Monday, 14 May 2007

The next big thing will be lots of little things: us From time to time I offer mumbled thoughts about informality and collaboration and take a snipe at formality, hierarchy, managerialism, and linear thinking. I take this stance partly because I think there is a profound and under-appreciated connection between the quality of neighbourhood life and the importance attached to informal social relations. One angle on this is to see how we can minimise the eagerness of authorities to determine what we do and where we do it - Hans Monderman's removal of traffic lights and restoration of ambiguity is a perfect illustration of this potential. And in societies where the 'responsibilisation' of citizens through community engagement (or by any other principle) seems to be becoming irreversibly programmed, we can expect to see the movement gather pace and influence. And so a belated welcome for Charlie Leadbeater's current text, We think: the power of mass creativity, in which he explores the phenomenon of creative collaboration. Charlie released the text on a wiki inviting contributions and thereby ensuring a nice blending of medium, message and principle. The intention is to publish hard copy in the next couple of months. It's important stuff because of the recognition given to social enterprise, the human impulse to share, and the transformations implied in the public realm. "In field after field we are witnessing the same phenomenon: large groups of committed and knowledgeable amateurs, working without pay, are creating highly collaborative forms of organisation, which operate with little hierarchy and bureaucracy and yet mobilise resources of a scale to match the biggest corporations in the world..." "We are told that to be organised we need an organisation. Yet all these are complex and highly organised activities without a single organisation being in charge of everything that goes on. We are told that to make sure order is maintained someone has to be in control. Yet these activities seem ordered precisely because no one seeks to be in control and so people have to exercise their sense of responsibility, adjusting to one another, sorting out disputes as they go. The order comes from within these communities not from the top. To get complex tasks done reliably we have assumed we need a clear division of labour, so everyone knows in advance what they are supposed to do, whose job it is to do what. Yet in these non-organisations people seem to voluntarily distribute themselves to work, as and when it needs to be done." And from chapter three: "The new forms of structured self-organisation – We-think - witnessed now across fields from software and computer games, to music and basic information sharing – could bring our societies very large benefits in terms of competition, efficiency and innovation, freedom, democracy and social justice. But they also pose a significant challenge to all institutions – not just media organisations – that have relied on high barriers to entry and professional control of knowledge and information." Meanwhile, the Open Innovation Exchange bid to the Office of the Third Sector, in...

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