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, 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 these potential pitfalls, into the new organizational state.    

Summary of developmental stages (see details below)

Developmental Stage
Contribution and reward
Only Volunteer
Ambiguous and ad hock  
Friendly, loose, fun
Attract attention
Mostly Volunteer
Some basic roles, some norms, some procedures
Mostly friendly and fun
Dealing with complexity
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
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
Large potential
For benefit, wealth generation and projecting influence
Always filled roles structure, top governance, solid legal standing, proven body of methodologies, connections with the larger ecosystem
Responsible, formal, professional
Dealing with the 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

From informal to formal

Organisations start with a few individuals that share a passion and some goals. In the early stages, this small group uses simple means of communication and coordination like email, Facebook or other social media applications. Activities are essentially conducted in continuity with the practices established before the formation of the group. As the project gets better defined, more tools are adopted, such as shared content management tools (ex. Google Docs, a wiki, etc.), community tools (ex. a Facebook group or page). You get the picture... 

As the group grows and activities become more complex, members start to lose track and some level of frustration sets in as things start falling through the cracks. Usually, some group members make calls for adopting more complex tools, for following more strict methodologies of work (regular meetings, better documentation, better communication, better planning and project management, ...), and for adopting some rules. This is the formalization phase. The typical crisis marking the transition from the informal state to the formal state manifests itself on different levels at the same time. 

A power struggle can develop as some people start to occupy key roles in the organization. Who holds the passwords to key IT infrastructure tools? Who calls the shots during planning and strategy making? Who emerges as the face of the organisation? Who has access to the bank account? 

Organisational problems that occur during scaling from an informal setting are of different types and require different types of solutions. We can identify 4 major dimensions: infrastructure (luck of proper tools), governance (luck of proper rules), methodology (luck of proper processes), culture (luck of understanding, bad habits, misalignment in values). Some organisational problems are interpreted by some members in traditional terms and traditional solutions are proposed, which are incompatible with open organizational models. People that have been formed in the traditional world don't understood decentralized and distributed solutions to these problems, they don't trusted them, or they feel insecure with then. Tensions mount in the group between those who understand p2p processes and want to avoid creating hubs or critical centralities within the community or the network, and those who think that centralization (or some level of) is the only way to insure quality, accountability and reliability.      

Formal processes require adoption. For various reasons, some members will not pay too much attention to the new rules, will not use the new tools, will not follow the new methodologies. In an open organization that is in bootstrapping mode, there are no clear mechanisms for induce conformity. The best way is to engage everyone in the formalization process and to generate a strong sense of belonging and ownership, have most members feel that these are their new formal processes, not someone's else's imposed on them. But even that is not enough, and the organization will have its fair share of ''delinquent'' members. In the period of adoption of formal processes tensions can mount between those who conform and those who don't. If people don't use the new calendar they will miss important events. If they don't document important information in the proper way, the organisation loses potential. If people don't use the community's resources according to the protocol the organization loses capacity. If people don't use a structured way to make decisions the organisation loses coherence.     

To managing material assets

Material assets have costs associated with their maintenance. Form example, if the community decides to give itself a physical shared space it will need to cover basic expenses (rent, power, Internet, insurance). If the community decides to purchase some equipment, like a 3D printer for example, it needs to make sure that it can cover the costs of repairs and updates, in order to maintain this equipment functional. Most community members will vote for the acquisition of physical assets that provide them with some direct forms of benefit. Yes, would be nice to have a shared space with Internet access and some toys to play with. But since this is the first time the community deals with physical assets it has no proper mechanisms in place for sustainability. Most often than not, the majority decides for the acquisition and only a few core members are left with the burden to maintain them (pay bills, clean, repair, ...). The crisis occurs when these core members that carry the burden develop a sense of unfairness, and try to distribute the load to other community members, especially those who use these assets. It is hard to implement new practices once a constituency of freeriders (those who use without contributing much) has been consolidated. The best outcome is to have these freeriders quit the community once new rules for shared costs and responsibility are implemented, which might result in some criticism for those who have pushed hard for the implementation of the rules for loosing members. The worst outcome is to have these freeriders exert their democratic power to oppose and delay the measures and thus to drain the community of its most essential resources before they move somewhere else.  
Those who have already burned out at least once in open communities probably know what I am talking about...  

Tangible rewards generation
stay tuned... 

Large potential
stay tuned... 

By AllOfUs

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 do emancipate. 

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.

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