Sophie comments on Madrid meeting

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Message from Sophie Bloemen after the Madrid meeting

Dear All,

Thank you for the perspectives that I have read carefully and appreciate, especially Lucas and Zemos98 for you very insightful points and concrete proposal.

Clearly we have to learn from the experience in organising Madrid and the event itself, and there were things that could have been better. But I think we should not let the negativity of some issue overshadow the whole of Madrid. There were a lot of good and positive things, and experimenting and learning are part of the ECA process. We did have a gathering of great people, rich exchanges, inspiration and learning, people worked together in the workshops and the programme parts meet the locals and visiting commons in Madrid were good and very well attended. My workshop on data commons went very well, with a clear position and a group that aims to keep working together on very concrete projects. This might not be true for all other workshops of course.

Some of the workshop material and the post production will make it possible to have messages or even positions that came out of the workshops to be presented to the outside world. Please do not forget there is still a lot of work to be done in post-production, dissemination and communication. (btw. I had a meeting at MLP on Thursday morning about post-production and what kind of material we will still produce, all good and I will share an overview.) Possibly some of the material, including drawings, videos, pictures, could be presented at the Tate, depending on what Public Works decides to do.

The voice of the commons was also heard at the public panel at Transeuropa festival, which Stacco, Iva and me took part in. I think there we jointly articulated a position that made clear the need for systemic change and the contrast with both the status quo and other ‘progressive’ voices.

In the final session we did discuss ideas about what ECA could or should be and we documented all of this, but it would have been good to have a better, more open and constructive conversation about the future of ECA with stronger facilitation. This seemed to be out of reach. Overall, although we had good participation, we did not have the energy we had in Brussels.

I think indeed to a large extent some of the disappointments and difficulties have been due to diverging expectations. The aims and objectives for Madrid were never clearly agreed on and people in the coordination group had different and conflicting ideas of what it was that we wanted to do & achieve in Madrid. The objectives as articulated in the only shared document, the 2 pager also shared with funders, were very basic and about learning from, and building on, commons practices and their challenges in Madrid. Also I would say the participants overall had very diverging interest. For the future it might be an idea to have a more diverse programming so that people can do different things, engage in the processes they find important. Maybe for Madrid each of us could have organised a session according what thought was important to achieve Madrid. And we could have left room for other participants to also organise sessions. Perhaps we should think about more like a World Social Forum format. Or to have a very specific event, where only people go that are interested in a specific topic or process.

I agree that the issues that arose in Madrid have to do with some problems in the core of ECA. Apart from everyone being busy, it was hard for us to discuss things. We were not able to maintain a level of trust and cohesion that was necessary to curate this event in the way that was needed. There is a certain optimistic and positive dynamic needed when there are so little resources to support the work. The fact that we could not have a meeting all together to plan before the event I think also is a sign of this and unfortunate.

This also manifested itself in the poor guidance and support of Nicole, which was my responsibility but also a collective one. She ended up having to do almost all the work by herself, doing the job of 3 people in a not very helpful collective environment. Nicole did a great job and we can only be grateful that we have someone as a coordinator who is so committed and talented. Thankfully Ana was there from MLPs side toward the end, who did a lot of practical and logistical work, maybe not exactly in the way some of us had wanted it to be, but she did it and was the only person Nicole could really work with on a continuous and consistent basis.

And although I think Villarceaux was an important meeting to have, the timing was very challenging. Yet for ECA to achieve any of the objectives we have identified we need structure indeed. In order to have democratic and participatory, accountable and effective organising, we need some sort of governance in place. For my part I overlooked this when embarking on ECA Madrid, I now realise it was essential. Even if we would have all agreed on everything, there would still be an accountability, transparency and legitimacy problem, and no clear process for new people to become involved.

For the future of ECA the proposal made by Zemos makes a lot of sense to me. As a basis I see ECA as an infrastructure, a platform where people can work together meet, create joint proposals and create joint demands, work towards visibility of the commons discourse. That is something, and something very valuable. It would be an added value to have joint positions, clear joint political demands as ECA. But we do not all agree on this, and we are no longer only 30 people as in the beginning when we wrote the call, so in order to do that we need some sort of process, structure, governance.

For Commons Network, we are most interested in ECA as a platform allowing for political impact & collaboration in the political sphere, articulation of the commons perspective to society, and demands towards institutions. But I very much appreciate and take to hart Zemos’ comment ‘’the challenge is not to impose what we think ECA should be according to our interests or political scope, but to find a common field from where to discuss and make our efforts and capacities compatible on the long term’’


Let’s keep talking and reflecting!

Sophie