[PIG] In community, we have everything we need


In community, we have everything we need

Team member names

Teju Ravilochan
Deborah Tien

Short summary of your improvement idea

Residents of historically impoverished Black and Brown communities, like in Brownsville, Brooklyn where we work, often can’t afford to meet their immediate needs for housing, childcare, mental health, starting their own businesses, etc. So we’ve been organizing Brownsville residents to reimagine how they might meet these needs through community and trust-based protocols like cohabitating to share the rent burden, forming childcare co-ops to get free childcare, forming peer storytelling and listening circles to improve mental health, and forming collective funds to launch new businesses. In the proposal below, we lay out our inquiry for how to shift the culture of one neighborhood from only relying on [fiat] money - to relying on each other. It’s an experiment we hope will have something to teach neighbors everywhere.


1. What is the existing target protocol you are hoping to improve or enhance?

One person using only their own [fiat] money to meet their immediate needs.

2. What is the core idea or insight about potential improvement you want to pursue?

We’re pursuing how to replace this protocol with a new one: meeting immediate needs through community-based solutions.

For example, in Brownsville, Brooklyn, where GatherFor operates, median household income is $2,200/month, well below the federal poverty line. New York families spend just about this same amount on average on childcare each month, which makes paying for childcare untenable for most residents of Brownsville. Instead, forming childcare co-ops (where trusted neighbors take turns watching each others’ kids) could prove a more viable solution. It’s these types of community-based approaches to addressing community needs we hope to stimulate in Brownsville, thus supplanting the existing protocol with one that is more accessible, enduring, and inspiring.

In our decades of community organizing, supporting entrepreneurs, and strengthening local innovation ecosystems, we know that an idea like a childcare co-op is easy to think of but incredibly hard to do well (which also makes it harder to think of - many people have a bias to think of what seems achievable). There are so many things that can go wrong, especially in a community like Brownsville where local reputation has an outsized impact on someone’s ability to get things done, and where many people feel like a single mistake could lead to eviction, deportation, prison, or loss of life. Plus we would assume most of y’all on this forum can agree that it’s so much messier to keep friends/peers accountable and navigate conflict, as opposed to paying a third-party intermediary.

Thus, we look at the smaller, less sexy ways to consistently build trust at multiple scales, from an individual trusting themself, to an individual trusting another individual, to an individual trusting the community, to a community trusting itself, to a community trusting another community, to humans trusting the non-human world, to the present world trusting the future world, etc.

Multi-layered trust is hard, and based on our participatory [research action, governance, and design] work in the US and around the world, we’ve seen it done when the power of co-creating these trust mechanisms is shared amongst more people who can grow their commitment to each other and increase their own individual sense of agency. This combo of social cohesion and willingness to act leads to collective efficacy - or as we call it, the ability for a community to define and enact its dreams.

It is this co-creation of trust building mechanisms towards a protocol of reducing sole dependence on fiat money to meet IRL needs (which includes the courage to realize dreams) that we are focused on.

3. What is your discovery methodology for investigating the current state of the target protocol?

Synthesis of our field observations from the past 3 years of participatory action research with the Brownsville (Brooklyn, NY, USA) neighborhood. We also look at our own lived experiences with automatically turning to money as the way to meet all our needs.

4. In what form will you prototype your improvement idea?

We have spent 3 years building a basic level of trust with and amongst 50 neighbors via Neighbor Teams (autonomous groups of 5 neighbors who support one another through storytelling, sharing resources, and pooling collective funds to support a rotating individual (i.e. susus) that are matched by GatherFor. Neighbors also choose how/where to gather each month (IHOP is popular), and GatherFor reimburses these costs).

After setting this groundwork, these neighbors are asking us to experiment with more. We will run a series of workshops with these Brownsville neighbors to explore their ideas on how we shift the protocol of meeting immediate needs away from such strong co-dependence on money.

5. How will you field-test your improvement idea?

The Neighbor Teams have organized four “Action Teams”, consisting of 8-15 Brownsville, Brooklyn residents committed to meeting their needs and the needs of their neighbors. There is a (1) Housing Action Team, (2) Childcare/Youth Activities Action Team, (3) Mental Health Action Team, and (4) Entrepreneurship Action Team. If we move forward with SoP, we will guide each Action Team through the following process over the summer:

  1. Coaching. In each session, one member of the Action Team will share stories around their topic, and other members will use practices like Case Clinics or Clearness Committees to guide the focus member towards internal resolutions within their control (for example: limiting beliefs around what one ‘deserves’ or fears around asking for help).
  2. Identifying. Action Teams look for common practical challenges that are currently out of individual control (for example: residents may identify their most common challenges to securing housing as being the difficulty of finding available affordable housing).
  3. Learning. We’ll invite organizational leaders, community leaders, researchers, and others who have found community-based approaches to these common challenges to share their stories (for example: a group of neighbors in Boston may have crowdsourced available housing in a shared spreadsheet. Another group of neighbors in the Bronx may have incentivized families renting and sharing available units to distribute the costs of rent). We’ll continue to invite stories based on the follow-up questions from neighbors (for example: Neighbors want to understand co-living more, so we invite Supernuclear. Neighbors want to crowd-source reviews of landlords, so we invite Contratados).
  4. Experimenting. Each Action Team is given $5000 from the PIG funds and mentorship/connections to design and create community-based tools to strengthen their neighborhood infrastructure (for example: setting up a training of neighborhood trainers to meditate issues between landlord and tenants, developing a contract template for neighbors who want to co-live, or building a shared repository of landlord evaluations).
  5. Reflecting. We share the results and digest the learnings as a community, getting real on how this process felt and whether it shifted this protocol of meeting needs. A draft success metric (to be finalized with neighbors) will be something like depth of participation by those who experience the impacts of the solutions.

While this is a proposed plan, our process will be emergent, because that is how community operates. Our commitment is to what the community needs (both short and long term).

6. Who will be able to judge the quality of your output?

The neighbors - both those involved in Action Teams and those who are not (yet).

We’d also welcome: Mia Birdsong, Jesus Gerena, Sam Pressler, Edgar Villanueva, adrienne maree brown, Mariame Kaba, Dean Spade, Roseanne Haggerty, Cassie Robinson, Danielle Allen, Vivek Murthy, David Jay, Kevin Owocki, Zahra Davidson, Val Elefante, Immy Robinson, Hahrie Han, Eric Liu, Hollie Russon Gilman, Jessica Meyerson, Astra Taylor, Sara Horowitz, Rich Bartlett, and you!

7. How will you publish and evangelize your improvement idea?

We will document our findings about our process to shift the protocol via longer-form articles (like this) and videos.

We will work with Brownsville neighbors to publish their ideas and findings based on their experiments, in ways that feel aligned to their needs. For instance, maybe Brownsville neighbors decide they want to create a childcare co-op. They might decide they need to create a questionnaire for parents so each parent can explicitly state what their child’s specific needs are (e.g. How much sugar do you regularly feed your child? How much does your child need alone time to recharge?) We will invite these parents to share their template of questions with other neighbors and with parent communities such as Parent-Teacher Associations, homeschool co-ops, parenting groups on Facebook, etc., so this template could be built upon.

We will also share this type of work on Common Agency’s neighborhood network library of resources, for other people seeking to transform and collectively govern their neighborhoods, to learn from and with. Common Agency has been building relationships with neighborhood stewards all around the USA for the past few years - and it’s clear these leaders are also seeking to shift this protocol around money co-dependence and looking for the types of stories and tools lifting up the possibility of solidarity that we’re hoping Brownsville neighbors will develop. If this summer works out, we are excited by the possible snowball effect.

8. What is the success vision for your idea?

Success for this idea after the summer is simple: residents of Brownsville are closer to realizing that in community, we have everything we need. They realize that, even after living through systemic marginalization, money is not the only way for them to meet their immediate needs. Instead, turning toward one another may offer a more viable, enduring, joyful, and hopeful path to meeting immediate needs. If this is successful in Brownsville, we hope to grow it in other neighborhoods across the United States.


This is a great proposal! Would love to see it develop over the summer. It feels like a concrete example of the protocols for urban living that my research last year examined more broadly/abstractly. (A Protocol Pattern Language for Urban Space [serialized] - Summer of Protocols)

There’s so much potential for protocols to enhance city life at the most local scales and this looks like an effort to do just that.


Kudos on the work you two have already done with this, it’s so rare to see people with big civic innovation solutions actually interface with reality and communities on the ground. It would be interesting to see how the pilot goes and the translation of it into a protocol that can be applied in other neighbourhoods/across different localities.


Thanks for the kind words! Excited to see the protocol pattern language for urban space develop, definitely so much potential to play!

Out of curiosity: do your examples take a stance in particular values, eg ‘the common good’ or ‘social cohesion’ or ‘maximize usage of physical space in a dense area’ ?

Thank you!! Your words mean a lot because of your civic/ecological work with local communities!

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I’d say maximizing the common good in a reasonably equitable way is the closest way to summarize my own stance, although even that might be an oversimplification. I see protocols as infrastructure for enabling collective resolution of conflict / achievement of given priorities, whatever they happen to be, so a protocolized urban environment should be inherently responsive to the needs/desires of its inhabitants.