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POC21: A Look Into 5 Weeks of Co-Making For Sustainability

For a few months, OuiShare and OpenState have been preparing for POC21: a 5-week innovation camp where 100+ makers, designers, engineers and more, will join forces this summer to prototype the best open source products for a low-carbon and resource-efficient economy, ahead of the COP21 climate summit. One week before our Call For Projects ends (have you applied yet?) we wanted to take some time to give your more details about what exactly is awaiting participants.

The very concept for POC21 has been collaboratively built during conversations that have spanned for as long as two years, and draws from the experiences of a diverse and multidisciplinary team. To shine the light on the camp, what better way than do so through the voice of two key process architects of our core team?

Below is a short interview of my teammates: Justyna Swat, OuiShare Connector, WikiHouse Foundation executive and design professor at ENSCI ; and Dominik Wind, OpenState co-founder and instigator of the original innovation camp: Palomar5.

Justyna Swat and Dominik Wind, two of my lovely POC21 teammates!

Justyna Swat and Dominik Wind, two of my lovely POC21 teammates!

Hello friends! let us start with a simple question: why FIVE weeks? What are participants going to do during all of that time?

Justyna Swat. Hackathons, barcamps and fabjams are now all over the place. These events are fantastic and bring on amazing energy, but they can also be frustrating because they usually last fora few days only. They are perfect for brainstorming and creative thinking, but not sufficient for long-term project goals such as prototyping, which can take a while. One must make a lot of mistakes before reaching the “right” solution and this may be discouraging if done alone. We believe than consistent, collaborative development and prototyping during five weeks can help. Not only because of the hours spent, but also thanks to team dynamics. Imagine having skilled people around you to help all day, everyday!

Furthermore, the best ideas can be unexpected. A breakthrough idea might happen during a work session, a conversation at 1 am over a glass wine, in the shower, or during a morning jog in the forest. To harvest these ideas on the spot, participants will live on site, and facilities will be open 24/7.  We will not only innovate but also take time to “take a step back” while enjoying the amazing scenery of the Millemont Institute. All this with the help of fantastic experts and mentors.

Dominik Wind. When we think about the ongoing climate and resource catastrophe, solutions must entail changing the behavior of hundreds of millions of people: consumption patterns, and how we produce what we consume. Interestingly enough, it seems that this need for behavioral change for many automatically translates to a need for more technology, new high-tech tools to make people change their behavior. While I agree that technology definitely has an important role in the development and spread of more sustainable lifestyles, it only can do so much.

The American psychologist and behaviorist B.F. Skinner stated that “social group situations are the most powerful tool for change we have at hand. And that’s why everybody is scared of them”. From my own experience, I’ve witnessed that when the setting is right, something else happens… As former camp participant and now dear friend Jay Cousins put it, “we brainwashed ourselves”. When we get to know new people, we tend to be naturally kind and goodwilling. It’s a kind of restart. The beauty is that although it starts maybe unintentionally, these behavior changes can really become a part of us: whether it’s a running routine in the morning or less energy consumption, it will leave the camp with us.

Research suggests that changing behaviors becomes easier when doing it together, with a little peer pressure and encouragement outside of our normal environment

Research suggests that changing behaviors becomes easier when doing it together, with a little peer pressure and encouragement outside of our normal environment, when we have enough time for it. Therefore, I’m pretty optimistic that POC21 will be a great space for personal learning and growth as well as social and technological experimentation and development at the same time.

The design of the camp’s creative process aims to foster and support the above with various session formats and periodic rituals. From worksessions to campfire chats, mentoring sessions, p2p learnings and daily sync, retrospectives, reality checks with external sparring partners, candlelight dinners in the woods, to partying to some fine Berlin electro tunes, we will try to support our teams to make the most out of their time together. And they better be prepared for some surprises too.

View from the beautiful Millemont castle where the POC21 innovation camp will happen from August 15th to September 20th, 2015.

View from the beautiful Millemont castle where the POC21 innovation camp will happen from August 15th to September 20th, 2015.

POC21 participants will be making physical products, from energy generators, electric vehicles to household appliances and urban farming tools … How will the place be equipped for this?

J. S. Prototyping is one of the most important parts of the innovation camp process, thus participants will have non-stop access to our fabrication facilities. We might not be able to reach the industrial prototype level for every single projects, depending on their complexity and machinery requirements, but our Green Fab Lab will be equipped with all the tools needed for metal and woodwork as well as digital fabrication tools: 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC milling, etc. And the outdoor experimentation area will be large enough to build full-scale structures.

Dominik, the “Innovation Camp” format takes a lot from Palomar5, an experiment you organized in 2009. Can you tell us more about it?

D. W. Palomar5 was the first “Innovation Camp” in Europe. It took place in the fall of 2009 at Malzfabrik, a converted former brewery area near Tempelhof in south Berlin. 30 participants under 30, internationally selected out of 700+ applicantions, lived and worked together for 7 weeks under the topic “the future of work”. During their stay, they created 12 projects that went from devices to enable a more haptic transfer of digital data, to oversized light-interfaces questioning the dynamics of control between user and digital devices, to a satellite network to connect the developing world to the World Wide Web. These outcomes were presented to an invite-only audience of +300 guests from business, science, and media at the final Palomar5 – Summit, that was followed by the Palomar5 – Festival, when the camp site was opened to the public, showcasing the working and living areas.

An atmosphere shaped by fundamental openness, freedom, and mutual trust that enables the emergence of collaborative and self-organized processes

The methodology of Palomar5 is based upon the design of temporary experimental spaces that go beyond the ordinary: this is exactly what makes me really excited about POC21. An atmosphere shaped by fundamental openness, freedom, and mutual trust that enables the emergence of collaborative and self-organized processes of invention and innovation. Nevertheless, Palomar5 remains a controversially disputed approach to innovation. While some critics mainly saw the event as a lot of money burned, others praised the innovative methodology and considered the event as a prototype for the so called “fuzzy front end of innovation”. If you want to learn more, make sure to check out our documentary film and of course feel free to get in touch with me anytime!

What are the lessons you learned while organizing Palomar5 that can be applied to POC21?

D. W. The biggest change is going from ideas to prototypes to begin with. At Palomar5 we selected participants based on their experiences in life, at work as well as their personalities. They did not bring a project but started to create new ideas collectively during the camp. While this was a very interesting, emerging process, the time together was limited and a lot of the conceptual work and especially research that needed to be done didn’t really benefit from the extraordinary situation we were in. At POC21 we ask people to apply with at least a design or functional prototype, so the level we will start from will be much more advanced. This way I hope to reach a development stage where we can really showcase the benefits of the solutions developed, including great product design and storytelling. 

In addition to that, I aim for more guidance. I’m well aware that this is pretty uncommon in our networked, highly dynamic scenes and communities and might lead to some discussions. But I’m not talking about telling people how or when to work, I’m actually not worried about the work part. What I’m thinking about more are the things that the camp teams will have to face in addition to their own development process. Teams will work heads down all the time, at Palomar5 some teams even pulled all nighters in the end! They forgot to take care for themselves, to take into consideration their energy levels. We had created a vortex of enthusiasm that was dangerously intriguing. In the end we will absolutely do not want to force anybody to do anything. We’ll try to take care of them, offer help, give hints and set highs and lows by the way we schedule special sessions.

We had created a vortex of enthusiasm that was dangerously intriguing

After all it’s our job as the founding team to keep the vision, making sure POC21 will develop its full potential and this is what the camp teams can expect from us.

POC21_Call_for-Projects_extended

In addition to providing accommodation, food, tools and materials, the objective is to give participants access to key expertise from a diverse group of mentors. Can you give us a few hints of the profiles?

J. S. & D. W. The group of experts interacting with the participants will vary from high-profile technologists and entrepreneurs, to scientists, designers, sustainability and industry experts, or storytellers. Teams will have tech support on 2D and 3D design with the use of software like Fusion360, electronics, code, sustainable design, interface, interaction, communication design, mechanical engineering, biomimetics, permaculture, funding strategy, community building and even personal development. We also plan to include on-demand legal support and a range of project-specific expertise that will come from our partner network.

The group of experts interacting with the participants will vary from high-profile technologists and entrepreneurs, to scientists, designers, sustainability and industry experts, or storytellers.

We are currently putting together the mentors network, but confirmed names include advisors and partners such as Tomas Diez and Jonathan Minchin from IAAC & Valldaura Green Fab Lab, Dawn Danby from Autodesk sustainable design team, Thomas Landrain from La Paillasse bio-hackerspace, Louis-David Benyayer, author of Open Models (a successful french book about open business models), and many more that we will be able to announce soon, stay tuned!

What kind of projects would you be excited to see applying?

D. W. I would love to see an open source “automated anti-drone paintball gun” although I´m not so sure in which categories this might fit. Otherwise, beautiful low-energy kitchen appliances and energy monitoring systems would be great!

J. S. I’m very much into bio materials from construction to clothing. Everything mycelium!

The POC21 Call For Projects is open until May 1st: if you work on a promising open hardware product for sustainable living, and you would like to benefit from our innovation camp process to bring it to the next level, apply now!