Closing Lote4 with curators' reflections: what have we learned about stewardship?

At the end of the first two conference days we asked our curators @rmchase, @Caroline_Paulick-Thiel, Fabrizio Barca, @teirdes, @Matthias and @Nadia to share their reflections on stewardship based on the examples and discussions from the sessions they attended. Thanks to @iamkat and @danohu for documenting. The unstructured notes are available here.

On disruption from the current system and interfacing with policy and politics

A general take was that stewardship challenges models based on ownership. It opens up and enhances the use value of things rather than holding it captive. Most case studies and projects we looked at are initiatives ran by individuals or small groups, fixing a specific problem rather than taking on systemic approaches. This has to do with capacity, but mostly with a distinct take on our relationship with politics. At the beginning of Lote4 @hexayurt and @Leo, among others, made it clear that

rather than thinking of this as being about how do we persuade the state to support us, perhaps it’s more a question of how do we support the state not to beat the hell out of us when we begin to support ourselves

Is leaving the government out a sustainable way to move forward? Or to take the Makerfox example: can we do everything without money?

Many of our questions are policy questions, underlined Amelia.

People can take away the fact it's not useless to get in touch with the democratically elected institutions - when you have a project and you want it to be supported don't be afraid to get that extra political leverage. [...] If you're an EU citizen, find a politician from where you live, send them a (polite) email -- it's easy.  If you're a nomad, pick someone at random. What do you do if they don't answer? If you fail with the first go on to the next one - have a list of around 4 or 5. The least they can do is ask a written question to the EC - it's at least some action and gives you documented support of your issue being important which is helpful for local authorities. You can play institutions against themselves.

One example is hacking the legal loopholes of the copyright reform at EU level and starting with modest aims: have the EC accept the copyrightcode.eu, an easy to understand text explaining copyright in just five articles (also backed by a petition), then ensure that as little lobbying as possible is made to destroy that proposal.

For Fabrizio, relationship with the state manifests itself in two approaches. One is the “buzz off” approach where you have an absent state, the other one is the “Make a deal” approach, more complex, where there is cooperation involved (eg change the grantmaking system, influence evidence based provision of services by creating new data). The later allows for “infiltration”.

In discussing the state, we have missed understanding that the state is made of persons. In Italy, the state is 2.8 million people. Because they are people, they behave in different ways.

On stewardship models and methodology

One of the main issues is gathering the knowledge that is mostly dispersed when it comes to projects led by the citizenry. Most of us agree documentation is important. Fabrizio and Caroline pointed at a need to self-evaluate to understand complexity better, and the four sectors within which stewardship takes place: technological, cultural, economical, institutional. Some key points raised to help improve the work:

  • starting point: are we filling the gaps of the current system or are we shaping a new system (eg open source projects)? is this stewardship forming from within the community or coming from outside? how do I influence the other sectors?
  • timespan: for how long should the stewardship go on? can the community continue with or without sustained leadership
  • outcome: are we truly improving people’s quality of life?
  • validation: combining the dots of wanting to fit in the present and have some recognition payback
  • resilience: we are very much output oriented - what is the longer term goal?

Building participation and freedom while supporting the stewards

For Robin it is clear that there “there does need to be a community of people working on these hard problems of rebuilding the economy and building a world we wantand one way to go is by building platforms for participation and pooling of resources. The assumption is that there is an ability to express freedom and desire, and that people know what they want, and act under an implicit agreement on the direction shaping the way forward (points made by Nadia and Gaia in particular; see Fabrizio’s counter argument on the dangers of paternalistic stewardship eg birth of fascism)

The key to communities stewarding assets is the ability to steward and transmit knowledge to each other. Resilience comes from redundancy and enough people knowing about other people so that the right people are in touch with each other. (Nadia)

Key questions rose around the way platforms are instrumental to participation. In some examples from the sharing economy, even if communities are participatory, the platform itself is centralized, so members risk serving the platform, not the community. And when platforms are created by its users, who is supporting the long term, sustained, intensive effort? This goes in two ways: the need to cover permanent stewardship (costs of the infrastructure, almost always present) and the need for sustained leadership (depends on the stewardship model). Matthias brought up the point of freedom and inclusiveness, saying it’s not enough just to put a digital project up as open source, and expect that to create freedom. We need to make work open for public contributions - don’t exclude people, let them add something.

If we are to think of ways to grow initiatives and support one another as we run with limited resources, the question hanging is how do we do this kind of work in a sustained way? All points above essentially touch on sustainability. Any other thoughts? Feel free to Edit the wiki with things I may have missed (make sure you are logged in), or comment below…

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