3/13/15– Kelsey Breseman
I was introduced to Dominik Wind through a friend I made at MozFest, a several-floor consortium of chaotics working together to change the world through open source projects. When we think of open source, we tend to think of open source software, or some think of open source hardware in the embedded sense, but the movement is broader. Open source is about information flow– within companies, countries, and communities.
Dominik is working on OpenState, which hopes to bring together several of these communities and create a tangible vision for an open and sustainable world. Right now, OpenState is putting together POC21, an ambitious five-week project that will take place leading up to the UN’s climate change conference, COP21 in Paris.
Kelsey: What is OpenState?
Dominik: OpenState is an organization that we founded in early 2012. Me and my friends, we were all working for NGOs, but we all had the feeling that it was not the most we could do. It was work that didn’t hurt, that paid the rent, but it didn’t feel satisfying anymore. We were looking for ways to create more impact within our lifetime.
We really care about topics like resource depletion and climate change. We were working on that before, but we founded OpenState to fully focus on that. For us it’s all about developing sustainable ways of life, which includes production, manufacturing, and consumption habits.
We think that social processes and group processes can be a very powerful tool for change. Most people only focus on technology, so we easily jump to technology as the one and only option for finding solutions. We wanted to focus more on the behavioral side of things– which still includes technology, but it’s also more than that.
OpenState is a laboratory for exploring these processes: what do we need for a sustainable society besides the technology?
Kelsey: What is an example of making changes through processes?
Dominik: Everything that touches you emotionally opens you up to changing your opinions. What we do is bring together people who have diverse skillsets and also cultural backgrounds and try to create a world in our work. It’s an experimental space where you prototype whatever is the topic. So if it’s the future of work, for example, you simply behave like you would be in that different world.
You behave like the future is already there: if I could make everything perfect, what would that perfect environment be?
The same thing, we are trying now with OpenState in Paris regarding sustainability. What would a family, or a neighborhood, or a friendship group, how could we live more sustainably without giving up the standards of life that we have today?
The interesting thing is that when you get people together in such an intense experience, they reinvent themselves. Nobody knows each other, so everybody tries to live up to his or her best version. You can restart in a way, and pretend to be whatever you want to be. And then the time is long enough to get into habits. You exercise of practice something as a habit for some weeks, and that really has an impact on you, that really changes your behavior.
We often hear from participants in former camps that they changed their lives. It’s really a pretty powerful situation.
Kelsey: So what’s the plan for for POC21?
Dominik: This camp will be five weeks of living and working together in the beautiful Château de Millemont near Paris. It’s called POC (proof of concept) 21 because it will be around the climate negotiations of the UN in Paris in December, COP 21.
Kelsey: What do you expect in terms of tangible results from POC21?
Dominik: We are aiming to find solutions or technological approaches to satisfying basic needs: how to produce energy, food, water, communications, shelter, and mobility. Within those five areas, we will invite open source projects that are already working on that; we won’t start at zero.
By the end, we hope to include all these parts into one holistic prototype of that potential sustainable future, so you really can have a festival in the end where people can come see what this “future living” could look like.
You can step into that Wikihouse, for example, with that open energy monitoring system installed, where you understand, here I can see my energy consumption, here I can control my impact. Make it tangible for people.
And then, they get the story of, it’s produced in a different way, it could be locally produced, it’s repairable, everything’s open source, the average craftsman wherever you live could open these things and get it fixed without you having to re-buy the next thing. Then the whole story comes in on why certain products might be more sustainable than others.
But first it needs to be this experience: touch things and understand it’s real.
Kelsey: What do you see as the primary tangible outcome?
Dominik: Currently there are hundreds of potential solutions and different groups around the globe that are at different stages of their product development.
We aim to offer an online platform and an on- and offline catalog where we showcase the solutions that are ready for broader audiences beyond the maker and hacker niches. We showcase the ones that are for average people– like if my parents want to buy a new washing machine, they should easily get access to the best open source washing machine.
Most platforms online for this show all potential options, and normal people quickly lose orientation. They are simply overwhelmed with hundreds of projects, and all of the details.
We also hope to kind of showcase things in a shop format. We will start in Berlin, and have an “open everything” shop. What you can get there works, but it’s fundamentally different. It’s still a lamp, or a desk, or whatever, but it’s produced differently, and it can be repaired, or you could rebuild it yourself if you have the skills.
All of this, and then it will also be about the media outreach in the uprun to the COP21 conference, showing that it’s not all too late.
We expect that the UN talks in Paris will be like always: you will have the politicians negotiating; outside, you have normal people, saying it needs to go faster, or differently, or whatever, in between police, you will have some demonstrations, maybe you will have some riots. At the end they will have the press conference, saying yeah, they have some very minimal improvement on something, and then everybody goes back to normal.
We would like to have a new narration on that: there are people who have already started on creating a more sustainable way of doing things, it’s going around the globe, and it’s a movement you can join. Or at least you can start using different products that are designed and produced on a very different basis.
Kelsey: What are some of the biggest blockers for people who want to use products from this movement?
Dominik: Communication and IT stuff is probably the hardest, I think. The open source scene is really small, and the open source hardware scene is even smaller, and before that you have digital literacy, basically. Like my mom, if something doesn’t work automatically with her computer, she has no idea what it could be. It’s just not working.
For all the other things, average people can rely on crafts and craftsmen. Open Desk, for example, offers an online platform where you can upload designs for chairs and desks and tables. People can buy designs and they get shipped, or you can download the designs for free, and produce it yourself. The entrance barrier is lower for most people, to pick up their drill and saw, it’s simply easier for most people than microcontrollers.
Kelsey: What sort of labs and materials will you have at POC21?
Dominik: We have partnered with all kinds of hacker and maker spaces in Paris, and with fablabs.io, the global network for FabLabs. We’ll have some machinery right onsite, at the castle, and we will also get maker spaces in Paris involved to produce certain things.
I think the only thing that we are creating from scratch is the media outreach. We have to find the right stories, and the right timing regarding COP21.
Everything regarding prototyping and tech development and coding and stuff like that, will be a blend of groups, tools, and spaces that are already there and are up and running.
Kelsey: At POC21, you’re hoping to have a mix of people from a variety of different backgrounds, right?
Dominik: Yes: engineers and coders, but also people from many other backgrounds. When we develop tech today, the mindset is strictly focused on coders, engineers, and maybe you have some business people involved. But I think our tools are forming our reality. The things we use create certain habits, and these habits become a part of us.
Development of technology changes our behaviors and our perception of the world. This development of technology has had a huge cultural impact on everyone. It’s not just a market thing, as we mostly treat it at the moment. There are also spiritual questions, and social questions, and questions of how we actually want to live as a society. These all should be integrated into good product design. It’s really a powerful tool for cultural change.
Ed. note: you can see a video about the vision of POC21 here