[PIG] Natural Life, Decay, Death, and Composting Collaboration

The Lifecycle of Collective Work: Natural Life, Decay, Death, and Composting Collaboration
yétúndé olagbaju & Meghna Mahadevan

Do you ever feel alone in a crowded room? :sweat_smile:

Relational work is our strongest tool to disrupt the current trajectory of lonely, destroyed landscapes on earth and build new realities together. These are the grounds in which we have the biggest opportunity to heal from the societal ills and traumas of the past. This is our closest return to how we operated in villages before colonization and resource extraction.

Collaboration can be healing, but it can also trigger many old, even ancestral, traumas and, without care, can create harm. Transforming our treatment of collective work at the end of its life has the potential to encourage deeper movement building and healing continuity for more de-centralized community creation and power.

What do you do when collaborations reach the end of their life? What leads to collaborative rot? How did these collectives decay? What next?

Our team is excited to research, articulate, improve upon, and test a protocol for the lifecycle of collective work. Our insight is that all collective work has a finite mortality. When a collective ends, we lack sufficient protocol to both retire and renew our work. This can lead to a loss of momentum and progress, burnout, sustained conflict, broken relationships, reinforcement of negative belief systems and, ultimately, a return to more hegemonic protocols of work. We must update this protocol within our current context and illuminate more pathways of return to our work.

Abolition is about presence, not absence. It’s about building life-affirming institutions. -Ruth Wilson Gilmore

How does the weakening of parts of a collaboration allow for change, mutation, and decay? As roots die, can branches be propagated with new life?

We will develop a protocol for how collectives birth, sustain, rot, kill, grieve, and compost collaborations. We will execute this through a period of research where we will interview other collective builders and a period of co-creation where we will host a two-week artist residency, culminating in an online, multimedia culture map sharing insights and feedback from testing improved upon protocol.

 1. What is the existing target protocol you are hoping to improve or enhance? Eg: hand-washing, traffic system, connector standards, carbon trading.

❀ Our existing target protocol is the lifecycle of collaborations. Many successful collective practices are founded in Global South, Queer/Trans, Disabled village formations, but many articulated protocols of collective work are founded in the same nation-state government logic which disrupted those villages. The protocol will address a gap in useful protocols describing how-to go about collective building in today’s society- across class, race, abilities, etc.

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

❀ We would like to pursue an expansion of a collective lifecycle which focuses on death and grief. We see collectives, like protocols (The Unreasonable Sufficiency of Protocols, as written by Venkatesh Rao and team) as sufficiently mortal. “What infirmities, fragilities, and vulnerabilities naturally and inevitably emerge in a [protocol, collaboration] with age? “

We will hold an artist residency to pursue a potential improvement to this protocol. The residency will act as a container for pause for collective builders to digest, connect, synthesize, and share the very human experience of working collectively with others. Artists will be asked to produce some work related to their reflections. Simultaneously, we will be facilitating workshops and conversations throughout the residency to collectively re-write and edit the originally drafted protocol. The digestion will be archived as an online culture map.

3. What is your discovery methodology for investigating the current state of the target protocol? Eg: field observation, expert interviews, historical data analysis, failure event analysis

❀In order to investigate the current state of the target protocol, we will do a combination of (1) historical data analysis (2) failure event analysis and (3) expert interviews…

We will start by researching the historical decay of groups, considering political and cultural ideologies such as the Black Panther Party or Destiny’s Child to corporate environments like Sears or Enron and comparing these to religious and spiritual frameworks and rituals of death. We will be able to draft questions and observations on patterns we see. We will use this research to inform our failure event analysis- reaching out to people inside our and Summer of Protocols’ network. These people will fall into one of two methodologies: (1) Failure Event Analysis- we will work with individuals to map out root pathways of failure for their collaborations. This analysis will include explorations of decay, death, and new branches available within each failure. This will support the creation of the framework for the protocol. (2) Expert Interviews- we will interview individuals who have written protocols or have experienced failure, death, decay, and composting within their collectives. We will build relationships by continuing to engage with these individuals and groups throughout the project.

4. In what form will you prototype your improvement idea? Eg: Code, reference design implementation, draft proposal shared with experts for feedback, A/B test of ideas with a test audience, prototype hardware, etc.

❀ We will prototype our improvement idea in the form of framework of the culture map we will be building upon. The culture map’s framework will act as a testable protocol of an improved lifecycle of collaboration.

5. How will you field-test your improvement idea? Eg: run a restricted pilot at an event, simulation, workshop, etc.

❀We will field-test our improvement idea from several perspectives (referencing the trial-and-error concept shared by Venkatesh Rao, on Mass Muddler Intelligence) through the execution of the residency within the May-August 2024 period:

  1. Individual Muddling: Artists and culture producers will be asked to move through the lifecycle protocol over the course of 2 weeks in-person residency with a medium of their choice

  2. Complex Muddling: The co-design and execution of the residency, itself, will follow this lifecycle protocol improvement.

  3. Mass Muddling: We will hold workshops during the residency with our chosen residents who will provide feedback and insight on improvements to the existing target protocol and suggested improvement. This insight will be captured within the online culture map framework and shared out. We will meet with other groups to discuss this and use this protocol as a jumping off point for more ideas and insight into improvement.

    6. Who will be able to judge the quality of your output? Ideally name a few suitable judges.

❀Aside from the participants of the residency themselves, we will also be working with members of the the following organizations to use, review, assess, and provide feedback to the protocol.

❀The goal is for these protocols to be findable, accessible, useful, and comprehendible to organizations and groups of people entering in, deepening, and venturing out of collective work. We will widely share the protocol in the form of the culture map. It will be online, shareable, and beautiful, linking to other relevant work. We will share virtual archive of our work through social media of residents and facilitators, established partnerships, partner organizations and community organizing listservs. We will leverage 1:1 relationships with individuals and organizations to see how the protocol is used and improved upon.

8. What is the success vision for your idea?

❀People who are experiencing decay of collective work are able to locate a protocol to both end and re-engage with collective work.

  • An articulation of the existing protocol informed by 30+ interviews, 7+ FMEA explorations, and deep * dives into histories of 10+ collaborations engaged with participants with age, class, race, and industry diversity
  • An articulation of the offered improvement to the current lifecycles of collaboration
  • Executing a two-week residency for artists
  • Three to four works of art produced based on the improved lifecycle of collaboration
  • Creation and Sharing of an online culture map with genuine engagement

I love this!
I had the privilege last year to be in fellowship where Seed Keeper Rowen White was a mentor, and she shared about indigenous cultural wisdom which considers the seasonality of collectives/organizations/projects/institutions.

Looking to various more-than-human assemblages as guides, there is a multitude of processes and timescales for decay and reconfiguration that could be inspiration. How might the protocol improvements you design find resonance with or configure around environmental cycles?

If members of collectives are not based in the same locales, what energetic cycles might inform intentional periods of wind down(fall), inactivity (winter/drought), regrouping (spring), or high output(wildflower blooms/mushrooming) or otherwise guide cycles of interaction?
(four seasons modality used for simplicity in these examples but note that there’s many alternate cycles from different places and cultures! a favorite of mine is the chinese 24 lunisolar cycle calendar)


I’m part of a recently collectivized organization and really appreciate the thoroughness of this proposal when it comes to lifecycle and culture mapping, intentional gathering through the residency, and going in with the perspective that collective work is both the future and also isn’t permanent. I’d be so thrilled to see this work happen!


As a conflict mediator, a protocol for the end of collectives is a provocative idea. people need more resources and capacity far before the organizations decay begins. curious about how conflict plays a role in this rot and decay and what protocols might be relevant to that


wow, I love the lines you’re connecting. My collaborator and I live on opposite coasts and experience the seasons very differently. I wonder how that relates to how we set different paces for our work. Thanks for these questions : )

1 Like

yessss, I also share this curiosity!!! Maybe normalizing conflict is like normalizing the shedding of leaves in a rotting process- making room for new growth

1 Like

WOW! I’m so blown away about all the intentionality, care, research, and love put into this residency! I’ve been existing and moving through “social justice movement” spaces since I was in high school and this main issue of even archiving and preserving what is left of a community is rarely talked about. It is natural for a community to deal with cycles of rebirth and death but in the context of colonialism there is a number of things that are unnatural regarding the expiration dates of our movements. This residency reminds me of the transformative work of a Doula, specifically those who work within the death and the afterlife. We deserve beautiful ceremonies, communal reflections, and ways to cope and deal with necessary next steps. It’s not fair that the only time we look back at these spaces and movements is via a class in a higher education setting. We need these tools to investigate what was and what can be in our everyday lives! Looking forward to seeing this residency come to life :brown_heart::star2:

1 Like

I like this idea of thinking about the death/decay of a collective before it reaches that point, maybe even at its beginning. Imagine how differently we would experience an ending if we accept the idea that everything inevitably ends, and put care and thought early on into how we want that end to look, through a lens of love rather than one of grief and pain.

The idea of being able to recycle a collaboration makes me really happy. The energy produced by any collective is powerful and subject to the principles of conservation, just like physics!


“As roots die, can branches be propagated with new life?” This is an incredibly powerful thought. Feeling really intrigued by the idea of exploring how we can transmute the natural ebbs and flows of collaborative work into something that bolsters connection and community in an even more fluid way.

1 Like

I love this so much, and I think it’s relevant to the birth stages of collaboration too. I’m so sure that an unchecked urge to “form a group” has tragically suffocated so many beautiful fledgling creative collaborations before they even had a chance to come to life. What if instead pouring all that energy into creating some perpetual entity we’d focused on making something meaningful together in the moment without any expectation of indefinite commitment?