Socialstructing


Marina Gorbis, executive director of the Institute for the Future (IFTF),  released a book entitled The Nature of the Future: Dispatches from the Socialstructed World. According to the IFTF website, the book “offers an inspiring portrayal of how new technologies are giving individuals so much power to connect and share resources that networks of individuals—not big organizations—will solve a host of problems by reinventing business, education, medicine, banking, government, and scientific research.” In her review in the New York Journal of BooksGeri Spieler argues that, when focusing on the book’s central premise, Gorbis “breaks through to the reader as to what is important here: the future of a citizen-created world.”

In many ways, the book joins the growing literature on swarmswikinomicscommons-based and peer-to-peer production methods enabled by advances made in technology:

“Empowered by computing and communication technologies that have been steadily building village-like networks on a global scale, we are infusing more and more of our economic transactions with social connectedness….The new technologies are inherently social and personal. They help us create communities around interests, identities, and common personal challenges. They allow us to gain direct access to a worldwide community of others. And they take anonymity out of our economic transactions.”

Marina Gorbis subsequently describes the impact of these technologies on how we operate as “socialstructing”:

“We are moving away from the dominance of the depersonalized world of institutional production and creating a new economy around social connections and social rewards—a process I call socialstructing. … Not only is this new social economy bringing with it an unprecedented level of familiarity and connectedness to both our global and our local economic exchanges, but it is also changing every domain of our lives, from finance to education and health. It is rapidly ushering in a vast array of new opportunities for us to pursue our passions, create new types of businesses and charitable organizations, redefine the nature of work, and address a wide range of problems that the prevailing formal economy has neglected, if not caused.

Socialstructing is in fact enabling not only a new kind of global economy but a new kind of society, in which amplified individuals—individuals empowered with technologies and the collective intelligence of others in their social network—can take on many functions that previously only large organizations could perform, often more efficiently, at lower cost or no cost at all, and with much greater ease.”

Following a brief intro describing the social and technical drivers behind socialstructing the book describes its manifestation in finance, education, governance, science , and health.  In the chapter “governance beyond government”  the author advocates the creation of a revised “agora” modeled on the ancient Greek concept of participatory democracy. Of particular interest, the chapter describes and explains the legitimacy deficit of present-day political institutions and governmental structures:

“Political institutions are shaped by the social realities of their time and reflect the prevailing technological infrastructure, levels of knowledge, and citizen values. In ancient Athens, a small democratic state, it was possible to gather most citizens in an assembly or on a hill to practice a direct form of democracy, but in a country with millions of people this is nearly impossible. The US Constitution and governance structure emerged in the eighteenth century and were products of a Newtonian view of the universe….But while this framework of government  and society as machines worked reasonably well for several centuries, it is increasingly out of sync with today’s reality and level of knowledge.”

Building upon the deliberative polling process developed by Professor James Fishkin, director of the Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford University, the author proposes and develops four key elements behind the so-called socialstructed governance:

The chapter provides for an interesting introduction of the kind of new governance arrangements made feasible by increased computing power and the use of collaborative platforms. As with most literature on the subject, little attention however is paid to evidence on whether these new platforms contribute to a more legitimate and effective outcomes – a necessary next step to move away from “faith-based” discussions to more evidence based interventions.

Great groups: What 15 things do breakthrough genius teams share?


Barking Up The Wrong Tree: “Warren Bennis and Patricia Biederman studied a number of breakthrough great groups to see what made them so successful. They compiled the results into their book, Organizing Genius.
They looked at the Disney’s Animation division, the Manhattan Project (developed the nuclear bomb), Xerox PARC (designed the modern computer interface), the 1992 Clinton campaign (pulled off an enormous victory), Lockheed’s Skunk Works (created the U2 spy plane and the Stealth Bomber), and others.
Highlights from Organizing Genius summarized by Erik Barker can be found here.”

Smart Citizen Kit enables crowdsourced environmental monitoring


Emma Hutchings at PSFK: “The Smart Citizen Kit is a crowdsourced environmental monitoring platform. By scattering devices around the world, the creators hope to build a global network of sensors that report local environmental conditions like CO and NO2 levels, light, noise, temperature and humidity.
Organized by the Fab Lab at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia, a team of scientists, architects, and engineers are paving the way to humanize environmental monitoring. The open-source platform consists of arduino-compatible hardware, data visualization web API and a mobile app. Users are invited to take part in the interactive global environmental database, visualizing their data and comparing it with others around the world.”
Smart Citizen Kit Calls For Environmental Monitoring

The Crowdstorm Effect


Peter Ryder and Shaun Abrahamson in Innovation Excellence: “When we open up the innovation process to talent outside our organization we are trying to channel the abilities of a lot of people we don’t know, in the hope that a few of them have ideas we need. Crowdsourcing is the term most closely associated with the process. But over the last decade, many organizations have been not only sourcing ideas from crowds but also getting feedback on ideas….
We call the intersection of lower transaction costs and brainstorming at scale enabled by online connections crowdstorming.
Screen-Shot-2013-06-03-at-9.02.29-AMGetting ideas, getting feedback, identifying talent to work with, filtering ideas, earning media, enabling stakeholders to select ideas to change the organization/stakeholder relationship — the crowd’s role and the crowdstorming process has become more complex as it has expanded to involve external talent in new ways. …
 
Seventy-five years ago, the British economist, Ronald Coase, suggested that high transaction costs – the overhead to find, recruit, negotiate and contract with talent—required organizations to bring the best talent in house. While Coase’s equation still holds true, the Internet has allowed organizations to revisit under what conditions they want and need full time employees. When we have the ability to efficiently tap resources anywhere, anytime at low cost, new opportunities emerge.”

Is Crowdsourcing the Future for Crime Investigation?


Joe Harris in IFSEC Global: “Following April’s Boston Marathon bombings, many people around the world wanted to help in any way they could. Previously, there would have been little but financial assistance that they could have offered.
However, with the advent of high-quality cameras on smartphone devices, and services such as YouTube and Flickr, it was not long before the well-known online collectives such as Reddit and 4chan mobilized members of the public to ask them to review hundreds of thousands of photos and videos taken on the day to try and identify potential suspects….Here in the UK, we recently had the successful launch of Facewatch, and we have seen other regional attempts — such as Greater Manchester Police’s services and appeals app — to use the goodwill of members of the public to help trace, identify, or report suspected criminals and the crimes that they commit.
Does this herald a new era in transparency? Are we seeing the first steps towards a more transparent future where rapid information flow means that there really is nowhere to hide? Or are we instead falling into some Orwellian society construct where people are scared to speak out or think for themselves?”

CrowdingIn


CrowdingINA crowdfunding directory by UK’s Nesta…: “Crowdfunding, the method of sourcing funds from large numbers of people, has been growing quickly worldwide in recent years and has the potential to revolutionise the world of finance, creating new opportunities to fund everything from new products and businesses to community projects. As the market grows, so too does the number of sites (or ‘platforms’) that facilitate the exchange between the crowd of funders and those seeking finance. To help you find the platform most suited to your financing needs, this directory lists information on those platforms currently open to fundraising from individuals and businesses in the UK.”

Crowdfunding gives rise to projects truly in public domain


USA Today: “Crowdfunding, the cyberpractice of pooling individuals’ money for a cause, so far has centered on private enterprise. It’s now spreading to public spaces and other community projects that are typically the domain of municipalities.

The global reach and speed of the Internet are raising not just money but awareness and galvanizing communities.

SmartPlanet.com recently reported that crowdfunding capital projects is gaining momentum, giving communities part ownership of everything from a 66-story downtown skyscraper in Bogota to a bridge in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Several websites such as neighborland.com and neighbor.ly are platforms to raise money for projects ranging from planting fruit trees in San Francisco to building a playground that accommodates disabled children in Parsippany, N.J.

“Community groups are increasingly ready to challenge cities’ plans,” says Bryan Boyer, an independent consultant and adviser to The Finnish Innovation Fund SITRA, a think tank. “We’re all learning to live in the context of a networked society.”

Crowdfund
Crowdfunder, which connects entrepreneurs and investors globally, just launched a local version — CROWDFUNDx.”

When the Crowd Fights Corruption


New Harvard Business School Research Paper by Paul Healy and Karthik Ramanna  (Harvard Business Review): “Corruption is the greatest impediment to conducting business in Russia, according to leaders recently surveyed by the World Economic Forum. Indeed, it’s a problem in many emerging markets, and businesses have a role to play in combating it, according to Healy and Ramanna. The authors focus on RosPil — an anticorruption entity in Russia set up by Alexey Navalny, a crusader against public and private malfeasance in that country. As of December 2011, RosPil claimed to have prevented the granting of dubious contracts worth US$1.3 billion. The organization holds corrupt politicians’ and bureaucrats’ feet to the fire largely through internet-based crowdsourcing, whereby often-anonymous people identify requests for government-issued tenders that are designed to generate kickbacks. Should entities like RosPil be supported, and should companies fashion their own responses to corruption? On the one hand, there are obvious public-relations and political risks; on the other hand, corruption can erode a firm’s competitiveness, the trust of customers and employees, and even the very legitimacy of capitalism. The authors argue that heads of many multinational companies are well positioned to combat corruption in emerging markets. Those leaders have the power to enforce policies in their organizations and networks, and they enjoy the ability to organize others in the industry against this pernicious threat.”

Wikipedia Recent Changes Map


Wikipedia

The Verge: “By watching a new visualization, known plainly as the Wikipedia Recent Changes Map, viewers can see the location of every unregistered Wikipedia user who makes a change to the open encyclopedia. It provides a voyeuristic look at the rate that knowledge is contributed to the website, giving you the faintest impression of the Spaniard interested in the television show Jackass or the Brazilian who defaced the page on the Jersey Devil to feature a photograph of the new pope. Though the visualization moves quickly, it’s only displaying about one-fifth of the edits being made: Wikipedia doesn’t reveal location data for registered users, and unregistered users make up just 15 to 20 percent of all contribution, according to studies of the website.”

Working Anarchy / Peer Mutualism


Since the 1990s, Yochai Benkler, who is the Berkman Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard Law School, has been instrumental in documenting (and advocating for) the economic and societal value of an information commons and decentralized ways of collaboration, especially as it applies to innovation. Both his books “The Penguin and the Leviathan: How Cooperation Triumphs over Self-Interest” (Crown 2011); and “The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom” (Yale University Press, 2006) are required reading to anyone interested in social networks, open innovation and participatory democracy.

Politics & Society carries a new paper by Prof. Benkler entitled “Practical Anarchism : Peer Mutualism, Market Power, and the Fallible State”. The paper considers “several working anarchies in the networked environment, and whether they offer a model for improving on the persistent imperfections of markets and states”. In particular, Prof. Benkler tries to capture and analyze our growing experience with what he calls

“peer mutualism: voluntaristic cooperation that does not depend on exclusive proprietary control or command relations as among the cooperators, and in many instances not even as common defense for the cooperators against nonparticipants.”

Later in the paper he describes “working anarchy”  or “peer mutualism” as:

“ voluntaristic associations that do not depend on direct or delegated power from the state, and in particular do not depend on delegated legitimate force that takes a proprietary form and is backed by shared social understandings of how one respects or complies with another’s proprietary claim.”

According to Benkler, – using an “utopian” position – these working anarchies have the potential to produce four effects:

  • “First, they offer their participants a chunk of life lived in effective, voluntary cooperation with others.

  • Second, they can provide for everyone a degree of freedom in a system otherwise occupied by state- and property-based capabilities; they do not normally displace these other systems, but they do offer a dimension along which, at least for that capability and its dependencies, we are not fully subject to power transmitted through either direct state control or the property system.

  • Third, they provide a context for the development of virtue; or the development of a cooperative human practice, for ourselves and with each other.

  • And fourth, they provide a new way of imagining who we are, and who we can be; a cluster of practices that allow us to experience and observe ourselves as cooperative beings, capable of mutual aid, friendship, and generosity, rather than as the utility-seeking, self-interested creatures that have occupied so much of our imagination from Hobbes to the neoclassical models whose cramped vision governs so much of our lives.”

The central purpose of the paper is to examine the above value proposition behind peer mutualism, using two key questions:

  • “First, there is the internal question of whether these models can sustain their nonhierarchical, noncoercive model once they grow and mature, or whether power relations generally, and in particular whether systematically institutionalized power: hierarchy, property, or both, reemerges in these associations.

  • The second question is whether those practices we do see provide a pathway for substantial expansion of the domains of life that can be lived in voluntaristic association, rather than within the strictures of state and hierarchical systems. In other words, do mutualistic associations offer enough of a solution space, to provisioning a sufficient range of the capabilities we require for human flourishing, to provide a meaningful alternative model to the state and the market across a significant range of human needs and activities?”

The paper subsequently reviews various “working anarchies” – ranging from the so-called paradigm cases involving IETF, FOSS and Wikipedia to more recent cases of peer mutualism involving, for instance, Kickstarter, Kiva, Ushahidi, Open Data and Wikileaks. The emerging insight from the comparative selection is that all the examples examined:

“are perfect on neither dimension. Internally, hierarchy and power reappear, to some extent and in some projects, although they are quite different than the hierarchy of government or corporate organization. Externally, there are some spectacular successes, some failures to thrive, and many ambiguous successes. In all, present experience supports neither triumphalism nor defeatism in the utopian project. Peer models do work, and they do provide a degree of freedom in the capabilities they provide. But there is no inexorable path to greater freedom through voluntary open collaboration. There is a good deal of uncertainty and muddling through.”

Despite the uncertainties and imperfections, Prof. Benkler advocates…

“to continue to build more of the spectacular or moderate successes, and to try to colonize as much of our world as possible with the mutualistic modality of social organization. It doesn’t have to be perfect; it merely needs to offer a new dimension or sufficient diversity in how it instantiates capabilities and transmits power to offer us, who inhabit the systems that these peer systems perturb, a degree of freedom.”