Last January, a small group of Ouishare members gathered in Barcelona to take stock of the previous year and to share ideas for 2018. One key question on the table was: after 3 years of running the conference Ouishare Fest Barcelona, do we want to organise another one, and, if so, what about?
New ways of working
There is a growing number of people who are choosing to work differently and experimenting with work outside traditional companies or institutions. Instead of or in addition to working 9–5 jobs, they are joining communities, movements, platform coops, where purpose and trust are key bonding agents. These new entities are often decentralised, agile, messy and extremely creative. They are networked organisations.
From this starting point, we found a theme we liked for the next edition of the Fest:
In the face of growing complexity and shared challenges, humans are innovating about how we come together to explore the solutions.
A decentralised experiment
Logically, if we want to organise an event about decentralised networks and emergent structures, wouldn’t it make sense to co-create it with other networks out there? This idea really stuck with me personally, and so an experiment was born: a new Festival, co-owned by peers from a variety of networks, whom this topic speaks to and who want to create something beautiful, meaningful and complex together. It is an endeavour to prototype how networks can collaborate by working on a tangible project together — in this case, co-organising and co-hosting a conference about new ways of working together on complex and shared challenges.
What’s in a name?
This brings up the question: is Ouishare Fest the right name for an event that is co-hosted by multiple networks? Putting the brand of one network at the forefront seemed like a contradiction with our theme and the nature of this experiment. Therefore we chose a new working name: the Human Networks Festival. Human, to highlight the importance of people over technology, often neglected in technosolutionistic hypes over blockchain, artificial intelligence and digital platforms. And networks, because we are not one single network, but a chaotic soup of communities and clusters with a multitude of activities.
Human, to highlight the importance of people over technology
So back in January we started using Human Networks Festival as the working name and began talking with our friend networks about the idea, sharing with them what I have written here to get their feedback and to invite them to join.
Open Source from the start
To continue Ouishare’s tradition of open sourcing how we work and to make it as easy as possible for other organisations to create their own event, the organisation of this festival will be open source. This means that everything we produce will be published for anyone to re-use, adapt and remix. The types of things that will be available are for instance the website, logo, how to design the programme, invitation letters for speakers, calls for proposals, calls for volunteers, zero waste techniques, satellite events, and many more.
Another part of open sourcing is sharing what we’re learning throughout this process.
Experiment lesson 1: Choose an ugly working name
Most people thought that the name Human Networks Festival was ok, some thought it was great, unpretentious, simple and explaining what’s in the tin. As a result, no one felt the need to come up with a new name and, well, here we are. Human Networks Festival it is. Looking back we should have chosen an ugly working name, like Wacky Fest or Potato Gathering, to inspire people to do some creative thinking.
Experiment lesson 2: Collaboration takes time
One other key question is: How much time does it take for several organisations to co-create a festival? Back in January, we thought October 3rd-5th 2018 would be a good time for the event. We were very very wrong. Collaboration at this scale, with such a geographical spread, is tough. Many networks were interested in the project but found it difficult to actually contribute. Since there is no command and control team giving instructions, it’s up to each person and organisation to figure out how they can contribute, and that is a big ask when people don’t know each other.
The Human Networks Festival is either co-created or does not happen at all
This lesson highlights one of the most important characteristics of this project: the Human Networks Festival is either a co-created event or does not happen at all. One organisation jumping in and doing it alone would be beside the point. Co-ownership as a priority means that this happening is even more important than having a date. And trust me, everyone who has experience organising events says that the date and the location are king and queen. Well, not for the Human Networks Festival. The HNF is a long journey and we don’t know how long it will take us to get to the end. What we know is that every step of the way is worth it in itself.
It sounds cheesy, but really, it’s about going far together, rather than going fast alone. And honestly, I have found it much more enjoyable since we did that mind switch!
Up next: Convergence in Barcelona
The next milestone on the journey is a gathering of 25–30 people from a variety of networks and countries whom the invitation to co-create an event spoke to. We will spend three days in Barcelona building trust, learning what each of us can contribute and what motivates us.