Edgeryders OpenVillage: Infrastructure for Autonomy

This week the Edgeryders OpenVillage Festival took place in Brussels, and I attended the first day. An inspiring day submerged in a diverse group of smart people, happy to engage in conversation. Some notes from a panel on infrastructures for autonomy and dynamic equilibrium of community.

The program described it as “Collaboration is more needed than ever to solve complex problems in care. Yet it can be expensive in time and energy when working outside formal grids, or on a voluntary basis, or in emotionally demanding environments. This kind of work calls for new governance structures and ways of making decisions together based on values that sometimes seem at odds – like self-management and autonomy. This session brings together people who have experience of wrestling with these issues to find an equilibrium which makes it possible for us to work together well.”

Panel members included Cindy Regalado (extreme citizen science at UCL), John Coate (of The Well fame) and Gehan Macleod (GalGael Trust, Glasgow).

Cindy Regalado talked about infrastructure maintenance for communities, and spotting when certain ingrained behaviors become a hindrance (as part of nurturing a community to autonomy). She also called attention on how different roles in a community can have different speeds (roles that are about trust building versus roles about creating tools for instance), which need to be balanced and mutually acknowledged. A specific example she mentioned were fisher villages suffering from the Mexican Gulf oil spill, and how they built their own tools to document and track the damage to their environment, e.g. with DIY aerial photography. This has turned into a larger stack of open source tools for citizen science at PublicLab.

John Coate described his early experiences in building group cohesion, and later as part of The Well. He said to put values first (also because in his first group living in a bus, ‘we didn’t have many skills’ so ‘all we could do was sit down and talk’). From a group’s values you can then engage, being clear on those values, without preaching them. When starting to work with people don’t set too many preconditions, other than what are real deal breakers for you, such as resorting to violence.

Gehan Macleod added a notion, that stuck with me, that in networks/group having a power literacy is more important than leadership. The term literacy is a ‘hook’ for me, as it is also how e.g. Howard Rheingold talks about online interaction, and how I adapted that to how I think about Making as well, and agency in general. Literacy is a sum of a skill and a community, where the skill itself is not of much use on its own. Reading/writing is somewhat useful on if you’re the only one with that skill, but comes into its own when a community has those skills. For me agency is also located not just in the individual but in the set of relationships of an individual and the groups an individual is part of. Gehan Macleod with her remark put thinking about power in that same context, and thus adds it to the list of things I can think of in terms of how to encourage agency.

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