Culturing the unMonastery protocol

Weekly unReport #3

Katalin Hausel

News flash: In the interlocking petri dish of Slack and Loomio, unMonasterians are growing their protocol for writing a protocol.

I spent most of last week working on the first large EU grant application (Horizon 2020 — CAPSI) for unMonastery as part of a consortium of 9 organisations: reading up on the project, on the other participants, communicating with people in Zurich, Volos and Edinburgh, and making sense of the huge complicated enterprise. As one of the pilots of the project, we will participate in designing and testing the open source DIY offline network tools to be developed by the engineers, object and interaction designers, sociologists and other collaborators. To be honest, contributing even this much to the application was a challenge , because we lacked the basic knowledge of the process. (Does one need a PIC number at the time of the application?; and could it be that all non-profit organisations which are not governmental are NGOs?) — I forget how I survived before Wikipedia.

This work brought up a lot of questions. The funding, if successful, starts next year and lasts for 3 years. Is the unMonastery going to be around that long? If the entire group, or most, changes in the meanwhile, our promise to participate will hold for them, too? What is an unMonastery anyway.

Bezdomny (Athens) informs me that the Athens flat is not an unMonastery. It is not the first time this comes up. Why not, I keep asking. The Stakeholders Handbook claims that the unMonastery is both and neither its people or the building. But what is then an unMonastery, beyond a house shared by a group of people? We left something out. It occurs to me that the essence of the unMonastery is its protocol. The fact that it has a protocol. A structure that supports unIndividualism: insisting on negotiating a framework that holds for everyone even if they don’t abide to it in each instant, instead of granting free roaming of different lives side by side.

There is an increasingly urgent conversation with regards to the protocol in Athens. It seems that despite of an acknowledgement of its necessity, it is impossible to create a daily structure that integrates everybody’s individual expectations. Some people need great contemporary independence, and some people want to challenge themselves by living in a way that resembles somewhat of the core values of monasticism (according to James(Athens): “Frugal living; getting up painfully early; living basically; quiet, considered contemplation; deep, piercing inter-personal respect; personal quests of deep peace and well-being; well honed skills, arts and technical proficiency for no reason other than their practice; knowledgeable, sharing community leaders.”).

We do have an open process of building protocol for working together. MK (London) and I have been working on the new recruit integration process, as it seems that allowing access to Slack does not do the job in itself. How do you walk a new colleague around to meet everyone in a virtual workspace? Lauren and I had a run-in about sharing, responsibilities, blocking and over-extension, so we launched operation #unBlock — if someone cannot deliver or follow up on a project, connection or idea, they open a shared document, jot down what they have in their head, and ask for help. Interestingly, protocols for working together face a lot less resistance than structures for living together. We all know we cannot do the unMonastery work individually. How does this translate onto unMonastery life?

The Tyranny of Structurelessness by Jo Freeman

Of course Athens have rules, regardless of some individual differences. Despite of the discord about what time to get up, there is the group working together elegantly and in good spirits both with each other and with the network, developing a yet unseen form of unMonastery self-sustenance (a collaborative working agency), using Loomio to discuss buying a bonsai for sharpening their vision, and quickly getting to be known by the whole city. What are the operators that enable such dazzling coordination and outreach? They are in the blind spot, the aspects of life nobody talks about, so deeply agreed upon that they remain unnoticed and undebated. My sense is that recording what makes it work despite of the disagreements may be just as important as resolving the conflicts. What we are in the process of developing is a protocol for writing protocols — a collection of processes, considerations, needs and structures, which will enable each actual unMonastery community to articulate their granular mode of operation. It is a mistake to mix up writing the protocol for Athens, with writing the meta-structure of having a protocol for unMonastery. The first one is about control, to make sure people sharing their living and working space exist together in harmony. The second is about enabling any community to make its hidden procedures and customs explicit, in order to ensure it remains open facing and open source, subject to change, from small alterations to large scale forks.