Emergence of a free space festival

This is the backbone of what I shared at Ci2i Global in Chiang Mai in February 2014.  Check out my initial thoughts on return from Ci2i here.

We started CoCreate Adelaide to build networks and communities – to connect people that have a vision for the future of Adelaide.  Better connected, stronger communities are better able to make our visions real.  This is true individually as well as collectively.

Our first event in April 2013 proved the value of Open Space as a tool for community building.  Don’t just use Open Space to host powerful conversations… host powerful conversations about passion & intent within a compelling narrative of cocreation.

So when it came time to ask whether people were keen to hold another big event, the response was a qualified ‘yes’.  ‘Yes’ – but can we also have music – food – share our projects – make art – have more – of everything…  We were invested in cocreation, and jumped at the opportunity to embody our passions and visions.

Of course what we described wasn’t Open Space Technologies.

So without a clear guide except what had worked so well already, we set about cocreating a festival – a reflection of the community we had become, emerging from the Open Spaces of our past.

Our ideas started with Open Space, but we knew it needed breaking – a blank grid of discussion sessions was not free enough a canvas to capture our visions.  We didn’t start with a methodology, we just started with some ideas about what our approach needed to make possible.

Putting together pieces of the puzzle we learned gradually what seemed to work and what did not… As time went on we drew more and more heavily on the Open Space methodology we’d cast aside – with a growing understanding of what makes it tick.  And learning along the way how these patterns can be stretched and hacked to work in unlikely ways.

An unstructured free space would be chaos – creative maybe, but not a space to welcome and foster cocreation.  Open Space has boundaries within which people can experience a comfortable, emergent freedom.  And they’re boundaries that participants understand well enough to know how they can (inter)act – empowering participants to self-organise.

This is as true of a collaborative lead-up as it is of the event itself.  Only the crazy commit without knowing what they’re in for.  Fortunately we have a fair few of those we can rely on…. but other people need to understand and navigate spaces they can engage with.


Open Space

Physical space ~ extending the dimension

Discussion space

Announcement structure (hourly; schedule)

Grid setting structure (each session; schedule)

Structure and guarantees

– above

– philosophy / brand?

– minimum activity

Structure and guarantees

– above

– focus question / challenge / purpose

– people?

Freedom to move ~ active choice

Freedom to move ~ active choice (similar)

Open invitations

Open invitations (similar)

Activity preparation ~ additional dimension

Informal prior thinking or discussion

> Prior information structures

No prior information structures

The journey has been interesting, but it leaves some business unfinished.

I had jumped into saying we created a methodology (which I had called Freespace – partly in reverence for [ freespace ], though I have no interest to tread on their toes).  But now I feel I should have retreated from that edge.

We could polish up our lessons into a model that would probably work – if you need it.

But the real lesson for me is not that we have created a functional new model… but that by stretching the old beyond its limits we can uncover deeper and more generative patterns for how to be together.  That these patterns give us a much stronger basis for developing models in response to whatever context we find ourselves in.

I don’t yet know what these patterns are, or even what form they might take, but I know our experience with CoCreate is a valuable start.  I look forward to connecting with you over the coming months to see what we can learn.

What’s Possible?

Offerings from the community at the Festival of CoCreation

Whats Possible - CCFest responses

Abundance.  Right here, right now.
A more conscious and inclusive community of like hearts and minds willing to be vulnerable and connect at a deeper level
Embrace your inner wilderness, it’s where you will find your strength and the source of all inspiration
Meet new people, tell stories, listen, be open, enjoy!
We meet no ordinary people in our lives. If you give them a chance, everyone has something amazing to offer.
Almost anything that is imagined and many things that aren’t
Make things possible!! Pursue it, be passionate about it, and share it.  You CAN make your dream come true.
The possibilities are endless… Your action is needed to make possibilities a reality. Live in action, love, laughter with people.
It is possible to change the things that matter!
Anything is possible

Festival appreciation – taste the rainbow!

We thought it was hard to acknowledge all the contributors of our unconference in April of this year.  Properly acknowledging those making the Festival of CoCreation happen is nigh on impossible!

But that isn’t to say we don’t appreciate what everyone has done.  Things like this wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t all play our part and chip in.

The dozens of members of the CoCreate Adelaide community in particular are destined to go nameless – but we know who we are!

We do have a few main supporting partners who we can acknowledge up front – the lynchpins without whom this wouldn’t happen

Tuxedo Cat – making the space possible

City of Charles Sturt – helping cover the costs, advise and promote

Fifth Quarter (an initiative of Carclew Youth Arts) – making the connections and providing the essential extra ingredients for the whole thing to work

Basic logo banner


The best place to get a sense of who else has chipped in is to follow the Facebook page and Facebook event

A vision for the CoCreate movement

This is a vision for the CoCreate movement – which is rapidly growing out of our experiences with CoCreate Adelaide.  It is not a shared vision for the CoCreate Adelaide initiative itself.  We have some early ideas, but that one is still in the works. : )

This is in a state of ongoing development – see the online document for the latest version.

Word cloud of feedback - what next? @BeckyBHC

Word cloud of feedback from CoCreateADL Apr 13 – “what next?” Collated @BeckyBHC

We aspire for everybody to be empowered to take meaningful action – to cocreate the visions they have a passion for.

We see a day when anybody that wants to take action on the things they care about, has a forum where they are welcome as a (proactive) citizen, where they can meet people like them, and which provides them the support they need to take action.

Imagine it kind of like Meetup – for civic engagement rather than social connection. This doesn’t mean we are a straightforward, electronic platform (though we might create this one day), partly because the forums will need to be much more variegated to really fulfill people’s needs for civic engagement.  But rather that we seek to solve the problem of civic engagement in the same way that Meetup seeks to solve the problem of social connection.

We see big gaps in the present opportunities for people to do this – CoCreate is filling these gaps.

To this end, CoCreate initiatives are forums

  • to empower individual citizens to realise their agency, to take action on the things they care about

  • to collectively empower citizens to realise collective intent, to organise to get things done (following organic, participatory methods that offer people opportunity to meaningfully and effectively contribute)

  • to collectivise community identities, offering a citizen-led method for people to engage with society’s bureaucracies

The exact nature of these forums will emerge out of the context for each CoCreate initiative, guided by the philosophy, principles and model underpinning CoCreate.  These might be events (from evening sessions to multi-day forums), online communities, more individual-level programs or other connections – generally following ‘organic’, participatory models like Open Space Technologies.

CoCreate is in short, a movement and a growable model for creating thriving, empowering collaborative communities that provide these forums.

The start of the CoCreate Adelaide journey – April 13th

CoCreate Adelaide has been an amazing journey so far.

The idea was fledged in the early days of the new year, and less than four months later something incredible has been created.

CoCreate mandala - @JohnSBaxter

The mandala, an artwork created over the day by participants. Photo @JohnSBaxter

From the get go, the response was tellingly positive.  CoCreate tapped a similar chord with a broad mix of people – all of whom want to take action to shape the our future, all of whom understand the value of community, and of providing opportunities to support each other to take action.  Some have come from work with community groups, some from community engagement or collaboration in government, and a whole lot just want to work with others to make things happen.

But as people came together, it felt like we were all in unison – working together, keeping each other going and creating the energy to keep things moving.  I have been constantly inspired by the people that have been involved and provided their support.

These include people like Paquita and Kat Coppock, members of the team who’ve dedicated time and energy to making this happen.  And the positive support from partners including City of Charles Sturt, Hub Adelaide, Renewal SA and Geoff Kwitko.  These contributions took CoCreate from an ambiguous but exciting idea, and turned it into a real event and inspiring experience that has helped people take action to make a better world.  It has been humbling to be part of it.

I always knew that good things would come of it – but still had no idea how it would really go, right up until the first sessions started.  Saturday morning on the 13th of April was very nervous for me… and the weeks leading up to it were at times shaky for the team as well.  At our last team meeting, a few weeks before the event, we had to face some tough questions and concerns from a team that had dedicated themselves to CoCreate – but when they started talking to their friends about it, realised they had no idea what was actually going to happen.  I’m eternally grateful for everyone who placed their faith in it – and much relieved, thinking that faith was repaid.

Events like CoCreate will always require a bit of faith – faith in each other, faith in the the people that attend, and faith that our Open Space methodology will realise our potential and foster conversations that really matter.

The morning of CoCreate felt mildly chaotic… this is probably how it should be, but as an organiser it’s not the easiest way to be.  One thing at least was reassuring – the space (designed by Kat) was amazing and had everyone excited in anticipation.  The diversity and enthusiasm of the guests was reassuring, and the positive energy was tangible as we finally started to fill the grid.  In Open Space, the day starts as a blank canvas, and the participants put up their hand to host their own discussion.  The penny only really drops when the invitation is made for people to come forward.

Mulling in the CoCreate Adelaide space, photo @vjthecatalyst @HubAdelaide

Photo as people gather and mull at the start of the day at CoCreate Adelaide. Photo @vjthecatalyst @HubAdelaide

As if to mock my fears, we could barely contain the group’s passion!  I had barely finished making the invitation when the first person stepped forward.  We had set aside three spaces for discussion groups – with our breakout area as a backup space.  But there was too much energy to keep it to only three, and most of the day saw four engaging, empassioned and inspiring sessions running concurrently.

The theme overall for the day was the visions we care about – and what we can do to make them happen.  Topics included scaleable urban agriculture projects, informal peer-teaching programs, resource centres to support asylum seekers, and strategies to cope with economic degrowth – one session on preparing for the future in Australia, and another one on the present situation in Greece!

Morning grid - Chris Hooper

Afternoon grid - John Baxter

The day itself has too many stories to try to compress into this one of mine – we will share some of these here in future posts and on Twitter and Facebook.  If you get the chance to talk to someone though, ask them about their stories, get them to tell you what CoCreate has meant for them.  As the last of the group left the post-event drinks at the Gov, late on Saturday night, it was clear we all have our own stories and experience – but we’ve been through something good together.

Yes, the journey has been amazing.  But I’m getting the sense that we’re right at the very beginning of something much bigger.  I hope that you might join us.

– John Baxter: Partner / facilitator / organiser

 Join us:


It is so hard to single out any people, partners or supporters for appreciation.

CoCreate Adelaide has been made possible by a network of passionate volunteers dedicating their time, energy and social capital to get it going and get everyone along.  Amen to you all!  Thank you.  I hope the experience has been fantastic for you, and I hope you’ve gotten a lot of value out of it too.  I know I have – totally worth it.

We do have a few supporters as well, who don’t necessarily have the same intrinsic motivation… but are offering something to help us out.  So – at risk of missing somebody…


Renewal SA – provided the space for free, covered the cost of our security, have been generally rad to deal with and do a lot to support community activity in Bowden.  Especially onya Andre Stuyt.

City of Charles Sturt – covered our remaining event costs, helped us get the right people here, have been super helpful, and generally lovely people.  Thanks Cheryle, Vesna, Caro.

Hub Adelaide – lovingly bring you the pop-up Hub / chill out / “WORK” zone; and have secured much of the ‘stuff’ that we’ve needed this weekend.  Vishal (@vjthecatalyst) has been a legend.  See HubAdelaide.eventbrite.com

ChimiChurri Grill – came out to Bowden to serve us lunch, foregoing greener lunchtime pastures to do their bit to support CoCreate… we didn’t even have enough people for them to break even, but they gladly came anyway!  Greg is a champ.  The food was pretty good too. : ) Go have lunch with them sometime.  www.chimichurrigrill.com.au

Salvos (Findon) – All of the furniture decking the space didn’t come out of nowhere, you know!? Generously on lend from Salvos Findon (Rd).  Manager Kerry was very helpful.

Friendly Faces of CoCreate Adelaide

Kat Coppock – @artoverapathy

Kat Coppock is an emerging Adelaide artist and curator.  As Visual Arts Curator and Events Co-Coordinator for Re-new Adelaide initiative The Reading Room,

she explores arts and experimentation with passion and love.

Kat Coppock


Infatuated with pushing the visual arts through Adelaide’s diminishing cultural scene with education, connection, and immersive art installations, her ultimate aim is to start a community art school in the name of promoting alternative collaborative techniques and creative workspaces and inspiration. CoCreate gives her another avenue to practice her skills, as well as establishing connections with like-minded people who are just as keen to manifest both a solid city-wide identity and a viable creative future for Adelaide.


Paquita Spurr

Paquita Spurr

Paquita was drawn to CoCreate Adelaide to meet like minded people who have drive and passion to be instrumental in change.

She’s passionate about empowering people to take responsibility for their own happiness, health and well being.

People in the street/suburb to share resources, knowledge and skills.

People to reconnect and care.

To recognise and value the cultural diversity around us, respect and draw upon this.

Paquita is looking forward to connecting and develop working partnerships that are driven with passion and conviction for outcomes.

Our Multitude of Capabilities

“Harnessed fully, there are more talents and resources within any small group of passionate citizens than are actually needed to manifest deep social change. It is just a matter of how willing we are to step back and see things through a lens of strengths and possibilities, and how creatively we can bring our multitude of capabilities to light.”
– Donnie Maclurcan, Post Growth Institute

Love this quote – posted recently on Sharon Ede’s blog.

This belief is one of the reasons I’m involved in CoCreate Adelaide.

I had the pleasure of meeting Donnie in Melbourne a couple of months ago. He provided some great advice that we’ve reflected in CoCreate.

Now it’s up to us – how creatively can we bring our multitude of capabilities to light?


What will we talk about?

We can offer examples of the visions we might discuss, based on who is likely to join us.  Once you get an amazing group of people in the room, the Open Space format is designed to elicit the most meaningful, topical conversations from who is present.  You never really know until the day itself – but it doesn’t hurt to provide some examples!

Ideas that have already come up in discussions with people that are coming include:

  • a community ‘school’ for artists to mentor and learn from one another – plugging gaps in the dwindling courses offered by our universities
  • a culture that supports natural medicine and holistic approaches to wellbeing, instead of medicating the symptoms
  • greater connections within our neighbourhoods and day-to-day lives
  • accessible cultural education
  • a supportive network of opportunities so that people with business ideas don’t need to leave the state to follow their passion
  • open forums for connections between individuals, organisations and government, where we can work together on collaborative initiatives
  • better connection to the food we eat and the world we live in
  • better connections and collective conversations that agitate the fermentation of ideas and social consciousness

Who is coming?

Knowing who is coming, you can imagine the conversations that might be interesting to you.  The other attendees are always the most important element of an Open Space event!  Our participants’ backgrounds include:

  • visual, literary and performing artists
  • entrepreneurs and hackers
  • environmental activists and founders of green initiatives
  • local communities (e.g. Bowden area) and other community organisations
  • government, council and community engagement professionals
  • other community leaders and local business owners
  • lots of amazing people that just don’t fit the boxes

For some ACTUAL PEOPLE, check out a few friendly faces that we’ve posted up here.