What Protocol for the individual inside a collective?

What Protocol for the individual inside a collective?

This article is my preparation for one of the sessions at OpenCare Village: Infrastructure for autonomy
Through analyse of some of the structures I’m or was part of, I want to set a parameter of personal care. I think I will have more questions then answers at the end of the ride, but lets still try to make a fruitful read.

First, you have to know i was diagnosed with mild borderline personality disorder a couple of years ago. While the most extreme outrages are now under control i still can have anxiety attacks that will block me, for a couple of days and i will be unreliable to contact or connect with. Knowing that most of my job is organizing events, being a project manager in small or larger groups, makes it quite a challenging. I learned to organize my life in such way that other people are bothered the least possible way and can enjoy my highs as much as possible. Some people in my entourage understand very well this liability, but in formal or new structures it is sometimes difficult to be at ease.

Through my reflection, I came across organic, collectively growing and peer to peer organization as the most suitable for myself as a person but also for people in need of a more humane approach inside organizations. In absolute terms, I see these collective entities as a machine fed by every participant regardless of the level of energy they put in, but giving back to a general audience: the collective or even broader: society. They are well engineered by core members but give place for anybody else to check in and out without to much of a change of creating conflicts, something I personally can quite difficultly manage. It’s not ‘the end by al means’, but succeeding the goal while the people inside are respected as an entity. Because why would we be frustrated if at the end collectively the goal succeeded even if the energy wasn’t spread evenly between the participants. True: it sounds less engaging, but it opens a world post-individuality, where you don’t need strong individual leaders all the time, but an organic set of connections between a larger group believing in the higher goal altogether.

In the next couple of paragraphs, I will present to you a couple of organizations I had the pleasure to work with, create or follow up. Each with their own structures, positive sides and biases. I will try to speak from a personal angle without criticizing any other member as I find it an important thinking exercise to help build the structure were within the people can thrive and not criticize the members for the way you want the collective to be.

Soft Revolution / Pic Nic The Streets

These were my first experiences with organic organizations. The first was an artist collective drenched in the Do It Yourself spirit created by myself and a bunch of friends. We organized festivals, created a board game, wrote a book and made some meta-expositions. Through almost ten years of working together we learned from each other flaws and only worked on something when it was suitable for the whole group. What kept us going was our kindness towards each other, our understanding of the human being. But when we arrived at the crossroad between continuing an amateurish journey or professionalizing our collective we chose the second one. Not knowing the stressful implication, it had within the group while we all were stepping into our professional work environment (we started our collective when we were 16-17 till we were 24-25), we couldn’t deliver the last couple of installations and had to dismantle our collective. I still hold great strengths and knowledge from this time and use it as important building stone for any other organization. Understanding each other flaws and not judging them but embracing them is something I would love to share with anybody else. We are always eager for perfection and showing the best. But if to get to that best, you have to care less about the other then it hasn’t any meaning for me. It’s not an absolutism, but a constant work in balance.

Another story happening around the same time goes with Pic Nic The Streets, a citizen movement started in 2012 that wanted to fight for more public space by picnicking on the main boulevard Anspach. For a couple of years, we organized systematic pic nicks, resulting in a carfree central lane, but also in spin-offs like Canal Park for a big park at Porte De Ninove and Cyclo Guerilla for more bike lanes. It was a thriving time for City activists but ended up in a lot of ego-fights and underlying conflicts between activist groups that maybe wanted the same, but had a nuanced approach that resulted in conflicts. I was really saddened about this rivalry between people wanting to look for each other and better the world. Sometimes it became a toxic environment where people found it more important to be right then to care for his or her fellow activist. That is where my enthusiasm for classic activism stopped. But luckily for me there were lots of alternatives.

POC21 / Edgeryders

In the summer of 2015, one of my projects (Vélo M2) was selected for the 5-week innovation camp in an abandoned castle near Paris. I wasn’t prepared at all for the mind-blowing experience that would impact the way I think and live from then on. POC21 was a temporary place where every day around 100 people lived and worked together around 13 projects. The symbiosis that occurred there was one of kind. I think the biggest reason of their success was the creation of an immediate trust between all participants. We were into it for the same narrative and will do it together. By creating a taskboard with everything that was needed to do to keep the machine rolling without taking account that everybody gave equal amount of energy it created another way of working. Not guild trapping you in doing it, but giving you the space for the things you wanted to do. Of course it wasn’t always as perfect and I think the architects of the project had a lot of conflicts, but almost all the time it occurred in an open discussion. There was the space to doubt, to fail, to negotiate the coming or not of the president of France, …

Having met really great people at POC21 I came in touch with Edgeryders, where I started writing occasionally for. While it wasn’t at a first glance the most intuitive platform, I loved the vibe coming from the comments while writing pieces. No easy comments, but moments of thoughtful sharing. I was invited for LOTE4 and continued to engage into the conversation. The word ‘conversation’ is for me the best way to describe what Edgeryders is, a constant conversation with fellow humans about deeper subjects. I know how hard some of the Edgeryders core members fight for the organization, but what I always loved about the structure is the easy switcheroo between being active and passive in the organization. I curated an event around care at Huis VDH for them and learned much about the organization as about my own skills. Without any problem, I was able to switch to being a passive member again while feeling no pressure to do more or be more involved. That organic feel is something I really appreciate. I understand those core members are an important asset, but giving the opportunity for others to wander around inside the collective is a great way to care for our members.

CIN / Vélo M2

Where the first example was a background introduction and the second a more or less ideal situation, the third kind of organizations are the one I search the most answers for. Civic Innovation Network is a platform where I’m now an occasional ‘scenarist’ for and Vélo M2 is a project I created with a couple of engineers. Both have a massive potential, both are now connected through a possible fund I helped creating, but in both I can’t find my ideal place as an individual. I asked myself multiple times why I wasn’t able to fit the narrative. When for example I got more and more involved in CIN my anxieties where getting higher and less manageable. CIN is achieving great things, but every time I’m hesitating in what my place is in it. The demanded structure at Vélo M2 with weekly meetings and monthly working sessions made me feel trapped and again scared. And then the question occurred: in an environment where Open Source, collectiveness but also growth is a key feature is it the individual that needs to adapt towards the collective or is it the collective that has to be flexible towards each individual it encounters. For growing and likewise still learning entities it looks like it’s important to create long-lasting mechanisms, structures that helps stabilize the organization for a fruitful future.

But then the ethical questions arise, what do we do with those that can’t, or are less able to manage a structured, framed context and need the flexibility. Is it a task for the collective to look after them, to simply understand them, and loose maybe some momentum because of the lacking stability or is it the individual that needs to understand or made clear what he or he can’t do? In the couple of years I’m struggling with my anxieties I often chose the second one. For example at my main job at Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival it took me almost three years to create the right balance between creating my own agenda following my ups and downs, trying to explain that to my colleagues and knowing that in the two week period of the festival I need to fight ANY possible anxiety because of the fact that I manage 150 guests for that period of time. At Fermenthings, a shop I own with a friend, before starting I gave him one task that I would not work on from minute one: it was paperwork. I don’t understand the logic of the bureaucracy and it simply blocks me to work on anything else. I know it would be a stumbling-block for the whole organisation. Thanks to a lot of attempts and fails I’m starting to understand better what my role can be. I love to create, to enthusiasm people and structure vision, but I need organized and stable people around me to compensate my lack of consistency.

I felt so often overwhelmed and helpless trying to understand myself. I would have loved to find people, feeling the same struggles or questions willing to create the right protocol, so maybe through this OpenCare Village festival we could open the discussion about care of the individual inside the collective. I didn’t expect to write such a personal paper, and for those I made unease with it, I apologies. But my only hope through this is a better understanding of each others ‘condition humain’ and maybe we would find collective answers for the individuals through this mean.


this is my introduction for the infrastructure for autonomy, if somebody could help clean out the grammatical errors that would be great, ping @noemi


Yannick I found I tool that is great for errors called grammarly, check it out!


Wow. @yannick - I see the amount of self learning and self understanding it takes to be able to have this sort of discussion. I am having these sorts of discussions with many of the people I work with these days. I often find myself during my low days ignoring people entirely (it’s especially different when I’m not needed to be face to face which often affects my mood and ability to engage.) It’s been a liability for much of the way I’ve organized my projects and I haven’t found a good way to manage. It’s my ability to get really passionate and excited that energizes and instigates the communities I participate in, and then when I drop off the map during my low times things fall apart. For most of my life I’ve taken this as a personality flaw, some thing I need to work on (drugs, meditation, diet/working out etc) and my loops keep happening, my projects fall apart, and what hurts me the most is the feeling that I keep letting people down.

Not sure what I’m saying other than, I’d love to discuss the individual within organizations - we’ve designed much of our societal systems assuming rational actors working at their best. How would organizations looked when it takes people with mood swings and the jaded and the in progress and and in mind?

Sometimes it’s tough for me to realize that other people don’t have minds like mine. A lack of empathy because I have no idea what it would be like to not be so bimodal.

Perhaps an aside… I once went to 5 different therapists and they all thought I needed some work, one claimed I was bipolar and should be on drugs. So I went to a spiritual/life coach/philosopher/trained therapist dude, he said my energy was too high and I wasn’t grounded enough to be able to channel it well - hence the highs and the crashing. I worked with him for a while - much of what I worked on in those days was to be grounded and accept what was happening without desire for any other states. I became quite neutral and my loops ended. I also felt inanimate, the whole point of lithium was to avoid those states. So I stopped and here we are in loopy days again. Hugs!



PS, yeah, I know the Vélo M2 folk!

And I hear you about paperwork, for some reason I often leave grants and money on the table just because I can’t spreadsheet. Yeesh. And then I wonder what I do have to offer when all the things that look like “work” are so tough for me. Makes me feel guilty and lazy sometimes.


This is completely recognizable! I think the key here is a sort of interdependence resilience, organizations need as many boosters as they need people that structurize the thing. The importance is the openness wherein this kind of dialogue is possible, and at the moment we still have it quite difficult to discuss this kind of behavioural threats just because of the fact we always thing it is a flaw that can be fixed, and other are much more perfect


I only now found time to read you carefully @yannick, I am learning a lot. Thank you.

In my work in just Edgeryders - one of the networks you write about I find a mix of interesting thing and day to day drudgery. The latter is everything that comes with building something lasting and ensuring things with potential, high energetic ideas and people take off or multiply. All this while searching for yourself as an activist and human.
Got my own ways of pressuring myself - like you and @bilal, but have been staying with it.
I have to say though, it doesnt automatically follow that the organisation gets the best of me. It only gets the best out of me/ us as long as it works for the individual. My hunch is that there is a time of serving it (compromising, daily efforts put into it, “staying with it” as @alberto likes to say) and a time of it serving you (in your words, this is “the collective looking after the individual”). It the long haul, it probably happens in cycles, and if the foundations are pretty solid it should work out somehow. With due failure and personal disapointments etc. @Gehan do you know anything about this?

Just a few additions:

  • Why do you feel you don’t fit the CIN narrative? What’s the narrative? Is it because many of the things you start require you to followup?

  • I was at an OpenState camp just a few weeks ago (blogged about it here) and I get what you say about being given the space- self organisation onsite its something they do gracefully.

  • About Edgeryders:

Thank you for reminding us this. Always good to read it coming from somewhere other than the organisation.


@yannick - thought provoking post. I’m going to ping Eta @nicole who is moderating the panel for us - I imagine she’ll have thoughts to contribute to this thread.

I like this term - it feels useful. The issues you’ve highlighted are fundamental to creating organisations that generate health as well as other forms of value. I’m really curious about the link between your involvement in CIN & anxiety level. I’m guessing there are clues there that relate to the theme I’m exploring - the conditions that generate health within our organisations. It sounds like these conditions are generating ill health.
I see this as connected to the issue of balancing the needs of the individuals and the needs of the collective/group/org and collaborating around strategies so that a broader range of these are met while at the same time its true that its not often feasible to meet all needs at all times. Greater attention paid to needs as a normal part of our operations would be one way forward.
I’m also interested in how we might create organisational structures that are much more capable of functioning around individuals ability to function. The organisation I work for receives many referrals who are skilled and talented people who aren’t able to hold down paid work because of health issues of various kinds. Yet often what they want more than ‘help’ is contexts where they feel their skills are valued, where they can contribute when they are able and find support when they are not. Often this means not having someone trying to ‘fix you’ and perpetually asking if you’re okay which can just draw your attention to how ‘not ok’ you’re feeling. At one point we considered implementing a badge system - to indicate to others our internal state - a kind of ‘leave me alone - its enough to know you’re there’.
But we haven’t done that and we are only able to take people as referrals or as volunteers which feels like it falls short.
Thank you for bringing such a personal and interesting dimension to this discussion. Looks like the panel discussion will be an engaging one.

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Mm I think that’s sort of how the edgeryders org works when it is working well.

thanks for the follow-up @noemi, it’s more about informal responsibility or unwritten responsibility. I’m not good at seeing every consequence for my involvement and sometimes I’m surprised that the ideas I have work and then I don’t know what to do with it afterwards. I’m starting to have more conscience about the impact my ideas can have so I create safety protocols. Like for the next scenario, I’m writing for CIN I will incorporate already a possible person who can follow-up if the idea makes it to a reality. I have a difficulty understanding unwritten rules. If you don’t tell me exactly what I can’t do that, or I need to do something that way I will first try to bend the rules, to understand if they are valuable or not

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this is completely it. I can do massive workloads of analyses, connections and opportunity creation on short time, but I can’t do it regularly on a day to day basis. And i feel often that the second one is seen as the logical necessity for work and the first one a great extra, but only valued as working every day is satisfied.


i see. Guess it doesnt help that networked environments are not so good at following up with rigor. It’s seldom that you find processes in place to channel great energy coming in after a project recruitment, or an engagement campaign and so on.

Also, professionalization is a big issue because you get to have a weird and unique combination of skills that I am not sure how can be translated in a proper working environment, bankable as a business card etc.