In January this year, we held a workshop about collaboration as a part of the 2019 Transmediale program. This post is a round-up of what was discussed during the workshop. In a second post we will collate some links and resouces that might be relevant for collectives and collaborative work.
Why did AAA put on a workshop about collaboration?
First, some context. Being a collective is not only how we produce games. The process and the structures surrounding our work is for us a utopian experiment in trying to do better. We are situated (somewhat awkwardly) between the spheres of "games" and "fine art" - two fields known for exploitative labour practices. Producing our work in a collective is deliberate attempt to take a step sideways from that. The how of making games is for us so tangled up in the what of our games, that we can no longer tear the two apart. And from our perspective, that's rightfully so - there's no point making art about utopia while using the same old fucked up business models to do so.
So, this workshop was an attempt to bring some of that that to the surface - to talk to others working in collectives about the challenges we face and to share and exchange resources and strategies for dealing with those.
Defining the term 'collective'
The term "collective" is certainly not new and is vulnerable to becoming so vague and misappropriated as to be meaningless. In lieu of an all-compassing definition, here are a few possible concerns and qualities of a collective, which help frame what this workshop was about.
A collective might...
- be beholden to its members - not shareholders, CEOs, museum directors or sales
- attempt to organise itself non-hierarchically and...
- when hierarchies organically form, acknowledge these transparently
- attempt to operate independently of existing powerful institutions that don't align with the collective's values
- allow for individual agency and expression within the group structure
- care for the well-being of its members above what its members produce
- have communication habits that help build trust and facilitate fair decision-making
What was discussed during the workshop?
The workshop centred around three core topics:
- care & communication
- organisational structures
The participants of the workshop were asked to form smaller groups to develop discussion questions based on these topics. Below we've included a brief summary of the tactics that each group came up with in answer to their discussion questions. Some of the thoughts and discussion threads captured here are just short strands - but we hope they can act as catalyst for thought.
- How can we build trusting relationships without hierarchies when working remotely?
- We could use virtual spaces to create informal and casual remote relationships, not just work-related discussion.
- Communities working remotely should define their own metrics for measuring how they are working to prevent these being formed by assumption.
- How can we use technology to facilitate care and communication in a more flexible way?
This question was developed in response to the stress many participants reported about the expectation for constant communication when collaborating using tools like Slack
- A "one-size fits all" solution is not always appropriate.
- Collectives or communities should create clear expectations around communication.
- There is a need to resist or be aware of how our work is being filtered through and affected by productivity software.
- Collectives should try to understand the bias of the tools, particularly when they go against the community's values.
- Privacy, security and ease of use should be prioritised.
- Try to create or use existing resources to make open source tools more accessible.These tools should speak the language of the non-programmer!
- Individuals should not be expected to be always available. Facilitation and moderation is necessary to create a healthy environment.
- How do our collectives make decisions and "figure it out"? What would we like to do differently?
- There is a need to recognise and acknowledge that non-hierarchical groups still exist within bigger hierarchies.
- Interacting with similarly minded groups could be valuable.
- Creating transparent decision-making processes is important.
- Define, discuss and maybe rotate roles.
- Having a singular leader reduces the longevity of the group.
- Mess with existing institutions and define your own terms of engagement.
- All of this is an ongoing conversation!
- How can we promote positive agency when dealing with institutional hierarchies and unavoidable and often oppressive power dynamics?
- Defining clear goals when engaging with bigger institutions is important - what do we expect to get out of this?
- Define finite roles, hierarchies and divisions of labour so as to stay flexibility and protect the organic nature of the work.
..working in a collective is certainly no new alternative route. On the other hand, in the tech sector - which many members of AAA collective also work in - and indeed in society at large, we are surrounded by methods of production focussed on viewing us primarily as resources that generate capital for others (and not ourselves). In parallel to this exists a long line of people testing utopian structures and methods - and of course sometimes spectacularly failing. In this spirit of experimentation, it's important to us to exchange strategies and resources to somehow keep going.
Thanks to all the participants of the workshop for sharing your experiences and ideas!