Sharing is caring
A guide for sharing time and space
Working horizontally, sharing resources, a sustainable economy: these are values that many organizations and institutions strive to achieve and are all too keen to pretend to be putting into practice. But how exactly do we do that? How do you rhyme the good intentions in a vision statement with everyday reality? In the spring of 2022, a group of experts got together, each with a different set of tools and different history, to draw up a handbook to help make living and working together as smooth as possible.
Their backgrounds – ranging from cooperative housing, to artistic operations, to food distribution – complement one another, helping to generate a list of values and points for attention, rather than absolute objectives or targets. This list can serve as a guideline for any organization, young or old, in which sharing is a central factor. It is a collection of the interlocutors’ practical experiences, mistakes from which they have learned, and goals that they permanently repeat for themselves.
Assuming that absolute perfection does not exist, the following is a tool to keep your operations in motion and stimulate self-evaluation.
Take up no more space than you need
Many organizations with buildings of their own have extra space. Instead of trying to fill that space or just renting it out, it is possible to open it up. There is always a demand for space – the local bridge club, social organizations, young people in search of somewhere to hang out... Communicate clearly to the outside world that you are opening up your building, so that those in search of space can approach you about it. Map out the needs of fellow residents and neighbours and make these transparent, so they become something that can be openly discussed.
Live with, not alongside one another
Ensure that the different groups that give substance to your location do not just exist next to one another. Provide spaces and moments where everyone can meet, such as shared lunches or open get-togethers. But a certain demarcation is just as important. The proverbial locks on some doors and cabinets, with clear individuals responsible for the keys, are indispensable. Together, create a pleasant environment: dirty toilets are not cool, just irritating.
Good agreements make good friends
It is no accident that this is an age-old saying. Clearly expressing what you expect from one another and what you can or cannot offer is the fundamental principle of balanced cooperation. If you invite someone for a meeting, explain why they were invited, why they are meeting with you in particular and how the organization you work for functions. A contract or charter can help. We may be quick to think that this is just an institutional reflex, but it is often a demonstration of mutual respect. You trust one another and formalize that trust in writing, and then set to work with each party doing what they are good at. If something goes wrong, or if you want to evaluate the collaboration, refer back to the document that you made up together and use it as your guide.
Involve your whole team
Everyone who works for you must know and express the philosophy of your organization. Involve everyone as much as possible in discussions and meetings. Only when someone is informed about everything that is happening is that person able, from the perspective of their own personality and interests, to contribute to the mission of your operation. Who can make decisions? How many layers of consultation do you really need? Commit yourselves to being a “yes team”: a team that assumes that in principle, everything is possible. Ensure that there are clear responsibilities and mechanisms for decision-making, so you can translate that vision into concrete actions.
Determine the limits of your own abilities
Do you have difficulty making it clear who can call on your organization and for what? Make up lists of things that are and are not possible and use these as parameters. Here are some examples:
- “Quality takes precedence over quantity.”
- “No public activity is aimed at generating profit.”
- “Vacant property is lost potential.”
With such lists of limiting principles, you can make well-supported decisions. If the entire team knows and promotes these principles, almost everyone is quickly able to answer a question with “yes” or “no”. Needless to say, such lists as these are always in motion. Allow them to grow along with your plans and needs.
Provide enough duct tape
Now and then, things break. If you give a lot of parties, it happens regularly. Keep sufficient duct tape on hand to make rapid repairs possible. Ideally, you also ensure that more durable repairs are also possible, but experience teaches that these can take a long time. Everyone can use tape.
Make time-outs possible
Living and working together can be intense. Moreover, each one of us also has a separate life, in addition to the projects we are engaged with. Come up with a formula to indicate that people can withdraw for a while or limit their responsibilities without it being a problem. Why not set up a time-out working group, which one can be part of for as long as they think necessary? By making your break explicit, and by joining others who are also taking a step back, you remain involved in a gentle way and rest is also acknowledged as a part of engagement.
Do not store away what another can use
The tendency to hang on to all kinds of things that “might come in handy one day” is very human, but it generates large-scale storage spaces full of untouched potential. Avoid dead stock. Keep an inventory of whatever you store and make it available to those who want to use it. Do not worry if your storage space is suddenly empty: it will fill up again soon enough. See storage as a temporary solution, not a final destination. In preliminary discussions, decide what will ultimately happen to items that are purchased or produced for a collaboration: who owns the materials after the end of the activity? Can they be shared or reused? Who will store them?
Put breath in your budget
Wherever possible, be creative with money. Keeping correct accounts is of course crucial, but that does not mean that you cannot provide space for financial surprises. If, for example, you have a system in which people can declare expenses on condition that they advance the money themselves and keep the receipts, you will not be reimbursing gigantic amounts. Are you sharing your budget with diverse players who contribute unequal amounts? Experiment with alternative models, so that everyone, for example, contributes and receives an equal percentage, depending on their portion of the total budget. If you need to generate income, give a party and sell beer at a democratic price.
Standing still is moving backwards
Do not get stuck in patterns that cause your operations to stagnate. Continuity and expertise are beautiful qualities that can go perfectly hand in hand with a sense of experiment and a certain contrariness. In particular, recipients of structural subsidies can fall into repetition, by allowing the fixed rhythm of applications and justifications to determine their everyday operations. What if you apply for a building permit every five years, so that you can continuously transform your building? If you see the threat of falling into a rut, be timely about creating space for unpredictability: delegate a part of your budget, enter into an unexpected collaboration, or if it is what you need, dare to do nothing for a given period. Take on a project in a different country or invite activities that you feel a connection with. Organize a symposium, a group for reflection, or a project in a location where you are in an unfamiliar context. Opening up your processes to outsiders is the most active form of reflection.
Are you facing a difficult period of a more existential nature? Do not avoid asking yourself if your organization should exist forever. Dare to see that it might be finite, because it has achieved its goal, or, with a new team with total autonomy, that your organization can follow a different path, according to new ideas and needs.
Now and then, you will make decisions that you later have doubts about. You can overlook something, or go through a difficult time. Build in evaluation as an indispensable part of every collaboration. Try to see crisis as a moment from which you can all learn from your mistakes – together. Losing your way can help you sharpen, or even regain your focus.
It’s the people who make it happen
Be open to the fact that how you work changes through the presence of others. Do not engage in partnerships merely because they are strategically interesting. See the way you fill in your time, budget or space, temporarily or in the longer term, as an essential part of how you operate, rather than as something marginal to it. Communicate openly about those who are staying and/or working around you. Be open and vulnerable towards each other, so you can learn from one another. See your organization’s DNA not as something that is self-evident, but something that moves along with who and what is present in your organization.
This text is the result of a conversation between Nele Keukelier, Elsemieke Scholte, Vincent Focquet, Fairuz Ghamman, Bie Vancraeynest, Yannick Roels, Paul De Cannière, Arthur Van Beek, Matthieu Goeury and Agnes Quackels, and was recorded and revised by Simon Baetens.
The discussion was the final step in Delen van grond, tijd en middelen, a research project by Gouvernement in the context of Kaaitheater’s ‘How to Live and Work Now’ platform. In 2020, Kaaitheater decided to temporarily cancel their programming and use the newly available funds for working groups that would rethink the what, why and how of the arts. In the framework of A Fair New World, Kunstenpunt supported the editing and translation of the text.
Delen van grond, tijd en middelen (Sharing Ground, Time and Resources) is a research project completed by Nele Keukelier (founder and general coordinator of Gouvernement), Vincent Focquet (playwright and artistic staff member at Gouvernement), Elsemieke Scholte (formerly artistic coordinator for Detheatermaker, currently head of artistic innovation at Toneelhuis) and Fairuz Ghammam (filmmaker and teacher at Sint Lucas School of Arts in Brussels).