In August we synthesized strategic work we have done in ReaGent and Ekoli in July, we are taking some important steps with Open Insulin and we are moving into the next phase with the OpenVillage Festival.
July was an instructive month for the teams at ReaGent and Ekoli, the two nonprofits that share the open biolab in Ghent. We held three strategic sessions (one for Ekoli and two for ReaGent), to determine our focus points for the coming year(s). We had been building plenty of science related content, activities and infrastructure since we started (2 years ago for ReaGent, just short of 1 year for Ekoli). We had been mainly acting on gut feel so far, but the time had come to evaluate and improve our actions.
Several factors are the base of this: our rent will increase, we are growing and some aspects are professionalizing. The latter is particularly challenging in an environment where the people who need help the most, don’t have financial means, and there is a mix of volunteer and paid work.
I invited Filip Daniëls, a systems thinker and visualizer, to join us during the sessions and help make sense of the complexity we’ve created in sharing resources between two organisations.
From the sessions we’ve learned that we’re doing quite okay and are very aligned in terms of values. We did lack some collective vision and the practical details of implementation were not always aligned. Discussion on the latter topic ironed out the details and got us going on the right track again.
We had to think more economically than before. The costs to cover are substantial. Luckily, we have built so much content and expertise that can be exchanged for money somehow. The difficulty lies in the short term that it has to succeed, and the dependency on personal investment of a few people. Yet after simulations, it’s looking feasible. It is tempting to draw conclusions about how to really, and resiliently run a community space like ours, but I don’t feel like it’s time yet.
Are there general takeaways for other projects? Can we generalize what we observed with our projects? Not so much. Doing these sessions is the most important takeaway. So is looking from different angles and thinking from the perspective of an ecosystem, rather than an individual project.
In the sessions for ReaGent, what is an advantage for Ekoli was considered a benefit for ReaGent and vice versa. It is interesting how dependencies and assistance evolve over time. Ekoli used to be dependent on ReaGent, but now it is evolving to be an equal relationship, or over slightly the other way around when it comes to paying the rent. This is sure to change in the future.
What makes us able to do collaborate like this? Is it the fact that a big part of the team is active in both organisations? Is it the shared values? The shared space? Something else? I’m not sure at this point, though the first point is probably the biggest factor. I’m looking forward to future developments, where both organisations keep co-evolving through whatever ties them together. There are plans to formalize the link, as well as the links with other organisations that are heavily involved as our partners.
Open Insulin powers on. Good progress is being made in Oakland and we have also started lab work in Ghent.
It is still clear that more time and effort by more people is needed, and that we need to invest in the habits and digital infrastructure to make it possible. Hence my trip to Oakland will be important to implement the digital infrastructure, and I’ve been in touch with several team members there to prepare that.
There is a computational dimension of the project that is also very promising. It will involve the sharing and processing of scientific data by citizens all over the world, much like the celebrated Hubble telescope citizen science project.
I’m planning to travel to Cork to meet the team there in November, as they are starting their own Open Insulin efforts. With four groups globally, it is important to be on the same page and invest in synergies early on.
The lab work in Ghent took off, after a long search and waiting period due to logistics and legal constraints. We’re now reproducing the experiments in E. coli bacteria and designing a new yeast genetic construct, which is in line with the direction that Oakland is taking.
We have been supported in a major way by a department at the University of Ghent, and the team of volunteers here is putting many hours into the project. I think a congratulations and thank you to everyone is in order, for hanging in there since we started a few months ago
After an intense sprint in early summer, and a quieter period in August, the OpenVillage program is in its final forms and the communication efforts are ready to begin. It’s been a hell of a ride, chaotic and a lot of work. Even though it’s a while to the final party, it’s already satisfying. Co-fellows @gehan and @woodbinehealth have pulled off some amazing work!
Onwards, lots of work and travels around the world. Writing this from a friend’s place in Bratislava, where I’m away from everything to do some deep work. Then to Oakland for Open Insulin and a global DIYbio conference in September, where I’ll be meeting community members who are working on similar things! Yay!