Awesome Summit 2012 - Collaboration, not Calcification | MIT Center for Civic Media

Awesome Summit 2012 - Collaboration, not Calcification

Live notes from the "Collaboration, not Calcification" session at theĀ Awesome Summit, by Ellen Chisa, Nikki Lee, and Rahul Bhargava.

Last session! Thanks guys for sticking around. We're going to talk about collaboration, and do-away with the slides.


  • Facilitated by Jeff Radershan (@jraders) Comes from DC, runs a site called Unsectored
  • John Bracken (@jsb works at the Knight Foundation in Miami supporting innovation.
  • Mike Normal from which is like kickstarter for companies.
  • Alexa Clay runs the Misfit Economy website to looking at the DIY economy and how citizens can become more involved in new economics
  • Mark Surman (@msurman) is the Executive Director at the Mozilla Foundation. Mark is most excited about being in the collaboration business; using tools like Mozilla Web Maker to help people move from being consumers of the web to creators (particularly teaching tens of millions of people to code).

Jeff stars with a Controversial Question: if you had to choose one thing to banish from the world, to drive progress and be more collaborative, what would you pick?

  • Mark jokes that it would be Voldemort. But actually Mark would banish emails. Banish would also love to banish the job description. The idea that we negotiate in advance of what we might do at the level of tens of thousands of people, prescribing what roles everyone, has hinders creative work. People getting slapped down for going past prescribed roles gets in the way.
  • Alexa would banish values. We're meant to be somewhat polemic. We should find out our shared projects, etc, and then find shared values, rather than trying to define values up front.
  • Mike would banish the idea that problems are "too big to solve." We built the Hoover Dam in five years, and everyone believed it would happen. Why don't we still do projects like that? We need to help people get behind big ideas, give them a way to meaningfully contribute, and then we'll be able to solve big problems.
  • John would banish respect. In a disruptive world, we still approach things in an overly respectful manner. We consider too much about organized brands and faces, we should decrease respect to have ourselves be part of a community, we'll be able to collaborate in a way we can't have when we're afraid to talk to people we respect.

Jeff asks if anyone disagree with someone else's answer? Alexa thinks that getting rid of jobs more generally is an interesting way to think about things. The word job presumes an entire world view. The more we think around how informal processes of work can be harnessed to provide income, the more we can transition to a new economy, with a citizen sector outside of the formal economic system would provide for a lot of people. This is an interesting way to think of ourselves outside of the market system. The whole spirit of renegotiating employment is important. Jeff wonders how that helps collaboration? Alexa responds that most people aren't part of the new economy movement because they work 9-5. What's a good movement? Leveraging your skills and competencies towards things that are more nebulous. John also wants to eliminate the Filter Bubble. Most people in the the world aren't the same as those in this room - this audience has more flexibility. John realized this when he mentioned the term "open gov" to a very educated people and they had no idea what he meant. The people who have unionized jobs are important, and the organized rubric of jobs still puts food on the table for people. Mark says that he is pro-jobs! One of the things Mozilla does as an organization is employ people to help solve other peoples' problems. Mozilla is Hoover-Dam-y. We need to do flexible and creative resourcing. Mike suggests that people need clear ways to contribute. People need a tangible way to plug in and take an action to be willing to participate. Alexa raises the notion of occupation vs. a job: you are occupied with something that gives your life a sense of purpose. So many people she has met are in the world's informal economy have a very different notion of job. They have more forms of community resilience, etc.There are ways to think about this other than the term "job." Mike believe we have very high risk profiles. It's very distressing and anxiety inducing for the vast majority of humans.

An audience member asks: What do you do to encourage engagement? Particularly considered offline engagement, as we talk frequently about online engagement. The panel is stumped temporarily. Alexa notes that she is a big proponent of collaboration and movement building. What she's learned in the last two weeks is that sometimes it's great to be a hermit. What can we learn from hermits to get things done? Also, how do we use collaboration to break organizational silos? Tribes don't always need to be working together. They could be part of an emergent ecosystem where people don't need to be best friends. They can operate from their niche and have spillover benefits to the larger movement. Having spent a week with Hippies in North Carolina has taught Alexa that they don't necessarily need to work with her on the new economy. Mark asks if Alexa can give an example of how hermits collaborate without talking to each other. Alexa responds that what she loves about hermit culture is that we can develop things independently. It's powerful when someone knows their stuff because they've been thinking for years. Sometimes we're overconferenced and overcollaborated, collaborating for the sake of collaboration instead of taking time to do the internal work and think, and then have something to share. John puts some of the blame for that on Mozilla. It's a keystone example of community building software. A trap we fall into is that open source/software developers become the model and metaphor for other types of engagement. If you know software developers, they aren't the model for human interaction.

Mark agrees that there have been some issue with execution around the decentralized technology and permission-free distribution system. The methodology has issues because it's full of some angry people. It can be a pathological environment at times. There are people who intuitively understand internet culture and what works, and how to use it- like Christina and Tim. Mike supports having organizational APIs. People collaborate because of their identities. Anyone can value their status as a wikipedia contributor. If we remove the identity aspect, they might drop off the map. He's not saying we don't need organizational APIs - but we need ego identity too. Mark thinks you need the organizational API so you can look at clusters of projects and how they connect. Can the things we build plug into each other? There's a sense of how we want everyone using our stuff. If we want to change something at system level (Hoover Dam size) we need a way for people to disagree on details, and not come to a consensus. John thinks about the difference between startup approaches and organization approaches. There's ROI from startups, but an institution with a brand and endowment and structure also brings value and parallel activities. Mark agrees that even people who want to work together might not necessarily be good at opening up the edges. We need to not have organizations stopping that.

Another audience member asks about not having job titles/not having jobs - I'd like to hear evidence that that's portable to the world of Hoover Dams and buildings (that already are collaborations and led from top down). Either from the physical aspect, or from the Hoover-Dam-sized-problems. Alexa says that if you democratize social change you might get ideas that aren't evidence based, and we need to figure out how to become a good curators of coordinating different peoples activities. There needs to be a combination of top down curation and allowing people to invest their energy appropriately. Mike has a hard time separating online/offline. The internet pervades what we do, so it's hard to imagine collaboration without it. Where is the overlap where we can use the advantages of digital things and bridge the gap? Mark says you see some of the same recursive building in organizations that aren't digital, but is that really the right problem? For most of our lives, the idea that a digital system will be a pervasive part of how the social areas are organized will be real. How do we take the good things in terms of digital/internet/open-source and build them into the system. We don't have physical garage sales as the only way to sell things. Now Ebay has changed the way people can sell things, but it still doesn't mean poverty is gone. That is one version of the internet, but the other version in the iPhone/firewall of China/SOPA/PIPA - and it might win. Then a lot of the things we want to see happen won't happen. Alexa agrees that the theme Mark is saying well is how to use conflict as a tool for collaboration. For instance, bringing investors in the room with companies because investors get angry. Providing a safe space where there can be dialog and conflict can provide a lot of groundwork for collaboration. People can begin developing new metrics where companies/investors push back and define corporate success with a long term view.

An audience member asks if collaboration has become more of "come over here and help with my project," rather than building a coalition with people that don't agree with you? Mark says that is the idea with organizational API. There are things we have in common, but it doesn't have to be everything. It's just something that people can/want to discuss productively. We need to figure out how to do more of it. Mike adds that the internet really cuts both ways. With the advent of being able to customize your news feed, people want to have their things reinforced rather than challenged. People can live in their own echo chamber. Maybe can we raise money to bring people together- say if Occupy and the Tea party both love chess. You need to be able to see the person rather than the political caricature.

Jeff ass about the crowd funding process. Mike updates us that the crowd-funding bill (JOBS act) is still in process. The SEC is still working on defining specifics around how you'll be able to list a company and ask for investment through crowd-funding. A clear way to get in touch on this is if you want to support this or have questions about how the legislation will unfold. John says we need to do a better job of spotlighting our wins, like WFNU and Mozilla, to show that community efforts are effective. Things like this are a good way to do that, but we need to keep doing this, and boiling out things from them to highlight and apply to other projects. Mark thinks that the most important institution we have for this type of collaboration is the internet. We need to support it. Alexa adds that we need to ride free on infrastructure, but also have institutions declare their assets that entrepreneurs and groups can use. It's about creating a map of different multinationals, foundations, government programs, etc. How can we exploit these systems?

Audience Question: How do you show the value of opening institutions? John answers that if it's 2012 and you can't see the value of the internet and it's disruptive force, then it's a different type of conversation than if your'e dealing with an institution that's proactively trying to thrive through the disruption. We're in the institutions now. Part of our task is to find like minded folks and work with them, which is sometimes different than shaming people. Alexa reminds us that there are also active saboteurs. 20% of people within companies are actively sabotaging them. it means they're taking action to ensure their company is undermined.