Fellowship Post #1 - weird conversations and early insights

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.

Enabling factors

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:

  1. The skills, awarenesses, competences, knowledge and practices of individuals;
  2. The designed environment, including public spaces and communal spaces;
  3. Values and a culture of care;
  4. The designed opportunities for interaction, engagement, collaboration;
  5. 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.


Good opening!

Thank you @gehan for this stimulating reflection, and for the mentions. I identify with the great challenge of knowing how to orient ourselves and act in the larger picture, beyond what we are already doing in our own smaller contexts. But even just describing the threads helps us to recognise our belonging to the same fabric, and to weave more connections over time.

Great summary @Gehan of the work so far in all its human complexity: I’m often reminded of the phrase of encouragement used in 12-step addiction fellowships: ‘progress, not perfection’.

And I remember that conversation about the ‘poli-words’, and also of the need to capture insights, spontaneous sharings and maps of meaning that come up in informal contexts, in conversations among friends, that can often be ephemeral if not documented: I recall we had a good conversation after an Edgeryders community call some weeks ago where we found the words to express things better after the call had ended- I remember a great riff you had about ‘chaordic’ ways of working.

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“chaordic” ways of working

Nice way of putting it… I assume it refers to the non-linearity and coping with complexity which Gehan mentions. Feel free to expand on that - it will help those of us primarily tasked with infusing some sense of orderly process around here :slight_smile:

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working with chaos and order

Its an idea I came across through Art of Hosting that I found useful (though other AoH methods made me feel a bit ‘spiky’)

It talks about the different qualities of chaos and order. On both sides is death - left of chaos, complete break down - to the right of order death through stagnation. Chaos is creative but the paint never dries, it’s impossible to form anything lasting. Order is the about maintaining, ryhthm, routine - it has its place. The overlap between chaos and order is the most productive space for innovation and emergence. I think its useful because it’s about considering what’s needed in any given situation.


Staying there for longer…

I wonder if this phase can last for long enough that it becomes somewhat a given and acknowlegded in the organisational culture - that would make people working on-and-off feel more at ease and able to find a role that is creative and autonomous instead of coping for the larger part :slight_smile:

I guess time is of essence, and communicating the best we can.

Later on, organisation growth comes with its own (and other) strings attached which can easily compromise out-of-the-box creativity levels. Maybe this is a useful framework to bring about at the session on organisations’ sustainability, governance.

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Visuals make it clear

Thanks for those visuals @Gehan ! Makes it pretty clear. We are constantly in the zone between chaos and order, now transitioning more to the right. But we will keep a piece in that innovation zone, it’s important not to let all the paint dry. Or it’s death by boredom for us.

I’m a fan of using this framework for something more

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yes, and…

… what I’ve taken from it also relates to the point about burn out. The space between chaos and order is what to cultivate to innovate. But we don’t what to expend our energy reinventing the wheel. When we have found stuff we want to maintain - shift it a little to the right - find routines and rythms - sustain it. Like a bike - if its working you want to maintain it. You don’t want to be designing new components constantly.

This is also a high octane space, it can be fast. We need to enter it to create new and innovative stuff but it is also exhausting.

How does that land?

Same observations

And shifting to the right in practice for us meant developing sustainable financial models.

Largely in two ways: commodifying what came out of our own chaos and getting paid to invent new things for other people (creating some chaos in their world).

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Transitioning from one role to the other

Thanks @Gehan for a great synthesis - I understand better where the policy perspective comes into your thinking and the theme overall. I think it was me who skewed it at some point because I thought that we can begin to identify “microclimates” and bottom up organising at the same as distilling policy implications. I realise now there is a much slower process of inquiry which can allow us more discrete and meaningful observations. Let me know if i’m wrong…

In your theme, I am most curious about how communities which nurture those enabling conditions can move on to leverage them into bigger arenas (Bernard’s tales from Galway, or the incredible potential of @Woodbinehealth ), namely how care collectives can, in time and with due iterations or healthy growth, become institutions, if that word can be used…

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Yes - both!

That’s it - “identify microclimates and bottom up organising at the same as distilling policy implications”. That is the direction I hope the theme will take us in!

Bigger arenas is another interesting dimension and I’d hope that by identifying the enabling factors this will be like knowing what ingredients are needed no matter the size of the pot! Healthy growth for wider impact would be a goal.

Looking forward to more shared insights on these topics!

@Noemi  I’m not hugely familiar with the context- I think @Gehan was referring to in the context of the Art of Hosting work- but here is an article from the originator of the concept, I believe, Dee Hock: https://thesystemsthinker.com/the-nature-and-creation-of-chaordic-organizations/

And here is a useful page on the P2PF wiki:


Quote: Chaordic organisations are:

• Are based on clarity of shared purpose and principles. • Are self-organizing and self-governing in whole and in part. • Exist primarily to enable their constituent parts. • Are powered from the periphery, unified from the core. • Are durable in purpose and principle, malleable in form and function. • Equitably distribute power, rights, responsibility and rewards. • Harmoniously combine cooperation and competition. • Learn, adapt and innovate in ever expanding cycles. • Are compatible with the human spirit and the biosphere. • Liberate and amplify ingenuity, initiative and judgment. • Are compatible with and foster diversity, complexity and change. • Constructively utilize and harmonize conflict and paradox. • Restrain and appropriately embed command and control methods.

Sounds very Edgeryders!

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