Experiments in Organizational Forms – Growing a Network

On August 10, 2010, I posted a proposal on behalf of the Journalism That Matters Pacific Northwest Collaboratory at an Ashoka Changemakers competition focused on strong communities – http://www.changemakers.com/node/85785.

I didn’t do it to win the competition (though that would be fine).  I did it to get clearer about the role and purpose of the Collaboratory.

The Collaboratory is intended to support the pioneers who are shaping the emerging news and information ecosystem in the Northwest.  In writing the proposal, I was delighted to get clear that one key place that my journalism work intersects my work with social technologies like Open Space Technology.

That aspect is the experiment in how we organize to accomplish our work.  The Collaboratory is a loose-knit network and as it evolves, I expect to learn a great deal about how to work with a network that is both online and grounded in a physical place.  A question that I am living with as it grows:

What sort of leadership and infrastructure does it take to support a network that influences a complex social system?

From the proposal:

…the Collaboratory is ideally positioned for this experiment [of organizing as a network]. It already has momentum, with people acting as core staff, stewards, an interested community, and identified initiatives. These ingredients provide an excellent model for understanding how to influence a complex social system. As we move forward, we expect to contribute to the health of the Northwest by providing an incubator for discovering what it takes to affect a regional news and information ecosystem. We expect to influence journalism and media, citizen participation, democracy, transparency, and public policy.

For example, the Building on Transparency project will lead to greater openness in government and greater citizen access to government data. The Digital Literacy initiative will result in new programs in public schools that prepare young people to be more informed in their interactions with media. The Civic Communications Commons initiative will result in new forms of citizens and community engagement with government and journalism. The mapping initiative will provide insights about information needs that could prompt changes in public policy. Together, these initiatives positively influence almost every area identified in the recent Knight Commission’s report on the information needs of communities. In short, the Collaboratory, the community it cultivates, and the initiatives it incubates provide the means to shape a complex social system.

I’ve been searching for how to express the connection between my journalism work and the focus of my new book, Engaging Emergence: Turning Upheaval into Opportunity.  The Collaboratory may well be a path for living the concepts into reality.