Publications – An open laboratory, a workshop and a living space: La MYNE in Villeurbanne

This article, written collectively by the members of the La MYNE community, relates their experience born of the desire to create frameworks for the reappropriation of action research around the themes of ecological transition. La MYNE is a third place that combines the functions of an open source laboratory, a manufacturing workshop and a living space. It is plural in its orientations and practices, and focuses in particular on experimentation and documentation under free licenses, but not without adopting a reflexive attitude to knowledge sharing and what it calls “well-treatment ” (bientraitance in French).
Auteur inconnu, CC-BY-SA,  prise dans le cadre de la rencontre avec le LISRA à La MYNE

La MYNE

The Manufacture des idées et des nouvelles expérimentations (La MYNE) was created to carry out participatory research and citizen entrepreneurship projects. Renting a house in Villeurbanne from the Metropole of Lyon since 2015, it hosts projects on subjects as diverse as food, technology, energy, sociology and the arts. The community and the space are formed mentally and physically by building a common heritage, notably informational, facilitating autonomy and giving substance to political issues that are constantly growing.

The primary purpose of MYNE is to provide a framework for the development, documentation and sharing of concrete projects carried out by its contributors.  More than a hundred projects have been initiated to date.  Access to and exchange of several resources are pooled to from conceptualisation (1) to practical and often collective implementation.  These resources vary according to needs but are mostly combinations of physical tools, knowledge, practices and exchange spaces – machine tools, meeting spaces, contacts with research laboratories, funding resources, spaces for free expression, discovery and socio-cultural diversity, etc.

In a logic of coherence, curiosity and to make this unusual setting viable, the collective has been experimenting for several years with new ways of exchanging knowledge, living together, creating economic value and contributing to societal change. MYNE is therefore building and carrying a political project rooted in the practices of making, experimenting and serving a more liveable and sustainable society.

A hacklab for green projects

Originally conceived as a place to re-appropriate experiments applied to environmental sciences (eco-hacklab), La MYNE federates numerous citizen projects promoting ecological transitions. Coming from and involved in groups and dynamics working for the reduction of waste, urban agriculture, air quality and renewable energies, the members of La MYNE are bound by the desire to leave more room for the living as a whole and to reduce the impact of human activity on natural environments.

Through multidisciplinary brainstorming sessions and the prototyping of concrete solutions, the members of La MYNE prove that everyone is capable of addressing the ecological and social issues that affect us. Many projects have thus become realities that make sense for a more ecological society, such as:

  • L’Atelier Soudé (http://atelier-soude.fr/), a workshop for the co-repair of electronic objects present in 3 locations in 2020, with 3 employees and about 50 active volunteers;
  • The Fabrique des Energies, born from the DAISEE project, which aims to support the energy commons;
  • The Kukki air pollution sensor, used to raise awareness among residents and children in the Buers district of Villeurbanne,
  • Or the DOZE park exhibition, presented at the Saint-Etienne Design Biennial and inviting reflection on biomimicry and nature/electronics hybridisations.

In addition to nature protection associations, MYNE wanted to offer shared infrastructures to promote biological and/or chemical solutions for environmental remediation. It has equipped itself with tools and skills for this purpose. Citizen spaces for access to disciplines such as chemistry or biology are rare. In order to provide this possibility of manipulating and experimenting at reduced cost, MYNE has for a long time implemented a “biochining” approach, which consisted of recovering and improving old biological and chemical manipulation equipment, with the aim of reappropriating these disciplines and acting on the related issues. The high skills required and safety issues eventually limited access to these materials.

Many of the members of La MYNE claim to be part of the “low-tech” movement. This approach, or philosophy, consists of thinking of each project using as few resources as possible (material or energy), with the aim of producing objects with a very low ecological impact (in their design, but also in their use or their life cycle). This logic implies investing time in creativity, engineering and eco-design, so as to disinvest in material costs.

For example, MYNE has carried out all of the landscaping work using recycled materials (including paint), has experimented with food preservation methods such as the Zeerpot (desert fridge), and grows vegetables using rainwater irrigation.

The links with various collectives are also a strong point of the community: for example OpenSource Ecology, or the LowTechLab with regard to ecological techniques; and many others in other fields. This favours ecological dynamics with a systemic as well as an operational vision.

The design and use of spaces in the common house are also rooted in the current societal reality. When one group takes charge of the vegetable garden or the collective composting, another repairs old 3D printers to limit purchases and waste. However, at La MYNE, the temporary rental lease has the bias of limiting investments in self-construction for thermal renovation and/or wastewater limitation/reuse for example.

As the Mynoises experiments also deal with the legal and territorial aspects of society, it is possible that this precarious state of occupation will evolve into something more permanent and cooperative.

Taking care of society, communities and individuals

As time passed and the Myno community grew, the projects and activities of MYNE rapidly became more diverse and complex. The ambition of the objectives to be reached and the actions to achieve them have a well-known tendency to push individuals and organisations towards structural biases: overwork, disinvestment, personification of the association, information overload, rigid processes, loss of diversity or cohesion, reductionism and collectivism that are not conducive to the diversity of initiatives.

In view of this risk, La MYNE has chosen to strengthen the foundations of conviviality and to remain frugal in its operations, so that it can develop organically while respecting the existing contributors. Created from human links, the community has been strengthened from one step to the next by the experience of doing things together and the reality of the projects. By advocating personal and collective emancipation as a key value, La MYNE engages in a number of reflections to encourage fulfilment, joy, creating meaningful links and taking good care of eachother.

Every day we strive to imagine a place where everyone can fulfil their potential and we are experimenting with a way of life where everyone is invited to take care of themselves and others. Collective management, individual initiative and the importance of caring are essential: some of the innovations tested, co-postulation, collaborative documentation open to all, were born to limit the pressure on each individual.

The knowledge of potential individual weaknesses represents a collective strength for the community which is, in fact, able to compensate for these weaknesses or to contribute to their evolution. Reliance as “sharing of accepted solitudes and exchange of respected differences” (Marcel Bolle de Bal) allows for adaptation and takes into account the possibilities of failure. A framework and philosophy of support for emerging lifestyles enables people, organisations, technologies and ideas to be linked in order to generate, adapt, validate and ultimately change existing systems (social, technical, political…).

In concrete acts, the mental health of the members of La MYNE is sought through practices and experiments put in place over time:

  • The concept of bientraitance (well-treatment) has progressively replaced that of benevolence (brought mainly by Thomas Wolff and Stéphane Langlois): everyone can take their place in the spaces and times, everyone can do (do-ocracy), with a principle of non-judgement.
  • The administrative burden and responsibilities are distributed: the open collegial council (then the current work of creating a permanent general assembly) and the system of governance in working groups distributes the administrative and management tasks among the most active members as much as possible, the founding members do transmission sessions and move away from the “pillar” tasks, as well as from the “representation” figures, the most active members find themselves “in the green”, to step back, to work in more convivial conditions and close to nature.
  • Decision-making is also becoming increasingly distributed, involving consent-based decision-making, co-budgeting and online voting.
  • Exchange sessions (e.g. the “lifecaring” sessions initiated by Connie & Benjamin Chow-Petit) have begun to emerge, allowing for reflection and getting to the heart of the psychology of individuals. The cognitive laboratory developed by Jerémy Virgo also aims to study cognitive care and capacity development through the spectrum of cognitive sciences.
  • The reception of new people is more personalised and should facilitate the inclusion of all, while avoiding the pitfall and illusion of being able to welcome everyone. Openness and care for each person remain a common thread in the values of the mynois-es.
  • La MYNE is a place and a community open to all, regardless of individual singularities. Particular care is taken to respect the specificities of each person and to value them. For example, what is considered a handicap in a normalised world can be transformed into a strength and original vision in an open system.

The realities of mynoises are complex and multiple, and reflect those of society in general. Economic, scientific, personal and inter-personal, democratic, technological and environmental issues… This is not to paint an idyllic and utopian picture of the ways in which the Mynoise community has found to deal with these issues, but something is working.

In this context, where each person can find his or her place, a community of independent living beings is created, but connected to each other by conviviality, a common experience, realised projects and shared dreams. The non-imposition of constraints of diplomas, working hours, specific communication skills, particular achievements, age makes it possible to cultivate individual and collective well-being in this boiling environment.

Finally, in the constant concern to preserve themselves from forms of alienation produced by our ever accelerating societies, the members of La MYNE have always considered that independence was a key factor of emancipation for individuals and collectives. In practice, this translates into a high degree of financial autonomy, a budget that is always self-managed, and even decreasing as of 2018, but also less and less proactive presence on communication networks (press, social networks). The emancipation then goes through a new management of time, focused on authentic moments, whether between members or with the chosen partners. The qualitative follows closely the quantitative, where usually one is to the detriment of the other.

The functioning of interpersonal relations aims to promote emancipation by trying to favour minimalist principles of functioning (good treatment, documentation in free licences, experimentation). One of the challenges is to limit the rules of operation to those who feel the need for them or when they are absolutely necessary to meet the basic principles stated earlier.

This independence is achieved, for example, through the ability to produce documents that promote reciprocity. Started in 2015, the reciprocity frameworks make it possible to create comfort zones between participants in a common project: each party expresses what it is able to provide and what it is looking for in order to clarify expectations as much as possible. These frameworks, although still experimental, allow for a more serene cooperation or collaboration that respects the contributions of each party and ensures more conscious involvement.

To give a concrete example, a person with limited verbal communication skills and high cognitive abilities will be totally incapacitated in a noisy environment, a setting where polemical orality is privileged; conversely, in a setting where writing is privileged in a quiet environment. Conversely, other people will be more at ease in the first context mentioned. For this reason, a rigid framework will necessarily favour one profile of person and working on the flexibility of frameworks is the starting point for opening up to a multiplicity of personalities and modes of operation.

Moreover, this type of functioning gives access to multiple and varied life experiences, which would sometimes be invisible:

  • A person in burnout or on sick leave who, beyond his or her own problems, will have a clear vision of the failures of a system that has contributed to this state
  • A person with a disability or a family carer who brings his or her vision of society and of what adapted help is (does the help provided meet the need?)
  • A person who is not integrated (family, social, professional) and who finds in the secure but shifting and flexible framework of the community an opportunity to connect with other people

Since 2017, La MYNE has moved from a “projects & development” focus to a “people, quality of life and cooperative practices” focus. It has also adopted a principle of frugality of the association in its communication, budget management and event life.

Far from slowing down projects, limiting the entry of new members or reducing the influence of MYNE, the exact opposite has happened in the years since. Rather than a form of centralised wishful thinking, letting go, mutual trust and proactive care have allowed a vibrant ecosystem to develop and a common culture to emerge. This culture and these practices are necessarily diversified, but at the same time form a common base, which is tested in the moments of cross-fertilisation, synchronisation, and rethinking of the issues.

La MYNE, a project & a political reality

In addition to carrying out projects committed to a more sustainable society, the people involved in the MYNE community have gradually built up their own political vision. In this third place, the internal rules are regularly redefined. Anxious to adapt the organisation to the proven needs of the members of the community – which is in constant movement – the governance models have followed one another, largely inspired by existing models and practices of horizontality. Several rules are in conflict with each other: do-docracy, sociocracy, the law of two feet, stigmergy, etc., so much so that some define the system as an “adaptocracy”.

It is a strange mix of practices that somehow works. Attempts at modelling have very often failed, even when attempted by outside scientific teams. Perhaps it is the deeply living and adaptive nature of the Myno community that makes it fundamentally difficult or impossible to reduce it to a fixed picture, a pattern of simple states or processes. Some see this as a form of ‘chaos engineering’, which incorporates variation as inherent and simply seeks to ensure the overall health of its dynamics through micro-interventions and the preservation of its own internal diversity. This can be seen as “Bringing chaos where there is too much order and order where there is too much chaos”. Thus, the energy cost of responding to a need, a crisis or developing a project is greatly reduced once this adaptive mode of functioning has been integrated by the practitioners. It is also the search for the “closest” alignment between the vision, the means, the opportunities invested, the cohabitation of the short and long term, which motivates and guides this perpetual adaptation.

In this respect, La MYNE community is its own research field: it questions, self-analyses and challenges itself continuously. It invites, welcomes and sees researchers and external actors come and enrich this self-analysis with their point of view and propose angles that are different or even opposed to those that dominate within it. This often leads to cooperation in this action research, which is quite fruitful.

It is through these organisational experiences that La MYNE has developed a certain reflexivity about its political dimension.

Indeed, if everyone does not recognise themselves in a single value system, the members of the community construct and reconstruct their rules endlessly in conjunction with concrete achievements. It is in this way that La MYNE can be defined as a Common (Elinor Olstrom’s definition), and that its political vision has been built.

The values that have driven La MYNE since its beginnings are often discussed, but always echo the issues of emancipation, popular education, and the power to act and to think. These concepts, which are sometimes used on the fly, are in fact the subject of meticulous research on a regular basis. Many people from Mynarsen are researching or documenting the words and concepts discussed. These times of research, exchange of knowledge, debate and dialogue create real political time-spaces during which mynois constitute the community’s reason for being and acting.

In fact, internal political projects are rarely transmitted via manifestos and/or politicised actions, although La MYNE also recognises itself in the manifestos of certain collectives such as TILIOS (Tiers-lieux libres et open Sources), or members of La MYNE may be activists in various political movements.

La MYNE’s mode of action is often akin to “hacking”, particularly institutional hacking: by implementing project engineering with institutions, La MYNE’s ways of doing things and ideas are passed on to La MYNE’s partners. The fact of living through an experience that is different from one’s own, but nevertheless apprehensible, encourages the emergence of Commons and changes in the points of view, if not of the organisations, at least of the individuals within it.

This is how the community work contract was born. The CDI Communautaire is an experiment born within the Mynoise community. Its aim is to create a new type of employment contract whose ambition is to fight against the precariousness of independent workers and entrepreneurs. The idea is to create an open-ended contract that is not attached to a single person, but rather to a role and a function or a mission, carried out by a group of people. This project is supported by Oxamyne, a cooperative structure co-created by the association La MYNE and the SCOP SA-CAE Oxalis. It is also supported by the Agence Nationale d’Amélioration des Conditions de Travail (ANACT).

The sociologist Antoine Burret describes this process of repoliticisation of which third places are the catalysts. The mingling of people from different worlds and backgrounds, driven by a common objective, in a (third) place that everyone can make their own, generates situations of politicisation. Few spaces allow the dynamics of degrowth, start-ups, scientific research, neighbourhood life, industry, philosophy, mechanical engineering, art and education to intersect…

By assuming this role, La MYNE and its members are anchoring themselves as a non-political actor, but addressing political issues, fully taking its place as a place of citizen power. Beyond the challenges of reappropriating systems through making, prototyping and the research process, there are many opportunities to exchange knowledge and points of view (masterclasses, informal exchanges, joint work, etc.).

The “MYNEMix”, organised regularly alongside (and in preparation for) the general assemblies, regularly question the established principles, and build lines of action on updated strategic subjects. These multi-day events bring together people from other third places and other communities who come to inspire, observe and explain the dynamics underway at La MYNE. Reflections are carried out on the social links, the political games, the organisation and also the role of La MYNE within a standardised institutional and local ecosystem. At each reflection session, the political project, the raison d’être, the values defended and the actions to be carried out can thus be clarified and recomposed for the months or years to come.

La MYNE is also sometimes described as a fabrique of citizenship and the Commons. By taking a step away from traditional decision-making systems, MYNE and its members put the individual back at the heart of action and decision-making. Each project or action is carefully chosen to put people and collectives first. In other words, MYNE does not exist without the people and their ideas. This posture allows us to give power back to individuals and the dynamics they carry. These dynamics then become Commons, meaning that they are the result of collective work (past or present), documented in order to be transmitted according to the established rules of reciprocity.

We can speak of a “learning community”, where what is being done is shared in multiple forms (digital, peer-to-peer, face-to-face, in texts or other media, within La MYNE or elsewhere), and where any activity can be a pretext for “taking on board” a one-off or regular contributor, learning along the way. This process creates an engagement of the people of La Myne in the society they are building, and participates in a rise in competence and global awareness of the community.

The whole is more than the sum of its parts: how to care for sometimes divergent realities

This is how the Mynois ecosystem was founded:

  • Exchanges of individual energies
  • Information and knowledge from a variety of individuals in a variety of environments and situations
  • Interfaces between different worlds, even opposing ones in terms of language, practices or values
  • Exchanges of materials or services (reciprocity)
  • Links to the living
  • Conviviality 😉

From these healthy relationships that ensure a reality of mental ecology emerge projects and achievements that try to respond as best they can to the constraints of the environment, whether human, natural, institutional, technological or systemic. The Mynoise living system is part of a political and ecological reality thanks to its functioning. Compatibility is thought out and prepared upstream: as each step taken is documented and accessible to all, it is possible to learn from everything that has been done, whether the project is successful or not.

It is sometimes necessary to put an end to a project: indeed, an incomplete project or an abandoned project is not abandoned without reason. In the same way that one learns from one’s mistakes, it will be possible to identify factors of success or failure in what has been undertaken. In this way, thanks to the sincere sharing of all the resources produced, all projects become compostable because the analysis of their progress and of what worked or did not work can be used as fertiliser for other projects or to relaunch those that could not be carried out successfully. Making a project compostable means fertilising ideas by sharing them, and moving towards more lively, durable and sustainable organisations.

Among the recurring characteristics of Mynoise practices:

  • Permanent self-reflexivity on practices, tools, modes of operation and their impacts
  • A relationship with time that is flexible and compatible with both short time (response to essential needs in an emergency, adaptability, etc.) and long time (research, reflection on one’s own practices, etc.)
  • A reappropriation of existing systems
  • A capacity to act in difficult or unknown contexts: for example, the Myno community quickly started producing and distributing hydroalcoholic gel when a territorial shortage appeared in March 2020.
  • Doing & empowerment at all scales: from the individual to public organisations, new forms of partnerships are emerging. For example, MYNE is working on Public-Private-Participant Partnerships (PPPP).
  • Taking into account the socio-economic aspects of its contributors and its environment in order to guarantee the sustainability of the system.

Taking care of different realities in correlation with each other is a proven complexity, as the whole is more than the sum of its parts. This requires adapted forms of operation:

  • Practise adaptive governance & ‘continuous’ tiling. Be aware of the articulation between collective and individual energy, and have several organisational schemes to activate them when needed. Or to bring out new ones when the time comes.
  • Adopt a governance that is sufficiently fluid not to impose and constrain members: no alienating frameworks (#two-legs).
  • Accept to be on the edge of chaos while respecting simple and clear principles for all, a semi-open form of organisation.
  • Situate oneself as well as possible in one’s environment (which may itself change) and act as well as possible in each context.
  • Develop the ability to shape frameworks and seek to act on them rather than to blend into them (with strengths and limitations).

Indeed, an ability or inability to act will depend on many factors and it is necessary to consider what is a matter of people, what is a matter of context, what is a matter of the framework …

Let’s take the concrete example of the governance modes of the association La MYNE. Formally, it has an open collegiate council that may have few participants (“good” for decision-making, “bad” for democracy and the level of information of the members) or, on the contrary, many (“bad” for decision-making efficiency, “good” for democracy and the level of information of the members). Adaptocracy” consists in noticing these states of affairs and finding a complementary mechanism to the weak point. In this case, this can take the form of a contributory event (“good” for democracy and the level of information, “less” for efficiency) and the self-constitution of a small experimental team (“good” for efficiency, “less” for democracy).

In the end, underneath the appearance of complexity, this has allowed LA MYNE community a good level of efficiency in its governance in terms of energy invested in relation to results and alignment with values.

If we look at Donella Meadows’ twelve levers for system change, we realise that a paradigm shift is of the highest level of difficulty: addressing this complexity requires a form of humility and courage. Linking the sometimes contradictory advances of a diverse community is a way of understanding the dynamics that are necessary and transposable to societal change.

“Relié” is passive, “reliant” is participating, “reliance” is activating”; Edgar Morin. Reliance is the stem cell of complex thinking. In an uncertain societal and environmental context, is the mynoise dynamic a stem cell of another complex form of living together? Providing answers to the changes to come will not be an easy task and a good start could be to ask good questions:

  • How can we not lose sight of a paradigm shift objective when practical operating constraints are under strain?
  • How to keep a practical sense without forgetting the deep philosophical sense?
  • How to make decisions when a choice between short-term practical necessity and long-term meaning are in contradiction? And above all, how can we avoid having to make this kind of choice?
  • Is it necessary to evaluate the impacts and efficiency of complex dynamics when the relevant indicators do not yet exist? If so, how?
  • What priority should be given to the legibility and accessibility of these dynamics, as opposed to the preservation of their dynamic and multiple nature?
  • How much time should be spent on trying to modify existing systems versus creating new ones (“push” vs. “pull”)?

In conclusion, we would like to share a saying: “A third place is not told, it is lived“.

Translated by Connie Chow-Petit, excerpted from the Revue Ecorev’ issue 51.