Another introductory hello: Organisational capacity & self-care as infrastructure for autonomy

All of us, regardless of our background, have a major role to play in addressing the challenges to a sustainable future. It is by ‘doing science together’ that we combine our resources and expertise to raise awareness, build capacity, and innovative lasting solutions grounded in society.” This is the motto of our project

Hello Everyone! It is with great excitement that I join the first openvillage in Brussels. At OpenVillage I look forward to meeting and learning from you all and being inspired by your ideas, approaches, joy for life, and drive. I also look forward to roll-up my sleeves and connect, hands-on, with projects that seek to engender meaningful change socially and personally.

As many of you reading this, I wear ‘several hats’, pulling knowledge, ideas, and resources from various sources and experiences to create engaging spaces/conditions for enriching exchanges. My hats: I am a research associate at the Extreme Citizen Science research group with Prof Muki Haklay at University College London. Here I develop and promote techniques for public engagement in Do-It-Yourself science and technology. My research focuses on the taken-for-granted process of inquiry that underlie all exploration and discovery and which represent ownership over learning and action: figuring things out by oneself, experimenting, seeking knowledge, and questioning the state of things to find potential solutions to local concerns. I have also developed frameworks for the understanding of factors influencing our engagement in inquiry and initiative-taking at the personal, organisational, and societal levels. I am also a London-based community organiser for the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science, a not-for-profit organisation and community that creates accessible, low-cost civically engaged monitoring methods. As community organiser I work with communities, researchers, and stewards on the use and development of DIY tools for environmental monitoring. I am also co-founder of Citizens without Borders, a London-based group dedicated to creating spaces for exchange that build the public’s capacity to act as civic agents. I am founder of ‘Science has no Borders’, an initiative through our project, which is committed to science that benefits from community and aims at creating an environment for networked engagement to learn, connect, and gain feedback on ideas, prototypes, and projects. Together with my team at UCL we lead on the Horizon 2020 EU project, “Doing It Together Science” -, which aims to bridge the gap between civic agency in science/technology and policy. In this project I focus on consortium management, development of public engagement activities in Biodesign and Environmental Sustainability, the formative evaluation of the project, and the capacity building, self-care, and well-being of science event facilitators and ‘DIY science educators’. For the latter, we are creating online resources on shared good practice, gaining meaningful feedback, engagement, outreach, science communication, and inclusion techniques.

I’ll be participating in the Infrastructures for Autonomy panel discussing sustainability of initiatives and organiser’s self-care. I will be also video-documenting your learning and experiences at the festival - look out for a video camera if you’d like to share your voice (and discuss how the videos will be used)!


Hello and welcome @cindys. I am looking forward to your panel and to meeting you personally. Like most people in Edgeryders, I do dream of a broader autonomy; and I am also an occasional participant in grassroots… well, I would not call it science exactly, maybe data science initiatives. Since you like Horizon 2020: my latest project, done with my brothers- and sister-in-arms at Spaghetti Open Data, is a network analysis of Horizon 2020 consortia, looking for exclusionary dynamics in partnership formation. Hope to learn more about your work.

Hello Alberto! Thanks for your comment! I look forward to a more in depth conversation about these issues you mention, which are also of great interest to us. Part of our evaluation work is to ‘make visible’ a lot of these tensions and also the taken-for-granted and ‘behind the scenes’ work that goes into EU project activities, which cannot be accounted for in the traditional forms that have to be submitted through the application process. Part of ‘playing the game’ in the application and selection process is about ‘disguising’ some of this work, which we believe, reproduces (and sometimes validates) this invisibility - e.g. the extra in-kind work by event facilitators and external help that makes events great but becomes ‘labour of love’ and can then lead to burn out.

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Hi @cindys - I’m curious, ahead of your panel, has any of the groups or projects you are involved sustainable in so far as the work pays for itself and covers the time if those doing it? Especially the Public Lab from what I’ve seen is network based, which means, if it’s anything like edgeryders, that most of the collaboration happens because people are highly mission driven. But how is the coordination work sustainable from a point of view of network care?

Feel free to also throw back questions, if you’ve read @gehan’ s email introducing the panel you know that it will be focused on people answering each other…

@m_tantawy if you are coming to Brussels be sure to join the panel on infrastructures of collaboration of which Cindy is a part of. Cindy: with Mohamed we were discussing ways in which his community called Ma’arefa in Egypt - a flatarchy he calls it, needs to become an institute to formalise support for the hard working coordinators!. Perhaps you have advice? Here is the story:

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@Noemi : I m busy right now to prepare visa papers , just got my master program enrollment document then I will connect to nadia or some thing for the invitation and some needed data , I’m really exited to be in Brussels festival …

Happy to see you here @cindys ! Sorry for the late reply as I was travelling and conferencing abroad.

People in the biohacker community have criticized the DITOs project for not being very participatory towards the community. Mainly involving them through asking for free work or using their work without proper attribution. A big discussion around fair pay / fair play ensued and continued at the Global Community Bio Summit last week.

Among other things, this seems to be tied to the bureaucratic nature of partners participating in large publicly funded projects. Money is going into managing and reporting on projects, rather than doing actual high impact work. Not sure if this is the case for DITOs, but surely you’ve experienced it at some point.

I do a lot of work around science, citizen engagement and education at a grassroots level. We do cool stuff and involve loads of people without any budget. A big contrast to certain several hundred thousand euro projects of which the output is meager in terms of quality and citizen involvement, as well as being dead in the water when funding ends. Browsing through past EU project websites often feels like walking through a graveyard, “Fun while it lasted” on the tombstones. On to the next funding round.

Speaking to other community labs all over the world last week at the Bio Summit, I have the impression it is seeping into their organisations as well. I hear the old, establish labs talk about their ‘executive directors’ and other roles that deal with (or add?) overhead and generally lower the cool stuff:cost ratio. Unavoidable when you grow in size, but definitely to be improved upon.

Now that we are going through a growth phase with our own organisations, we absolutely want to maintain our cost efficiency. And importantly, fairly pay the people doing the actual work firstly. I’d like to explore: how do we ensure this through organisation infrastructures?

It further ties into other discussions we are having at the Festival, such as our panel The Edge of Funding.


Edge of funding and edge of admin are not the same thing, though they are related. We (Edgeryders) are really struggling with the latter now. Part of it is dealing with the Brexit mess, and I am telling myself it is a one off, and it will pass. And Brexit is a one off, and we will shut down the old company and only run one instead of two. But I wonder.

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They aren’t or they shouldn’t be? I see it as a spectrum that goes from a zero ratio ‘actual work’ over ‘admin’ to an infinitely high ratio. Admin and funding are not the same thing, but in the low end of the spectrum, they become closely related enough to consider them together when it comes to financial decision making, in my opinion. That’s where I would place (certain) big funded projects.

Is that where 50% of the budget goes into ‘project management’? 75%? 25%? I don’t know. I do know that I will be extra critical of a situation with 75% budget for overhead. This as part of a more intuitive thought process that goes into our decisions about our business models and where we should put our energy/time/resources to develop or exploit offerings as a collective. Not paying for overhead jobs as a default keeps us light and has felt like a good guiding principle so far.

Closely related, not the same. Meaning: once you have the money, you might think your troubles are over, and now it’s going to be meaningful work all the way down, but… no. :slight_smile:

We have done the same so far – and I agree. But:

  1. If your colleague makes an accounting mess in a decentralised system, legal responsibility might be with you (are you a member, shareholder or director of the organisation?). Ignore her at your risk.

  2. People who are more structured tend to get stuck with the worst tasks. If they are not paid, they can and will push back; this will generally raise the tension and infighting.

All true. What I would also like to explore is to invest in resistance to (non-dramatic) fuck ups rather than rules to do things right. Especially given that we do see people want to learn how to ‘run an organisation’ and fuck ups are part of the learning curve.

When I look at our own history, we have had some room for failure (several on my end) since we are classified as a small nonprofit and thus less strictly regulated. That’s changing though, but with it the core group gains experience to teach new people and avoid them having to fuck things up and showing them how to be efficient. So it’s about learning, similar to how you rotate(d) admin duties in Edgeryders?