After returning from Stockholm earlier in the week, myself and Lauren had scheduled a weekend rendezvous at Royal Festival Hall in London, in the form of a meetup to discuss The Stewardship - sadly Lauren discovered it was more affordable to travel from Germany to Istanbul then returning to London.
But despite only promoting the meetup days before, the gathering at the Royal Festival Hall on a bank holiday Sunday afternoon was larger than expected. In total around 12 people turned up, some very familiar faces and others we met for the first time. Among the EdgeRyder ranks were @ArthurD and @hexayurt.
I hadn’t anticipated a format, since I thought it would be smaller but it was evident we needed it, especially after moving location 3 times trying to find a quiet enough spot to speak.
So we began with a round circle of introductions, posing the questions; Who are you? What are you currently working on? and, What does Stewardship mean to you?
With a desire to keep this succinct, I’m going to try to share only the key points and quotes that arose, but it was very rich discussion.
In response to What does Stewardship mean to you?, some interesting ideas and responses emerged - both myself and Lauren have encountered a lot of ambivalence and confusion in asking individuals to respond to it, so this conversation was refreshing for it’s engagement and effort towards a working definition.
Mamading for me summarised this ambivalence succinctly when he said “I don’t ever think about Stewardship as a discrete concept in of itself, because it is too deeply ingrained in the philosophy of what I do”.
Nick Stewart’s comment followed this “Stewardship for me aims to work against the sense of just working for today”. Which was backed by Muhammad Jaffer’s desire to act as carrier of the learnings of what we develop around Stewardship to communities we he believes could benefit.
Further punctuated by a sense of urgency expressed by Pamela, a generational proclamation that “You are the last chance at doing this better”, a comment worthy of the Anthropocene epoch we find ourselves in.
This was followed by Sophia’s introduction of her work in (“minor”) behavioural change, relating to Creative Labs - which located the work of Stewardship in the realm of mental health, as a taboo subject, but essential in working towards creating conditions for real support and mutual aid, the mind can be the only starting point for any real potential for deep change.
As expected by those of us familiar with his work, @hexayurt bought the heavier, geopolitical dimension to the table for the Stewardship debate, firstly by describing necessity of Stewardship as the “responsibility of stewards to ensure something doesn’t get fucked up by externalities, through the creation of defence models outside of what currently exists”, those externalities being; Patent Systems, Capital and the failings of “The State apparatus of stewardship”.
General consensus of those attending seemed to amass to; the state isn’t interested in investing into the capacity needed to make stewardship of assets possible. [Which might be something that @CommonFutures would contest, although the imagery of salmon swimming up stream does come to mind.]
If it were though, an interesting historical example was given of what a state engaged in skill sharing and co-working would look like. In Cuba upon the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Cuban army was instructed to disseminate knowledge and skills at speed, in the space of weeks they trained a large chunk of the population in skills needed to prevent the potential collapse of an economy without oil money.
Having not really structured an agenda for the meetup, after the round circle we decided to start from scratch by asking: What are the prime questions for routing into an understanding of Stewardship?
Given the broad base, this resulted in a scattering of opinions, references and ideas. Which included; the assertion that any idea of stewardship should encompass a birds eye view of the biopolitical, an understanding of rare earths and other depleting resources, as a prerequisite of sound judgement. Reference to the ‘Helsinki’s Design Lab’ paper on Legible Practices. Examples of pre-existing concepts of Stewardship in recent work of the past decade, specifically ‘Power to Change’, Learning Journeys, Communities of Practice and Open Space Technology.
Which branched into an interesting discussion, about the nature of Networked Institutions, organisational forms based on living systems and a sobering account of examples that have failed. Reading back over my notes this part of the discussion seems to relate directly to the Track: Stewarding Communities.
Sophia led the discussion, in recounting her experience of working through the development of a community who aimed to practice a new culture (specifically) - a group who started with shared objectives and ended in a split.
Recounting various aspects of this experience, she summarised what provoked the community’s breakdown:
- Principally it was found that the sale of skills and the practice (provoked by the desire to be sustainable) to third parties, that had been developed within the community led to a poisoning of the well.
- It wasn’t a simple antagonism that led to its collapse though, instead it was death through separation - as well as a loss of energy.
- With a particular unit of the community focusing on the commercial aspects of operation, many of the charismatic core stopped turning up to meetings that weren’t relevant to commercial activity.
- Increasing the skill base which had developed ceased due to slowed onboarding of new members and reduced sharing of skills.
- And this was it’s death, through separation.
In some ways I felt as though this experience was shared as a warning, relating directly to aspects of what it is we’re trying to do and a past experience worth acknowledging and interrogating.
The discussion opened out and some useful points were made:
- Hierarchy may not explicitly exist, but hierarchy of experience is still hierarchy.
- Competence can not be divorced from the notion of Stewardship
- Is it possible to coach tactical incompetence?
- Communities should strive towards ‘semi-permeability’ to ensure resilience over time.
- Legible organisational structures = Mousetraps for competence.
Rounded off in discussion by the proclamation that any networked institution/community should be capable of losing it’s founders in exchange for emerging competent individuals.
“Is the organisation capable of pushing out the early founders in exchange for more competent, usually younger individuals?”
The suggested cure being to ensure continued modification of roles and positions are encoded into the organisational form from the start and at each point of it’s evolution.
Towards the end of the 2 hours we spent in open discussion at Royal Festival Hall, we found ourselves at a point where we could really get into the meat of the subject at hand. Through a comparison of what we’d discussed that felt like Stewardship at a guttural level and that which certainly didn’t, we took a stab at a working definition/framing, led by Mamading.
Stewardship manifests as the gardening of an ecology. In so much that it is not curation or archiving. Stewardship can only relate to that which is active - it acknowledges and works towards the preservation and growth of use value, exclusively.
I hope that I’ve conveyed that in a way that can be understood clearly, any refinement or active move to elucidate it further is appreciated. Rebuttals are also welcome.
In the closing of the meetup, this definition suggested to us a powerful tactic for advancing our understanding. The critical question being:
“How do you identify long term existing examples of things in the wild that have stewardship implicitly embedded in them?”
Now in order to grasp the core of this question think about gardening allotments and begin looking around you for the ancestors of Stewardship, because it’s likely there is a deep gulf of understanding between us and them.