The GFSC collective has existed in some shape or form since long before GFSC became a formalised studio. It started as a reading group, created by our studio founder Kim, morphed into a tech projects group. It has been an educational space for sharing knowledge, an activist space for planning projects and concepts, and throughout, a space of community and friendship. As the studio grows, so does awareness of, and interest in, the collective. But what is the collective today, and what does it, collectively, want to be? We collaboratively conducted research interviews with a number of key collective members, old and new, to try and get a sense of our future direction — what we like, what we don’t, what we most of all want to pursue.
The findings from analysing these interviews have been written into a report by studio and collective member Emma, which we are delighted to share below — we look forwards to poring over this with existing collective members, and welcoming new members into the fold who are inspired by our vision and hopes.
In spring 2023 we conducted a series of interviews with the aim of finding out a bit more about how we understand this thing we call ‘The GFSC Collective’, and what its members want from being a part of it. These interviews were conducted with 14 current ‘members’ of the collective — both studio staff, and wider collective members. We conducted the interviews in pairs, with each person documenting their interview partner’s responses — and we intentionally paired up people who most likely would not have met before. We were keen for these interviews to provide a chance for everyone to air their thoughts, ambitions, ideas, concerns, and anything else collective related, and we hope that this format, and the questions provided, offered a safe space in which to do so.
The questions we asked were:
Why did you come into the GFSC community?
What do you hope to get from being here?
What do you need to be here?
What current projects would you like to work on?
What things would you like to work on that we are not currently thinking about?
What would you like to be paid for, and/or is there anything we can do to help professionally?
Analysis of the interviews
Once all interviews had been completed, we carried out a qualitative data analysis process known as ‘coding’ — not to be confused with the other kind of coding! In this process, each sentence of each interview is analysed methodically, and any emerging themes are pulled out, with that quote and others which emerge around that theme listed underneath them. Many quotes appear in multiple places, and pretty much everything someone says in an interview will find a way into this coding process one way or another.
During this process, many expected themes will emerge, but if the process is being done well, new ideas will also often appear as well, that the person carrying out the coding may not have expected.
All interviews are anonymised and equal weight is given to every interviewee, though with this particular data set this was somewhat more challenging. These interviews were recorded by a number of different people, with a number of different note taking styles, rather than as direct transcripts (which are the gold standard for this practice, but which would have been too time consuming to create). This means that, while all interviews were around 15 minutes long, some have extensive notes, while others are far lighter.
Nonetheless, I hope that most people will read this report and feel that the findings which have emerged resonate with them.
The answers to the first two questions ‘why did you come here’ and ‘what did you hope to get’ tended to merge substantially.
The core areas were:
People are seeking out connection and friendship. A few people were also interested in ‘networking’ connections — to further their work or professional practice, but the vast majority of people framed it first and foremost as a desire for friendship. (There are of course much bigger and more complex conversations to have about how we define ‘community’, but that probably falls outside the remit of this report).
Many people, further on in the interviews, expressed a strong desire to meet more people ‘face to face’ (i.e. in video calls, like our monthly collective meetings) and even, where possible, in person. This was expressed with sufficient frequency and sufficient enthusiasm that it certainly feels like a key theme.
People are here because they want to connect with others with similar politics, activism/organising backgrounds, and be in a space with people where they expect alignment of opinions around key issues. Our studio areas of focus include community building, software development, environmental justice, trans liberation, police and prison abolition, and other creative and liberatory practices — all of these are areas where interviewees expect there to be compatible attitudes within the collective.
The intersection of tech with the above two areas
‘Tech’ is of course a key part of GFSC’s focus, but crucially, interviewees were not here purely for tech. Everyone who mentioned it, mentioned it in relation to politics/activism, and/or community — being interested in tech from the perspective of social change, and wanting to find a community of others who see it from the same perspective.
Getting stuff done
Several people cited a desire to make projects happen (around the above themes — activism, tech and community), and view the collective as a space for progressing projects. However, as answers further on attest, what is less clear are the processes and support needed for this to actually happen. At the moment it is clear that most people see the collective as a predominantly social/learning/connecting space, even if there is a desire for projects to make progress at some point in the future.
Very few people referenced this but it is doubtless important to note — some people in the collective view this space as part of a supportive infrastructure that enables them to survive, specifically with regards to autism (and high rates of unemployment amongst autistic people) and ADHD. Carving out a space where it is safe and accepted to be these things is important. A certain ‘amorphousness’ as one interviewee described it — where there are no expectations or pressure, but that, where needed and wanted, there can be frameworks in place to facilitate collaboration and action that work for those concerned.
This theme of ‘amorphousness’ emerged again in a broader way as we moved on to discussing what people need to be here, and/or what support people need.
Many interviewees cited the importance of the collective being a flexible space. A space where it is okay to come and go, where there are no demands made, and where people can feel safe being present no matter where they’re at that day. (Or, as it may be sometimes, NOT present). A supportive, non-judgemental space, where people can form connections and ideas in a low pressure way. People specifically asked for ‘patience’, ‘empathy’, and ‘understanding’. Some of these sentiments were rooted in previous bad experiences in activism/organising, while others simply reflected the exhausting world we live in in The Year of our Lord 2023, and what kind of space we want to build in order to challenge this.
Collaborative and non-hierarchical
Throughout the interviews, people mentioned their desire to collaborate with others, meet people (in real life if possible!), learn from others, and work in non-hierarchical ways. People valued honesty — ‘tell me if I fuck up!’ and appreciated how much working in a team can reduce pressure points compared with working 1:1. There is some potential conflict between people’s desire to collaborate, and people’s desire to come and go (possibly without warning), but the overall vibe was that people want to form structures that mean these two points aren’t contradictory. Structures that facilitate freedom of movement, distribution of energy, and mean that projects, ideas and conversations do not have to stall if key members need to step aside for any reason, for any amount of time.
Desire to learn/be mentored/be supported
When asked what support they would like, many interviewees cited a desire to learn from others, possibly in some kind of mentorship style framework. It is worth noting that not one interviewee stated a desire to BE a mentor — but fortunately (while we wait for some willing mentors to join our community, or for those within our community to realise their potential as mentors), other structures for learning were also mooted. People valued the Ruby learning club that we assembled previously, and would be interested in other co-learning scenarios — which include both more technical skills, like code languages, and more conceptual learning.
What do we want to work on?
Part of the interview process was to ask participants which of our current projects were of most interest to them, and what areas they would like to work on that we are not already.
The clear leader was ‘Don’t call the cops’, a project to put together location-specific guides to alternative support that are not connected to the police or state, which at least 5 people cited.
Other projects noted were the activist safety zine, activist tech training, clean air con, UnReadingGroup, the podcast, PlaceCal, Enquiry Witch, and Trans book swap. People recognised that with PlaceCal in particular, they would need very thorough guidance in order to be able to contribute in any useful way.
A few people noted that they were less worried about contributing to any project in particular, and more keen to give their specific skills to any project which needed them.
Several people were also interested in contributing towards the collective as a project in itself — community building, Discord moderation and administration, and so on. They were keen to figure out how we can empower ourselves to act, how we can support and uplift each other as friends, and how we can audit and amend our existing tools and processes to better fit the needs of the collective (and maybe also the studio?) at this moment in time.
We also asked people about broad areas of interest that we are not currently working on. Again, the theme of ‘the collective’ in and of itself emerged strongly (interesting that some people perceive this as a project we are already working on, and others don’t!)
Other broader themes included COVID related projects (support for those with long COVID or those still shielding), housing precarity (around renting specifically), unionisation (including radicalising co-workers), and ‘tools and systems’ (specifically, tools and systems to support any of the above causes, but this emerged as a theme in itself because so many people were interested in framing projects from this perspective).
There were also a number of other smaller projects which I will not note here, but which I would absolutely encourage collective members to bring to everyone’s attention if they’d like to progress!
We made a specific point of asking people what (if anything) they would like and expect to be paid for as part of their time with the collective. A number of people responded simply with ‘no’, and noted that their time here is facilitated by well paying day jobs, and they simply want to ‘pay it back’ so to speak.
However a number of other people — especially those in early/mid career — were very positive about opportunities to be paid for their work as part of the collective. Some people only felt comfortable being paid for work they felt they were already accomplished at, but others were keen to make opportunities to both grow their skills and earn some cash on the side. Being ‘paid to learn’ was viewed as something of a holy grail by some (with one employee of GFSC noting how much they valued opportunities to learn on the job).
Broadly the skills most notably on offer for payment in these interviews were writing (including transcription and admin as well as more creative writing) and coding, but this does not represent a comprehensive audit of skills available within the collective, which is another project we wish to undertake, and does not fall within the remit of this report.
Concerns and challenges
At various times during the interviews, people offered their concerns, and expressed challenges which they believe the collective faces. These broadly fell into the following categories
Muddiness between studio and collective
Interestingly, this concern was most often noted by studio staff, and less by wider collective members. It was also not always viewed entirely as a negative thing — the interesting structure we have grown here also offers a lot of potential. Mostly, concerns revolved around how the collective can contribute to studio tasks, and what point this is in danger of becoming extractive. One collective member mused on whether they would be ‘absorbed into the studio like lots of other people have been’. But it seems clear that defining a line between the studio and the collective is of more concern to some than others, and mostly of concern to the studio.
This ties into the earlier theme of wanting a flexible/low pressure space. Many people were concerned that they lack the time and energy to contribute as much as they would like, and that they haven’t had the ‘headspace’ to engage to the extent that they deem sufficient. Other members of the collective (mostly those who are also studio staff) feel overwhelmed with studio and collective tasks, and feel the collective is not getting the attention it deserves. Overall, a lot of people want to do more/better, but are being realistic about what is possible.
Many interviewees expressed a desire to meet in person, but recognised that our distributed locations make that challenging. One interviewee also noted that they wished they were closer to Manchester (the studio’s stated base, though in practice studio staff are also widely distributed) so that they could better identify hyperlocal projects to collaborate on. It’s important to note that our distribution presents both challenges and potential — having a widely distributed network offers many potential avenues for collaboration with communities across the country.
People have been burnt in the past by friendships lost in activist circles. One interviewee felt particularly concerned about lack of recognition/acknowledgement/celebration of labour, so it is worth noting that we may want to focus on building our culture in this area. There were concerns expressed about the challenges of managing disagreements that occur within projects, particularly those undertaken on a voluntary basis, where people are free to walk away if they are unhappy. “It can leave you with questions about where you stand with people [if people vanish with no or little explanation]".
There were both positive and negative thoughts which fell under this category. Some people were concerned about the long term funding of the collective, and our ability to undertake projects meaningfully without financial backing (see earlier section on payment). However it was noted that academia and other large institutions hold both money and power, and if we play our cards right, some of that could head our way (and has done previously!) All of this though, does require work, and once again questions emerge around whether this is work for the studio or the collective.
There were also a few other individual concerns noted, specifically with regards being part of the collective when you are from an institutional background, and not wanting to reproduce systems that have previously caused harm.
Overall, the majority of the interviews struck a very positive tone, with the main points of challenge/anxiety being burn out/exhaustion of some founder members of the collective, and how we define the split between studio and collective.
Now seems like a good time to reflect on what the collective is, and what it wants to be, and, given the frequently emerging theme of capacity and energy — what we can make it.
It is abundantly clear that pretty much everyone interviewed craves a space for connection, community, and common interest. A space of kindness, empathy, patience and understanding. A space where we can learn from one another, and lift one another up. It is also fair to say that the collective is already doing quite a good job of providing this, but it always benefits us to ask how we can do this MORE and BETTER.
There are also grand ambitions bubbling under the surface of the collective, with plenty of skill and enthusiasm to back them up, but much less time and energy. The collective is a space full of ideas — what challenges us as we go forwards is how to start putting some of our ideas into action, in a way that remains true to our desire to be patient, kind, chill and supportive. How can we build frameworks to progress and facilitate projects that respect the collective’s stated desire to be flexible?
It is often substantially harder to figure out what to do than it is to actually do it — and bringing the collective into the ‘how and why’ as well as the ‘doing’, is a challenge for us as well, going forwards. How can the collective support itself to follow through from having an idea, to figuring out how to implement it, to actually doing the work? At the moment there are a lot of ideas, a fair amount of people who say ‘if I just knew what to do I’d do it’, but what may be missing is the in-between step of facilitation.
There is a huge amount of potential within our community, and these interviews represent only a small section of the wide diversity of people who are more and less active within our space. We hope that this report will serve as a tool to stimulate further conversation and planning as the collective moves forward.