In an interview with Open Democracy, Birgitta Jónsdóttir of Iceland’s Pirate Party mentions starting “…to talk about [things] at times when it still seems weird.” There is something about weird conversations that tell you that you’re in new territory.
The first four weeks of my time as an OpenCare Community Fellow has been made up of those kinds of conversations both off and online. Given that this involves curating a theme in response to a challenge as huge as welfare system failure across Europe perhaps this was to be expected. It’s a complex issue that demands new insights, new perspectives and where better to draw these from than the web of connections between grassroots engaged activity that is often taking place persistently and having to learn and adapt unendingly - just to sustain itself.
My early encounters with the Edgreryders platform, I’ll be honest, have been confusing. That said there is something in this that reflects the incredible diversity of the members and their contributions. Engaging with this complexity requires a new set of skills and senses. Absorb, stumble, unravel, gather. It is at times frustrating - it’s at odds with standard linear project trajectories and ways of working. So perhaps I’m simply experiencing the necessary pain we all encounter as we grow the inner muscles and capacities to cope with the complexity at the edge of wicked problems. It also feels necessarily a slow process of absorption before I can begin to synthesise and produce.
It’s unsettling and creates some vulnerability. But in being open to the confusion and discomfort - I sense I’m creating space for something new. This is my learning. I’m open to being challenged by as well as offering challenges to all I’m encountering - I guess this is a process of peer validation.
Conversations over the first month have helped to refine the theme from how I’d originally outlined it. This now focuses in more on insights from citizen-led responses to illuminate the enabling factors that support our natural impulses as human beings to take care of ourselves and one another. These insights will shape how we understand the kind of conditions that grow and sustain grassroots care initiatives. They will help to define the ‘microclimates’ that animate or inhibit this kind of self organised activity. My intention is that this will start to inform how we understand the role of policy in the more disbursed ecology of care called for in response to growing health needs.
Conversations started to pinpoint some of these enabling factors:
- Enspiral’s stewarding circle;
- Network reciprocity, mutuality, shared values;
- Mental and spiritual well being such as that fostered by @Bernard "Creating situations for healthy experiences that facilitate collaborations”;
- Experiences that create sense of self - being in relationship with others and the world - so beautifully captured in this quote from Abiba Birhane; “being happens in the space between the self and the world” in a link shared by @markomanka;
Simon (@asimong) suggested a useful categorisation for enabling factors that I’ve amended slightly using insights from others:
- The skills, awarenesses, competences, knowledge and practices of individuals;
- The designed environment, including public spaces and communal spaces;
- Values and a culture of care;
- The designed opportunities for interaction, engagement, collaboration;
- Commons of all kinds, material sufficiency.
Coming across @Alex_Levene’s immense proposal Helping Refugees - the first category connects to one of the discussion points he outlines “Practices for developing cohesion and integration.” It strikes me that the notion of practices seems more useful than ‘good practice’, which appears prescriptive by comparison. Perhaps the idea that practices create the conditions for collective action, while good practice is an instrument of policy would be worth further discussion.
Simon makes another interesting point - that these kind of skills are “not learned, [rather] picked up from living in a culture where they are norms, through a process you could call ‘enculturation’.”
The fourth category connects with what Dougie Strang of Dark Mountain referred to during our chat as ‘deep encounters’ and this is something that I’m keen to explore further. How do we facilitate these kind of experiences? Might this be one mode of Simon’s ‘enculturation’? (This might be worth a separate blog post…)
Roles & responsibilities
All interesting insights on which to build. Another area that is opening up through these conversations starts to re-evaluate the relationship between citizens and the State. State care responses are dependent on and delivered by institutions designed and built in a different era and on a different world view. Consideration of citizen-led care responses will take us into a process of renegotiating the roles and responsibilities of the citizen and the state.
A number of threads of conversation touched on this issue of responsibility. @Alberto referenced the Amish refusal of health insurance on the grounds that it ‘de-responsibilises’ people. Conversation with Wendy Ball explored her recent intervention in a street fight and how ‘externalising responsibility’ for care creates dependency on state responses - turning us into passive subjects. This lack of agency can become crippling and is a symptom of how ‘de-responsibilised’ we’ve become.
Early considerations on role of policy
Where policy sits in relation to this also came up in conversation. Simon commented that “misguided policy can be worse than no policy” and we agreed that this wasn’t to dismiss the efforts of policymakers altogether. Policy is by its nature ‘top-down’ and in conversation with @Luke_Devlin we couldn’t not notice the etymological connection between the words Policy/Police/Politic - polites is citizen, polis is city or state (as well as Glasweigan for police!). But the word policy itself means “way of management” and the discussion is perhaps - what ways of managing the health and social care of citizens are most appropriate given what we now know about how the world works has shifted considerably since the times of ancient Greece or 14th C France. The current mechanics of government need reform if they are to cope with the scale and complexity of current challenges.
Over the coming months and through the Open Village program, more of these conversations and questions will refine an understanding of the enabling factors for OpenCare - drawing largely on the multitude of posts by the Edgeryders community that detail real life experience and precious lessons learned about what works and what doesn’t work. In the process clues will be gathered that start to deconstruct policy and re-imagine new tools that are more generative in relation to the health and wellbeing of citizens. And beyond this perhaps how we reconfigure the role of the State to re-calibrate responsibility and the role of citizens in ways that create greater agency as a foundation to health.