If we are not talking about sustainability ourselves, we certainly hear a lot about it. One of the certainties of sustainability is that we will never achieve it unless we seriously question and rethink the way we work and live currently. But what are alternatives? When a mutual friend alerted Bettina to a project called ‘POC21’ she was immediately fascinated, and asked for an introduction to one of the initiators, Dominik Wind … only to find out that her and Dominik’s paths had crossed a few years earlier, during a project called ‘Innovation Futures’ of which they were both part. Below the conversation about the project between Bettina and project initiator Dominik Wind.
Bettina: When I came across your project POC21 I was absolutely fascinated. My understanding is that it is about prototyping an alternative, truly sustainable approach for society to live, work and be. The project is not just talking about the possibilities – or impossibilities as many believe, it is about creating a truly sustainable future.
Tell us a little more about the project !
Dominik: In November 2015 world leaders will come to Paris for the U.N. climate negotiations “COP21“, the biggest and most important climate conference after the “Copenhagen disaster” in 2009.
Ahead of this, our POC21 Camp will take place – also in Paris, in an old castle. Under the motto „from protest to prototype“ we aim to add a proactive dimension to the vicious circle of unheard civil protest and extensive negotiations leading nowhere.
Our goal is to develop what we call the „smallest functional and replicable cell of a sustainable society“, brought to life right in front of the castle and showcased to the world in a blend of “Whole Earth Catalogue” and “IKEA Catalogue”, online and offline.
50 open source makers and hackers will live and work together for 5 weeks to develop all of the above in a unique social catalyst event, bringing together the global best of open source technology. All our results will be freely available for everybody, ready for adoption and further development: a new breed of open products that enables longer product life cycles and less consumption of raw materials through increased reparability, local production and circular flows of material.
Bettina: How did this project come about, and what was the motivation behind it ?
Dominik: All of the founding members of Open State are also founders of now pretty successful Berlin based design and communication agencies. Since about 2009 all of us have been spending time working with NGOs, the „good guys“ as we were convinced back then. Over the course of the last years we got to know many very well-intentioned people but from our experience most of them are locked in just another industry with its very own logic and goals which are not necessarily in agreement with their advertised messages. On global scale humankind remains on target for disaster, and in 2012 we felt it was really high time for action, looking for a stronger lever. Ever since we have been on a quest for more fundamental work, more radical in a way. Did you know that ‘radical’ derives from the Greek word ‘radix’ which means ‘the root’?
We want to contribute our energy and short time here on earth to develop the next new ‘normal’ after growth focused throw-away capitalism, something we see as the root of the most pressuring global problems of today. I guess we are still a bunch of idealists, but in our early to mid 30s it looks like this is our calling – and it´s huge fun for us too.
Bettina: Who is part of this bunch of idealists, and how did you find each other?
Dominik: As mentioned above all members of the Open State founding team have been friends for years. We deeply trust each other, know our strengths and weaknesses, and take care of each other. Over time more volunteers joined in, supporting us, bringing new skills and experiences to the table , something that tremendously enriches our work and development.
Then there is our partner organisation OuiShare, a think-tank, do-tank and global community of pioneers building a collaborative and open source society. Ben one of the OuiShare founders and I met several times over coffee introduced by a common friend and I also presented Open State at Ouisharefest in May 2014. When we found out about the fact that the next U.N. climate negotiations will take place in Paris this December, this was the final broad hint to join forces and the starting point of the POC21 endeavour.
Bettina: What did you expect to be the biggest challenges and how did you address them?
Dominik: Funding. Clearly funding. First of all the decision to give money to a project that tries something different and can therefore not guarantee the exact outcome upfront is always a tough one, and I fully understand that. What is less understandable to me is the immense risk averseness we came to witness, especially in big governmental bodies here in Germany. Most public institutions seem to be in some kind of paralysed state, not accepting the most obvious realities like our urgent need to explore new adaptive ways of living and doing business now, to prepare for more volatile times not too far ahead of us. Instead they often seem backward looking, hiding behind walls of regulations, overly complex bureaucratic applications, and time consuming processes. From our experience this makes it currently almost impossible to cooperate with most public bodies on agile, iterative approaches. Because of this we are even more happy to have a great array of partners and funders from all sorts of other walks of life with us now. Without their willingness to trust in our team and break out of their box of standard procedures we would not go anywhere.
Bettina: So if you met the fairy godmother now, what would be the three wishes that would enable such communities as you will be creating to be widely accepted and realised?
Dominik: Dear fairy godmother, great to finally meet you! Here are my three wishes:
1st wish: More empathy for everybody involved.
2nd wish: More daringness for everybody involved.
3rd wish: In case number 1 and 2 turn out to be not sufficient to make many more people care about a more sustainable future: three new wishes please.
Bettina: Coming back to the present, what ingredients are you still looking for in order to enable you ambition to live up to its full potential?
Dominik: We are still not fully funded so additional funds would still be highly appreciated. Besides that, what we can never have enough of are people supporting us in any way they can. From spreading the word online and offline to preparing the event, from coding to cooking, from woodworking to meditation courses. POC21 is a truly p2p adventure after all.
Bettina: One final question: I would like to come back to the team that has come together. Do you think it is a coincidence that you and your fellow instigators share a background in design and communications?
Dominik: Designers and communicators focus on strategies, tactics, and tools to bring specific content to a broader audience or target group. We don´t build the very core of things, in our case this is done by coders, craftsmen, makers of all kinds. But the technologies they build, until now often only appeal to niches and need a package that lets them stand out. Whether we like it or not, in an always-on world where every single human is bombarded by 5.000 ads per day, „being more right“ is simply not enough. We need to be able to offer great product design and communications if we want to reach out to broader audiences that might be interested, but simply did not hear about more sustainable modes of consumption. Therefore I think it´s not a coincidence that we share a background in design and communications because these are the disciplines that have the most to contribute to a technological development that comes of age and becomes market ready.
Bettina: Thanks Dominik, an amazing project indeed… Do keep us in the loop, we will be delighted to share and spread the news of your journey! If you would like to find out more and / or get involved in any way, please contact Donimik on [email protected]
A little background:
Dominik is a strategic designer specialised in participatory invention and innovation processes, and co-founder of POC21. In addition he’s a lecturer in three universities and joint editor of We-Magazine. Since 2009 he designed and facilitated more than 100 social catalyst events lasting between 5 hours and 7 weeks. As open-source-everything enthusiast he is co-founder of Open State, a laboratory for contemporary, sustainable living, founded 2012 in Berlin. At Open State designers and activists join forces to build fully operating, replicable cells of a future-proof society.
Follow Dominik on Twitter: @dominikwind
Have a look at the next event of POC21 that will take place on from the 15th of August until the 20th of September 2015: