Commiting to Encounter and Collaboration | kulturpunkt

English Interview

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Commiting to Encounter and Collaboration

Stéphanie Lucien-Brun, a volunteer at Lyon's Laucaux Motiv' community center, talks about the concept of "third places" and the importance and challenges of collective management.

by: Jasna Račić

Stéphanie Lucien-Brun works as a consultant on ICT's and social development. For the past 8 years she has been investing some of her free time into the development and collective management of a "third place" in Lyon, France, called Locaux Motiv'. We talked to Stephanie about the opportunities and limitations that Locaux Motiv' meets, as  a collectively ran workplace and cooperations network. We met her during the Clubture forum where she participated on the panel Practices of socio-cultural cooperation and networking. As Locaux Motiv' has multiple voices, Stephanie is speaking of her own experience and vision of what she has lived, understood and learnt with Locaux Motiv'.

KP: Could you introduce us to Locaux Motiv?

At the beginning, in 2010, a bunch of local NGO-s in the neighborhood of La Guillotière wanted to support the creation of locally implemented social economy, solidarity and ecological projects (ESSE - Economie sociale, solidaire et écologique). ESSE now accounts for 10% of French economy, with NGO-s and cooperatives and so on. These are the organizations that are working not only on creation of economic, but put the emphasize on social value. The founding group initiated two projects:  a local bar and restaurant Le Court-Circuit which still exists and is successful, and the following year they opened a "third place", Locaux Motiv'. NGO-s and others were doing a lot of work in this neighborhood, and they felt that they were, regarding their respective working conditions in various precarious situations. The young people had somehow precarious jobs, they had poor working conditions, they were spending a lot of energy to make projects together for lack of good logistics. They identified clearly that if they were mutualising and sharing working and operating facilities, that they could save a lot of time and energy and develop richer projects. 

A "third place" is a concept coming from the US, a developing idea that in cities, or rural environment you have groups, collectives and individuals  which share needs and interests and can find ways of sharing answers to these needs in some open places which are going to offer different functionalities. In France, what we call third places are fab-labs, co-working spaces, but it could also be a cultural center and any place that works on building of the community, with the multiplicity of functions, third places are often related to culture, social services, DIY, ecological transition and new ways of working. In France the question of third places has become very important in the last few years, there has been a national report, and now a policy on third places. 

KP: How is LM, as a third place different form the "old" NGO-s or comunity centers?

In LM we have NGO-s, companies, self employees people, people doing remote jobs, we don't care if you are an NGO or you are self employees, for us it is important to create cooperation around social and environnemental  issues. There are people and organizations working on digital transition, climate change, local and international solidarity, mobility, free software,  culture (dance companies, symphonic orchestta, movies festival ..), independent media, social documentary production. The third place is managed on a volunteer basis by those who take part in the project. 600 sqm2, 46 resident organizations (individuals or collectives), 40 users organizations: 100 organizations engaged in some kind of cooperation! Everyday between 40 and 70 persons come to work, meet, gather on the premises.

KP: You stressed that came to Zagreb as a LM volunteer. How is LM run and governed?

Locaux Motiv' does not have full-time employees, only the support of Alice who works a full-time job on accounting and finance. The base of collective management implies that you are coming there to have access to the service, and that access is condition with your obligation, in one way or another, to contribute to the fact that the service can take place. In practice it means that if you come as flex office worker or fixed office worker it is compulsory for you to come to the general assembly, to welcome visitors as a volunteer, to join one of the responsibility group managing and running the project, or to perform some necessary tasks that ensure the good management of the project. You are invited to take part in community events and are explained very clearly that the place is self managed and you need to be ready to engage yourself in the management and running of the place for the place to work. We know people will commit themselves in different levels of intensity and interest, which is normal, but we work hard on avoiding free runners.

We have changed governance several times, to adapt to the reality of what we experience and make it as operational as possible. We started with traditional governance with a  board and an executive board. After a few years we realized what matters the most is individual commitment of people, more than representation of organisations. Now, the general assembly two bodies elects two bodies twice per year, a strategic council and operational body. 

The people in operational body are in charge of "responsibility groups" which assure that the tasks are being achieved. They are leading forces in managing the project. To make sure they are fast and efficient, operational board is monitoring these responsibility group. The idea is to have as much power distributed as possible - it is a matter of open governing. 

We also have a strong focus on openness. If I am a member of the organization I have access to all the meeting, data and the figures. It is not always easy to make information available, understandable, visible, shareable and it takes a lot of energy, but it is a learning process on what collaborative practices have the strongest impact on cooperation itself. The reality we face is that some people come to work for an organization that has an office here, but they have not themselves, individually, chosen to come here, so it is important to allow people to have very different levels of commitment, different interests in engaging in sharing, cooperations, etc. So, it’s important to find ways to make it fun, enjoyable, a learning experience of the added value of cooperation, because people learn a lot form collaborating and it is not necessarily skills that we "start with" in our lives. It's even simplest things; making people aware that they have to take 10 minutes to water the plants and take dirty towels home and wash them, it is all a part of working together and it is not only important to be part of governing body, it is also important to keep the towels clean in order for the place to run smoothly.

For 3 years we had a salaried person, in charge of developing projects aiming at reinforcing relations with local networks, promoting ESSE and experiment new projects. With the end of financing found specifically for that projects we had to take the decision to lay off the person employed, who remains very close to the project. 

Is the project supported by your local authority?

When the project started, we had various meetings ad discussions etc with local authorities. They were good meetings, encouraging, and you could see there was a support to the project, they liked the idea. The place where the initial collective settled is owned by private landlord, and we searched for public financing to support the implementation of the project, to sustain the "NGOs house" aspect of the project, how the third place was a facilitating tool for various NGOs. What we got from local government was 2000 euro, which is very scarce. We had a yearly rent of around 60.000 euros. We kept on having discussions, expecting additional funding or support for human resources that would help us securing financial security. During the first 3 years of the project, it would massively reduce a level of energy invested into securing our socio-economic model. In the end, we got financial support from regional council, not local authority!
 
We were a bit angry and quite disappointed because we thought if only they understood our project, they would support it - but it didn't happen. At some point people were depressed and angry because of this, because they spent a lot of energy to get the support of the city. And at one point we just looked at each other and wondered why we were spending so much energy on trying to build a collaboration which was not working. Then we decided to keep the relationship nice and polite, not to get into the antagonistic attitude, but also not to put so much of our energy into this partnership. We decided we had to rely on our own strenghts, without waiting for support that would not come. 
 
KP: How would you describe the needs or the audiences Locaux Motiv' responds to: is the focus on it’s residents and members or on Guillotière community?
 
It's two-folded, both for the members of organization and for the neighborhood. At the moment we have been quite successful with the activities we do for member organizations, but it's more complicated organizing activities for the neighborhood because it requires more time and money. This is difficult to accomplish on volunteer basis, we can manage to 600m2 as organizations using the facilities, but can not have serious work in the neighbourhood without financial support. We have had one important event in the neighborhood that we have been heavily supporting. It was a 100% volunteer organised 3 days festival in the summer, with an attendance of 1500 people daily. That festival  promote the power of local people initiatives, it invited people to come to share what is being created on their territory. It involved music, talks, debates, dance - giving credit to the cultural wealth of the neighborhood which has a long history of immigration.
 
 
KP: The project has been running for 8 years. What are the changes that happened for people working with you, who you mentioned were in a very insecure and precarious position, and what are the changes for the broader community?

As for the quality of work and cooperation, things have developed both in quantity and quality and there's a better understanding of how to work together and help each other, there's a solid network of people and organisations. They can rely on each other, share resources, advice each other, engage in projects in common, etc. 
 
For the people and organisation who were/are in precarious economical situations, to be completely honest, the project has succeeded in offering solid and better quality working facilities, but some NGO-s have closed their activities and left the premises and network. It's difficult to evaluate very precisely how sharing this place has managed to support the small organizations and if it has changed their fate, I wouldn't be honest if I said "yes, thanks to LM we have managed to keep NGO-s from shutting the doors because of lack of public support" and it was a part of the initial idea. But there is a lot of support in community, and we are different organizations in no competition with each other which makes it easier for us to cooperate. 
 
It's very hard to evaluate the impact for the community of such place. It's muti-layered, and more related to what it means to the neighborhood working on the same premises, and over half of them working for the neighborhood through working in this place, NGO-s share information and observations about the neighborhood and facilitate solutions to emerging needs. 
 
KP: You said during the panel that 10 years from now you hope not to be part of Locaux Motiv. What did you mean, precisely?
 
When I got involved I was impressed by the shared vision of founders and  how the project was fully open, without feeling of ownership. It's nobody's project, but ours - our, us, we are very strong words in the project, they allow various people to come in, find their place and become a volunteer, maybe for a monthly, year or few years, but making sure that energy is always renewed, we are working all the time by our governance. I have the feeling that project is being ran as a common: it is a common resource for various stakeholder's gathering in a community, it has an open governance and a strong understanding that the interest of the collective dimension is; to ensure the sustainability of the resource, more important than individuals, who are, at the same time, keys for the whole thing to work.We worked on our representation of authority and power and changed power structures: removing presidents, vice presidents and similar functions, are not only symbolic changes, that force us to challenge traditional approaches. 
 
We are really trying to work on our relation to authority, leadership and making sure that people coming as interns for 6 months in an organization can, in few months be part of decision making bodies in the organization. It is important to have both a motivated core group, and also open doors for new ideas and new energy to come in, to renew, refuel, reinvent things.There is no secret ingredients to successful cooperation but constant attention to pay on how people feel, understand  what is going on and make sure that newcomers understand where they can contribute by making things visible; which tasks are important, where are things being decided. The challenge is to recognize the value of minimal participation as the possible beginning of deeper commitment. In this kind of collective organisations there is a lot of informal discussions going on, they are important for ideas, energies to circulate and at the same time it is important to know that they are not a time for decision making because it shuts people out, because it reinforces the personal leadership of people who are there the longest, who are the loudest, etc.. 
 
I trust the strength of the project, it has lived through departures, constant turn over and, as far as I am concerned I am really happy know not to be part of any decision-making bodies and a happy member of two responsibility groups. And I wish in ten years Locaux Motiv' will be alive, kicking with different people and a constantly renewed energy.
Objavio/la hana [at] kulturpunkt.hr 22.11.2019