Saturday, December 15, 2018

The la-la land in small scale collaborative communities

Since 2011 I have been working almost full time on collaborative projects, with open and decentralized organizations. I can say that I've seen it all, but I am still trying to make sense of it all.

I recently realized something that plagues a lot of small scale collaborative organizations. As strange as it might seam, it's the good feeling that most of them nurture. To put it bluntly, often these type of organizations put the good feeling that members experience together, before work. Members of these organizations will often act to save the pleasure, the friendship, while they sacrifice work.

We all want to feel good in our work environment. But we need to realize that the primary reason people get together in open and collaborative projects is to achieve something, not to have fun. There are plenty of other opportunities to have fun. Fun can be a byproduct of working together, when everything goes well. But work is not always fun, it comes with responsibilities, sometimes we must do things that we don't like, sometimes it generates stress, sometimes we need to confront difficult situations and difficult people.

The problem is that most informal, small scale collaborative communities lose their ability to deal with negativity, which cannot always be avoided. When a negative situation arises, very often people go into hiding, try to cover it up, put on the proverbial fake smile, simply ignore the situation, or take the wrong approach in dealing with it, avoiding at all costs making things personal, even when the source/cause is a particular individual. Some people, we know them as the straight shooters, the community guardians or the barking dogs, identify the issue, call it like it is, point the finger. Very often, those who don't shy away from defending the community from wrong-doing find themselves attacked by other members for disrupting the good feeling. They become the problem, they feel victimized for having acted for the benefit of the community, they get frustrated, and some even quit. Such communities filter out these important individuals who fill the role of keeping things real, and attract people that avoid negativity. Some communities that I experienced feel fake, they are a place where everything is rose and must be kept rose. When the straight shooters and the barking dogs are neutralized, the community becomes a lame duck, widely exposed to abuse. What might happen, is that wolfs identify the widely exposed flock of sheep and infiltrate it. When they attack, the superficial sense of good feeling gets replaced with an overwhelming sense of insecurity, and the community disperses.

We also need to mention the tremendous amount of effort these communities spend to harmonize relations, which is not put into productive work. They are pretty heavy into forging a group identity and a sense of belonging. They spend a lot of time on training their members on non-violent communication. They heavily rely on face-to-face meetings to strengthen interpersonal bonds, which are costly (in terms of time and traveling), sometimes highly inefficient and excluding those who cannot be there but can still contribute.

Another important side-effect of too much bonding is the creation of collusion clusters, people that start protecting each others, covering each others up for their wrong doing to protect their friendship, even if that goes against the common goal. A strongly bounded community also develops a tribal mentality, which makes it less open to newcomers, who need to divert a large portion of their efforts towards gaining acceptance instead of doing productive work. There is an optimum of bonding in a collaborative community, beyond which things turn bad.

But it's not just people to blame here... We need to understand the socioeconomic dynamic. These types of organisations that form around a cause and don't generate (enough) tangible benefits for their members are held together mostly by good feeling, shared values and culture. People instinctively or consciously realize that in order to keep everyone engaged they need to keep everyone happy, they need to nurture a positive atmosphere. The game becomes: commit to some effort and you'll be rewarded in good feelings. Peer pressure gets biased towards maintaining the good feeling.

So how can we escape the spiraling down towards the la-la land?

In my opinion, we need to realize that the game played within small scale collaborative communities is only first order, mostly driven by irrationality. People are almost unconsciously driven towards this good feeling and want to preserve it. They end up reversing priorities, putting the good feeling before the work. They almost forget why they are there, which is to achieve something together in the first place, rather than just having fun. Shying away from negativity is also a natural, mostly irrational reaction. Dealing with negativity requires energy and guts, which come with commitment, with the realization that we are there to achieve something, and that something needs to be protected.

Small collaborative communities need to add a rational layer on top of the irrational first order, which amounts to a work ethic. Members need to be reminded that they are together first and foremost to achieve something, that work might be difficult, stressful, that they might have to deal with insecurity, to put up with problematic individuals, etc. The community needs to nurture a sense of responsibility and commitment to the cause, not just to naively promise fun and good feelings until the end of the project.

Inject more rationality and objectivity into your community and you'll avoid becoming a la-la land. Realize that your straight shooters and barking dogs are important assets. Nurture a work ethic of responsibility and commitment. All this should be enough to change the collaboration game to: commit to some effort and we'll achieve our collective goal, and perhaps have some fun on the way. Changing the game will affect the composition of your community. You'll most probably lose some people, those who have a really low tolerance to negativity, but you'll retain other people, those who are more goal oriented.

Building a more goal oriented community is an important step, if you aim at creating a more stable and capable organisation, that can generate tangible benefits for its members. As members start to benefit in a tangible way from their collaboration (generate earnings for example), they will stop putting the good feeling before the work, the collaboration game will shift again.

For more insights, also read my post Developmental stages and problems for open communities and networks.


By Tiberius Brastaviceanu

By AllOfUs

Thursday, November 22, 2018

eco2FEST - week 1: Collaboration in Motion

It was an ambitious second week of eco2FEST with workshops and conferences revolving around four different themes: Public Policies, Governance, Habitation, and Urban Agriculture. A lot of important questions were raised as citizens, entrepreneurs, and government officials worked through them all to find collaborative solutions.

Even when no concrete solutions were proposed though, the discussions set the stage for a more focused framing of these themes in the future.

Public Policies

At their most basic, public policies are the intersection between what citizens ask for and what governments can provide. It is this constant flux from one side to the other that creates the common ground of how society is run. Finding a common ground that’s truly for the benefit of the greater good, however, is a different story. This has been the root cause for countless of political struggles since the dawn of civilization.
For any equilibrium to be achieved, there has to be a balance of energy or power on all sides. And that starts with trust and a willingness to collaborate. Governments need to make a greater effort to seek input from citizens impacted by proposed policies while citizens need to take initiative to engage in constructive dialogue with government officials. Only then can innovative public policies take shape.
During the Public Policies segment of eco2FEST, Guillaume Lavoie – professor at ENAP and former city councillor of Montreal – observed that citizens have been asking their elected officials the wrong question about innovation. Instead of just seeking their support for innovation, elected officials should be asked, “What is your level of tolerance for disruption?”
Historically, governments often favour stability while businesses mostly thrive on disruption. But for overall progress to happen in society, it depends on government’s ability to stomach change.
Businesses have always been a step ahead of governments not only because they embrace change, but also because they actively seek out public opinion. If governments want to keep up, they have to do the same and go a step further by establishing units or processes that provide future projections based on current socio-economic trends.
This will allow governments to at least proactively prepare for future growth rather than reacting too late to realities on the ground. It will result in more opportunities for governments to engage in timely discussions with the public.
Besides examining the role of government, eco2FEST participants also considered the other side of the equation: how can we empower citizens with the notion that they have the right to express their opinions on how society is run?
Participatory democracy was brought up several times as a potential way for people to get in the habit of working together with the government. Of course, it means that the government has to transition to that concept and introduce how it works early in the education system.
Once citizens start to participate more and governments have a better pulse on what the needs are, what’s the best way to use crowdsourced data effectively to implement public policies? This was another sticky point in the workshop discussions last week.
For example, there’s a massive amount of urban traffic data out there compiled by both public and private sectors. But it’s been difficult to design mobility models and transportation systems based on that data because every source wants to protect its data for different purposes. On top of all that, there are privacy issues that people are rightfully concerned about.
The question then turned to regulation, which is sometimes a waypoint of implementation. For that, Guillaume Lavoie recommended not to jump straight to regulations before the subject is fully understood – that would be worse than not regulating at all. “The goal is to have the least possible, to access as much as possible,” he said.

Governance

Public Policies naturally lead to Governance. How do you build the consensus and the principles everyone has agreed on during the development of public policies into a long-term governance system? In short, as Agathe Lehel – Projects Promoter of OuiShare Québec – so succinctly put it, “How do you make sure that [governance] culture persists over time?”
Technology was consistently proposed as a possible solution. Technology can facilitate the processing of governance processes because of its dynamic ability to provide real-time information and instantaneous feedback.
One of the most promising technological applications in governance comes in the form of smart contracts in blockchain. The potential of blockchain as a governance tool is so strong that it has been adopted by businesses and even governments such as Estonia’s digital republic.
Blockchain platforms are designed to evenly distribute the power of governance and direction that decisions take. In that sense, members of the platform are simultaneously users, investors, and stakeholders. All these members are brought together from different cultures and values. The issue is how we make it work and achieve consensus.
Another concern raised in the discussion was maintaining decentralization. What we want to avoid is the consolidation of power in any extreme and not knowing who actually holds the power.
In response to the governance concerns of blockchain, Pascal Ngo Chu – co-founder of EOS/Steem Québec – pointed to EOSIO as an example. It is a blockchain platform that introduces a governance model. A constitution can be created first, which all other application systems must follow. From there, a democratic system can be established with voting tools for people to make decisions.
At the end of the day though, it’s the individuals who form the hub of a blockchain network. Yes, government needs to be involved in supporting the system, but the grassroots level needs to first demonstrate that it works even in a rapidly evolving society. However the platform is designed, governance has to be ingrained yet remain flexible enough for new directions.
We also have to remember that the platform is not the solution – it is a tool for governance and transparency that works so long as the human connection is stable.

Habitation

For all the talk about progress in society, it can’t go very far if the basic needs of the people aren’t met. That brings us to the theme of Habitation.
We’ve seen the steady rise of housing costs for years and it’s time we come up with creative solutions to combat that issue.
Many ideas were pitched at the eco2FEST workshops, including transitional use of vacant spaces. So rather than leaving undeveloped lots sitting empty, is there a way we can make use of them? The same goes for unoccupied buildings or infrastructure. What would a system that temporarily repurposes vacant spaces look like?
Housing cooperatives were also mentioned as proven working models, although everyone acknowledged that they do have some hurdles to overcome. These include setting up reliable conflict resolution systems as well as systems properly recognizing everyone’s specialties and contributions.
The most significant hurdle has to do with the public image of housing cooperatives. They are neither social housing nor places where everyone is expected to scrub the common floors together. Housing cooperatives are all about lowering the housing costs for their members. If that is what everyone ultimately wants, why is participation still so low?
It seems that housing cooperatives could do with more support from governments and more rebranding campaigns from the private sector.

Urban Agriculture and Food Sovereignty

Food is another basic need that needs to be addressed. And in an urban environment, it’s even more important that sustainable approaches are used.
It was fitting that communal food was served throughout eco2FEST, but especially so during the urban agriculture workshops. It ties in with the fact that it really does not require massive infrastructure to feed people.
What emerged from the discussions was the need for us to completely change our way of thinking when it comes to urban agriculture and food sovereignty. In a sense, we need to think big in small systems.
For instance, we can first change our concept of food consumption. Instead of consuming what we want, we can start by consuming what we want among what’s locally available. That would cut down on infrastructure being used to produce food for distant locations, along with all the transportation costs that come with it.
Douglas Jack, a sustainable community development expert, gave a presentation advocating people to take a 3D approach to agriculture. That involves considering the collaborative effect of plants occupying all height levels – from trees to fungi – that contribute to a healthier ecosystem. He also talked about various indigenous techniques for sustainable livelihood, the details of which he catalogued online for open-source sharing.
From his example as well as that of Jack SoRelle – who created the Plenty4All organization from scratch – there was a consensus that open-source sharing of agricultural techniques is an economically feasible way to establish grassroots-oriented solutions for communities all over the world.

As the second week of eco2FEST came to a close, it was apparent that there is a common thread that ran through these four themes: it all comes down to education.

It’s about learning how to let your voice be heard; it’s about teaching how to run an equitable society. It’s about learning how to live affordably together; it’s about teaching how to feed the world sustainably.

What inspired you the most from the conversations you’ve had last week at eco2FEST? What would you like to accomplish by the final week?

Winluck Wong is a freelance writer helping companies grow their businesses through blogging, web content writing, copywriting, and social media management. He gets excited about an eclectic mix of topics from business strategies and sustainable development to personal finance and life hacks. Follow his cheeky musings on Twitter and imagine how he can fit in your story on his website.

by All of us

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

eco2FEST - week 1: Collaboration in Motion

Last week marked the beginning of eco2FEST, a three-week journey to explore new forms of economy, sustainable open-source design, and more. Organized around nine themes, eco2FEST highlighted Mobility and Collaborative Economy as the first themes of the week.

Mobility

eco2FEST was aptly jumpstarted with the first theme, Mobility. Progress has always traveled on the
back of our ability to transfer ideas, resources, and people over great distances in the shortest amount
of time possible. The need for this ability to be efficient has become more pronounced in the growing
urbanization of society.

As ecosystems of urban jungles continue to spread, mobility is what will preserve their delicate balance and keep them thriving. Without mobility as the primary consideration in infrastructure design, cities run the risk of a drawn-out but inevitable decay.

It’s a well-recognized issue and many cities throughout the world have ventured ahead with innovative models of mobility. Take Barcelona and the Bicing program, for instance; London and its GATEway project; or Guangzhou’s Bus Rapid Transit system.

And we can do the same here. Montreal is the ideal city for mobility innovation and it’s evident when
the city hosted the Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) World Congress last year. The world came to us last year and this year, we’re demonstrating through eco2FEST that we’re ready to bring our ingenuity to the world.

The official launch of eco2FEST last week inspired a lot of frank discussions about the future of mobility in Montreal. Mobility entrepreneurs like Eva Coop and OuiHop’ met with local residents as well as citizen groups like Trainsparence. Together, this open forum invited everyone to give their input on major mobility issues such as the “last mile” problem, bike-integration solutions, and even specific issues such as mobility challenges in Verdun.

It is a promising start to eco2FEST. Jean-François Parenteau, the Mayor of Verdun, mentioned at the
eco2FEST press conference last Tuesday that he and his elected officials wanted the borough to shine
when it comes to a collaborative economy. It captured the intent of eco2FEST perfectly. This is our moment to take the lead by getting the private and public sectors together to collaborate on inclusive solutions that improve the day-to-day lives of everyone.


Collaborative Economy

As the conversation moved from Mobility to the second theme, Collaborative Economy, the ideas continued to flow. Although the participants in the workshops and roundtables were from different backgrounds, they all found common ground with these two statements:


  1. Access to resources can be very difficult for individuals; collaborative workspaces can meet this requirement as well as create opportunities and accessibility for entrepreneurs;
  2. Collaborative economy adds social and economic benefits within society.


Moreover, certain words came up again and again that showed how strongly they resonated with
everyone: inclusion, participate, equity, growth, and empowerment. All these are values that a
collaborative economy strives toward.

It means less constraints from a traditional workplace and less emphasis on profit before all else. It
means more innovation and ecological results driven for and by the community. Above all, it means
genuine collaboration that goes beyond the family unit and reaches every facet of society.

What’s striking about the first week at eco2FEST was how deeply engaged all the participants were in the discussions that took place. Everyone had something of value to contribute and it’s all these ideas in aggregate that will make a difference as we co-build the society of tomorrow.

All this came out of just the first week. Imagine what we can accomplish next. Find out what’s
happening this week at eco2FEST on our schedule and participate!

What really spoke to you during the first week of eco2FEST? What would you like to see done differently in the upcoming workshops and conferences?

Winluck Wong is a freelance writer helping companies grow their businesses through blogging, web content writing, copywriting, and social media management. He gets excited about an eclectic mix of topics from business strategies and sustainable development to personal finance and life hacks. Follow his cheeky musings on Twitter and imagine how he can fit in your story on his website.

By AllOfUs

Monday, November 6, 2017

Developmental stages and problems for open communities and networks

Over the past 8 years, I have contributed to the development of www.sensorica.co, an open network for open innovation and peer production. 
SENSORICA can be described as a commons-based peer production community as defined by the p2pValue project, and as a permissionless p2p network like Bitcoin. 
Along with my hands-on involvement in SENSORICA, I have also contributed to other open networks and communities and observed their evolution. It didn't take long to noticed that these new types of organizations were developing similar problems as they were growing in complexity. A few months ago, I sat down to uncover the underlying mechanisms behind these problems. My theory is synthesized in the table below. 

In essence, open networks and communities go through developmental stages. The transition from one stage to the next requires organizational transformations, which are adaptations to the new conditions that the organization is facing. More often than not, these transitions are accompanied by organizational crisis. Sometimes, these crisis are fatal, they destroy the organization. This is an attempt to inform those involved in setting up open communities and network, to help them steer clear of potential pitfalls as their organization mutates through its developmental stages.  

Summary of developmental stages (see details below)


Developmental Stage
Contribution and reward
Structure
Athmosphere
Problems
1
Informal
Only volunteer
Ambiguous and ad hock  
Friendly, loose, fun
Attract attention
2
Formal
Mostly volunteer
Some basic roles, some norms, some procedures
Mostly friendly and fun
Dealing with complexity
3
Managing material assets
Volunteer and for benefit
Clear and more stable roles and relations, written rules, some adopted methodologies
Higher responsibility, some frustrations.
Dealing with the freerider
4
Tangible rewards generation
Mostly for benefit and volunteer
Clear and stable roles, formal relations, system of rules, body of methodologies, legal structure
Formal, professional
Dealing with the thief
5
Large potential
For benefit, wealth generation and projecting influence
Always filled roles structure, excellent governance, solid legal standing, proven body of methodologies, connections with the larger ecosystem
Responsible, formal, professional
Dealing with the jealous enemy

This table was created by Tibi, as part of a new synthesis work. In alpha version. CC BY-SA 3.0 licence


If the table above is not clear, if you need clarifications, please ask questions in the comments below, and I will use your feedback to improve this post. 

More details and explanations

Monday, January 23, 2017

After the Black March, the Women's March on Washington. When are we going to start marching towards the future?



First: I am not sexist nor racist. I am also very proud to say that I have never participated in the rigged game of representative democracy, never voted in my entire life, although I consider myself as part of the 1% of doers when it comes to concrete action and sacrifice to make the world a better place. I am completely outside of the Hillary vs Trump or left vs right debate.

Reading the Wikipedia page and a few articles on the Women's march on Washington 2017, I understand that after some issues during its planning and organisation, the goal was to come up with a very inclusive statement and to create an inclusive movement. I am going through a bunch of videos on Youtube and although I can sense inclusiveness, here and there I also sense a divisive language, a confrontational language between women and men. During the Bush years we've experienced the religious divide. During Obama, we saw the racial divide. Trump vs Hillary brings us the sexual divide. We had the left and right divide for more than a century... How many divides can our society sustain before it disintegrates and falls pray to a tyrant who will force piece upon us? 

We don't like our friend because s/he is a communist or a libertarian. We don't like our neighbour because her/his skin is of a different colour, or s/he eats or doesn't eat pork. Am I soon going to fight with my female friends because I am a man and therefore guilty of all the sins men have done in the past? Hey, I am just a guy brought up in a traditional family, trying to be fair and to respect the complementary between men and women, doing as much as I can to support the movement of emancipation of women, but sometimes I do make stupid mistakes... I am trying to unlearn and to improve my worldview tinted by my upbringing in my traditional family, trying, ... I think I am not alone in this situation. I don't want to be criticised or accused by my female friends of being "patriarchal". I want to be able to stay focused on building a better world. I don't want to feel obliged to measure my words and calculate my actions, afraid of being called a sexist, or a racist, a leftist, or some other ...ists. I feel alienated by all this and perhaps many other men who mean good feel the same. 

There is some racism in the struggled of race emancipation. There is some sexism in the struggle of women emancipation. Let's make sure we truly emancipate and not overshoot in the opposite side. 

And by the way, about Trump's victory, I think it is part of a global trend. Our society is in deep crisis and in need of a new world view. We are bouncing between the two extremes of our debilitating right/left dichotomy. Yes, we are going to see the extremes growing more popular, both of them, in different parts of the world, until we get exhausted and realise that these old models don't apply anymore. Only then the imagination of the masses can jump to something new. Only after this exhaustion people will go through the gestalt transition and see the new paradigm, which is already here, developing and picking up steam under their gazing eyes. 

Don't get me wrong. There is racism and sexism in the world. But the general problem in our society doesn't come from the Muslim or from the Man. Let's come to terms with the past. The world is what it is now. The problem is a system in decay, facing huge transformations coming from deep within. Read more about p2p, commons-based peer production and other things like that, and you'll realise that we are trapped into all these fights because we don't have the new/proper language to speak about what's wrong with our society and about how we can make things work better. So we put the blame on what's immediately visible (skin color, gender, etc.) and on the past.  

This is my angle on it, there are others to see, in order to get the full picture.

Broken Assumptions of GovernanceThe Future of Governance is not GovernmentsSituational Assessment 2017: Trump Edition



By Tiberius Brastaviceanu

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The sharing, collaborative and participatory economy: what are we talking about?

There is a lot of confusion between the sharing, the collaborative and the participatory economy. In fact, you can see it on this Wikipedia page. I will propose some distinctions from my experience with www.sensorica.co and from my knowledge about other peer production systems.


I conclude, from my informal analysis of currently used language, that the semantic separation between the terms sharing economy and the other two is greater than the semantic separation between collaborative economy and participatory economy. In other words, people tend to use the terms collaborative economy and participatory economy interchangeably, but sometimes in opposition to the current use of the term sharing economy. I also agree with this Harvard review, which states that sharing economy is a misnomer, and with their conclusion to replace it with the term access economy.


When we speak about the sharing economy we put the emphasis on assets (material or immaterial) that are "shared" (redistributed or circulated) among individuals and/or organizations, which in turn share information among themselves about needs and offers, about the location (physical or virtual) of these assets and about rules of engagement or terms of use. The term sharing is used somewhat abusively, not necessarily as a reciprocal relation. In this context, sharing can be a transfer (gift or barter, monetary exchange), or rent (payment for use). The use someone makes of these assets is, for the most part, irrelevant, as long as the integrity of the asset is preserved (when it is rented), and the transfer respects the basic rules of engagement. The use can be personal or part of a commercial activity and the provider can be an individual or an organization. Some applications/platforms that facilitate the access and transactions can be agnostic to that, some of them use strict rules to enforce p2p, b2b or a combination. Critics of the sharing economy propose alternative terms such as access economy or rental economy. These critics focus on the lack of reciprocity as well as on the lack of social externalities that are normally created through reciprocal sharing.


When we speak about the collaborative economy, the focus is mostly on the allocation of time for a common output. More concretely, we think about people producing something together through a process that minimizes exchanges. In other words, in its purest form, no one is paying anyone else to do something, and usually no one can monopolize the output. Classical examples are Linux, Wikipedia, open source hardware development, etc. There is a lot of cooperation in a traditional company setting, but everyone involved engages in an exchange process, trading skills/time for money. For this reason, this is not a collaborative economy example. 
There can be rules about how the output of a collaborative process can be leveraged by others to generate wealth. A good example is RedHat that offers consultancy, installation, and maintenance of IT systems built on Linux. These rules come in the form of licenses, which range from no restrictions at all, to non-commercial usage. 
This concept of the collaborative economy can be extended to other forms of contributions, which can range from financial (crowdfunding for example), to material (sharing a 3D printer with a group to prototype something). In this case, the use of these tangible and material forms of contributions is directly related to the common activity, it is project specific, unlike in the case of the sharing/access economy where the use someone makes of the "shared" asset is most of the time irrelevant. Moreover, these tangible resources used as contributions don’t necessarily exchange hands in the process, there is no transfer of ownership and they are not rented, these resources are shared within the group for common use, and are accounted for as contribution to the project. There can be rules related to the redistribution of potential benefits based on these tangible and material contributions, which can take the form of public recognition (ex: “a big thank to such and such for having contributed with the physical space and the 3D printer”), or equity - monetary compensations at a later point in time.  

The way I use the term participatory economy is by putting more emphasis on the process through which something is collaboratively created. This process is open, i.e. it has very low or no barriers to entry (ex. the Bitcoin open permissionless network). This is proper to the Open Value Network model developed and implemented within www.sensorica.co.
A classical co op can be the locus of collaborative production, making open source artifacts (material or immaterial), but access to participation in the process can still be invitation-based or conditioned by a strict filter. This is how the Enspiral network and las Indias operate. Co ops are not open or permissionless networks. I see the participatory economy as a set of relations that grant access to collaborative production processes to anyone that can deliver, no other questions asked.


By Tiberius Brastaviceanu   AllOfUs