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BarnRaising occurs when a community actively decides to come to the same place at the same time to help achieve some specific goal. The goal may be of direct interest to a subset of the community, such as raising a new barn for an individual CommunityMember, or it may be a SuperordinateGoal, of interest to the entire community, such as a new school or publicly accessible tool, that help to raise the knowledge, creativity, productivity and friendliness of humanity.

Make the impossible possible. It's pretty much impossible for one person to raise a barn. The main part of the process is taking two framed walls that have been built lying on the ground and raising them to vertical. Thus BarnRaising demands collaboration in a way that other activities do not.

Make friends. A barn raising tends to be a situation where you raise the walls of a barn, then you have a big party with everyone who's around. That's where the social aspect of it comes from. Lift some walls, rejoice and--critically--SquareDance.

Benefits to the community, and to the individuals involved:

Other ways people can collaborate and get a sense of community:

Wikis and BarnRaising:

Wikis thrive on asynchronous, gradual improvement, and BarnRaising events are rare, but important. Some tentative experiments with coordinating community action on MeatBall can be seen on BarnRaisingNominations. There is also a BarnStar award for exceptional BarnRaising.

BarnRaising is part of the difference between SlashDot and wiki. With SlashDot the barn is already raised - the OpeningStatement already written - before you start, and everyone just sits around bitchin' about it.

See also: TourBusStop, HelpingLusers, KeepOnTheGrass

But consider:

BarnRaising is not ChurchRaising?. Although often it is valuable to build an immaculate example of some ideal or utopian philosophy, these projects often require a large investment and religious zeal to hold them together. We DefendAgainstPassion. Sure, churches are often beautiful, but they are impractical en masse. Conversely, barns are practical, functional, cheap, full of horseshit, and you don't need to be a hallowed Prophet to make one. We prefer barns to churches here. Jesus was born in a barn, not a church.
However, BarnRaising does requires humility, trust, accountability, commitment, and sacrifice from and among its community. Because these seem to be found only in communities bound by family or religion, this presents an instructive example if only we can sort out why some religious communities become impractical and fall apart while others make the impossible possible. Churches have something we don't, yet. We should learn from them. They could certainly learn from us.

BarnRaising is not GroupThink. TheIndividual grants TheCollective influence over how she acts, but not how she thinks. Each barn raiser's motivation may differ, so it doesn't matter (for now) if the community disagrees as to the purpose of the barn, provided that it agrees that a barn is necessary.

BarnRaising is about sharing effort, not the barn. To be sure, sometimes we create a building to be used by the whole community, or for purely charitable purposes. Other times we build a barn for a single CommunityMember, so he can raise some chickens. Different barns have different purposes, so just because something was communally built doesn't mean that any old cowboy can ride in and stable his horse in it.

Real life examples

I've no personal experience with barn raising but with the Austrian variation of it: "house building". I'll tell a short story. When I was 10 year old my brother-in-law built his house in a rural village. He was the son of a farmer and although he worked as a manager for the car manufacturer Porsche he was still considered part of the rural community. When someone builds his house - and everybody will do sooner or later - his family, the friends and neighbours will help to keep costs down. Houses are built from bricks and are pretty expensive to build (about $300.000-400.000) using paid professionals. You can cut these costs to about $150.000 if you do the simpler tasks yourself. Of course everyone is expected to help when it is his turn. But my family who had lived in Salzburg (about 140.000 inhabitants) for generations wasn't even aware of this. In the village of Strobl it was considered unjust that only half of the family would help building the house. So I was asked to contribute for my family. For a weekend I worked there, helping to isolate the roof (I was pretty good at nailing) and carrying the materials to various workers. What seems important to me is the amount of "obligation" that this process contains. You are expected to help and you can count on help. There is a measureable advantage for everyone by taking part in this form of cooperation. It would be good to have similar cooperation in the online comunities. Currently we typically do not have it. When I build a wiki and ask for help, the chance is high that I won't get help. It seems that there is little trust that we will remember the help and will give it back when it's our turn. That's a pity and we should think about ways to change this. -- HelmutLeitner

Last weekend I went to a real, live BarnRaising at AngelicOrganics? farm in Caledonia, IL, USA. They're a CommunitySupportedAgriculture? farm (organic veggies paid in advance in the winter, delivered weekly throughout summer and fall) that also hosts the CSA Learning Center which has tons of educational programs. This new barn will be used for the CSA Learning Center. Anyway, they used the week before the raising for a workshop on how-to frame a barn. They had about a dozen people working on it all week. The idea was to use a mortis and tenon system (think slot and tab) to build a barn using hand tools and no nails, bolts, etc. When we (the 50 or 60 of us participating in the BarnRaising itself on Saturday) arrived Saturday morning, we found wood all over the place, some looking like it could be a wall, others clearly just stacked up awaiting some other purpose (you can tell I'm an expert, no?). After introductions and a safety lecture, we were assigned roles we'd perform to raise the first wall. Some people pulled ropes on the block and tackle system, some held pike poles (wood poles with sharp metal spikes on the end) of various lengths with which they'd be able to push on the wall higher up than could be reached by arms alone, some held onto the backup rope that would prevent the wall from going over too far and falling on the other side and a few other seemingly minor roles. What was cool was that the wall was incredibly heavy, but with everyone together, no one had to strain to pick up the wall and raise it into position. After the first wall was up (in less than a minute from when we actually started lifting), we just held it there while the people that knew what they were doing secured it with wood nailed in on an angle to temporary spikes driven into the ground. There was a lot of standing around at this point. In fact, there was a lot of standing around all day, which made it quite a social event and a lot of fun. Inbetween raising walls, you could certainly keep busy if you wanted to but there wasn't an expectation of that and while sometimes someone would ask you to do something, lounging around was mostly the norm for most people except during the raising of each wall. The organic lunch and dinner were fantastic, but what was better was the sensation of being able to help on a task that was incredibly complicated and not at all understood by me, but my presence was very useful. Good stuff all around. --TedErnst

In India, there's a festival called Pongal. It is similar to thankgiving. During Pongal people in villages put a temporary fencing in the ground, usually to hold about 10 livestock and themselves. In the corner an altar is built (with sand and clay) for worship and to thank for the harvest. I usually helped my grandfather with woodwork and ropes for the fence. Friends, relatives are invited to share in the celebrations and most of them arrived early to help out. For almost 25 years, my family and all relatives got together in our village for our BarnRaising. Now, I have go to online barns. Like this one. -- SelvakumarGanesan

Several years ago I was involved with a real BarnRaising at a country location near Adelaide, Australia. I heard about it from my father as it was to be for a workmate of his and jumped on the bandwagon. This was to be a straw bale barn which is an environmental idea about construction using local resources, of which straw has several benefits. Apart from the normal use of the barn on a country property, it was to be a testing ground because the owners intended to build a full multiple room straw bale home on the property as well. The structural elements of steel poles and a recycled galvanised iron roof and plans were already in place. A group of around 10-20 of us spent just under a day on construction. Straw bales pile easily. The real issues were how to cut bales without them falling apart, moulding the straw around the poles, securing the walls structurally and connecting the walls to the roof. They were well planned and it went well although a great deal was learnt on better ways for their home. In a community sense it was pleasant and fun. There's a degree of spatial crowding meaning some have to step back. You see elements of leadership, problem solving, morale builders and base working in action as well. I have photos somewhere. -- AaronPoeze

Historical Framework

The term "barn raising" dates to the construction of barns in the 18th and 19th centuries in rural America (U.S. and Canada). In this era, barns were the first, largest, and most costly structure built by a family who settled in a new area. Barns were considered essential structures for storage of hay and keeping of horses and cattle, which in those days were an inseperable part of farming. The tradition of "barn raising" continues, more or less unchanged, in some Amish and Mennonite communities, particularly in Ohio and some rural parts of Canada.

The event

In this sense, a barn raising was and is a one or two day event during which a community comes together to assemble a barn for one of its members. A certain amount of preparation is done beforehand. Lumber and hardware are laid in, plans are made, ground is cleared, tradesmen are hired.

Materials are purchased or traded for by the family who will own the barn once it is complete.

Generally, participation is mandatory for community members. These participants are not paid. All able-bodied members of the community are expected to attend. Failure to attend a barn raising without the best of reasons leads to censure within the community. Some specialists brought in from other communities for direction or jointery may be paid, however.

A power structure is present. There is one person in charge of the whole thing, who is often paid. Older people who have participated in many barn raisings are crew chiefs. On the whole, the affair is well organized. At most barn raisings, the community has raised barns before and is able to approach the task with experience both in the individual tasks and the necessary organization. Young people participating meaningfully for the first time have watched many barn raisings and know what is expected of them.

Only certain specialists are permitted to work on the more critical jobs, such as the jointery and dowling of the beams. There is competition for these jobs, and they are sought after. There are gender roles. Women provide water and food. Men do the work. Children watch; boys fetch parts and tools.

Social framework

Communities raised barns because many hands were required. In areas that were sparsely settled or on the edge of the frontier, it was not possible to hire carpenters or other tradesmen to build a barn. The harsher winters gave more urgency to the matter of barn construction than was present in the relatively milder climate in Europe.

Barn raisings occured in a social framework with a good deal of interdependence. Members of rural communities often shared family bonds going back generations. They traded with each other, buying and selling land, labor, seed, cattle, and the like. They worshiped together. They partied together, because cities were too far away to visit with any frequency on horseback. Despite traditions of independence, self-sufficiency, and refusal to incur a debt to another, barn raisings with the free labor in return for a nebulous future commitment were necessary.

Contrast with church construction

Churches were considered as important to communities of the 18th and 19th century as were barns. In like fashion, they were often constructed using unpaid community labor. There were important differences. Churches were not constructed with the same degree of urgency, and were most often built of native stone -- a more durable material than the wood of which barns were made, and more time consuming to lay. Barns, once completed, belonged to an individual family, while churches belonged to the community.

End of an era

Barn raising as a method of providing construction labor had become rare by the close of the 19th century. By that time, most frontier communities already had barns and those that did not were constructing them using hired labor. Mennonite and Amish communities carried on the tradition, however, and continue to do so to this day.

Group construction by volunteers enjoyed something of a resurgence during the 1970s, when houses, sheds, and barn-shaped structures were constructed for all manner of purposes except, of course, the keeping of livestock for a profit.

Barn raising in fiction

For a great scene of BarnRaising see the 1985 movie IMDB:Witness or "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers". Also, read BookShelved:RobertHeinlein's BookShelved:TheMoonIsaHarshMistress. Both these accounts are heavily romanticized.

From Barn Raising to Barn Sharing

Considering the Meatball barn, we are not only building the barn together, we are also sharing the barn. So this makes the project even more attractive, giving added value to the community. More generally, individual barns that allow sharing the built object, are an additional incentive for collaboration.

Context--other strategies. A barn raising is one of many strategies discussed at the Recent Changes Camp

BarnRaising is about sharing effort, not the barn. You cannot just have my barn if you need to stable your horses. If you help me build my barn, I will help you build your barn. That way, we both have our own barns to do as we wish, and I want to raise chickens, not horses, and you want to raise horses, not chickens. It's about empowerment rather than wallowing in our weakness. Otherwise, only the rich could have barns, and the poor would fight for access, and that is a ZeroSumGame no one wants to play.

That kinda seems to be saying that sharing implies not BarnRaising, which I think is too strong. So I changed it to instead say that BarnRaising does not imply sharing. The last sentence seems to be saying that property reduces poverty, which is interesting but better placed elsewhere, I think. If not, maybe we should remove BarnRaising from our MeatballMission, unless we really want to saying that not sharing stuff is one of our core values! --MartinHarper

There is something important to be said in not sharing the barn, but the distinguishing point is who supplied the land and lumber. If everyone did, say to build a town grain silo, then the grain silo is owned by the town--but not the next town over. Some things are charitable too, like a hospital. Some things are commercial, like the grain silo. And how this applies to communities I've lost the thread in my head. This whole point may be redundant with the very precept of the BarnRaising metaphor: you cannot just take, you have to put effort in yourself. -- SunirShah

They were generally called grain elevators, and while the earliest were commercial ventures, most were owned by cooperatives -- corporations funded by the farmers in the community. While they would as a rule serve all comers, the logistics of getting a load of grain to the next town over (especially prior to the advent of the motorized truck) precluded using another towns' elevator. Those halfway between two or more towns could pick and choose, a blessing and a curse since they also have to drive the farthest. --Steve

The agricultural metaphors are apt because they come from a rural environment where a sense of solidarity and community exists to this day that would surprise many people who have spent their whole lives in cities.

I am reading FreeCulture by LawrenceLessig and was pleasantly surprised by his usage of the term barn raising.

Think about the amazing things your kid could do or make with digital technology?the film, the music, the Web page, the blog. Or think about the amazing things your community could facilitate with digital technology?a wiki, a barn raising, activism to change something. Page 311 [PDF version]

Very thoughtful and very true. This wiki is one splendid manifestation of the barn raising Lessig dreams about. --SelvakumarGanesan

Given that he put "wiki" and "barn raising" right next to each other, it's quite probable that Lessig derived that quote (and in some partial sense, inspiration) from this very page...

It's quite possible that Lessig came up with the analogy between Barn Raising and Open Source on his own. I came up with it myself. I found this page after reading the Wikipedia entry on Barn Raising when I mentioned the analogy on a Slashdot response. -- Stephen Samuel

Barn raising means building someone else's barn, not building your own by yourself. Just because the Internet is a VanityPress doesn't mean we should all be so vain to keep our words to ourselves. Rather, let us spend the time to help someone else polish their ideas rather than waste the time criticizing those ideas from behind our own fence.

BarnRaising does requires humility, trust, accountability, commitment, and sacrifice from and among its community. Because these seem to be found only in religious communities, this presents an instructive example if only we can sort out why some religious communities become impractical and fall apart while others make the impossible possible. Churches have something we don't, yet. We should learn from them. They could certainly learn from us.

I don't think that this is strictly the case. BarnRaising needn't be dramatic or magic or tied to religion. BarnRaising may be just work and fun as a social event. A lion hunt in an ancient group surely was dramatic. Religion wasn't a precondition. Sacrifice, maybe. Humility?

A BarnRaising ends. People get together, put up the barn, have a party, and they go home. With a continuous BarnRaising, it seems to me that no barn ever manages to get raised. I've seen the term invoked against flamebaiting like it was some kind of social standard ("this is a BarnRaising atmosphere"), and not as an event.

Besides, I keep reading it as "BairnRaising?" ;) -- ChuckAdams

A single barn is raised, and then that event ends. The process of BarnRaising never ends until the community dies. New families create new farms on the edge of town that need new barns, and old barns fall down and need to be replaced. Indeed, the entire system of BarnRaising implies it is a continuous process, as your barn is built in return for you building barns in the future. In our context, the barns are each contributor's project they've come here for help, or local 'objectives' such as construction of a page, pattern, or category. There are always new objectives as the wiki expands, and hopefully always new people with new ideas and projects. -- SunirShah

So should that be the model we work for? Every now and again, someone asks for help finishing a barn, and the whole community pitches in for a few days, concentrating on that one thing? That would certainly be one way to clean up the mostly-finished odds and ends.

That's how I work. I mostly write with respect to some external dependency. I'm feeling kind of stupid. I don't really understand the objection. In my original view, the 'barns' we are raising are each other's projects, or later on, our/their sub-projects. Are people asking for more of an event, complete with the fete that comes afterwards? That would be fun. I have a good barn to raise: the WikiSpamWorkshop. -- SunirShah

Yeah, that's pretty much what I meant. Maybe we should splurge the current Barn on RecentChanges? -- ChrisPurcell

I'm starting to form a slightly different perspective.

I've been creating links to several meatball pages whenever I can be more productive by doing so, than by re-creating the same text elsewhere. During this process, I generally review the existing material with the intent of contributing at least some minor enhancements. In this way, both I and the 'community' become net beneficiaries. Obviously, this is a relatively minor form of BarnRaising, and may indeed be more an example of IteratedPrisonersDilemma, but it does seem to be working for me (and hopefully meatball). -- HansWobbe

DavidLiu's comment to SunirShah about helping more at C2 sparks a thought about BarnRaising. If the original wiki community needs a dose of help, would this be better as a concerted activity? (I know, I know, I can't help it - *everything* can be helped that way) It seems to me that we could teach about BarnRaising by doing some BarnReinforcement? at C2. What are the main issues that we could help with? Best, MarkDilley

I, for one, would like to help out.

I have been thinking about how to best contribute and have made a few discrete offers as well. Currently, I favour the idea of acting in concert with others. (After all, a proper community barnraising is generally an undertaking for a considerable group of people, if only so that it can get done within a meaningful time period.)

Perhaps we could discuss what we could offer as a group, and then select a way of making any resulting suggestions to Ward?

-- HansWobbe

Related sources about Barnraising:

"In frontier America when a family needed a barn and had limited labor and other resources, the entire community gathered to help them build the barn. The original family described the idea, the kind of barn they had in mind, picked, and the community pitched in and built it. Often the neighbors would suggest changes and improvements as they are built.." -By Michael Kahn (Unpublished research paper, 1974. See also Kahn, M., "The Seminar: An Experiment in Humanistic Education." Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 21(2), 119-127, Spring 1981.)

CategoryArticle CategoryCollaboration CategoryMeatballWiki CategoryJargon CategoryGeneralPatternLanguage


FridemarPache -- Thu Aug 27 22:23:34 2009

As Meatball has been serving as a platform of community activists and leaders of different communities. Barnraising applies to all of them. On MeatballMission Sunir made the BarnRaising its central paradigm, which became a kind of hallmark of Meatball in the wider community. As the different barns are distributed all over the globe, I think "same place", "same time" doesn't appropriatly describe the on-line reality, how virtual barns are built, assynchronous collaboration should be integrated. Beyond that I think we should not exclude IncidentalCollaboration or also spontaneous collaboration with a formulation community actively decides, because this could suppress a lot of useful group projects on a smaller scale by bureaucracy.

NathanielThurston -- Thu Sep 3 13:48:23 2009

There was one difference in the two versions of the BarnRaising document:

< The goal may be ... such as a new school or public accessable tool, that help to raise the knowledge, creativity, productivity and friendlyness of humanity.

> The goal may be ... such as a new school or public tool (that both help to raise the knowledge and friendlyness of humanity).

NathanielThurston -- Mon Sep 14 09:49:00 2009

In response to "Churches have something we don't, yet": I think the "something" is passion.

HansWobbe -- Mon Nov 23 15:41:55 2009

An interesting example of (Community or Enterprise) Building... http://www.siliconvalley.com/news/ci_13825531

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