Citizens networks, and a kind of awakening: A/UK's Indra Adnan interviewed by Open Coop 2018

One of the most exciting events we're partnering with is Open 2018 (26-27 July, Conway Hall, London - tickets still available here, promo video above). It's a convention of those in the cooperative movement - and beyond - who are interested in new kinds of organisations that learn from the rise of "platforms" in our lives (Facebook/YouTube/Uber/Airbnb).

Can these platforms - structures that invite people's participation and involvement - be themselves run in a participative, hands-on way? Rather than from a server farm (and corporate address) in California?

A/UK's co-initiator Indra Adnan is charing quite a few of the events at Open: 2018, and the organisers did an interview with her a few weeks ago. Sections of it have just appeared on Atlas For The Future (see the blog post).

Here's the link to the original Open Coop full interview and some excerpts below:

This is a key moment of opportunity we’ve not been in before. Transition Towns connected people to planet – that was a core piece of the work, getting us to think more holistically. Now, with our networked way of working, changes and possibilities can happen much faster than they used to. I know Transition Towns have been actively working below the radar as they don’t want to be co-opted by old political ideologies about what’s possible.

This is a “hold your nerve moment” – just like with energy policy in the UK. At the moment, you can’t actually come off grid. It’s not practical. You’re going to have to be dependent on the grid – buying and selling energy. But every month there is a breakthrough in a how communities can be more self-sufficient. For example, we've heard about “Heat from the streets” which is a new way of harnessing energy from the sewers under our roads that might help us get through the winter without reverting to the grid.

What I’m trying to point out is while many will say our hopes are cyclical – they come and go – we are saying there is a genuine possibility of a tangent now. We could lift off. Maybe I’m naive but I sense that, because of the way we connect and how we have access to information, something is possible for the first time. It’s more fractal than scaled.

Breakthroughs in different parts of the world can be copied and repeated in other parts of the world – shared knowledge is accessible to anyone – things can go faster now – it’s so different from even 20 years ago. Everything was top down then but now nothing stops us – if there’s a new tech we can get it and use it. We have to hold our breath, be calm and build trust in our communities to become the owners of that future.

...Building a citizens network, which people will buy into and help design, is part of the challenge. It’s kind of like a sortition type space – it might give rise to citizens assemblies, or other ways of quickly taking the pulse of a community. We’re trying not to do the technology without the relationships – so everything can happen at a pace that people can control.

People talk a lot about the coming automation and robots – but often can’t imagine how different the future could be. Although they take it for granted that women, for example, do vital work under the radar, making it possible for the excluded to somehow stay in the picture, they haven’t imagined what it might be like if a lot of women were more influential in the public space. Bringing their more holistic sensibilities to the arenas where power is visible.

For example, in one of our collaboratories in Plymouth, Tess Wilmott, an urban gardener came into a rather civic looking Devonport Guildhall with plants and baskets to help decorate the space and it completely changed the way things felt. Earlier we heard stories about local women who were working in estates doing yarn bombing – groups of people knitting in the street to cover the railings. I don’t want to give the impression it’s about softness, fuzziness. But it is sensual. At our Devonport event Toby G, a hip-hop dancer from Street Factory, made people get up and move and it was such good fun – nothing awkward, it was closer to a show than a political meeting – much more sensual.

...We’re all in the business of trying to identify best practice. To move from the idea that progress is linear to the idea that what’s needed is a kind of awakening – that wasn’t there before.

We need spaces to come together –  safe spaces for a waking up process – so we can wake up to complex news and the state of the world, the ways we eat and consume, so we can evolve new responses, new kinds of behaviour.

A good example is what happened to my son, and the people around him and me, when we learned about Veganism. It was a shocking awakening about the meat industry – people don’t want to know. But if you show them gently what it took to get the meat to their plate...they won't allow it. We only accept it because someone else is doing it for us. How have we allowed this – what has happened to our heads?

Macro thinking happened a lot in the 60s but there was no structure or tech that would enable new institutions and initiatives to form –  and so we stayed in the same place… Out of our heads.

If you look at Occupy or the Arab spring – these were great moments but there was nothing that could adequately capture the energy, so these moments were easy to smash. What is emerging now is the stuff that can support the awakening.

This is the moment we have to build – it’s the most exciting of times. We can sense what is possible. People are coming up with ideas every single day, to build this and that – building the software. I might be over romanticising it but it feels like watching a field of flowers come into blossom. There are so many good ideas – and the only core idea is that they need to connect with each other so the different pieces of the puzzle begin to become a whole picture. That’s why we started the Daily Alternative – to help them see each other.

The full interview is here.