is an extremely challenging task. On one side, there are very strict constraints, imposed by various agencies and public bodies because of the strategic value and for environmental reasons. These are areas that have been heavily transformed during the years, with substantial pollution in the actual “production” areas, which remain inaccessible and dangerous even after the refinery has been shut down. Then there is a social issue, because of the image that a refinery carries and because of the thousands of negative stories that are remembered in the city linked to those places. But there are also a thousand positive memories, stories to tell, and emotions to express. A refinery is not just a steel and cement forest.

A refinery has plenty of contiguous, ancillary, and interstitial areas in the purest meaning of the word, which can be reanimated first and so drive a process of change for the whole area. Giving back to the citizenship those places means, first of all,giving a possibility to rethink the spaces, to live and express within them new emotions. It’s also a chance for the community to express needs and identify solutions. Reinventing places as workspaces means exactly this, looking at the future without destroying the memory of the past. Where there was a refinery, the main symbol of heavy industry and globalisation connected to primary resources, today another kind of production is taking place, which seems to be totally different: local, small, sustainable. Yet one element links them. Much as at the beginning of the 20th century a refinery was a symbol of progress and an example of the most advanced technology, today the lean, fast and sustainable companies of R84 Multifactory reiterate the same concept of progress, in this case under the form of advanced models for horizontal and sustainable business development and organisation. Just as a refinery addressed the challenges of the 1900s, a Multifactory addresses the challenges of the 21th century, promoting an integrated model of regional development that links economic sustainability, local development, local production of goods and services, environmental protection, and attention to the needs of individuals and the community." (


Launch of a Study Center on Systemic Economics

Project by the authors:

"Study Center on Systemic Economics" will publish and share researches on the topic of Urban and Rural Regeneration. The Study Center is organising a Convivium where to invite some researchers to spend some time together, a 3 days of convivial conversations where to share our projects as case studies. During these days we would like to work on extrapolating 4 fundamental questions to submit to other researchers in order to start an intellectual debate around these topic and to collect different point of views. We then would like to collect the answers and publish them on a book released in Creative Commons." (email March 2020)

More information


  • G. Focardi, L. Salati, “Co-manufacturing and New Economic Paradigms”, Hershey (PA, USA), IGI Global, 2019, pp. 240G.
  • Focardi, L. Salati, “Multifactory: an Emerging Environment for a New Entrepreneurship”in N. Baporikar ed., “Handbook of Research on Entrepreneurship in the Contemporary Knowledge-Based Global Economy”, Hershey (PA, USA), IGI Global,2016 G.
  • Focardi, L. Salati, “Social Media as Elements of Shared Work-spaces: The Multifactory Case Study”in A. Goel ed., “Product I-novation through Knowledge Management and Social Media Strategies”, Hershey (PA, USA), IGI Global, 2016G.
  • Focardi, L. Salati, “A New Approach to Knowledge Sharing, the Multifactory Model” in O. Terán and J. Aguilar ed.s, “Societal Benefits of Freely Accessible Technologies and Knowledge Resources”, Hershey (PA, USA), IGI Global, 2015


Author Bios

  • Lorenza Victoria Salati holds a masters degree in Political Sciences (with focus on economic history and visual anthropology) and a specialisation at the School of Cinema and New Media of Milan. She has developed methods derived using visual anthropology as a support to the self-perception of individuals as change makers. Lorenza was formerly a documentary filmmaker and explored agricultural and ethnic issues in Africa (Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Senegal). Since then she has been considering the new communication needs that have arisen from the opportunities offered by the Web 3.0. She has also investigated new forms of expression and innovative methods of storytelling. She has made many documentaries and is the co-author of several books. Lorenza is the co-founder of the Italian firm Osun WES and is the co-owner of a German based company specialising in technological tools to support collaborative projects. She is one of the founders and vice-president of R84 Multifactory Mantova."

Email: [email protected]

  • Giulio Focardi holds a masters degree in Economic History and his main topics of professional and research interest are in the fields of Community Economy, Collaborative Economy and Social Economy. He promotes urban regeneration through the creation of value chains by developing local projects involving micro-enterprises, artisans, artists and cultural managers. He has worked as a consultant, mostly in the HR, strategic development, and multidimensional planning. He has developed various mathematical models of social systems and is the co-author of several books. His working method starts from the systemic analysis of situations, developing intervention models through a trace-back process, starting from the phenomena to reaching to the causes. Since 2009 he has been interested in researching organisational models that contribute to guaranteeing artists economic sustainability and, at the same time, freedom to research and experiment. He is the Co-Founder and CEO of Osun WES, a consulting firm specialising in developing companies as collaborative systems, and is one of the founders and president of the board of R84Association in Mantova."

Email: [email protected]