Sager der Samler – Unifying matters of concern
Sager der Samler is at platform for enabling active citizenship in Aarhus, Denmark. This article is a short presentation of who we are, what we do and how we created the platform. A prior version of the text was presented at a conference at Aarhus University “Rethink Participatory Cultural Citizenship” in November 2013.
Af Karen Ingerslev, Kristin Birkeland, Morten Daus Pedersen and Paul Natorp
Sager der Samler uses the challenges we face as society as opportunities to connect as citizens.
The Danish word “Samler” translates into gathering or unifying people. Gathering people is our key activity and method, in essence our business model. The Danish work “Sager” translates into cases, issues, causes, matters of concern. We gather people around important issues or problems like green action, inclusive communities or health. Issues we collaboratively are able to do something about.
Who are the people?
Meet Christina. She is a student in Aarhus. She recently became a mother, and she is a social entrepreneur.
Christina signed up for a case-competition on social innovation at the University of Aarhus, where representatives from Sager der Samler was present as jury. Sager der Samler was furthermore the prize – the winning team won sparring from Sager der Samler in order to support the process from idea to mobilizing people to take new collective actions.
Christina and her team won the case competition with their idea of engaging students from health care educations in bridging the gabs between health care professionals and health care institutions, the right to equal access to health and citizens suffering from alcoholism, drug addiction, psychiatric diseases, poverty and homelessness.
Sager der Samler contacted Christina and offered her a physical place for her to gather people around her idea and offered her sparring and company in developing it into actions.
Now ”Social Health” has turned into an assembly. Some of the unusual meetings between people in this case has let to the idea of creating ”Eksperterne”, where people, who have managed to stop abuse of alcohol are positioned as experts of sustainable personal change processes.
Christina says: “Sager der Samler is a wonderful place. It is a gift for me, for this city and for the world”.
What do we do?
Examples of matters of concern that have turned into initiatives are food waste and lack of multicultural integration and coherence across public institutions.
We love food is an initiative that brands local restaurants and café that aspire to reduce food waste
Multi-ethnical Culture Center uses the universal language of food to build relations across cultures. In the school kitchen we teach each other to cook our local food – e.g. from Congo or Cuba.
Tom’s Taxi is an initiative that aspires to educate a squad of taxi drivers to guide people with challenges to the appropriate support.
How did we create Sager der Samler as a participatory institution?
“Sager der Samler” has existed as an institution for a year. The founders are professional practitioners in the field of innovation, learning, creativity, design, leadership and research and have used their skills, expertise and network from these arenas as participating citizens in the city of Aarhus. We will share some key stepping stones from our journey from acting as counselors and consultants to acting from a citizen perspective.
Building commitment to each other and to a common cause
It all started at the kitchen table in Paul and Kristin’s house (those two to the right). No, it even started before then. The 5 of us (middle to the left: Karen, Brett and Morten) engaged with each other in different constellations in dialogues on the challenges we saw in our educational institutions and in the field of Human Resource Management. The first step in our institutional process was that we committed to each other and to a common cause: We aspired to build a community.
Building of mental space
The next step in this process was many hours of dialogue and drawing, there we were building a mental space, and we were building an identity of this community.
We generated ideas for a name for our community, searching for an international brand, related to innovation. For a period of time we called our selves UniverCity. We were inspired by the idea that cities represent the complexity of the global challenges we face as well as the relations and networks that allow for us to take action. UniverCity signaled how we wanted to use the City as a place for learning how to act on the challenges we face across sectors, institutions and professions.
Looking back at the process, we were wandering in the “land of big brains” and we were well within our own comfort zones. We were designing learning pathways, quite similar to what we did yesterday as professional consultants. We learned how difficult it was to get access and to connect to people within the major welfare institutions as long as we were inviting them into a dialogue, focusing on processes and methods.
Building a physical place
One day we started to talk about places. We talked about that ideas need a place to live, people need a place to connect, actions takes place where we live. From that day on our commitment changed from intellectual and passionate relations to co-renting a location in the center of Aarhus. We decorated the place in our weekends, helped out by good friends and family. And we learned that now that we had taken the first step and paid the rent, and worked voluntarily on our common cause; people started supporting us in different ways with furniture, coffee, champagne and webpage design.
We learned from our friends at Samsø Energiakademi that communities should be about matters of concern. People come to the commons to share and learn, but we start out by giving, by offering the most precious we have: our time, engagement and professionalism. Our logo – the heart with an exclamation mark – was given to us and great people were and still are supporting us as mentors.
We changed our name from UniverCity to Sager der Samler, unifying matters of concern.
Building an assembly
We created an assembly. The member stimulated the physical and mental place with active citizens wanting to be part of communities gathered around important causes. We learned from our member that we were not just aspiring to educate people. We needed more edge. Most importantly we learned that we were not consultants but citizens like everybody else. We wanted to take part, offering our professionalism in community with others.
We formulated our aim as: “initiate actions that make a difference and that inspire others”. We wanted to act as living examples and to use as our primary methodology to do what we say. As examples we are not better or exemplary as perfect, but leading by example. We are experimenting and prototyping and taking actions in order to leave the land of big brains. These actions are created in the boundary zones between institutions, in equal communities.
The output of our work is thus twofold: Firstly it is capacity building in the form of new networks of engaged citizens, shared knowledge, collaborative skills, and trust. Secondly it is new solutions that are put into practice through collective action. These prototypes in themselves make a difference – but more importantly they can inspire new thinking and new actions.
Building value as learning
Sager der Samler offered a neutral space with less conflict and power, but with more meaning, learning and community. We found a lot of opportunities opening up as we entered the city as citizens and not consultants. But when we left the suit, we also left the traditional business model of selling lectures, workshops and processes. Money is not superficial. Money represents energy, but money is created within the framework of a different logic. The values we create are much more than money. Value is about learning, community and meaning. A place were we can meet as equals as citizens, not consultants, CEOs, students etc. We are not above or below each other – we are mutually depending on each other. And we have to make things concrete; citizens are not engaging them selves in theories. We do want to be open and flexible, but people engage in reality.
Right now we are learning how our business model turns out, as we aim at making a living from nurturing and hosting Sager der Samler. We are partnering with the municipality on learning how to engage citizens; we learn how to avoid a seller-buyer relationship and that we connect in order to learn. We aspire to leverage learning and collaboration between local authorities and civic society through collaborative experiments within strategic welfare arenas. The municipality and “Sager der Samler” are now in the process of inventing a new kind of business model able to support and develop a sustainable cross-sector platform for social innovation.
Through this partnership the municipality has come more alive for us as citizens. We have relations, connections and spaces to meet. The municipality is no longer just an institution. It is also human beings with whom it is possible to engage and relate. We can actually join forces and gather around an important cause.
Building a culture
Participatory institutions should be attractive spaces, if people should choose to spent their time, engagement and professionalism. In our case, we find an appropriate way of describing our culture is to quote the people, who have become part of Sager der Samler as participating citizens or students on internship. “Sager der Samler is a warm and welcoming space. It’s inspiring and fun. You meet all kinds of people you never knew existed. You connect because you want to create something together”.
Building a new toolbox
We are not creating for people. We are creating with people. Our methods are in our logo: action and engagement. Our most important tool is drinking coffee with people and hosting workshops called “værksteder rather than providing long and detailed process descriptions. The coffee helps us create relations and helps people to engage as it offers the possibility of others taking responsibility for the process.
Building sustainable capacity
We aspire to create a pulse and a rhythm. We want to embody a community. We become still more people and right now we are learning from growing as our capacity is challenged.
How does Sager der Samler as a platform for participatory citizenship remain a sustainable, healthy, open and including community as we learn and grow?