It’s an old video (and 20mins) but thought i’d share this with you as it’s been on my mind a little recently;
It’s from a Ted Event filmed in July 2005 comparing the traditional ‘Institution’ model for supporting groups to solve problems, with the ‘Collaboration’ model.
Sharkey starts by saying that traditionally if you wanted a group to get something done with lasting value then you start an institution. Basically, resources are concentrated into finding and shaping a small number of people with ‘carrots’ and ‘sticks’ to coordinate a goal. In comparison he introduces the idea of the ‘collaboration model’ which concentrates it’s effort into organising a structure where everyone can contribute as much or as little as they like. This has only become possible with the huge decrease in communication costs via technology. He uses examples of this like Flickr.
I’ve taken a few excerpts from his talk (with a few edits to English rather than American-English).
When you form an institution, you take on a management problem. It’s no good just hiring employees. You also have to hire other employees to manage those employees and to enforce the goals of the institution and so forth. Secondly, you have to bring structure into place. You have to have economic structure. You have to have legal structure. You have to have physical structure. And that creates additional costs. Third, forming an institution is inherently exclusionary. You can’t hire everyone in a company, right? You can’t recruit everyone into a governmental organisation. You have to exclude some people. And fourth, as a result of that exclusion, you end up with a professional class.
When you build cooperation into the infrastructure, which is the Flickr answer, you can leave the people where they are and you take the problem to the individuals rather than moving the individuals to the problem. You arrange the coordination in the group, and by doing that you get the same outcome without the institutional difficulties. You lose the institutional imperative. You lose the right to shape people’s work when it’s volunteer effort, but you also shed the institutional cost, which gives you greater flexibility. What Flickr does is it replaces planning with coordination. And this is a general aspect of these cooperative systems.
You’ll have experienced this in your life whenever you bought your first mobile phone, and you stopped making plans. You just said, I’ll call you when I get there. Call me when you finish. That is a point-to-point replacement of coordination with planning.
Institutions hate being told they’re obstacles. One of the first things that happens when you institutionalise a problem is that the first goal of the institution immediately shifts from whatever the nominal goal was to self preservation. The actual goal of the institution becomes their second priority. So when institutions are told they are obstacles, and that there are other ways of coordinating the value, they go through something a little bit like the Kubler-Ross stages of reaction, being told you have a fatal illness:
A school council is an institutional approach but I’m certainly not suggesting everyone bins them. I’m asking; is a school council enough?
What I’m particularly interested in the part of the talk focussed on the Power-Law distribution graph (around 7:30) which shows what happens in ‘unconstrained social interactions’ – where people can contribute as much or as little as they like.
According to the diagram (right) if your school council (like most) is about 1% of your school body then, because they’re keen/involved young people they’ll have roughly 25% of the ideas for school improvement that the whole school body will have. By focussing ALL activity on them, although you get a much better return than focussing on the bottom 1% of participants (who would contribute >1% of the total ideas), you actively choose to LOSE 75% of all the ideas. Why actively lose all of these ideas and all of this contribution?
As always, any questions/points/thoughts please share! If you want to chat about how Student Voice Software is making the collaboration approach possible for school decision making get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org