Publications : The semi-open organisation as a response to chaos

Article from “La Revue” No. 12, ANACT National Agency for the Improvement of Working Conditions, entitled, “Organisational and managerial alternatives: promises and realities?

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By : Frédéric Brugeilles, Connie & Benjamin Chow-Petit, and Florence Le Nulzec.

(Translated by Connie Chow-Petit)

Action research on work and the commons led us to describe La MYNE, a third place based in Villeurbanne, as a semi-open organisation and to consider that its dynamics could be a response to chaos. At the beginning of the health crisis, La MYNE rapidly implemented a community response unit to the pandemic, which notably took the form of a production of hydro-alcoholic gel in the spring of 2020. Our purpose here is to give some characteristics of the chaos, which the current health crisis confronts us with. The aim is to to consider the extent to which the semi-open organisation in its chaotic dynamics, in-between, between closed and open systems, resonates with chaos, in order to adapt to it.

During an action research on work and the commons, our analysis of the functioning of La MYNE, a Free and Open Source Third Place (TiLiOS) based in Villeurbanne, that it would be a “semi-open organisation”. This in-between, between a closed system (or classical organisation) and an open system, seems to us to be able to cope with situations of chaos, because of its capacity to adapt. We wish to explore the dynamics at work in the the semi-open organisation, based on the COVID-19 crisis which, in our opinion, resonates with model, in its understanding and experience of chaos in some way.

This response to chaos was illustrated at La MYNE by the rapid implementation (on 13 March 2020) of a unit called “Epidemyne”, a community response to the pandemic, which took the form of the production of hydro-alcoholic gel in the spring of 2020.


This period of COVID-19 propels us into a sensitive, real and fantastical experience of chaos. Our usual points of reference are shaken. At different levels, we are confronted with the crisis which, as Edgar Morin (1976) points out, reveals and amplifies the existing.

We are referred to uncertainty and the importance of the social state; the inclusion in the risk society; the articulations and imbalances of the work/employment relationship; our ontological vulnerability and the necessary recognition of vulnerability at work; the permeabilities between the different spheres of activity, between private life and professional life; democratic issues and new modes of governance in the structures and organisation of work, in particular. It is a question of thinking about the “health, economy, freedom trilemma”. The COVID-19 crisis thus becomes a total social fact, in the sense that it concerns all areas of human life: health, psychosocial, economic, political, technological and ecological.

The awareness of being part of an interconnected and complex world is then increased, while the limits of public action and institutional organisations are pointed out. Citizen responsibility appears essential, as does the importance of restoring/instating local power to act more broadly, the issues of the commons, creativity at work and the importance of democratic debate are being reactivated. The question of action then arises, as well as that of the conditions for carrying out this action, and consequently of working conditions and the organisation of work.


La MYNE as a Third Place

La MYNE appears difficult to define and gives the feeling of being elusive. There are as many descriptions of La MYNE as there are people describing it, as each citizen or member of the community has a unique experience of it. La MYNE calls itself a “citizen’s laboratory for transitions through the Commons”, launched in 2014 as an association. Its vocation is to “support citizens who experiment with the future and act on transitions (housing, food, energy, etc.), each in their own way (technique, art, science, etc.)”.

It is a third place, both as a shared and open hybrid space, in the heart of the Rhône-Alpes region, and as a community of practice. It is based on the philosophy of Do It Yourself, open-source and free licenses, the principle of learning by doing and living a collaborative and contributive experience. Originally, a third place is a third place between home and work. The sociologist Antoine Burret (2017) proposes a definition:

“A third place refers to a social configuration that produces an encounter between individual entities that intentionally engage in the design of a common representation, i.e. a shared responsibility”.

In other words, a third place is characterised by three things: “people + a territory + actions” ( – Definition of third places), with conviviality as a central characteristic (Burret, 2015).

La MYNE as a place (invested in 2015) comes to symbolise, represent, anchor in a territory the pre-existing community (2013). The place embodies the functions of a hacklab, open community laboratory, fabrication workshop, shared and networked workspace, and living space in which activities take place; physical encounters between individuals and their networks and initiatives that emerge from these linkages happen, etc. Its location in a hybrid urban environment, within the city, at the crossroads of the main university site of the metropolis, the national necropolis, a residential area, an activity zone (office, boiler room, etc.) and a wasteland (former equestrian club) is a major advantage and is in itself symbolic. Its mixed configuration offers several spaces with multiple functions. It is a pavilion. On the ground floor, the garden (both a living and experimental space, a shared vegetable garden, a dining room when the weather permits, a product library), the garage converted into a co-repair workshop, a chemical laboratory space (organic paper making, etc.) & low-tech laboratory space, laser printers, etc. Upstairs, four spaces: the “serious space” (shared office, administrative management, etc.), the “zen space” (nap, confidential meetings, video, etc., in the former bathroom), the “not so serious space” with its library (for eating, chatting, working with others, resting, reading, etc.), the kitchen (shared meal lab).

Beyond a place, it is above all the inclusivene and collaborative practices that span the communities that define La MYNE as an extended community. Its members identify with practices such as caring, experimentation, open source documentation and the Commons.

Caring for each other is quite central. As a result, everyone who interacts with the communities, regardless of age or knowledge, whether they represent an organisation or not, can join La MYNE or not, can learn peer-to-peer, initiate projects, share resources, experiment on many subjects and, in the end, live an experience of their own. The practices of good treatment translate into collaborative meals, ‘a priori’ trust, a proactive concern for the quality of life of one’s peers, or the search for points of inter-understanding between individuals who are potentially distant,  or even opposed, in terms of values, language and priorities. Thus, there is a systematic practice of documentation ( by the “mynois/mynoises” in real time of each activity, event and/or experimentation, making sure that this documentation is understandable, or even re-appropriable, by people who have not participated.

With regard to governance, the community of La MYNE seeks to take into account factors such as open access to information, the cognitive load available, the diversity of approaches, the capacity for contribution, initiative, adaptation, integration of the antagonistic dynamics of its environment efficiency in relation to individual and collective needs, etc. Governance is considered beyond mere decision-making and takes into account the multidimensional social dynamics that enable an organisation to take into account the social dynamics that allow an organisation or a complex system to be alive.

The governance practices of La MYNE are based on ‘adaptocracy’, in the sense that the modalities are adapted to the projects, constraints and individuals. There is a sophisticated system of democracy in the organisation, with a collegial council, a permanent general assembly, inspired by doocracy, holacracy, sociocracy, etc. There is a sophisticated system of democracy in the organisation, with collegial councils, a permanent general assembly, inspired by doocracy, holacracy, sociocracy, etc., with a reflection on the balance between efficiency and democracy. – To take an example, a collegiate council could be a way of working together. To take an example, an open collegial council can 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 is about recognising these conditions and finding a complementary mechanism for the weak point.

Examples of projects
A wide variety of experiences and achievements around La MYNE have come to light.
Here are some examples.

  • Together with a cultural centre and a social centre, La MYNE joined the “Fabrique d’Initiatives Citoyenne” project launched by the State in 2016. This collaboration, called FICA3, has taken the form of regular workshops, federating events, and the implementation of actions promoting links, initiatives and, more globally, the power to act within the Les Buers/Croix-Luizet neighbourhood, near La MYNE. Documentary film screenings on agriculture, food and energy, followed by debates between actors of local actions were organised. FICA3 also created a community donation point and a bus shelter for the inhabitants of the neighbourhood.
  • The Celluby project is a project that aims to create an incubator for the cultivation of SCOBY Bacterial (which slightly resembles leather or paper depending on its thickness). This cellulose comes from a recipe based on Kombucha (a probiotic drink mixing tea sugar, vinegar and bacteria). Research into the development of this material was initiated at La MYNE in 2016, to explore its various uses, particularly for crafts.
  • The DAISEE project is a action research programme whose mission is to bring together and lead a scientific community on the modes of governance of the energy transition. Among the actions, the DAISEE project is developing experimental systems in Prats-de-Mollo – which operates a hydroelectric dam – with an initiative for connected electricity meters and numerous on-site work sessions. DAISEE also proposes, since March 2020, a “Fabrique des Énergies” as an open framework for sharing, hybridisation and experimentation for all stakeholders in the energy ecosystem.
  • A final example is the OxaMYNE activity cooperative, born of a merger between La MYNE and Oxalis Scop-SA, a historic activity and entrepreneurial cooperative in France, with around 250 to 300 cooperators. Initiated in 2016, the aim of the OxaMYNE process was to to build an ad hoc framework for developing entrepreneurial activities. Oxalis, for its part, was interested in the “third place” culture. OxaMYNE now has about ten cooperators who are interested in experimentation and collective dynamics within the cooperative movement.

Like the projects and individuals, the business models of La MYNE and its community are multiple. A basic principle was established in 2017: the frugality of the association, confirming the fact that La MYNE does not seek growth at all costs. The operating cost of La MYNE is around 20k per year, which is low in relation to its scope and actions. Its action is not directed at achieving economic development as such. Its action is aimed at the development, particularly economic development, of projects, individuals, organisations and territories in contact with its communities. The aim is to promote a network of economic mutual aid and “reciprocity” on a case-by-case basis, which guarantees its own capacity for action.

These are just a few of the many glimpses into the dynamics of the Mynois/Mynoises. To quote an answer to an interview about the MYNE:

“Is it art or science? Is it engineering or humanities and social sciences? Is it informal or business? After much thought and deliberation, the consensus is that we don’t care.”

La MYNE inspired by chaos

We believe that the difficulty in accurately describing La MYNE and its apparent vagueness is intrinsically linked to its semi-chaotic nature. Nothing seems clearly defined or stable within La MYNE. On any given topic or need, La MYNE communities strive to provide responses in which they can identify.

In its operating dynamics, La MYNE is inspired by the theories of chaos and complexity (Morin, 1990). Chaos theories suggest its omnipresence and relativity. Chaos, generally associated with disorder, disorganisation, deregulation, entropy, etc., appears natural and consubstantial to our lives. We live in a fundamentally “VUCA” environment: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. It is present at all scales, from particle physics to the physics to the functioning of our societies. It is also relative: the same event can, for a given system, be part of a continuity, a stability and, for another, cause a rupture, generate unpredictability and chaos.

Our lifestyles and organisations can then be seen as a form of ‘negentropy’ aimed at bringing order, predictability and certainty to our lives. But as soon as something happens to upset us, like the COVID-19 crisis or the changes in society, the balance is upset and the organisation – and the people who are part of it or depend on it – are suffering.

The Mynois / Mynoises claim a form of chaos engineering: it is a matter of ‘seeking to put order where there is too much chaos and chaos where there is too much order’, which places the organisation at the edge of order and chaos, in its usual dynamics. La MYNE, as a semi-open organisation

organisation, adopts a systemic vision, thinking about its equilibrium in the face of environmental changes, thanks to micro, meso and macro adaptations.


The semi-open organisation as a response to chaos was particularly evident in the production of hydroalcoholic gel during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of March 2020, La MYNE went into action to respond to the urgent needs arising from the sudden lockdown. It has adopted a manufacturing process for HA gel that is both compliant with WHO standards and accessible to organised citizens.

La MYNE has in its DNA as a citizen laboratory the ability to adapt and prototype scientific processes while documenting them, making them appropriate and transposable. In mid-March, the shortage of of protective means to accompany the barrier gestures was already obvious, in particular access to hydroalcoholic gel. In less than two weeks, an ad hoc manufacturing process was sought, documented and validated, with the confirmation of local chemists and pharmacists, and the supply of raw materials was ensured, under privileged conditions – a priority access agreement with a access agreement with a local supplier, at cost price despite the dramatic increase in demand; a crowdfunding scheme that has been spread and nurtured; a manufacturing workshop provided by and two others positioned to produce safely; priority needs were identified – social workers and citizens on the front line – with vulnerable people outside hospitals. In the following 10 days, established organisations and informal collectives were provided in the midst of a shortage; a structure with a high profile and high needs allowed for a second production, also offering the possibility of feeding very spontaneous collectives.

From the beginning of the action, La MYNE was keen to respond both to an unmet emergency need and to a need for prototyping accessible to all, with a view to transferring it to other organisations whose current mission is to respond to health and social emergencies. This achievement was also possible because of the existence and possibility of quickly activating links, weak or not, with people and organisations from different cultures and worlds.


La MYNE appears to us as a ‘semi-open organisation’. Its dynamics to be a response to chaos, insofar as it is built, in and of itself, in a strong congruence with the issues suggested by chaos. Among other things, chaos questions three major dimensions: meaning, method and governance.

The issue of meaning is paramount for La MYNE. There is a recurring concern to question both the meaning of the actions carried out and the structure itself, its “raison d’être”, as it is called today. Thus, the identity of La MYNE is constantly being re-explored, both by its members and by different partners, in particular academics, making the project and the dynamics at work an object of study. The work is therefore important in terms of definition, research and theorisation (this article being an example). This permanent quest for identity can be translated as a form of this desire not to be part of a fixed and “confining” identity allowing each person to interpret his or her relationship with La MYNE, to be an actor in it. Assuming the chaotic nature of La MYNE identity would be a condition for innovation and adaptation. Narrative is necessary for collaborative approaches (Roux, 2018), both to encourage continuous learning through experience learning through experience, and as a tool for regulation between its members. The affirmation of La MYNE as a hybrid space and the alternative, even utopian (Lallement, 2019) character at play in the work remain essential to this search for meaning; as a response to chaos.

The method appears central to apprehending chaos, to being able to confront it, to approach the unknown serenely, to overcome stupefaction and inertia. The semi-open organisation is an entity capable of being both open and closed, a bit of a chameleon, in its ability to change form (Weick, 1995), to find the ad hoc. Thus, it assumes a possible variation in its mode of regulation from ‘control’, ‘joint’ or ‘autonomous’ (Reynaud, 1989), with a degree of hierarchical organisation (Filipovna, 2015) and a concern for reflexivity like a fractal, simultaneity a general functioning of collegiality, individual initiatives and structured autonomous teams we are therefore in a critical break with any bureaucratic organisation or the “one best way” logic dear to Taylorism, in favour of experimentation and the new. Considering complexity implies building an organisation with variable geometry, in a systemic perspective which requires an understanding of the environment, listening to the various stakeholders, integrating them into the projects in a back-and-forth, osmosis mechanism, between the inside and the outside, depending on the needs and opportunities, where everyone becomes a contributor to the project in their own way. In the face of uncertainty, intuition is mobilised (Poincaré, 1970; Brugeilles, 2018), intrinsic and driving force for analysis and action action – accepting error and trial and error. The realisation of the activity calls for a cunning intelligence (Dejours, 2009), directly linked to the reality of the work. This combines: expertise and versatility; uncertainty, randomness and certainties; the short and long term; commercial activity and civic-mindedness. Chaos thus appears intrinsic to its dynamics, “an organising chaos” (Thiétart and Forgues, 2003) conducive to creativity and working conditions.
The governance of the semi-open organisation can be questioned here. How is work organised and how are decisions made? How are regulations made in a dynamic where ambivalence is omnipresent, in the sense that one can have the feeling of a confusion of registers and of a system that resists defining itself? Several factors can be put forward to explain this harmony at work. Firstly, it can be assumed that each of them is involved in a dynamic that goes beyond them, in the sense that their action ultimately works for the common good. There is a political dimension to the commitment, as a feeling and ambition to participate in the elaboration of an alternative society. This counter-model is expressed in particular in a way of revisiting the remuneration of the actors of projects, giving priority to use value over exchange value alone. In other words, the remuneration for a project is not strictly proportional to the level of involvement or competence; a logic of solidarity and interpersonal arrangements is organised. Beyond social commitment as a vector of governance, we are witnessing a fairly well-developed ethic of regulation. Regulation takes place through reflexivity and concern for good treatment. As we have seen, reflexivity refers to the exercise of self-narration and self-analysis of group dynamics, which are part of the model that enables to legitimise the decisions and operating methods at work. The concern for good treatment is permanent, with a culture of living together and reciprocity that is nurtured in a desire to reconcile private life, professional life and civic life.

Governance appears here as a process, where the prevailing democratic rules are regularly rediscussed, towards ever greater equity and expression of each person’s subjectivity.


The experience of COVID-19, and here the example of HA gel production, provides food for thought on contemporary issues of work and organisations. It is important to integrate uncertainty and an approach to chaos into human activity, particularly in the face of change, complexity and resilience. At the same time as they participate in the movement of permanent adaptation of capitalism to its critique (Boltanski, Chiapello, 1999), semi-open organisations are are linked to a dynamic of contribution to work in the broad sense, towards more autonomy, creativity and regulation among its members. At the same time, they co-evolve with the so-called classical organisations, in their constraints and their aspirations to transform themselves. Semi-open organisations semi-open organisations are intended to be an alternative to the classical, hierarchical and socially dominant forms of organisation and vectors of social domination which is illustrated in particular in the relationship of subordination, inherent in the of subordination inherent in wage employment. In the recognition of a complex and chaotic world, the issues of mental health, quality of life at work and the development of empowerment appear universal and fundamental to consider. Semi-open organisations have a role to play.


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