Catalysing Collaboration in the CoLab

The CoLab is about motivated people coming together to support the permaculture movement to become more coherent and effective. Most of them are permaculture practitioners themselves. They work with local communities and bring about tangible change to make human society and ecosystems more resilient. The CoLab is for this community and offers a space to work with other on shared interests and passions.

This blogpost is about how to help people, that come together in this way, to be as effective as possible.

In this group, with the intention to do important work, there is a lot of potential. A lot of potential to change themselves and the world around them. But also a lot of potential for unnecessary friction, misunderstanding, and missed opportunities.

To help collaborators be as effective as possible we have set up a secretariat.

The Secretariat and its Technicians

The secretariat supports the CoLab to function efficiently and provides, for example, transparent financial accounting and project management. The secretariat function has initially been held by the Permaculture Association (Britain), who welcome the active involvement of other constituted permaculture organisations in the delivery of this work.

Every laboratory needs technicians! Technicians are there to help members of projects and working groups use the online technology, resolve challenges, make proposals or find other support. Technicians also support working groups and projects to use sociocratic approaches, define roles and responsibilities and get to know the other collaborators.

The CoLab is an experimental space, and the technicians are there to help you run the experiments and optimise your outcomes.

Secretariat Circle

The idea of the secretariat comes from the Constellation Framework. However, we have adapted it to the situation we inhabit and integrated it with some ideas from Sociocracy, which is another set of principles and processes we are trying to work with. What the combination of the two leads to is the Secretariat Circle.

Whilst our understanding of what the secretariat is and does constantly changes and evolves we have started to define some concrete aims and domains of work. The aims of the secretariat circle (and the technicians) are:

  • To enable other circles to function efficiently as part of the CoLab
  • To help provide a collaborative and convivial online space in which circles can work towards the Co-Lab’s vision and mission
  • Support and train other circles in working collaboratively in online spaces
  • Act as an administrative function for the whole CoLab
  • To liaise with funders, provide reports and support applications for further funds where this is for the CoLab as a whole.

The above aims lead to certain domains in which the secretariat and all technicians move (and for which they take the decisions in the CoLab along sociocratic lines). These are:

  • Administration of CoLab, including but not limited to:

    • Effective and transparent financial administration

    • Effective and transparent membership administration

  • Facilitation support, including but not limited to:

    • Assisting working groups and projects formation, including understanding the CoLab structure and guidelines for participation

    • Provideworking groups and projectswith information about how to make a proposal and, along with stewards, identifying and connecting with potential funding partners

    • Organising and facilitating meetings of stewardship and/or general circle (tbc)

    • Helping participants and potential collaborators to be aware of each other and connected

    • Mediating (surface, dissolve and resolve conflict between circles and within circles)

  • Knowledge and information management for CoLab, including but not limited to:

    • Logbook keeping

    • Supporting circles to effectively curate their own information and documentation.

  • Training management, including but not limited to:

    • Induction and training of new members (using open badges whenever possible and appropriate)

    • Use of digital platforms

    • CoLab protocols and procedures

  • Coordinate and manage external communications, including but not limited to:

    • Manage the CoLab’s online presence (website, social media, etc.)

    • Networking and access to other networks - ssupport the CoLab to identify potential partners and resources

How did we get here?

When reading the description of the Secretariat in the Constellation Framework one quickly notices that our setup is different in some important aspects from what is outlined there. There is, of course, us considering the group to be a circle like any other within the sociocratic organising we do.

There are other aspects as well. For example, because we have been able to attract some funding to get the CoLab going there are actually some people employed (about 18hs per week) to help the volunteers (that got all of this going) and the initial stewardship group that started working recently. These individuals are employed by the Permaculture Association in Britain. Currently, the association also hosts the website and provides access to some online tools (e.g. Google Apps).

To maintain as much of the objectivity and independence that is so important to the role of the facilitator no one from the Permaculture Association in Britain is part of the stewardship group. The association is taking a coordinating role; in the language of the Constellation Framework, it sees itself as a process provider and not as a content provider. It dedicates the funded resources to be a catalyst of the CoLab and enhance the capacity of actors in the CoLab ecosystem.

As the CoLab grows more and more of this work will be done by a dispersed group of technicians. These are people that have an interest in supporting the CoLab as a whole, rather than a particular working group, project, or other initiative. In line with the constellation framework they will be engaged in: facilitation, conflict mediation, project development, planning, strategy, partnership development, fundraising, incubation and support of the other circles (in line with the aims and domains set out above).