http://www.artbrock.com/node/49), I will focus here on how the structure of the lab is an example of how the gift economy is understood to operate.
From a functional perspective, the ELL is a social-enterprise start-up organized around a short-term intentional community. The participants in the program—the ‘makers’ as they are called—bring an idea for a social organization to the lab to develop over the course of the intensive eight week program. There is a selection process to participate; the participants submit applications describing their ideas and backgrounds. However, the program itself is completely free. The cohort is small, around 10-12 makers are selected.
Although a great deal of the learning within the program is horizontal, between the participants themselves, the makers are well supported in their efforts to develop their ideas. At the core of the organizational structure of the lab is a pair of facilitators. The facilitators for the Lab in Chatham were Art Brock and Eric Harris-Braun, who are the originators of the ELL concept. This is the second time they have run a lab in Chatham. Both are well known theorists and activists in arena of the gift economy. They consider the facilitators to be the ‘coherence holders’ for the process, having a general idea of how the emergent learning process should evolve over the course of the program. While there is clearly a leadership role played by the facilitators, in practice they worked hard to create a horizontal, participative learning space where all of the collaborators, regardless of role, work on equal footing.
Within the lab space, there is also a small support team who coordinate logistics and look after the wider community interactions and relationships. They solicit and manage food pick-ups from the farming community, organize work crews for cooking and cleaning and host public events to familiarize people in Chatham with the work of the lab. The support team is a mixture of past ELL participants and likely-future participants who are still in the nascent stages of developing their ideas.
The makers, facilitators and support team make up the core of the residential community who live in Chatham and spend 12-14 hours a day at the lab space during the program. However, there are also other several groups who play an active role in supporting the lab. Most obviously, there are the people of Chatham, New York. They are the foundation of the program and key to the functionality of the ELL as a gift economy enterprise. The lab is able to function without a budget and with very limited costs because of the support of the community. The workspace for the lab is a retired paper mill that has been purchased and partially rehabbed by a solar-cell company called Sun Dog Solar (http://www.sundogsolar.net/). They provide the Lab with around 3500 feet of unused office space in the mill. ELL participants have been slowly cleaning and remodeling the building into functional office and workshop space. Food for the program is likewise provided by the community. ELL has networked with a variety of farmers and shops in area and these collectively provide more than enough food to meet the needs of the some 20 people who are typically on site each day. Moreover, because only a very small number of people involved in the program are from Chatham, the community also supports the program by providing housing. Some dozen families in the nearby Quaker community opened their doors and provided beds and breakfasts to the out-of-town participants. The Quakers also provided several veggie-diesel cars (that run on reclaimed cooking oil) to the group so that participants could carpool to and from the Sun Dog facility each day.
Finally there were also a two, more broadly-situated groups who supported the work of the ELL at a distance. These were the source team and the coaching team. The source team acted as a backstop for the facilitators, providing ideas on curriculum and techniques for supporting group process. They provided outside eyes and advice to help the facilitators hold coherence during the program. Finally there was an external coaching team. The each of the makers was paired by the ELL with their own professional life coach, who supported participants in both project and personal development. Through the coaches, the makers were also able to have an outside perspective on their work and progress. The participants typically met by phone or Skype with their makers once or twice per week.
These various elements were the ensemble components which comprised the ELL and supported its functioning. All of the parties involved donated their time and services to the program, enabling the program to operate with no cash budget and no formalized organizational identity. In spite of all the ways such an all-volunteer/all-gift program could come undone, the ELL has achieved two successful iterations and is organizing a third cohort for fall 2013. As well three replications of the program are being planned in various parts of the US for 2014. Through the success of the ELL, these replications and the ongoing work of ELL alumni, Brock and Harris-Braun hope to build proof-of-concept for gift economy organizations and networks.
In the next post, I will a focus more specifically on the learning and pedagogical dimensions of the ELL program.