Category Archives: Work

Work

Medborgerne – a platform for community organising in Denmark

Bio update: Since I left Borgerlyst in June, I’ve been working on a new community organising initiative, focusing on building a local broad-based citizens’ alliance in Copenhagen.

After some months in stealth mode with the working title “Civilsamfundsalliancen”, we’ve now made ourselves known to the world by our official name:

medborgerne

Medborgerne is Danish, and can be translated as “citizens” – but with the added connotation of being an active member of a community, not just a set of rights. Medborgerne is a platform for broad-based community organising in Denmark. Inspired by Industrial Areas Foundation in the US, Citizens UK in the UK, and DICO in Germany, we hope to take similar role in Denmark, helping local communities build power for social justice and the common good.

I’ve co-founded the initiative with Ruth Gøjsen and Michael Wulff, and we’re currently looking to raise the funding necessary to build a local broad-based citizens’ alliance in Copenhagen. In the long term, our goal is to build a network of local citizens’ alliances to have an influence on national politics in Denmark.

We’ve just launched our website (in Danish, obviously), and I’ve already had my first media appearance as co-founder of Medborgerne in an interview in the Danish online magazine Altinget.

A new project

For the past five years, two projects have been a constant presence in my life: The Copenhagen Food Co-op and Borgerlyst – the laboratory for civic agency that I co-founded with Nadja Pass in 2010. Both projects have been the source of a lot of learning, good experiences and good friends.

But over the past few months, I’ve been preparing to step down from my responsibilities in both of these projects to make room for something new.

In April, I stepped down from the board of the food co-op. I gave a status report at the annual General Assembly, describing how the community has grown and developed over the past five years. It’s been quite a journey, with lots of ups and downs. And I’m very happy to pass on the reins to the new board. They’re all good people with lots of drive, hope and vision. And I’m certain they will help the food co-op become an even better community for organic veggie enthusiasts all over Copenhagen.

And on June 5th, on Borgerlyst’s fifth anniversary, I stepped down from Borgerlyst. We had a big party to celebrate and look back on all that we have achieved together. Nadja will continue to develop the project in a new direction, and I will focus on working on a new project that has been in the works for a while now.

The project focuses on working with community organising as a method and approach to develop the power and agency of ordinary citizens and create new trustful relationships in the local communities where they work and live. This short film gives a good introduction to community organising:

The project’s working title is “the civil society alliance” – because the goal is to build a broad-based community organisation that brings together many of the diverse communities and institutions of Danish civil society – from churches, mosques and synagogues to labour unions, schools and student organisations. Bringing all of these communities together to build their political power and ability to work for the common good – not in spite of but through their diversity.

One of my main sources of inspiration for this work is the UK-based community organising charity Citizens UK. I attended their six-day training in Cardiff last autumn, and I’ve been very impressed with the efficacy and professionalism of their organisation. In my view, their approach is exactly the kind of thing we need to revitalise Danish politics and participatory democracy. As one organiser at the Citizens UK General Election Accountability Assembly on May 3rd put it: “This is how politics used to be done, and we wish it could be done like this more.”

I’m really excited to be able to focus on this work. And I’m fortunate to be working together with a group of excellent and dedicated people from across Danish civil society. In the coming months, we will be writing grant proposals for a pilot project, meeting people, listening to their needs, interests and worries and get people engaged.

More to come …

Being a force of nature

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake.

Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is sort of a splendid torch which I have a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it over to future generations.

– George Bernard Shaw

Notes to self

I’ve been involved with the Copenhagen Food Co-op for almost 5 years now. And along the way, I’ve learned a lot about organizing volunteers, building local community and getting people involved. I’ve learned mostly by making a lot of mistakes along the way.

But in the last year [October 2013 to October 2014], the pace and depth of my involvement in the food co-op has reached a whole other level. It’s been really intense. With crisis, change, conflict, action, and oh-so-many meetings. It’s caused me to consider the lessons that the Co-op has taught me. Lessons that I continually have to remind myself to practice and heed as I work in this field.

I’ve been trying to formulate these ‘Notes to Self’ over the past few months. Editing and adding to them along the way. And I will probably continue to do so in the future. I share them here as a work in progress. They are written as notes to myself, and may not make all that much sense to anybody else. But I’m putting them up here as a way of committing myself to remembering, heeding and developing these further. They’re only in Danish for now, as I keep adding to them at the moment and can’t be bothered to translate them just yet.

 

1. Lyt

Lyt til folk omkring dig. Ikke kun deres ord, men også deres handlinger. Læg mærke til hvad de gør. Den måde de agerer på er som oftest udtryk for de interesser og motivationer, der driver dem. Hvert møde de kommer til, hver opgave de påtager sig er et udtryk for engagement. Du må lytte for at forstå, hvad der driver det.

 

2. Spørg

Det er ikke altid du kan lytte dig frem til hvad folk brænder for. Indimellem lægger de deres energi i ting, som de ikke rigtigt føler for. Måske fordi de står alene med dem. Måske fordi det var de opgaver, som de let kunne komme i gang med. Måske fordi de tidligere følte for dem, men nu er blevet fanget af ansvaret og vedligeholdelsen. Måske fordi de i virkeligheden ikke selv ved, hvad de brænder for. Spørg dem. Lad være med at tro, at du kender svarene på forhånd. For det gør du ikke. Vi forandrer os alle sammen hele tiden. Det samme gør vores svar.

 

3. Gå efter energien

Den vigtigste drivkraft er folks egen energi, interesse og begejstring. Du må aldrig tage andres engagement for givet! Din vigtigste opgave er at understøtte og styrke den energi. Give den plads til at udvikle sig og vokse sig større. Energien ligger latent i alle mennesker. Som en kilde, der kan åbnes. Et frø, der kan spire. Lad være med at prøve at lokke folk til at interessere sig for noget andet. Hjælp i stedet med at forløse deres energi. Gå efter de lette sejre, som kan gøde jeres selvtillid og give jer mod på mere.  Fælles handling er den ilt, der får fællesskaber til at blomstre.

 

4. Sæt ord på energien

Menneskelig energi og begejstring er en flygtig størrelse. Vi kan let glemme, hvad der vakte den, når vi sidder til et langt møde eller med en sur tjans og bare bider tænderne sammen for at nå i mål. Derfor er det vigtigt, at minde folk om, hvorfor vi gør det her – hvad der gav os energien til at gå i gang i første omgang. Ved fortælle historien om, hvad det er vi skaber sammen. Om hvilke værdier, vi udlever i fællesskab. Ved at rose og anerkende det arbejde folk lægger, kan du spejle og forstærke deres energi omkring det. Hjælpe dem med at se, hvilken forskel de skaber. Det er meget vigtigere end du tror.

 

5. Sig fra overfor drænerne

I nærmest alle fællesskaber vil der være folk, der tager mere energi end de giver. Det er dem, som bekymrer mere end de begejstrer. Ofte lægger de meget arbejde i fællesskabet, men desværre føler de også, at det berettiger dem til at fremhæve det negative, snarere end at rose og anerkende. Og dermed ender de ofte med at dræne andres energi og lyst til at engagere sig. Derfor er det meget vigtigt sige fra overfor disse drænere. Synligt og tydeligt. De skal ikke have lov til at bestemme over andres lyst til at engagere sig.

 

6. Fokusér på menneskene, ikke på grupperne

Husk, at virkeligheden svarer ikke overens med de fine planer og organisationsdiagrammer, som du udfærdiger. Ansvaret kan aldrig ligge hos en gruppe, for hver gruppe består af en masse mennesker med deres egne motivationer og interesser i et komplekst net af gensidige relationer. I sidste ende vil det altid være mennesker, der tager ansvar, udfører opgaverne og får ting til at ske. Nar ikke dig selv til at tro, at bare fordi en gruppe på papiret har et ansvar, at den så automatisk vil leve op til det. Følg menneskene og relationerne. Det er den eneste måde du kan lære at forstå, hvem, der gør hvad – og hvorfor.

 

7. Stil kærlige krav

Folk giver sjældent mere end de føler er højst nødvendigt for at være med. Hvis de ikke føler, at der er stort behov for deres hjælpe eller indsats, vil de som oftest trække sig og bruge deres energi andetsteds. Denne form for bevaring af energi, satisficing, er en naturlig ting – og som oftest helt ok. Man skal ikke forlange mere end folk ønsker at give. Men pas på, at det ikke bliver en sovepude. For energien kan let blive så lav, at selv de grundlæggende opgaver ikke bliver løst, fordi alle tror, at det er der nok nogen andre, der gør. Derfor er det vigtigt at lave en klar forventningsafstemning og stille krav til folk, så de ved, hvad de har at forholde sig til. Krav er kærlighed. Det minder folk om, at der er brug for dem. At de har en vigtig rolle at spille. At de er en afgørende del af fællesskabet.

 

8. Afpres jer selv

Der kan let gå drift i den, så fokus bliver på at holde det eksisterende ved lige snarere end at kigge fremad og udvikle nyt. Men løbende udvikling på den ene eller den anden led er nødvendigt for at holde visionen i live. Det giver en følelse af fremdrift, der bekræfter folk i, at de med til at skabe noget vigtigt. At vi er på vej et sted hen sammen. En god måde at fastholde denne udvikling er ved at afpresse jer selv gennem ydre krav og muligheder: Fondsmidler, nye samarbejdsmuligheder, medieomtale, offentligt bureaukrati kan alle være med til at sætte deadlines, der kan afpresse jer til at udvikle og levere mere end I ellers ville have gjort.

 

9. Vær ikke bange for pengene

Penge er som gødning. Hvis I har få penge, hæmmer det udviklingen og udførelsen af jeres idéer. Hvis I har for mange penge, bliver I let dovne og vælger de nemme (og dyre) løsninger uden at overveje, om de passer til jer. Det kan også let give anledning til konflikter, fordi den letteste magt ligger i at bestemme, hvordan pengene skal bruges. Men alt dette til trods, må du ikke undervurdere, hvor stor en forskel penge kan gøre i forhold til at frigøre energi og skabe plads til nye projekter. Nogle gange kan lidt ekstra gødning løfte meget mere end du tror.

 

10. Lad være med at køre solo

Lad være med at gå hurtigere frem end folk kan forstå eller følge med. Lad være med at skippe mellemregningerne for at nå hurtigere i mål. Alle andre har brug for at forstå, hvordan du er nået til dine konklusioner. Spørg dem! Invitér dem til at give feedback. Vis, at du respekterer deres holdninger og erfaringer. Det kan godt være, at det kun er de færreste, der tager imod muligheden for at blive hørt. Men de sætter alle pris på det. Og i sidste ende vil det også gøre, at de føler, at de har været med til at forme resultatet.

 

11. Vælg fra

Det du ikke gør er lige så vigtigt, som det du vælger at gøre. Overvej omhyggeligt, hvilke opgaver du påtager dig, og hvilke du overlader til andre. Det er langt bedre at gøre få ting godt, end at gøre mange ting halvt. Du kan ikke tage ansvar for det hele. Fokusér på de ting, som du er særligt godt stillet for at løse. Og gør andre i stand til at løse resten.

 

12. Lad folk finde deres egne løsninger

Det er let at komme til at føle, at du har fundet den store, sande løsning, som alle andre bare skal have hjælp til at indse er den rigtige. At de bare skal reddes fra deres egen misforståede vanetænkning. Men at sætte sig for at redde nogen er blot at begynde at undertrykke dem. Du ændrer ikke folks holdninger eller handlemønstre ved at forelæse om, hvor gammeldags og utidssvarende deres tankegang er. Sådanne erkendelser kommer ikke gennem abstrakt tænkning, men gennem konkret handling. Ved at folk oplever situationer, hvor deres gamle tænkemønstre ikke længere fungerer, og de derfor tvinges til at tænke og handle anderledes. Giv dem redskaberne og lad dem finde deres egne løsninger. Det er den eneste måde at skabe bæredygtige forandringer på.

 

13. Gør aldrig for andre, hvad de kan gøre for sig selv

Når du når en ansvarsposition i et fællesskab, kan du meget let komme til at suge ansvar til dig – uanset om du vil det eller ej, fordi du er gammel og garvet. Men husk, at din vigtigste opgave nu ikke længere at træffe beslutninger, men at gøre andre i stand til at træffe dem uden din hjælp. Du skal lære at udvise den tillid og tålmodighed, der kan gøre andre i stand til at gøre det selv uden din hjælp. De lærer ikke noget, hvis du bliver ved med at våge over dem og gøre ting for dem. “Never do for others what they can do for themselves.” Husk, at ethvert fællesskab er mere en skole end det er en virksomhed. Målet er menneskene, mere end det er arbejdet eller resultaterne. Din opgave at give andre selvtilliden, så de kan gøre det selv.

 

14. Lær fra dig

Du ved mere, end du tror. Der er så mange ting, som du tager for givet. Arbejdsgange, værdier, mødeformer, redskaber. Tag dig tiden til at hjælpe andre. Del dine redskaber. Invitér andre til at lære med og af dig. Alt for ofte tænker de ikke selv på at spørge.

 

15. Sig det vigtige igen – og igen

Alle folk har travlt. Alle folk har gang i hundrede ting ved siden af. De kan ikke huske halvdelen af, hvad du siger til dem, så sørg for at gentage det vigtige igen og igen. Jo flere gange du gentager noget, jo bedre forstår folk, at det er vigtigt. Og det er først, når de ser det som noget vigtigt, som de bør forholde sig til, at de begynder at gøre det til deres eget.

 

16. Vær nær og vedkommende

Folk vil have personlig kommunikation. De vil ikke læse manualer eller forklaringer. De vil ikke komme til møder med folk de ikke kender. De vil mødes og tages ved hånden. De skal føle, at de bliver set og hørt. De vil indgå i en gensidig relation, der er nær, vedkommende og tryg. Det tager ekstra tid, men når du viser, at du er villig til at bruge tid på dem, bekræfter det dem i, at du værdsætter deres tid og hjælp. Og på den måde kan de bedre gøre fællesskabet til deres eget.

 

17. Anerkend dine fejl – og fortæl om dem

Du kommer til at begå en masse fejl undervejs. Det er uundgåeligt. Men husk, at ingen dømmer dig hårdere end dig selv. Lad være med at krympe dig, vrænge eller ærgre dig. Tag i stedet og bred armene ud. Giv et lille hop og et smil og råb “How fascinating!” til dig selv. Hver fejl er endnu en anledning til at lære. Endnu en anledning til at blive klogere. Derfor er det også vigtigt, at du fortæller om de fejl, som du begår. Vær ærlig om svaghederne, dumhederne og forvirringen. Lad være med at sætte dig selv op på en piedestal. Vær åben, ærlig og ydmyg – det vil gøre det nemmere for andre at se, hvordan de kan lære af dine fejl og gøre det endnu bedre.

 

18. Giv Plads

Du fylder mere end du tror. Tænk over, hvilken rolle du kommer til at indtage i fællesskabet i kraft af, at du har været med længe, at du har mange erfaringer, at du har en fremtrædende rolle til møderne, at du er den, der har været på TV og fortælle om projektet. Det er altsammen med til at gøre, at folk forventer, at du har svarene – også selvom du selv er usikker og ikke føler, at du har styr på noget. Andre kan opfatte dig meget anderledes end du ser dig selv. Husk, at du siger en masse – også i kraft af det du ikke siger. At folk måske føler, at de har ikke ret til at udfordre dine holdninger, fordi du har været med så længe. Så hold din kæft lidt oftere og giv plads til dem.

 

19. Sørg for, at ingen føler for meget ansvar

Ofte er det dem med størst ansvarsfølelse, der ender med at påtage sig mere, end godt er. Når du kan se, at nogen har det svært og er på nippet til at gå ned med stress, så er det ikke nok at sige det til dem. Den bedste måde at passe på hinanden er ikke gennem ord, men gennem handling. I stedet for at sige “pas på dig selv”, er det langt bedre at vise omsorg ved at tage nogle af opgaverne og noget af ansvaret, som de ikke selv kan give fra sig. For selvom man egentlig godt ved, man skal passe på sig selv, er man som regel også netop dér, hvor det er allersværest at give slip.

 

20. Gør det til en fest

Der vil uundgåeligt opstå kriser og konflikter. Situationer, hvor energien er lav og modet synker. I disse situationer er det afgørende at finde den rette tone.  Undgå, at det bliver en downer. Vær modig og upbeat. Du kan ikke smile, når du er sammenbidt. Brug mere tid på at udfolde løsningerne end at analysere problemerne. Folk kender som oftest problemerne, men ved ikke, hvordan de kan løse dem. Vis vejen og gør løsningen til en fest, som alle kan være en del af – som de vil være kede af at gå glip af. Jo mere, folk føler, at de har mulighed for at være med til at løse krisen, jo mere vil de have lyst til at hjælpe.

 

 

21. Hør flere sider af den samme sag

Alt efter hvem du spørger om en given sag vil du få forskellige svar. Dine vurderinger er kun så gode som den viden du baserer den på. Så sørg for at få flere perspektiver på den samme historie. Folk kan lægge vægt på meget forskellige dele af en historie, alt efter hvilken kæphest de vil hyppe. For at forstå detaljerne i en sag er du nødt til at høre flere forskellige perspektiver på den (“doveryai, no proveryai“, som russerne siger).

 

22. Stå fast

Du skal ikke være bange for konflikterne. Der vil altid være konflikter. De opstår som regel, når nogen ikke føler sig hørt, spurgt eller anerkendt. Måske er der nogen, der ikke har lyttet, eller har handlet for hurtigt. Stå fast på dine egne værdier og hav tiltro til, at du kan spørge, lytte og forstå, hvor konflikten kommer fra. Det er som oftest nøglen til at løse den.

 

23. Skub

Nogle gange er det ikke nok bare at stå fast og lytte. Nogle gange må du række ud og give folk et lille skub, for at de kan komme videre. Skubbet er ofte det sværeste. For det er dér, hvor du med fuldt overlæg overtræder folks grænser for at hjælpe dem videre. De kærligste skub kommer i de sværeste samtaler. Dér hvor du ikke bare lytter til hvad de siger, men siger, hvad de har brug for at høre. Og som oftest vil de være meget taknemmelige for, at du havde modet til at give dem det lille skub, de havde brug for.

 

24. Vælg dine kampe

Prioritér dine ambitioner omhyggeligt. Du kan ikke udfordre folk på alle fronter på samme tid. Hvis alt er i bevægelse, under forandring og i udvikling, så har de ingen faste holdepunkter. Så bliver det for svært. Du kan ikke både udvikle fællesskabets logistik, infrastruktur, beslutningsprocesser, værdier, kommunikationsveje og selvforståelse samtidigt med at der strømmer masser af nye medlemmer ind. Fællesskabet kan ikke både vokse i størrelse og i dybde på samme tid. Det kræver en løbende afvejning. Vælg dine kampe med omhu og fokusér på dem, der vil frigive mest energi og mod på mere.

 

25. Vær tålmodig

Det tager meget længere tid end du tror. Alle har brug for at nå til deres egne erkendelser. Du kan ikke tænke for dem. Og du kan ikke handle for dem. Det bedste du kan gøre er at gøre det lettere for dem, men tempoet bestemmer de altid selv.

 

26. Husk, at verden er større end jeres organisation

Når du er dybt inde i en organisation er det let at udvikle en form for organisationsblindhed, der gør, at du ender med at tro, at I er så særlige, at I skal udvikle alle løsninger selv fra bunden af. Jo større jeres organisation er, jo lettere er det at være blind på denne måde. Men der er så mange andre projekter og organisationer, der står med nærmest de samme udfordringer: Om møder, om organisering, om motivation, om lederskab, om begejstring. Find dem. Lær af dem. Samarbejd med dem. Sammen kan I lave nogle meget bedre løsninger, der kan komme jer alle til gavn.

27. Forvent ikke tillid fra folk, der ikke kender dig
Det kan godt være, at du kun har de bedste hensigter, men det ved alle andre ikke. Så når du møder nye folk og præsenterer dem for dine tanker og projekter, så vil de ofte være skeptiske og bekymrede for, at du har bagtanker på den ene eller den anden måde. Lad være med at være skuffet over det. Tænk på, at du ville være mindst lige så skeptisk, hvis du var i samme situation. Giv dem tid til at lære dig at kende. Du skal vinde deres tillid med handling og ikke med ord.

28. Pas på dig selv

Håb er en stærk drivkraft. Håb er en økse, som du kan bryde døre ned med. Håb kalder på handling. Men husk, at håb forblænder. Du kan nemt komme til at overse og overhøre det helt åbenlyse fordi det ikke passer med dine forhåbninger. Det er så let at strække sig for langt, kæmpe for hårdt og tilsidesætte sig selv i håbet om at nå et mål. Men du når aldrig i mål. Der vil altid være mere at gøre. Mere at give. Og virkeligheden tager ikke hensyn til dine håb og drømme. Sørg for, at du får mindst lige så meget energi ud af det du gør, som du lægger i det. Du kan ikke leve på håb alene.

 

29. Lad være med at have ondt af dig selv

Nogengange er det hårdt. Nogengange har du mest lyst til at give op og trække dig, men du bliver ved alligevel. Og du har ondt af dig selv, fordi du er så vedholdende, også selvom det er hårdt. Men lad være med at have ondt af dig selv. Hvis du har ondt af dig selv, vil du hurtigt bruge alle dine kræfter på at fortælle dig selv historien om, hvor meget du kæmper, og hvor synd det er for dig. Og du kan ikke være noget for andre eller støtte andre, hvis du bruger din energi på at have ondt af dig selv.

 

30. Husk, at privilegier er usynlige.

Vi tænker aldrig over alle de fordele, som vi har fået med os. Og vi omgiver os ofte med folk, som minder meget om os selv. Derfor er det nemt at tro, at alle andre kommer fra ligeså gode kår og har ligeså gode muligheder som du selv. Husk, at dine privilegier er usynlige. Det er alt for nemt at glemme hvor meget andre skal overkomme og tilsidesætte for at gøre, som de gør, og være hvor de er. Tag aldrig for givet, at det er eller har været lige så let for dem som det har været for dig.

 

31. Bevar modet

I virkeligheden er der ingen, der rigtigt bekymrer sig om, hvorfor du gør det. Hvorfor du er håbefuld eller opgivende eller begejstret. Du skal ikke kun gøre det for andres skyld. Du skal gøre det for din egen. Den bedste måde at få anerkendelse på er ved ikke at behøve den. Gør det for at bevare dit eget mod og handlekraft. Gør det fordi det er sjovt og giver dig energi. Gør det fordi alle de andre muligheder er så utilfredsstillende. Gør det fordi det giver dig modet til at stå op om morgenen, tage din rustning på, og få ting til at ske. Hver dag.

 

32. Kend dine allierede

Du får brug for masser af hjælp undervejs. Støtte, råd, begejstring og overbærenhed. Derfor er det vigtigt, at du ved, hvem der er dine allierede. Det er de folk, der giver dig mere energi, end de tager. Dem, som du kan trække på, sparre med og støtte dig til, når du har brug for det. Dem, som også er der, når det går dårligt. Dem, som sørger for at minde dig om, at du kan ikke gøre alting selv. Lyt til dem. Giv dem lov til at hjælpe dig!

 

33. Det er aldrig slut.

At være en leder er ikke en titel, du opnår, men en praksis. Det er noget, som andre gør dig til, i kraft af hvad du gør for dem. Du bestemmer ikke selv, hvornår du stopper. Det kan ikke bare lade være og forvente, at andre træder til og overtager. Det sker ikke af sig selv. Så længe du er der – formelt eller uformelt – må du lede – eller være klar til det. Det er aldrig slut.

 

An artist’s manifesto

Over the past few years, I’ve been increasingly frustrated when people ask me what I do for a living, as I’ve lacked a title, a narrative to make sense of what I do. So, I’ve decided to do something that I’m not entirely comfortable doing. I’m going to declare something. I’m going to define my position:

I am an artist.

Declaring myself as an artist is very liberating, because nobody really knows what it means. Just like nobody seems to know what art is anymore. We tend to only recognise art once it’s been approved by experts, curated and included in a museum exhibit somewhere. But art is not defined by institutions that approve it. Nor is it not limited to what you can put in a museum, hang in a gallery or find in a library.

 

***

 

Art is the experience that it invokes. The imagination that it releases. The possibilities that it opens.

Art allows us to see the world anew. It creates experiences that don’t fit with our existing worldview. Art is when you least expect it. It is when you think you know what it is about, only to realise that it is something else entirely.

Art makes us reconsider the things that we have come to take for granted. It shows us the world from perspectives that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

Art rips open the frictionless world that we inhabit and shows us the seams. It turns seamless into seamfull. It traces all the dirty interconnections of the systems of which we are part.

Art turns us into beginners again. It gives us that beginner’s mind where everything is possible. It opens up spaces where we can experiment and reach our own conclusions. It frees our imagination to dream of how things can be different.

Art creates the tools for change and leaves it up to each of us to decide when and how to use them. Art builds on the fundamental truth that people don’t resist change, they resist being changed.

Art doesn’t force change. It merely makes change possible. It allows us to act, learn and change for own sake, in our own time. It allows us to change our understanding of what’s possible through the act of doing it ourselves. It allows us to realise new possibilities by exploring them.

For instance, realising the amount of food that is available for free by going out dumpster diving. Or realising that other kinds of communal decisionmaking are possible by participating in a consensus democratic process. Or realising that other ways of understanding reality are possible by dropping acid. Or realising the interconnectedness of all the things we depend on to produce our food by volunteering on an organic farm. Such experiences are usually not recognised as art. But in fact, they are the most profound opportunities for change.

As an artist, I work to create such opportunities for change by disturbing the expected.

 

***

 

I’m still trying to wrap my head around how what I do can be conceived of as art. I think a big part of it is the fact that my work doesn’t really seem to fit neatly in the usual boxes and categories. Not a writer. Not an academic. Not a consultant. Not an activist. Not a teacher. But something more and in-between.

I am what Frances Whitehead calls ‘a professional dot-connector.’ A trickster living in the interstitial spaces between disciplines, sectors and organisations. A cross-pollinator of ideas who traces the patterns in the overwhelmingly complex systems of which we are part. A clown working to create disturbances and surprises — not to shock, but to challenge each of us to think for ourselves.

This sounds awfully grand, and that is a big part of why I don’t feel comfortable claiming this position. But when I consider the projects that I’ve been part of over the past 4 years, I see them very much as artistic projects in the sense that I’ve described here (even if I haven’t been very conscious of their artistic qualities before):

Borgerlyst is laboratory that creates small disturbances, questions, unexpected directions in our conversations about society and democracy. We work to point out patterns in the everyday systems of Danish society that we inhabit and challenge others to consider their implications.

For instance, through the conversation salons, we create a setting where different, deeper conversations are not only allowed but actively encouraged, pushing participants to reconsider the kind of conversations that you can have with strangers, and how.

Similarly, with our SMS campaign Folkets Valg (“The People’s Choice”) that focused on the underlying and unspoken premises that all politicians appeared to take for granted when designing their policies on. Every day during the election campaign we asked questions that challenged these assumptions and invited people to reconsider them: What do you take for granted? Which possibilities have you ruled out?

Our book project Borgerlyst — handlekraft i hverdagen is an attempt to bring together the tools and ideas that we’ve found over the past 3 years in one coherent whole. No preaching, just a humble handbook about how each of us can act and get engaged in our everyday lives.

Københavns Fødevarefællesskab is another project that generates an neverending stream of everyday disturbances. As I’ve described elsewhere, it challenges people to consider some of the things they have come to take for granted about how organisations work, about how we buy our food, about how we make decisions as a group, about what kind of future we want to live in. It is a school for everyone involved, because we don’t know how to do what we want to do. The only way is to do it ourselves. We can only try and learn.

My writings, especially the essay Choosing Restraint, has built on these themes as well, challenging the way we usually see the world, and reaching some (hopefully) unexpected conclusions. I hope to write more in a similar vein soon.

 

***

 

I guess we are all looking for a pattern in what we do. A pattern that connects us to everything else in a meaningful way. As I’ve been looking for my pattern, I have found this. But it doesn’t end here. This is not even an answer to the question “so what do you do?” It is just another starting-off point. Another beginning. Another question.

Rainer Marie Rilke advised a young poet: Don’t seek the answers, live the questions.

That’s what I intend to do.

 

 

I’ve written a book

Yes, a book. It sums up the experiences, ideas and insights that we’ve gained from working with Borgerlyst for the past 3 years. Nadja and I spent a good part of this spring and summer writing the first draft, and now it’s finally coming together into a coherent whole. It’s called “Borgerlyst — handlekraft i hverdagen”, which translates roughly as “Civic desire — agency in everyday life” (a little less poetic in English, I’m afraid).

We’ve decided to publish the book ourselves, and to that end, we’ve launched a crowdfunding campaign on the Danish crowdfunding site Booomerang. The book is in Danish, of course, so it might not be particularly interesting to non-Danish speakers. But we hope that with success in Denmark it’ll be possible to make an international edition afterwards.

If you do speak Danish, check out our video, and support the project:

You can see current progress on the campaign here:

Any help — both in terms of money and spreading the word — is most appreciated. Thank you!

Status 2011

I recently realised that I still refer people to my website, yet I’ve failed to blog here for almost a year! Goodness! I guess that is an indication that my plan of focusing my blog in a new direction has failed miserably. That being said, I have been rather busy with both work (which I was supposed to blog about here) as well as some other projects. So, I thought I’d give a quick run-down of what I’m up to these days.

Work
Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of work with the Aarhus-based Alexandra Institute focusing on user involvement in the development of new smart grid infrastructure that can support the introduction of new products such as heat pumps and electrical vehicles that will come to tax the Danish power grid in the future.

I’ve also been working with the Copenhagen-based consultancy Nueva, conducting explorative research on how Danes relate to their food, and particularly to the food that they end up throwing away for various reasons.

Borgerlyst
I’m still heavily involved in Borgerlyst (a Danish portmanteau consisting of the two words Borger (meaning citizen) and Lyst (roughly meaning lust, urge, delight, inclination). In short, a sort of civic urge). It is meant as a sort of play on the phrase ??civic duty??. Whereas civic duty is all the obligations, rules and expectations society forces upon you, civic urge is something like the opposite.

With Borgerlyst, we arranged a series of open citizen salons where we facilitated the discussion of themes and issues in civic engagement through unconventional means such as conversation menus, spectrogram exercises and more. Currently, we’re working on a new website, which will be an even better online platform for inspiring civic engagement in Denmark. That is also where I do most of my blogging these days.

Københavns Fødevarefællesskab
For the past 2 years I’ve been an active member of the Copenhagen food co-op called Københavns Fødevarefællesskab (or KBHFF for short). It’s a food co-op where all members agree to work 3 hours a month in the coop. And in return they get to buy organic fruit and vegetables grown by local farmers at a price that is lower than at the supermarket.

In fact, because the food co-op replaces the middle-man with volunteer labour, not only do we get cheaper food, but the local farmers also get a fair price for their produce (often better than what the supermarkets pay them). In that way, it’s a win-win situation. The concept is proving to be a success, and we now have more than 1500 members and four shops in different parts of Copenhagen that are open every Wednesday afternoon.

On occasion, I have been a spokesperson on behalf of the food co-op, for instance in this short video about how the co-op generates community and engagement locally (it’s in Danish):

Foreningen til Kollektivers Fremme
Yet another initiative that I’ve helped start up is Foreningen til Kollektivers Fremme, which translates to something like the Association for the Advancement of Communes. We use “commune” as a blanket term to describe intentional communities of people living or working together, sharing common interests, property, possessions and resources to a greater or smaller extent.

Having lived in a commune growing up, and living in a commune for the past four years, it is a perfectly natural way of living for me, and I’m very familiar with the strengths and weaknesses related to living in this way. But people often have a lot of prejudice when it comes to communes, and there are loads of things that are unnecessarily difficult when it comes to starting a commune or interacting with various parts of the bureaucracy, which lack a neat box that communes can fit into.

Thus, we’ve started the association to help people wanting to find or start a commune, and allow existing communes to work together and pool their resources to the benefit of all.

So, yes. I’ve been busy alright, even if my blog doesn’t reflect it. 🙂

On my own

After having worked at Socialsquare for almost two years, I’ve resigned, ending my contract at the end of March. It was not a decision that I took lightly, since it was my first full time job since graduating, and it’s a bunch of talented, inspiring colleagues who’ve taught me so much.

I’ve learned a lot about working as a consultant, the process and pitfalls of designing social software, being part of a team and coordinating and solving huge and complex tasks together and producing deliverables that make sense and solve problems within the clients’ organisation.

And for that I’m very grateful.

But all things considered, I felt the need to move on. I felt a need to focus on ethnographic research rather than social business consultancy – and a need to focus on other non-work-related projects as well (more about those in later blog posts). And so, I found that the best way for me to do this is to try my hand at working on my own.

So, I’m starting my own one-man enterprise under my own name, and I’ve updated this website to reflect that. The main change is in the “About” text which now reads:

I??m an independent consultant and researcher working at the intersection between people and technology. I help organisations understand the everyday lives, practices, motivations, worries and needs of their users and stakeholders.

As an anthropologist, I meet people on their own terms, using ethnographic methods to gather empathic insights on how new products, experiences, spaces and services can have a positive impact and create value in existing social and cultural contexts.

I deliver such anthropological insights in a lucid and actionable manner that can be used to qualify decisions or develop people-centred design solutions, often in direct collaboration with other disciplines.

To me, this is the core product that I as an anthropologist can offer organisations: A better understanding of the relationships of which the organisation is part, and in which it wants to take part – whether through a new product, service, space or experience.

It’s kinda grand and kinda broad, I know. But at the moment, I’m trying to open up my expertise from the digital context in which I have been immersed for years and use ethnographic methods to engage in other contexts as well. Contexts where the social relations, interactions, tools and designs aren’t necessarily digital. If you’re curious to hear more, get in touch.

Let the user finish the design

At EPIC, I took part in a very interesting workshop discussion led by Jeanette Blomberg and Elin Rønby, two of the leading figures within the field of ethnography-supported design.

The theme of the workshop was making visible the object of design in the design process, and centred on this diagram describing the generalized design process:

design process

This diagram indicates four generalized phases in a design process, which have been placed between two overlapping dichotomies: Between reflecting and acting, and between using and designing:

Study – “Reflecting using” – The ethnographic examination and abstract reflection on the context and given circumstances under which a design is being used or may be used at some point.

Design – “Reflecting designing” – The abstract composing of concepts, ideas, and solutions based on the research and analysis of the existing tools and context of use.

Technology/intervention – “Acting designing” The concrete building, implementing, and configuring concepts in the form of real technological design to improve the existing tools and use.

Live/Work – “Acting using” – The concrete and actual use of the implemented design. The un-reflected day-to-day practices taking place in the given context.

But, as the workshop organizers noted, this is not (only) meant to be seen as a flow from “research to design to implementation to use”, but rather as a continuum – allowing for “back-and-forthing” between the four activities. Their argument was that we need more integration between these, and that the diagram wasn’t intended to maintain the boundaries between these activities, but rather to break them down.

That was the focus of the workshop: How can we best integrate these diverse elements of the design process to make the best possible solution?

It was at this point in the discussion that it became apparent that the phrase “object of design” isn’t quite transparent: The organizers had meant the object being designed: How can it be made visible throughout process – including the ethnographic study? But I had understood it as the object for design: The context, the potential users, the social relations in which the designed object will take part.

I argued that the main challenge in integrating the four elements above is to maintain a focus on the context, the actual situations where a given tool would be used. That is my main concern in the ethnographic work I do in relation to the design and development work at Socialsquare: Connecting the site of use with the designers and developers who build the new social tools for our clients.

Design in itself can only offer affordances for use, it cannot tell the users how to use it. When we design and build tools, especially social tools online, we seek to build the tools people want to use, but we can only do that by letting them use them. One of the other workshop participants said it best when he referred to a phrase one of his older engineer colleagues often used: ‘Let the user finish the design.’

The Community of Practice on Communities of Practice

Some time ago, I was invited by John D Smith to present my thesis work on Ubuntu as a Community of Practice at the CP Square autumn dissertation fest. CP Square is an online community of researchers and consultants working with Communities of Practice – a term coined by Etienne Wenger and Jean Lave, and which is a central part of the theoretical framework for my thesis.

I gave the online  presentation this evening, and if I hadn’t been so darned busy lately with work and moving to a different commune (more on that in a separate blog post), I would have blogged about the presentation earlier so that you’d all could have had had the opportunity to listen in.

Online in this case means via Skype teleconference  and a community chat channel, which meant visualizing my audience while talking, and linking to images that related to presentation in the online chat (NB: they’re not sorted. It’s a mess. I’ll add my notes to the images soon to give some sense of a sequence). It’s not the easiest of formats – a lot energy and rapport goes lost in the ether. But I thought it worked out well. The participants were attentive and inquisitive while remaining constructive and supportive – a real treat.

Actually, I was surprised to get the invitation. But I’ve really relished the chance to revisit my thesis work. As I reread it, I realised that writing the thesis is only the beginning.

Since I joining Socialsquare, I’ve been working with all sorts of aspects relating to communities online, and it’s been great to return to that the my work on the Ubuntu Community and see new ways to extend my old analyses and apply them in new contexts. But most of all, I’ve come back and found just what a good framing the Community of Practice is for understanding online communities, and I hope to learn a lot more on how to apply it from the CP Square community.