On the network: Do not vote!
'On the network' symposium: workshop on collaborative economies

Workshop: Horizontality is not a value – On the working of collaborative economy
Organizers : Peter Zuiderwijk, Alex Roemer
Collaborator : Godelieve Spaas
Date: 29/10/22
Location: The Netherlands, online

In preparation for a future collaboration with Future of Work (an organization that is planning a festival about alternative economics in Den Bosch in 2023) we invited Godelieve Spaas to reflect with us on the overarching economic model that defines the Constructlab network. As a professor for new economy, Spaas describes economy not as a science but as a social and cultural construct. She focuses on the Hows and Whys of such a construct, encouraging us to do so as well and making us question certain core aspects of our collective approach to work: What is the purpose of Constructlab? What’s the reason for it to exist? And how can its economy serve this purpose? What kind of models have we used so far, what could (or should) be changed?

Starting point of this collective analysis was to reflect on what makes Constructlab special and what is unique about our practice. Everyone agreed that the dynamics of the network are rather chaotic, or to phrase it more positively: organically developed and fluent. That also goes for the natural entrance flow of a project:

You don’t have to apply for a vacant spot, there is no official procedure. You can become part of a project by making your hands dirty. And if you stay in touch, you can become a member without further debate. For many, the Constructlab endeavors are highly appreciated experimentation grounds, spaces that enable communal learning. The period of time in which a project happens often feels rather like a holiday, than work. Questions of payment or sufficiency only seldomly arise.

But with a perceptive remark Spaas pointed a finger at an important aspect of that issue: If work becomes leisure or life, does it mean you don’t have to get paid for it?

For most Constructlab members, the projects are not the main source of income.

So it is more important to generate infrastructural money and to structure the network in a sense that it supports the individual associations – in a way that it is not a burden for them. In the long run, this process is about creating a collaborative foundation that can grow and that works efficiently.

An important aspect regarding this is the question how power is divided in Constructlab. Naturally, roles are linked to responsibilities, and responsibilities are linked to power. Constructlab projects encourage to a certain level this fluidity of roles and make it part of the work ethos. But that does not necessarily mean that someone inherits the role in a project that is the most suitable to his or her personality, that this role lets him or her work the most efficiently. To disconnect these dynamics from coincidence or arbitrariness, Spaas suggests to keep the conversation open and to find an inclusive way to discuss problems. A democratic approach for this kind of problem solving mode is suitable. But rather than having all the disagreements voted on, the aim should be a form of consent, defining next steps together, enabling change and remaining a willingness to listen.

For Spaas, the development of joint strategies is about focusing on strengths and finding solutions that fit the ecosystem of a collective practice. The structure should be nurtured in the same way that it is done on a project level. She suggests using the abilities developed in the practice and cultivating the enormously enriching outcome of most of the Constructlab projects: an intense learning time that opens up many possibilities on the basis of trust in each other and in a shared vision.

To do so, the main aim should be to further invest in relationships, collectiveness and togetherness and not complicate the joint work by overburdening it with an overly economic way of thinking.
As a run up to this collective talk we made a bike tour with Godelieve Spaas, Olga Mink (Future of Work) and some Constructlab members in Den Bosch visiting sites that focus on experimental forms of collaborative economies and production.

Image by Massimiliano Murra

Horizontality is not a value – On the working of collaborative economy was part of the Workshop series that flanked the digital symposium On the network and the launch of the new digital networking platform and was supported by the Fond Soziokultur with funds from the Beauftragten der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien within the framework of NEUSTART KULTUR.

Drawing by Alex Lambert