By Johanna Voll
#Collday2017: 8th-10th March 2017 – Berlin and the Collaborative Economy: Old Friends?
Collday2017 was the first event of RGCS Berlin and combined a conference, a workshop as well as a learning expedition over the course of three days in various locations throughout the city of Berlin. See the full program here (RCGS Berlin 2017). Highlights were the kickoff at Betahaus with several presentations, a co-creation workshop at Fab Lab, the visit of the French Tech Hub Berlin and some surprises along the way including a vertical farming startup, a concert and even some touristic sightseeing.
The practice of “doing coworking”, but also the emergence of more and more coworking spaces has been fascinating to me for the past eight years – both from an academic point of view as well as being a practitioner myself. The numbers speak for themselves: By the end of 2018 there are 18900 coworking spaces and 1690000 people who cowork (Foertsch 2018). During my action research about and within the European coworking movement I have gotten to know many different collaborative spaces. I am especially interested in the driving factors of cooperation within these spaces of communitization. I am part of the German Coworking Federation e.V. (GCF), the European Coworking Assembly (ECA) and involved in a few Coworking related projects such as the Coworking Library – an interdisciplinary open online database with links to all
coworking research in various languages. I regularly teach about new work practices and temporary as well as contemporary communities.
Research Group Collaborative Spaces and #Collday2017
I have met many researchers that are interested in these topics along the way but have never managed to actively start functioning collaborations beyond my university. With great joy did I notice the newly formed academic network exploring communities and collaborative movements (RGCS). I enjoyed the additional insights about innovation labs, coworking spaces, hacker spaces and incubators in Berlin. Little did I know that I was part of an experimental phase of the OWEE-method.
Different parts of the program of #Collday2017 took place in various parts of the city of Berlin. This made it necessary to move our physical bodies using several modes of transportation, but mainly walking. This felt very strange and unorganized as the program was even adjusted during the day when one participant suggested to add more stops along the way. I felt like no one knew where we were going, and I was constantly trying to suppress the urge to act as a tour guide. After all Berlin is the place I called home for the past seven years. But, being the introvert that I am, I kept the growing anger in me to myself and was wondering why this jolly French professor kept talking so much along the way, while I was more concerned with the practicality of leading 20 people through Berlin – seemingly without any plan. Many minutes were spent waiting on street corners or locations – as is often the case when people move in groups. It became quite a challenge for me to manage my inner conflicts during those days (taking control vs. walking with the crowd; speaking up vs. being introverted; waiting vs. moving; individual needs vs. collective goals; small talk vs. in depth conversations).
OWEE: Open Walked Event-based Experimentations
“Key to OWEE is spending time among people in third-places, keeping bodies and emotions active, walking and talking, breaking down barriers and creating new synergies. Intended to be open to all stakeholders, OWEE emphasises creativity, experimentation, and improvisation” (de Vaujany and Vitaud 2017).
Reflections of a Newbie
Obviously, I did not know about the meaning of OWEE before being part of one. It very much reminded me of the often-used concept of serendipity when community managers explain the magic of coworking. This refers to an unplanned discovery or happy accident. The method implies a notion of serendipity as well. Yet it provides a framework – just like coworking spaces – that encourage these points of commonality. This walked experience is a direct reaction to the ever same academic principles (submit abstracts, present at conferences, publish papers and books, repeat). The many conversations along the walk, in various settings would not have happened if we had been in a closed conference setting. Conversations started while waiting, riding on the double-decker bus, exploring new collaborative spaces or unforeseen encounters along the way and made it easier for me, as someone who is rather shy in public speaking situations, to talk to most people from the group at one point. The governance structure of the OWEE seems very similar to collaborative spaces I have looked at. Formal rules are not explicitly enforced, yet there is a common understanding about them. The value of sharing seems central – during the walk but also afterwards through shared data collections and open data access – possibly followed by open access publications. By using shared hashtags on social media platforms this method offers an interesting approach to involve online and offline discussions in the analysis afterwards. The extensive RGCS network provides a great context for this.
Resembling a discourse that has been discussed within the European Coworking Assembly lately I want to suggest rethinking aspects of openness and inclusion. How open is this movement and how can we make sure that the diversity of the places and the people who work (or even live) within them are represented? Or: How open is the OWEE method? In this process we must critically question the so-called coworking values, namely sustainability, accessibility, openness, collaboration and community, which are often cited within the lively discussions among practitioners of the coworking scene as well as stated on various websites and social media accounts of coworking spaces (Coworking Wiki, 2013). With that in mind Yochai Benkler argues that among other factors it is this diversity that makes a system more productive (2011). Comparing this to collaborative spaces we can observe different approaches among rather homogeneous spaces (focus on one industry and/or similar members in terms of race, gender, sexuality, social class, age, disability, religion etc.) and an emphasis on explicitly articulated openness. Moreover, the diversity of personal motivations within a space but also while being part of an OWEE shapes the degree of cooperation. Therefore, I am very optimistic about this new research method of shared learning expeditions and its outcomes for the future.
Benkler, Y. (2011). The Unselfish Gene. Harvard Business Review, (July-August). Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2011/07/the-unselfish-gene
Coworking Wiki. (2013). The Values of Open Coworking. Retrieved October 24, 2017, from http://wiki.coworking.org/w/page/67817489/The%20Values%20of%20Open%20Coworking
de Vaujany, F.-X., & Vitaud, L. (2017, August 30). Towards more integrative research practices: introducing Open Walked Event-based Experimentations. Retrieved October 5, 2018, from http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2017/08/30/towards-more-integrative-research-practices-introducing-open-walked-event-based-experimentations/
Foertsch, C. (2018). 2018 Coworking Forecast. Retrieved October 7, 2018, from https://www.dropbox.com/s/rjbmdo4wp4aeccx/2018%20Complete%20Coworking%20Forecast.pdf?dl=0
RCGS Berlin (Ed.). (2017). Program Collday2017: Berlin and the Collaborative Economy: Old Friends? Retrieved from https://collaborativespacesstudy.files.wordpress.com/2016/10/collday2017-final-program.pdf