The festival that nobody owns

A friend of mine is a coach. Recently she was coaching someone who had just left a big company after 14 years. “It is so nice“, he said “not to feel owned.”

We take it for granted these days that an organisation can be owned – by investors, by the state or perhaps by employees. It is all part of a wider context where all sorts of things can be owned – music (you can’t sing “Happy birthday” in a film without paying some corporation a few thousand dollars), forests and mountains, radio bandwidths, even genes.  The very energy that originally came from the sun, and some of the fresh water that we need to live is claimed by large companies who are run for private profit.   The idea is that this is more efficient than state ownership – which may or may not be true (there haven’t been many studies on this question, and those that have been done are inconclusive).

We are not like that.  The Festival of Human Organising is not “owned” by anyone. It is “held” by a small group of people in service to the wider community. This holding is rather like parenting – you aim to do it firmly but still sensitively, until the child is old enough to look after itself.

If we are honest, we are still working out what that means in practice. We have a self-appointed steering group (appointed by showing up and being willing to contribute). Can anyone join the steering group? Don’t know – ask! Can anyone participate in the Festival? Sure, in principle at least (we need to work out what that “in principle means”). Can anyone post something on the website. Not yet but we would like to work towards that place, leaving perhaps just a few basic sections that remain subject to approval before being changed. Is the organising  (I prefer to think of it as an organising than an organisation) managed in any way? Well, no. We prefer to invite people to self-manage.

Is this the only festival that is not owned? Of course not – by their nature, festivals are exuberant and unpredictable and thus hard to own. Anyone who tries to own them runs the risk of killing the life in them.  The festivals that do end up getting owned are in general the ones that turn into over-organised, more predictable and less playful affairs. That’s no fun. Let’s together agree not to let it happen!


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