Summarising unMonastery Meetup #2 - Work, Lore and the Future

Agenda was:

  • Co-Design Workshop / London - 16th of March
  • Online Content Production / Who and When?
  • The unMonastery Pre-Event late March in Matera
  • Internal Pre-Call Application  

In attendance were: 

Ben Vickers / @benvickers_

Bembo Davies / @bembodavies

Jay Springett / @thejaymo

Jan-C. Borchardt / @jancborchardt

Ola Moller / @olamoller

During last Sunday’s meetup we managed to cover all points in the agenda but did so in a slightly roundabout manner, this was mainly due to the intersecting nature of each area. We talked about and expanded on a number of areas, taking as our initial starting point the internal model of what unMonastery is - we discussed work in relation to the Monastery analogy, we discussed project proposals, we also began to devise the structure for both the London co-design session and the initial Matera pre-event in relation to what’s useful for driving the project forward.

Work and unMonastery; two issues raised and frequently questioned about the nature of unMonastery is it’s religious subtext and the unease that this creates for some people, the second issue is the risk of becoming a model for the 21st Century workhouse - these are issues that must be addressed early on and ‘work’ provides an appropriate axis for discussing both. 

When the name originally evolved at the first lote unconference, it was quickly adopted as a useful parallel on the basis that Monasteries have long served their local communities without having thier value questioned, it is highly unlikely that anyone would suggest the demolition of a Monastery, since they seemingly provide a form of value that is not easily quantifiable. This notion of unquantifiable value seemed to us the perfect context in which to work, since so many of those in EdgeRyders were doing work that wasn’t easily translated to institutional and policy frames and thus rather than reshape our working lives to such standards, unMonastery arose as a space in which we might be capable of socially reproducing our work outside of standardised frameworks, thus unMonastery could provide us with a collectively owned filter for the necessary translation of the kind of work we do. 

But there is risk here, many of us actively self manage our own exploitation, spending upwards of 16 hours a day working, with little remuneration - as highlighted in the EdgeRyders guide to the future. This way of working commonly leads to burnout for the most effective amongst us, it is also at risk of creating hierarchies between those that are perceived to ‘work the hardest’ and the ‘work shy’, we want to avoid this. We discussed this and considered that whatever the internal culture of unMonastery may be, this is something we must face head-on from the start. Our conclusion at this point is the 8-8-8 Day; 8 Hours of Work or Service, 8 Hours of Worship or Relaxation, 8 Hours of Sleep. Drawing from the narrative of past Monasterian activities to establish a healthy structured working environment that allows everyone to live and work effectively - this will be written into all future lore as to ensure the working practices and rights of all unMonasterians. Beyond the question of individual working practices, Jan-Christopher raised a key point that touches the core of the unMonastery model, in stating: 

“one of the big problems I think is the separation of work and life. Living spaces are dead during the day, work spaces are dead during the night. Even co-working spaces are mostly just working alone, together. It’s really important for people to work in one space (ex. office) together; on one thing to be able to concentrate.”

This question of space, will be set as a core theme in future discussion regarding the development of unMonastery.

From here though the logical question to ask can only be “What work?” “What will the unMonastery actually do?” - which puts a strong spotlight on the projects present state, we have gone from idea > loose framework > public facing web presence > ??? > Reality in Matera September 2013. Discussing this during the meetup it became clear that in order to move the project forwards and better translate our intentions to our future hosts, the initial pre-call for application to the EdgeRyders network needs to go live, now. 

In order to structure this initial call there needs to be a structure for what we’re asking and how this can be fed into the reality of the project. So we decided the initial application should require some form of proposal and to fit these proposals within the current unMonastery framework it should be split between a number of areas. 

Those areas for the moment will be defined as InternalInterface and Outreach - with a view to accepting a number of proposals for each area. Interpretation for what each area might be constituted by at this point is open to interpretation by applicants. Internal: might relate to an urban permaculture project focused on food security for the unMonastery, equally it may focus on creating a methodology or an open source social template for reproduction of the unMonastery in the future. Interface: could take as it’s primary concern local integration, perhaps in the form of a mapping exercise of social assets in Matera or a series of convivial events designed to better bridge interaction between unMonasterians and the local population. Outreach: would explicitly be focused on the kinds of projects that will be enacted outside of the unMonastery during our time there. 

These proposals will provide the necessary content for the unMonastery website, that in turn can attract others to the project and keep things moving productively prior to launch in September. How we manifest this on the site is still an open question - using Github as a workspace for illustrating development was one suggestion, taking on the EdgeRyders mission report model could be another. 

All of this is being fed into the shape of the London Co-Design session on the 16th of March and the Pre-Launch event in Matera on the 22nd and 23rd of March. At this point the intention is to use MethodKit for the London session, taking Internal, Interface and Outreach as three separate areas to map. The second half of the day will be focused on future implications of unMonastery - doing risk analysis and modelling for future scenarios. The Matera pre-event will be covered in a follow up to this post before the end of the week. 

Clear actionables from the meetup are set out below, feel free to edit and contribute to them. Thanks to everyone that attended and see you again next week! 



  • Create a map and begin plotting municipalities, other projects and allies in relation to the geography of unMonastery in Matera.


  • Refine the existing pledge form
  • Put out the pre-call on the 28th to EdgeRyders and others close to the project
  • Form a group to peer-review each application

Future Coordination:

  • Calendar for unMonastery Events
  • Create mailing list to keep everyone on the same page
  • Meetups every Sunday, shortened to 1 hour so everyone comes at the same time

Preparing for the change

Sounds like you had a really productive discussion, in particular acknowledging the challenges which are inherent and endemic to many self-organised activities. Think the 8-8-8 day is worth prototyping. Maybe starting off with getting people to storyboard what they would imagine an 8-8-8 day looking like for them. If you can’t get a one day immersion in an actual monastery, then maybe immersion for a weekend prototyping the unMonastery approach (working & living together). Giving people the chance to experience the change before September seems to be really important, as no doubt the first few days of living the unMonastery way will be psychologically intense for people, as it’s a new way of living (remember your first day at school, your first flatshare, etc). The mapping of assets that you’ve planned is another really good way to prepare for this.

I think NASA does this preparation with astronauts to help them cope with being out in space, but that example might be a bit too extreme to learn from! When I was in Berlin, I discovered Palomar 5. They organised an innovation camp where people worked & live together for a couple of weeks to prototype the future of work. Something that fascinated me was how they define “on” and “off” spaces, the former being where people can come together to work & socialise and the latter being safe spaces, where people could go for intimacy, either to be by themselves to reflect or to work on something. Just my pennysworth!

The unMonastery Rule?

Funny, I never thought unMonasteries would have a Rule (like the Benedictine Rule), shaping the daily life of unMonasterians with a common rhythm! Have you considered an alternative approach, which is to divide the unMonasterian’s day into:

  • community service time (doing the dishes, gardening, cleaning the toilet etc. – work that is not necessarily exciting but needs to be done and is done by Rule, i.e. you are ordered to do it and you do it no question asked)
  • socialization time (for example: everyone must take meals together, again by Rule): compulsory, but not much of it. Its purpose is preventing people from drifting off into rabbitholes (so spiritual care) and promoting the exchange of ideas.
  • your own project time (completely free).

The self-exploitation drive should resolve itself, because in the uM there is no economic incentive to it. The community service is what puts most of the bread on the table, and that is equally shared; food, lodging etc. are  also equally shared. If someone goes into overdrive you can probably treat that as a mystical phase… even though that person must still do community service and socialization time!

the 8-8-8 concept is interesting, i found working on phsyical tasks like cooking, cleaning, gardening and building 4 hours straight is not a problem, 4 hours first half day, 4 hours second half. but for more cognitive work, or learning even, concentration span is more like an hour, a review, an hour a break etc. if people were working separatley but together time for quick peer review or ‘unloading’ might be helpful.

not sure alberto, think your idea is good about everybody splitting their day into chores, work, socialise etc. half of me thinks this is just healthy and even if people arnt good at the practical stuff they should just do it anyway (washing, chores, cooking) and if others are not confident in working on other projects they should be encouraged to give the same amount of time a day to it as everyone else, thereby building confidence. so many things cannot be predicted, i know if time is allocated to projects stuff does get done.

but could there be an issue of mis matching skills to work? i dont think it would do any harm to put everybody in the same boat, but also where people have particular talents or drive, should it be homogenised? some people are brilliant but frustrated by simple tasks, if there is a community then there are options open, do they all learn to work the same, or do they have different roles?  those are not really direct questions, there are so many possibilities, i imagine some of these things can only be ironed out in the prensence of the project.

1 Like

Jessy: with a pinch of salt

Jessy, we don’t know each other well – I should have added that, when I propose a rule, it is always to be a flexible one. The uM has an unAbbott (or -Abbess), that can apply his or her wisdom to any individual situation, mediate conflicts and reduce time dispersed in squabbling. The Rule (unRule?) is just there as a baseline.

also about spaces, i was going to say its probably pretty imperative to have a meditation space that everyone understands its function. quiet spaces and alone time will be absolutley necessary for some unmonks to function.