Pro-Am Revolution

From P2P Foundation
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Concept and report


= innovative, committed and networked amateurs working to professional standards

Charles Leadbeater and Paul Miller:

"The twentieth century was shaped by the rise of professionals in most walks of life. From education, science and medicine, to banking, business and sports, formerly amateur activities became more organis- ed, and knowledge and procedures were codified and regulated. As professionalism grew, often with hierarchical organisations and formal systems for accrediting knowledge, so amateurs came to be seen as second-rate. Amateurism came to be to a term of derision.

Professionalism was a mark of seriousness and high standards.

But in the last two decades a new breed of amateur has emerged:

the Pro-Am, amateurs who work to professional standards. These are not the gentlemanly amateurs of old – George Orwell’s blimpocracy, the men in blazers who sustained amateur cricket and athletics clubs.

The Pro-Ams are knowledgeable, educated, committed and networked, by new technology. The twentieth century was shaped by large hierarchical organisations with professionals at the top. Pro- Ams are creating new, distributed organisational models that will be innovative, adaptive and low-cost." (


"The growth of Pro-Am activity does not necessarily imply stronger social capital. Many of the most popular Pro-Am activities can be quite individualistic: gardening, DIY, writing, photography, playing a musical instrument. Other Pro-Am activities – volunteering, campaigning, organising sports and social clubs – are more social.

This basic distinction between ‘private’ Pro-Ams (gardening, DIY, writing) and ‘social’ Pro-Ams (volunteering, club organisers, per- formers) will be important in guiding policies to promote different kinds of Pro-Am activities." (


Jenny Uglow’s The Lunar Men, a history of the inventions that paved the way for the Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, is a story of a group of Pro-Am inventors, scientists and manufacturers – Mathew Boulton, Josiah Wedgewood, Erasmus Darwin, James Watt, Joseph Priestley and others. Most were non-conformists and freethinkers, who pursued scientific questions out of curiosity." (


Their numbers in the UK:

'The following snapshots provide some evidence of the wide spread of Pro-Am activity.

  • About 23 million adults a year undertake some form of

volunteering, contributing close to 90 million hours a week. Volunteering has almost doubled in the last decade.


In science there are estimated to be at least 4,500 independent archaeologists, not counting men who go out with metal detectors at weekends. The Natural History Museum estimates that 100,000 amateurs are actively involved in nature conservation, through a myriad of specialist societies and clubs. More than one million people are members of wildlife groups in the UK. Family history is one of the fastest growing activities on the internet and local history rooms in public libraries are overflowing with members of the do-it-yourself history movement. The Family Record Centre in London estimates there are 387,000 active members of family history societies in the UK.

The most popular Pro-Am activities by far are gardening (30 per cent say they do it regularly, 61 per cent say they have skills of a good standard, which means 18 per cent of the population see themselves as Pro-Am gardeners) and DIY (20 per cent say they do it regularly, 74 per cent say they have good skills, which means 15 per cent of the population see themselves as Pro-Am at do-it-yourself.) About 16 per cent are involved in playing sports as a member of a team or running a sports team, with 12 per cent of the population claiming Pro-Am skills in sports. The arts make up a large category: 11 per cent say they engage in arts and crafts, 10 per cent in photography, 6 per cent in writing, 1 per cent in amateur dramatics and 2 per cent in singing.

Overall perhaps 30 per cent of the population claim Pro-Am arts skills of one kind or another. About 11 per cent engage in voluntary work, either locally or for a national organisation like St John Ambulance, and 8 per cent of the population as a whole see them- selves as Pro-Am volunteers.


Participation in Pro-Am activities is heavily slanted towards well- educated, middle class people with incomes above £30,000 per year. There are some exceptions to this: fishing, for example, is largely a working class pastime. In some activities – volunteering for example – the class balance is more mixed. But as a rule people with financial, social and educational resources are far more likely to engage in Pro- Am activities than those without these resources.


The other striking feature is the gender divide in Pro-Am activities. Having children in the household is not a major factor in whether people engage in Pro-Am pursuits; 57 per cent of people with children see themselves as Pro-Ams as do 59 per cent of those without children. Engaging in time-consuming, Pro-Am activities, is compatible with having children.


Men are far more likely to be Pro-Ams than women: 66 per cent of men claim some kind of Pro-Am skill compared with 50 per cent of women. Moreover women are more likely to engage in Pro-Am activities that revolve around the home: gardening, writing and the arts. Men are more likely to engage in activities that take them away from home, sports, for example, as well as doing some home- based activities, such as DIY. In some areas there is a rough gender balance: family history, pets, nature conservancy.


Age is not a major factor in Pro-Am participation but the activities people get involved in are segregated by age.

The young tend to dominate in music and sports, while older people are more likely to be Pro-Am gardeners and volunteers. Participation in arts and crafts is evenly spread. DIY activities are concentrated among working age men."




"A Pro-Am pursues an activity as an amateur, mainly for the love of it, but sets a professional standard. Pro-Ams are unlikely to earn more than a small portion of their income from their pastime but they pursue it with the dedication and commitment associated with a professional. For Pro-Ams, leisure is not passive consumerism but active and participatory; it involves the deployment of publicly accredited knowledge and skills, often built up over a long career, which has involved sacrifices and frustrations.

Pro-Ams demand we rethink many of the categories through which we divide up our lives.14 Pro-Ams are a new social hybrid. Their activities are not adequately captured by the traditional definitions of work and leisure, professional and amateur, con- sumption and production. We use a variety of terms – many derogatory, none satisfactory – to describe what people do with their serious leisure time: nerds, geeks, anoraks, enthusiasts, hackers, men in their sheds. Our research suggests the best way to cover all the activities covered by these terms is to call the people involved Pro- Ams." (


"Pro-Ams are not professionals. They do not see themselves that way. They do not earn more than 50 per cent of their income from their Pro-Am activities. They might be aspiring proto-professionals, semi- professionals or former-professionals, but they would not be regarded as full professionals.

Yet to call Pro-Ams amateurs is also misleading. For many people ‘amateur’ is a term of derision: second-rate, not up to scratch, below par. Pro-Ams want to be judged by professional standards.

Many of the defining features of professionalism also apply to Pro- Ams: they have a strong sense of vocation; they use recognised public standards to assess performance and formally validate skills; they form self-regulating communities, which provide people with a sense of community and belonging; they produce non-commodity products and services; they are well versed in a body of knowledge and skill, which carries with it a sense of tradition and identity. Pro- Ams often have second, shadow or parallel careers that they turn to once their formal and public career comes to an end. Professionals are distinguished by the nature of their knowledge. Professionals are more likely to understand the theory behind good practice, while Pro-Ams might have strong know-how and technique.

The stronger theoretical knowledge base of the professionals should allow them more scope for analysis and generalisation. It’s easy to be a Pro-Am stargazer, but difficult to be a Pro-Am theoretical physicist. The relationship between amateurs and professionals is becoming more fluid and dynamic. It is not a zero-sum game. Professionals and Pro-Ams can grow together.

Pro-Ams work at their leisure, regard consumption as a productive activity and set professional standards to judge their amateur efforts. Pro-Ams force us to distinguish ‘serious’ leisure – which requires regular commitment, skills and effort – from ‘casual’ leisure, which is more occasional and opportunistic. ‘Active’ leisure, which requires the physical or mental engagement of participants should be distin- guished from more ‘passive’ forms of leisure, in which consumers are recipients of entertainment. Leisure is not homogenous: a lump of time left over after work. People engage in leisure activities of quite different intensities.

Pro-Ams demand that we see professionals and amateurs along a continuum (see diagram below). Fully-fledged professionals are at one end of the spectrum, but close by we have pre-professionals (apprentices and trainees), semi-professionals (who earn a significant part of their income from an activity) and post-professionals (former professionals who continue to perform or play once their professional career is over.) These latter three groups of ‘quasi’ professionals are Pro-Ams."

See the report page 23 for the graphic mentioned above.

Pro-Ams as a Force for Social and Commercial Innovation

Charles Leadbeater and Paul Miller:

"Amateurs have a long track record of innovation, especially in emerging fields which are too young for there to be an organised and professional body of knowledge or too marginal to warrant the attention of companies or universities.

Jenny Uglow’s The Lunar Men, a history of the inventions that paved the way for the Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, is a story of a group of Pro-Am inventors, scientists and manufacturers – Mathew Boulton, Josiah Wedgewood, Erasmus Darwin, James Watt, Joseph Priestley and others. Most were non-conformists and freethinkers, who pursued scientific questions out of curiosity. That tradition of Pro-Am experimentation is alive and well today among open source and hacker communities on the internet or the Homebrew Computer Club, which spawned Steve Jobs’s and Steve Wozniak’s ideas for a personal computer. Another example of how Pro-Ams lead innovation to create entirely new industries is windsurfing.


Pro-Ams play three distinct roles in innovation.

First, Pro-Ams can be disruptive innovators. Disruptive innovation changes the way an industry operates by creating new ways of doing business, often by making products and services much cheaper or by creating entirely new products. Disruptive innovation often starts in marginal, experimental markets rather than mainstream mass markets. Embryonic markets are often too small to sustain traditional approaches to R & D. That is where Pro-Ams come in. Dedicated amateurs pursue new ideas even when it appears there is no money to be made. That is why they are a persistent source for disruptive innovations, such as Rap music.

Second, Pro-Ams lead innovation in use. The more technologically radical the innovation the more difficult it is to say in advance what the innovation is for. It may be impossible for the ‘authors’ of the innovation to predict exactly how it will be used. It is down to the consumers to work out what a new technology is really for. That requires innovation in use or the co-creation of value between consumers and producers. Mastering a computer game used to be an individualistic activity undertaken by boys in the dark of their bedrooms. Now it’s a mass team sport that depends on intense collaboration. By 2000, most strategy-based computer games had built-in tools to allow players to create and customise the content and action. Knowledge about the game is constantly developing among a sprawling army of Pro-Am players, linked by websites and chat rooms. A game’s official release is the moment when the initiative passes from the in-house developers to the community of Pro-Am users. There is a sound commercial logic behind this encouragement of Pro-Am innovation. Open, mass innovation allows many innovations to continue in parallel once a game has been released among a distributed community. If a game sells one million copies and just one per cent of the players are Pro-Am developers, that creates an R & D team of 10,000 people working on further developments. Their contributions make the game more interesting and that in turn extends the game’s life, constantly refreshing it.

Third, Pro-Ams are vital to service innovation. All services are delivered to a script, which directs the parts played by the actors involved. Most service innovation comes from producers and users simultaneously adopting a new script, playing out new and complementary roles in the story. That explains why the ‘script’ for ordering a meal in a formal restaurant – replete with waiters, tips, menus – is so different from the ‘script’ for ordering in a self-service restaurant, when the consumer does much of the basic labour involved. Pro-Am consumers play a critically important role in devising these new scripts, because they are the leading, more informed and assertive consumers.

Harnessing Pro-Am service innovators will be vital to the future of public services, especially in health, social care and education. As an example take diabetes. Surveys show that most people prefer to have health issues dealt with at home rather than having to visit a hospital or surgery. Surveys of diabetes sufferers also show that those who are more able to self-manage their condition are less likely to suffer health crises than those with little know-how who rely on specialist help. One of the most effective ways to improve the lives of diabetes sufferers is to equip them better to self-manage their condition, to write their own scripts on how they want their condition treated. The more Pro-Am skills there are distributed across an economy the greater the innovation and labour market flexibility." (


The Pro-Am Revolution. How enthusiasts are changing our economy and society. Demos, 2005:

URL = full pdf

"From astronomy to activism, from surfing to saving lives, Pro-Ams - people pursuing amateur activities to professional standards - are an increasingly important part of our society and economy.

For Pro-Ams, leisure is not passive consumerism but active and participatory, it involves the deployment of publicly accredited knowledge and skills, often built up over a long career, which has involved sacrifices and frustrations.

The 20th century witnessed the rise of professionals in medicine, science, education, and politics. In one field after another, amateurs and their ramshackle organisations were driven out by people who knew what they were doing and had certificates to prove it. The Pro-Am Revolution argues this historic shift is reversing. We're witnessing the flowering of Pro-Am, bottom-up self-organisation and the crude, all or nothing, categories of professional or amateur will need to be rethought.

Based on in-depth interviews with a diverse range of Pro-Ams and containing new data about the extent of Pro-Am activity in the UK, this report proposes new policies to support and encourage valuable Pro-Am activity." (


"For all the limitations of this initial attempt to estimate the size of the Pro-Am sector in society the main conclusions are striking.

The Pro-Ams are a significant social force: 58 per cent of the population see themselves as Pro-Ams.

However, participation is heavily weighted towards middle class, well-educated and reasonably affluent people. Once working class people participate in an activity they are as likely as middle class people to become

Pro-Am by acquiring the necessary skills. The issue is not acquiring the skills but access and participation in the first place. If more working class people were able to participate more would become Pro-Ams.

Men are more likely to become Pro-Ams than women, in part because women are more likely to take responsibility for childcare. Women’s Pro-Am activities tend to be compatible with being at home or looking after children. Men are far more likely to engage in Pro-Am activities that take them away from the house.

All ages participate as Pro-Ams but their activities tend to be age specific: older people garden, while younger people tend to be drawn to sports and arts.

Some regions seem to have strong Pro-Am cultures: the East, Yorkshire and South West, while in others, particularly Scotland and the East Midlands, Pro-Am culture is far less developed. London is relatively weak in Pro-Am activities."



Pro-Am Governance

Charles Leadbeater:

"It is virtually impossible to engage in a Pro-Am activity solo.

Five aspects of Pro-Am activities require social organisation:

  • learning and the transmission of skills, through classes

and courses, rehearsals and training sessions

  • accreditation through exams, grading competitions and auditions
  • peer recognition through events, displays and performances
  • social bonding through social activities that underscore

common codes of dress, behaviour and values

  • representation of members’ views to the wider

community and society at large.

Pro-Am organisations vary considerably. Local branches and clubs may have become less important in organising these activities than they once were. This may well reflect the decline of commitment to a highly organised sense of local community. However the careers of our Pro-Ams suggests that clubs may be in decline in part because other kinds of organisation may better fulfil some of the functions once undertaken by clubs. Forty years ago clubs performed all five of the roles set out above. Nowadays, Pro-Ams use networks, alongside the traditional club, to coordinate their activities. They are creatures of digital technologies, niche media and specialist branding. They use their mobile telephones and the internet to organise physical, face-to- face activities. The organisational burden that once might have been borne by a club, with its office holders, is now often borne by net- worked digital technologies. Modern Pro-Ams are direct beneficiaries of these ‘group forming network technologies’."

More Information

See our entry on Mass Amateurization