In the previous blog, I wrote about different structures organisations and countries can use or maintain, about the complexity of these structures and about how they fit our truth. People act like they do because they believe that is the best thing to do according to their reality/ truth. I believe, it is interesting to find out where we can learn from each other’s realities and truths. Learning from other structures to construct a new structure that fits your organisation best. Learning from how others deal with a challenge to deal with your challenges. That is why this blog will be about organisations and environments where they search for a different way of working, organising and structuring.

Free zones

When searching for these kinds of environments, the concept ‘free zones’ came up several times. There is no one clear definition of a free zone but in this context, it is an area where there are just a few rules and restrictions. In the Netherlands, some cities already experimented with this concept or claimed that they want to experiment with this concept. Amsterdam is one of the cities that experimented and according to the city council, the goal of a free zone is to stimulate and activate the areas were the vacancy is high by supporting initiatives, being flexible and giving room for innovations. They believe that when they let go of some rules, more initiatives, diversity and liveliness will occur (Fedorova, de Graaff, & Schmitz, 2018). Rotterdam and Utrecht, want to create free zones but they did not execute yet. They both believe that free zones, stimulate the creative and innovative entrepreneurs that contribute to the development of the areas (Algemeen Dagblad, 2018) (Student&Starter, 2018). Nevertheless, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht admit that there are also weaknesses related to the free zones. In Amsterdam, they claim that the results were minimal and that there was not a big difference. In Rotterdam and Utrecht, they claim that executing free zones will lead to disturbance in the neighbourhood.

Another example

Free zone is just a word for environments where there are few rules and restrictions. Nevertheless, there are also cities and places where they experiment with structures like this but they do not call it a free zone. Breda has a place like this, it is called STEK. STEK is an industrial area where creative entrepreneurs get the opportunity to experiment, develop and flourish. They achieve this by offering affordable parcels where entrepreneurs can build and work rule-free (STEK, 2020). It is interesting to see that STEK is there for four years and the place is still working and developing.

Different perspectives

Okay, so what can we learn from the information written above? Did they do enough to make it work? Does this say that free zones are excluded? Are there initiatives where it does work? What can we say about the structure? When talking about environments like this, it often goes about creative entrepreneurs, culture and innovation. Nevertheless, there are also other perspectives. Eindhoven, for example, strives for sustainable building and to achieve this they pursue to have fewer rules and restrictions. Several building corporations, the municipality and citizens worked together to realise this sustainability manifesto. They ask the government to also implement this in the rest of the Netherlands because they experience that it works (municipality Eindhoven, 2020). Furthermore, in Breda, there is also an example in the educational domain. The course Social Innovation also known as the Performatory, structures their education differently. Instead of providing a fixed study program, students are free to construct it themselves. There are a few guidelines and restrictions but there is a lot of freedom and students are responsible for their structure. It is important to know that Performatory constantly develops and changes, it costs fourteen years to come where they are now.

Compare and combine

Does this say that only creative and innovative people can live with a structure where there is not much structure? When I compare all examples it is interesting to see the differences in initiators and reasons for initiating. In Amsterdam, the municipality imposed the free zones. At STEK, some entrepreneurs came together and they together initiate the idea. In Rotterdam, the municipality says that they want to realise free zones. In Utrecht, some students and starters say that they want to realise free zones but they do not have enough support yet. The sustainability manifesto of Eindhoven is created by and with different stakeholders. Lastly, the Performatory develops and changes always, they do this together with the students and it costs them fourteen-year to be who they are.

Reading these differences, I believe that environments like this only succeed if the participants and initiators feel ownership and the need to act like this. It does not work to impose an environment like this if there is no need for it. If participants do not see the added value of it, or if they do not feel the urgency to act in an environment like this, nothing will happen. Furthermore, I also came up with some questions, ‘what did they do to activate the participants?’ ‘was there a need for this free zone?’ and most important ‘can we al over sudden create a free zone?’

I think it is a delusion to come up with a structure, impose it on the participants and expect it to work. Think about it, if I tell you what to do without asking for your needs, demands and perspective or without taking them into account, would you listen? The answer is probably no because you cannot find yourself in the idea and it is even possible that you disagree with it. You will not feel the ownership and urgency to work with me because it does not fit your perspective. Looking at the example of Amsterdam, some people with more power imposes the idea to the citizens of the areas. They have to act because the municipality asked them to but the results were not sustainable and the initiative disappeared. The citizens did not feel the ownership and urgency to act in this free zone because they maybe did not feel the need for it.

What now?

At Innovation Square, they want the participants to act in a community. When I compare this to the information I wrote above, I can conclude that it does not make sense to impose this community to the participants of Innovation Square. Nevertheless, I do not think that this community is not the solution for Innovation Square. I know and experience that just asking them to act as a community does not work. As I wrote in several blogs, this is a process and this costs time. Moreover, I need to find the participants of Innovation Square who do feel the ownership and need to act as a community. They have to add value at Innovation Square and they have to decide what the structure will be. That is why I do not want to use the word community since this sounds like a fixed solution. The participants of Innovation Square need to act in a living system in which they create their structure and ideology. Okay… but what is my role then? In the next blog, I will write about the tasks and roles a person like me has. What can we do to steer the process of creating this living system? And who are the professional I can learn from?