Practicing participatory citizenship at Space for Life

Four nature and science institutions, the Biodôme, the Insectarium, the Jardin Botanique and the Planétarium , are collectively known as Espace pour la vie (Space for life). The largest natural science museum complex in Canada, Espace pour la vie is committed to protecting biodiversity and to citizen participation.

In celebration of Montreal 375th anniversary, Space for Life will be renewing the Biodôme, building a Glass Pavilion for the Jardin Botanique, and metamorphosizing the Insectarium. To prepare for an international architecture competition for these three projects, Space for Life invited percolab to plan, design, and host a process, in the form of creative and participatory workshops, that engaged citizens to reflect on the scope of the new projects and to actively participate in co-designing what could be through experimentation and prototyping.

Percolab participated in every step of the process from co-designing the invitation process with the institution’s staff, to hosting and harvesting the events, and delivering four separate reports, one for each project, in addition to overall reflection to support the institution in further developing its capacity to engage in citizen participation.

Photos by Mathieu Rivard

Here is what some citizens had to say after participating:

Insectarium:

“This is an excellent example of participation.” “I had fun!”

Biodome:

“It was over too fast.”
“My involvement was constructive.”

Glass Pavilion:

“I had fun and felt like I was contributing.”
“This was not a redundant experience.”
“I developed a fondness for this project and I want to make sure it is well implemented.”

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Cultural neighbourhoods

Montreal is a city brimming with culture and urban cultural spaces. To consolidate and showcase Montréal’s creative entities the City of Montreal has adopted a Cultural Quarters vision for itself around what it means to be a “cultural quarter.” As part of this process the City of Montreal mandated percolab to develop and design a one-day workshop (held twice) for managers and professionals working on this idea, either at city-centre or in individual boroughs. The objective of the day was to explore what it means to work on the notion of cultural quarters, share what is already being done, cross-pollinate ideas across the city, and generate an open and collaborative space of possibility.

percolab designed the day and hosted participants through a project sharing workshop, an Open Space session, creative brainstorming, and a reflection circle, all the while capturing the day in a “mini-book” containing photos, a visual harvest, and process documentation.

Participants worked together so that Cultural Quarters may become a source of vitality for the city of Montréal.

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The Art of (Inter)action – Art of Hosting Montreal

Art of Hosting is an international community of practitioners who engage teams and groups in action for the common good. It is about working better in complexity. Trainings in the Art of Hosting (AOH) have taken place on all continents in recent years.

percolab felt the potential and the importance of connecting Quebec with this practice and methodologies to develop new ways to collaborate, work and innovate.


We have supported four calls thus far. Each time a local collective is formed. For the first two training we were joined by three international friends from the AOH international community: Toke Moeller of Denmark who introduced  AOH to the European Commission, Chris Corrigan a seasoned practitioner in British Columbia and Tuesday Ryan-Hart who has vast experience in the application of AOH tools and methods in a large scale, in Columbus Ohio. Together we co-created a three-day training in January 2013 at Espace Lafontaine in the heart of Montreal and then a second one in October 2013 at the site of Expo ’66 and a third one Art of Commoning in November 2014 at the Montreal Planetarium in collaboration with Space for Life. The most recent training was in There is No Planet B in collaboration with the Biology Field Station of the University of Montreal.

Over 300 persons have participated in the trainings and practiced the art of group processes.


Here is what one organization has to say about the impact of the training:

This meeting has multiplied our capacity to enter into movement with practitioner-ing in line with the culture of openness, sharing, experimentation and learning emerging from our organization. It also helped to accelerate our collaborative practice internally and within our CA. AOH allows anchored authenticity.

Monique Chartrand, DG and Raquel Penalosa Board Member, Communautique

Read what others have written about their experience:

Also, we reflected on The Joy of a bilingual event that welcomes both languages ​​in Montreal and the benefits of staying in a role of learner in The Lost Practice of Apprenticeship.

For more information on upcoming AoH trainings in Montréal and activities of the community of practice, visit the web site:  Art of Hosting Montréal.

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How do we communicate about the commons?

Gathering clarity on the multi-facetted concept of the commons and commoning in our modern world may seem quite a task.  Especially since we want to keep things open, evolving and generative rather than simplistic, and specific. How then do we go about communicating the commons with others?

This challenge was what provoked Alain Ambrosi and Franco Iacomella  (with Frédérique Sultan) to organise a side event  at the Economic and the Commons Conference in Berlin in May 2013 on on the topic of Communicating the Commons.  percolab was invited to animate the 1.5 day event. Coming from a tradition of Art of Hosting we like to call it hosting an event – especially since we find this in line with the spirit of commoning.

We found ourselves at the inspiring BetaHaus coworking in Berlin with 25 or so participants from around the world – researchers, advocates and practitioners. An interesting mix, with a varied experience in self-directing work sessions.

betahaus

During our time together, each of the different activities served to develop an enlarged and more anchored understanding of commoning and in the process offered multiple paths to address the subject of communicating the commons.

I) Our opening question, “How have you been a commoner lately?“,  helped us to arrive and exposed us to the variety of personal relationships to the term that were in the room. The responses were a range from small every day gestures (reading a book on commons, planting outside my vegetable garden for others, being in circle) to partaking in significant commoning initiatives (drawing up a charter of our principles for a time bank, volunteering for 100% renewable energy project)

II) From there we took some time to document three commoning projects that each of  have been involved with or know. What is great about this activity is that by the third project you identify you are getting closer to your own understanding of what is and what isn’t commoning and really thinking through your communicating challenges.

side event2

The four bits of information to make explicit for each project:

  1. What is the intent/purpose of this project/initiative?
  2. How does it connect to the commons?
  3. What are its challenges in communicating about the commons?
  4. Who does this project need to be communicating with?

side event 1

A few of the vast range of projects that were shared:

  • Shareable.net
  • Codigo Sur video documentary
  • Som Energia, renewable energy cooperative
  • Free Basel campaign to free a commoner is in prison
  • Kosmos , magazine http://www.kosmosjournal.org/
  • Metadata for learning opportunities
  • Petit Dejeuner en Commun
  • Remix the commons
  • Gribo, ongoing. Distribute web
  • Art of Hosting
  • Training incidental activists for change.
  •  Friern Barnet Community Library(http://fbpeopleslibrary.co.uk/)
  • Commons Abundance Network
  • EchoFab, a FabLab in Montréal
  • Commonopolis.de a commons wiki
  • Vivacité, a non-profit community land trust
  • new tech for consensus culture
  • STIR magazine (http://stirtoaction.com/)
  • Impact investment space
  • Crowd-mapping of the Montreal commons
  • City as commons or as a civic commons

Some of the communication challenges that emerged:

  • How do we characterize the commons ?
  • Find the words to show how the commons connects to a larger community process.
  • Inter-commons communications.
  • Intercultural. How to develop something that makes sense here and there?
  • The vocabulary. How we can create a frame to have an understanding, vision of the commons.
  • How critically do we communicate the commons? How radical should we be?
  • Where to draw the line between commons and where, when does it stop being a commons and is something different, e.g. social business.
  • Communicating to people who are in the commons debate for many years and new people.
  • Use of language/lexicon for commons experience, that isn’t exclusive
  • How to link unclear concept of commons to other emerging unclear domains?
  • Complexity of the issue that cuts through the whole spectrum of humanity, nature, everything

III) Then it was time for some deeper exploration of topics important for the group (Open Space).

openspace1

Some topics were more an opportunity to connect and initiate future work and set up forums on either the Commons Abundance Network or the Economic and the Commons platform.

  • Mapping the commons – principles and practices
  • Media and the commons
  • Distributed approach to film-making about commons

For other groups, for now, the conversation itself was the output.

  • Interculturality and communication – How do you translate the commons across languages? Is there some common symbolism that we can use?
    • Potential of art as a more universal way to get messages across. (story from Marion in Senegal where there are at least 10 commonly used languages (http://www.remixthecommons.org/2013/04/jusquou-tu-es-chez-toi-petit-dejeuner-en-commun-a-kedougou/)
    • Even across languages there are some universal, almost human conditions to tackling commons-related problems. This can be seen in Elinor Ostrom’s work and the fact that even though she was looking at many different cultures and language groups across national boundaries there were enough universal features of commons’ related issues for her to be able to map out the 8 features of successful commoning (http://onthecommons.org/magazine/elinor-ostroms-8-principles-managing-commmons).
    • Culture brokers, people who have a decent familiarity with the home culture and then go work somewhere else and are familiar with the host culture (ex migrant workers) might be able to take this message that we’re working on and translate it back into the local context.

openspace2

  • The logic of the commons and how to represent it
    • Use of transformative stories to help understand the commons and step up to commoning. It is about being an intentional commoner.
    • Need of a delicate balance between a level of fuzziness to help grow a domain and clear commoning principles to help reinforce the domain.
    • Microcommons structure which are points of growth, sometimes seeds, and sometimes they take a while before they have something to say to the macro. And both are relevant.
  •  Interface between commons and the state
    • Need for more recognition that self-organized communities can take control of certain aspects of their life and that this is an interesting model for our society. Need to share how the law can help.
    • Some commons initiatives have gained recognition by the state Ex. giffy.net, autonomous network in Barcelona controlled by the community that gives internet access, achieved the level of an ISP, same level of access as the central backbone, as Telefonica. These stories should be documented.
    • We want the state to recognize some kinds of practices as legal. For example Social charters  (in the http://globalcommonstrust.org), which protect Commons rights as different than human rights or civil rights.
  • Digital infrastructure and tools
    • Idea of developing an internet Top level domain (TLD) like .eu, .com that identifies the commons.
    • Agreement that there lacks the ideal software, but there are lots of open protocol “Horizontal mesh networks” out there: Freifunk, Guifi.net, Freedom Box, Centup (http://centup.org/), Diaspora (https://joindiaspora.com/), Gnowledge.org, Liquid Democracy, Mumble, etc.
    • What we are missing today is not as much tools but people using those tools to push the edge of what is possible. What will they let your community to do and to become?

IV) Two initiatives were shared with the group that helped to further reflect on the commons.

  • Commons Abundance Network

A network so people can see how big this movement is and how comprehensive and how it addresses everything that we need, if we’re thinking of a needs-based economy. The tool belongs to us all and includes wiki functionalities, social media and collaboration tools.  Everyone is welcome to join commonsabundance.net.

Thanks to Wolfgang and Hélène!

  • Wiki sprint

Bernardo shared the experience of the first international wiki sprint that took place in March 2013 and resulted in the documentation of over 200 P2P initiatives in Latin America and Spain. There was a 14-hour non-stop hangout in the internet with 23 countries (via think commons). This is real-time connection building on an existing network of friends and a movement and having a very simple step of criteria,  very simply defined and you allowed people to err slightly at the edges.

V) The closing question was grounded in the spirit of the commons: What’s my contribution to the whole? What will I do to be of service to the commons movement? The variety in our responses helps to better understand and communicate the commons. Here are a few:

  • Max: Help rewrite the narrative around human social capacity.
  • Roberto Verzola: I’ll be contributing case studies arising from our work with farmers, as well as protection of the seeds from enclosure.
  • George: An offer to be accountable to the community for holding this perspective in whatever conversation we’re participating, the perspective of the next phase of the evolution of the commons movement towards a better world.
  • Helene: Keep practicing in the commons and try to communicate by linking to the commons approach.
  • Samantha: make explicit the connection between art of hosting and the commons
  • Denis: Disentangle the many human capacities that have been demeaned and damaged by enclosures, in my experience the psychological enclosures. Facilitate the power of love and interrupt the love of power.
  • Bernardo: Connecting people and creating these kind of open and distributed processes in order to create a new narrative and imaginary. We have to prototype things in an open way, so let’s do it.
  • Marvin: Hold the multiple understandings of the commons that have come up here, try to focus more on what is a sustainable and just economy.
  • Jose: Providing some capacity for strategic conversation about pathways to the futures that we want. Using the tools and perspectives of strategic foresight to help us think about the strategic issues that we face and how we might take better pathways towards a commons world.

 

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Pourquoi s’engager dans un cercle de co-création?

Le cercle Mandalab est offert par Communautique aux professionnels, citoyens, et entrepreneurs de divers milieux qui ont un projet à avancer en mode intelligence collective. À la cinquième rencontre, les participants du cercle Mandalab ont eu à répondre à la question suivante :

 Pourquoi êtes-vous dans le cercle Mandalab… vraiment?

Ce n’est pas toujours clair ce qui motive des gens à vouloir s’engager avec des inconnus à huit rencontres étalées sur huit mois dans un déroulement somme toute assez flou. La valeur que je ressens dans des processus de cycles de cercles pour nous aider à naviguer la complexité, l’incertitude et l’interconnexion est très claire…  dans ma tête!

Voici ce que les participants à mi-parcours ont trouvé pour exprimer leur vision de l’apport du cercle pour eux :

  • Pour échanger, c’est une belle initiative, c’est différent. Je viens pour apprendre, pour les cercles et pour que mon milieu aie plus loin.
  • C’est nouveau , ça change de type de rencontres que je connais. Je viens pour apprendre des autres et faire avancer mon projet, pour expérimenter. J’aime moins la répétition – ici les nouvelles personnes rentrent, le lieu change. 
  • De plus en plus j’apprécie ces moments là. Je vois surtout son potentiel, le potentiel.
  • Expérimenter, pratiquer, c’est living lab, c’est très enrichissant, enlevant, il faut plus de pratique pour que ça essaime partout.
  • Pour l’expérience, pour me nourrir et nourrir mon projet et éventuellement nourrir les autres.
  • C’est mon 2ième, c’est de l’andragogie vivante, apprendre entre adultes, ca fait évoluer le projet que l’on y dépose
  •  Ça donne puissance à l’action, le plus important c’est d’entrer en relation avec des nouvelles personnes, et d’entendre la diversité de projets.
  • C’est d’entrer dans d’autres milieux et “cercles”. Ça répond à un besoin, échanger, apprendre, contribuer, apprendre des autres projets. Je fais beaucoup de meetings, ici c’est moins formatté, structuré, sans vouloir dire que c’est n’est pas structuré.
  • Très intéressant, développement de projet commun, porteuse de projets individuels. J’ai vu des gens échanger des défis et problématiques qu’ils n’auraient pas échanger dans des rencontres plus formelles. Je suis vraiment content de l’expérience des cercles.
  • Je suis facilement charmé par les gens, dans la courtepointe d’un cercle comme ça, c’est un collage de capacité, c’est mon école accélerée. Je suis à l’école à temps plein, mais ici en 4 heures j’apprends plus qu’à l’université – c’est moins évident, je le sens, comme un papillon qui va à la lumière.

Un grand merci à Communautique qui offre ce cercle depuis dans ans maintenant. percolab est ravi d’y assurer la conduite du processus et le coaching dans un esprit de leadership participatif. Pour plus d’information sur le modèle du cercle, voir Équipage.ca. Pour en savoir plus pour partir un cercle dans votre milieu, contactez-nous.

 

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Openly innovating in a museum

The Canadian Museum of Civilization, the most visited museum in all of Canada, will be renewing its permanent exhibit for Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017. Looking to develop an innovative concept that would engage visitors in a remarkable experience, the museum approached percolab for our experience in developing and hosting creative co-design processes that help fresh solutions emerge.

Drawing on our ability to work on complex issues and our capacity to work in both official languages, we custom-designed and ran a series of six working sessions over a three month period. A total of 60 people (employees from different museum departments as well as external guests from domains as diverse as dance, architecture, design, history and business) participated in one, some or all of the sessions to dialogue, reflect, generate ideas and help a new concept emerge. The process was accompanied by an online space where participants could access the rich content that emerged from each session.


Here is what participants had to say:

“It’s a process of questioning.”

“I feel lucky to be part of this process.”

“I had some hesitations at first, but I must say, they gradually transformed into curiosity and I began anticipating the next meeting with excitement.”

“Approaching an exhibition from a perspective of diversity is really a pertinent model.”

“The discomfort, uncertainty in the process is very productive.”

“The process is future focused, new perspectives and content, that left us lots of paths to explore.”

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