Self-Org: 2011 - 2012

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Rolling Discussion

Marsha's open letter 22_04_11:

Dear All,

Happy Easter. Spring as sprung and the weather is marvelous. And yet, I've been feeling the heat in other ways and wanted to share two things with you. Apologies for this lengthy post.

First, I was chatting to an artist friend the other day and she was smitten by my description of the HUNT trial. She thought it sounded great. And then she asked. "How does it relate to Critical Practice--assuming, that is, CP is really about self-organization?" I must confess, I was stumped. Is CP, at heart, about self-organization? And if so, how does the Hunt mesh with this?

Second, I sense I'm not the only one who found writing the proposal/response for the Market of Values difficult. Things got rather hot under the collar. There was terrific effort but it didn't feel like we were working together... It was hard to know why certain decisions were being made (including decisions that I made) and how they chimed with CP's aims and objectives. I think this often happens when we're writing. And I would like to believe there are other ways of co-authoring...ways more sensitive to the values that shape how CP comes together and works, as well as ways more attentive to the needs, dispositions and priorities of all those involved.

Following Madrid, I made a commitment to quit griping about aspects of CP that bothered me but I didn't feel could be addressed in our meetings. There are, of course, many wonderful things about our cluster. But in the absence of any formalized space to consider CP's micropolitics, it seems there are only three ways one can "deal" with their affects: (1) internalize; (2) cathart; (3) opt out/leave.

Witness the fact we never speak about why people leave CP. Sometimes, they give reasons/excuses; sometimes they just don't turn up. Speaking with some of them one-on-one, I've observed it's often because they're upset about how things are going, don't feel comfortable expressing these feelings and find it's just easier to...go. This has been a source of sadness for me and other CP members. We've struggled to find ways to address it. We're still struggling...

I should clarify: This is not a "Dear John" letter. I'm not leaving, nor am I having a CP-specific crisis. Nothing I'm saying here is new. We've talked around these issues many times before - at the pub, while in transit, etc. Or rather, we've talked about why we can't talk about certain things... Every once in a while, something related to self-organization/micropolitics is raised in a meeting and we agree it's important, but for whatever reason, I/we fail to follow up. I'm hoping this time will be different... actually, for me, it has to be.

I've tried to accept that we prioritize sensitive self-organization through our activities but have come to the conclusion we're kidding ourselves if we think this is the case. Or rather, it's not enough...It just doesn't (usually) happen in ways that are sufficiently generative, meaningful and sustainable to make a qualitative difference to (my) experience of the cluster's self-organization. (Though others may feel differently.) There are issues around accountability and work/resource distribution. Urgency takes over in the throes of production; we react instead of act. For sure, we get the job done; we're good at that! But at what price?

One way of engaging this question is to avoid it. Sometimes we succumb to historical amnesia and tell ourselves things were great when they weren't. But this sidesteps a core issue: the social contract through which we come together and sustain our co-authorship. And so I am asking: When was the last time we collectively discussed how we want to be/do CP? (Our meeting at the Cafeteria Dominguez in Jan 2011 was incredible! I'm just sorry more people weren't there.) If CP is modeling an alternative to corrupt, opaque, inequitable, impersonal, exploitative, cumbersome, hierarchical, bureaucratic, pork-barrelled, etc. forms of organization, what does this entail? What does it mean?

I'm aware we're betwixt and between at the moment. There are projects on the horizon but they remain unconfirmed. (We are waiting.) This makes it a good time to reflect and renew.

In this spirit, I would suggest we reengage self-organziation as the nuts-n-bolts of CP.

However, I'm also aware we're busy people as well as dispersed. (This is not an excuse. To be frank, I would argue that if we don't have the time/commitment to attend to CP's self-organization and self-governance, we don't have time for CP. And yet, it's hard to contradict the empirical evidence that life's hectic and we all move around a lot.) I believe it's incredibly important we try and make this working group as inclusive and sustainable as possible. Hence I'd like to experiment with an online format (not so very different from what we've been doing in other working groups)--something that takes place primarily on the wiki and meets once a quarter face-to-face for some kind of workshop or event. I think seasonal meetings are important for continuity and building knowledge in common. Hence I propose we have one in late May/early June. It could perhaps be coupled with the picnic.

This practice of engaging CP's self-organization has a strong historical precedent. If you check out the old wiki, you'll note we used to have CP workshops on a semi-regular basis. It's time to bring some form of them back.

Reviewing the three workshops in 2006 - 2007 is a good place to start. I propose we read Workshop 1 over the next ten days (April 22 - May 1) and discuss online. Please join the conversation by commenting below. If you need a way in, you might consider the following: What interests/surprises you about this workshop? How might it be relevant today? Or you may be more interested/comfortable responding directly to this open letter. Or perhaps there's something else on your heart/mind...
I also found reading the self-organiziation page useful. I was struck by a line...under "Working Groups" where it says: "Self Organisation - we will all coordinate this." Sadly, this hasn't happened, but perhaps it still could. In the interim, I'll facilitate by following Metod's example and sending out occasional prompts by email.
Yours in self-organization,

Metod 26. 4. 2011

I am not going to spend too many words of appreciation regarding Marsha's open letter. But I would like to say thank you for poking under the ribs in good faith to efficiently self-organize in the future.

It is known that unless one does what you did Marsha (pokes), people quickly default to normal passive engagement (though I am sure that will not be sufficient still) – passive engagement is an oxymoron. And Marsha I am glad you have poked. I suppose we all need to be reminded of our commitments now and then to keep alert, of the commitments we pledge on every single meeting. Of course the empirical fact that we are all super busy, supper committed here and there, dispersed, etc. Though it isn't to say one should prioritize CP over other exciting layers in life. But, as Marsha and many others say, one needs to stand beside the the commitment one does.

I too commit and then dissolve in the ether of time and energy shortage. I have no excuses. It is the laziness, and poor priority management. And I believe that goes for the majority of us. It is easy to hide in the group, it is easy to be carried around on the hands of few members and then collectively harvest the crops (as we say in Slovenia). (I have done this in the past and in fact we all have at some point.)

And this comes at a price. Because we have not (yet) committed to crediting individuals within the group (and I stand fervently behind that!!) there is little reason why one would do more than the other if the incentive is equal (of course we find value in a myriad of things but still). I am not saying we should create a pyramid structure and reward by things done (almost hourly). And besides who would sit on the throne? Would we perhaps take European Union's model where each country presides for 6 months, where each individual would "rule" the group?? I think not!

Parade publication is a prime example. Of course Neil is legitimately credited as an editor as had driven the publication from the beginning to end, negotiating with Chelsea, then with us, then with designers, and again with us... You were in the crossfire for months. But you Marsha contributed a great deal to the publication too and is credited among the rest of us (CP).

I think the appreciation is often hidden within our cluster, tucked away in a polite smile of facial expression. Internal politics and micropolitics are so delicate within the CP that we are afraid of offending whoever. Although I like British way of "business", politeness drives me up the wall, drives me beyond mad, furious in fact, because I know it is largely hypocritical. Are we capable being more direct? Are we allowing ourselves voicing our thoughts without hurting others? Should others loosen up and take the criticism open minded?

What happened in the Cafteria Dominguez was not only incredible, it was healthy and productive "war" between the three of us (Scott, Marsha and me). At the end we had something to show, we had resolutions. If you want to know what has been debated in those 7 hours here are two examples: Membership (we should strictly use it in practice) and Aims among other things. Although I too wish more of you would witness the crossfire it would be ultimately different if there were more of us meeting.

Although I don't see CP purely as an open-organization exercise, or mastery of it, I see it as a tool of engagement, an ethos as Neil describes. But if there is little action and mostly reactionary engagement we fail in open-organization. Marsha I support the Workshop 1 and propose we start in May 2011!


Cinzia 28. 4. 2011

Dear all,

Marsha's discomfort and energy are both very precious. The discomfort has deep roots - not only in CP, but in the history of self-organizing groups. It was good to look back at the first OO workshop. It was good to be reminded where these ideas come from. Marsha and I were both at the amazing Workshop 2. It doesn't come across on the page, but I do remember clearly from going back to the Open Organizations's website that the guidelines were elaborated to safeguard 'members' from the pitfalls of 'spontaneous' structures that appear in non-burocrartic groups. These are inevitably shaped by personal qualities, unacknowledged power currents, conflicts, etc. I copy the introduction here:

The structures that organizations typically use for decision-making are closed: individuals are unaccountable, abuses of power are hard to prevent and knowledge is hoarded. The goal of this project is to explain how to set up and maintain transparent, accountable and truly participative communities. The desire for open organizations stems from a widespread dissatisfaction not only with the formal power structures found in governments and corporations, but also with the informal structures found in many voluntary and activist groups. Informal structures are sometimes created intentionally, but more often they appear 'by default'; since they are hidden, and often personal, they are very difficult to challenge, or even to identify and discuss. This is one of the major causes of conflict in activist and volunteer groups. It often takes up a lot of time and energy at the expense of the ideals pursued and projects undertaken, and has a demoralising effect on individual groups and on the movements they are involved in. Open Organizations is one of many initiatives that attempt to propose solutions to this problem. It is focused on elaborating a concrete framework for action.

In a way, good organizational practices should be there to counterbalance the micropolitics that we cannot discuss. It is fair and natural that we cannot avoid them, unpack them or be free from them ... as much as we would all like to be better!!!

I agree with Marsha: it would be good to have seasonal meetings to keep our core organizational practices fresh and focused. Metod, I think that these should be prepared and practical, so I would think May is a bit too early. I also think that fortnightly meetings are too heavy a commitment for most of us.

I would like to propose - to extend Marsha's injection of energy - that, instead of trying to duscuss 'things', we each suggest possible strategies to counterpoint the difficulties we perceive, and set up a series of PRACTICAL workshops to foster those suggestions as the cluster's organizational culture. Making use of the OO guidelines (or other sources, if you are already aware of them) as a starting point would be good (in line with aim and objective 4) and avoiding wastes of resources like re-inventing the wheel!

If you don't think it will make the next meeting too long and rich, I suggest that in the next meeting we start proposing possible strategies and workshops to develop in the future.

I would also like to include in this conversation a sentence that Neil included in his last e-mail (I hope I'm not taking this out of context, Neil ...):

I would just add one thought, I am of the opinion that not every functional element (project) that runs, or ran within CP - like PARADE for example - needs to be "about" self organisation. For me self organisation is an ethic that suffuses CP, not a doctrine that dominates all its functional elements (projects). Many fuctional elements, seem to have taken many different organisational forms.

This is absolutely true! I think that this suffusing ethics should be nurtured - particularly after large, demanding projects, like Parade. We should also find ways of harversting some of these different organisational forms that have appeared in practice - in the making of projects. I shall put my thinking hat on, and start an agenda fo next week!



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