Stewardship and Reliability

One requirement of any organization is reliability. It’s particularly true of an organization aiming at stewardship.

  • it is hard for the wider community to use a resource that isn't reliably available
  • to preserve something over time, you must make sure there is always somebody available to maintain it

But groups are made of people, and people aren’t reliable. They forget, get bored, fall ill, leave.

So the challenge is: how can unreliable people make a reliable organization?

This isn’t a new problem. If you look at the big structures of society – corporations, governments, markets, armies – you’ll find they are all shaped around the need to be reliable.

They do it in 2 basic ways:

  • Make people more reliable (e.g. through discipline or incentives)
  • Make people interchangeable

Take an army, for example. Soldiers are trained into reliability (e.g. by following orders at all costs). Ranks and training are standardized, so that any individual can easily be replaced by another with the same skills and rank.

Or look at a factory. Workers are disiplined into arriving on time and working for 8 hours. And they are given standard jobs – if one worker doesn’t get out of bed, someone else will take over and the assembly line will continue.

Neither method works well for a group like Edgeryders. We (presumably?) don’t want to treat each other as interchangeable parts. We (mostly?) want to choose our own lives, not subject ourselves to the discipline of the drill-sergeant. So we need to find new methods, making reliable groups without turning ourselves into robots?

Let’s discuss:

  • how can we build reliable groups?
  • which projects have managed it, and how?
  • do we need reliability anyway?
  • what methods could we adopt for edgeryders itself, or for our other projects?

Format: discussion group

Attendees: min 3. no maximum – we can break into smaller groups if more than ~8 take part

Equipment: just space and somewhere to sit

Date: 2014-10-24 09:30:00 - 2014-10-24 09:30:00, Europe/Brussels Time.

Swarmwise anyone?

Hi Dan, this is a great idea for a session on community stewardship.

Falkvinge’s book Swarmwise (.pdf) is largely inspiring the type of organisation Edgeryders wants to be, or at least the example some of us have been trying to follow. Let me offer ideas in the book which might answer some of your questions, just as a starting point:

how can unreliable people make a reliable organization?

Not sure why or where from you got this assumption that people are unreliable, although I agree there is a degree of free riding. Falkvinge’s example is for “disorganised” people. His answer to this is by inspiring leadership: starts with formulating an epic goal which is measurable and gets everyone go “Yes that’s where I wanna be”, follows by setting up a credible path and measurable results. Administratively, getting there involves releasing control and delegating authority (eg decentralisation). This works in so far as everyone taking a management role fully understands the major organisation goal and doesn’t let peripheral interests trump it. Coordination between those in key positions who are taking responsibility for the org is tight, but people are let to do whatever they want and when they want it, because it leads to people self-organising and earning a vested interest in seeing their work get through and move towards change, on their own merits. Of course there are many other structure/value related stuff, but I thought this is the greatest insight of the book.

which projects have managed it, and how? 

In Falkvinge’s book - the example is The Pirate Party

do we need reliability anyway?

If by reliability we mean the capacity to perform (oversimplifying maybe), and the capacity to perform is vital to the very existence of the organisation, then yes.

But I’m curious what references you have before engaging more in the discussion… Coming in to the session with a shared understanding of terminology would take us farther I think…

Thanks for the book tip.

Not sure why or where from you got this assumption that people are unreliable,

Well, I know that I am pretty flaky;) But also – I’ve never met anybody who is perfectly reliable. The difference between the flakiest and the most conscientious is just one of degree.  

I’m curious what references you have before engaging more in the discussion.

Hmmm…I don’t really have any; this is more coming out of practical experience. If you have any suggestions for better terminology/framework to talk about this, I’d love to hear!

No suggestions at this point…

… was trying to see where exactly you are coming from. I do think it will be interesting to share experiences from new organisations and how you would work when people you work with prioritize their own work ethics and freedom. I can only speak from Edgeryders experience and having worked with a bunch of new people this year in projects where one has a deliverable and is accountable for results… and then the picture changes a little and you have to account for other things not only your awesome unruly, healthy community.

What’s your experience?

A simple formal argument for people being unreliable

Suppose an organisation is made of 10 people that coordinate on making something together. The process is sequential: Alice takes care of step 1, then Bob does step 2 and so on all the way to John who finishes with step 10. Suppose, further, that all people in the organisation are 99% reliable, that is they deliver their step 99 times out of 100. The joint probability of all them delivering their step is 0.99 to the 10th power, that is only 90.4%. That’s pretty low if you are in business!

So, any solution must have to do with redundant paths to get to the goalpost – in this sense Dan’s assumption of flakiness is correct. and Falkvinge’s proposed solution makes plenty of sense.

Timely topic

Hi Donahu, thanks for proposing this session. I think it’s timely and needed. I think your session,  @Patrick_Andrews and @SamMuirhead sessions complement each other nicely.

I wonder if perhaps we can bring some of the case studies into this session as examples of projects/initiatives where I am sure there are similar issues that pop up.

Another aspect is how technology: design, use, culture, literacy plays into these dynamics. And how we can use it more effectively to support the solutions we come up with in the discussion group…

Good points, thanks!

Complementary sessions

I agree that this session and mine seem to complement each other well. Am looking forward to both.

@danohu, could I move this session on Sunday? at 20:00 we do not have any conference program anyway anymore, I thought of fixing it at 14:30 on 26.10. Or 11:30 or 12:30 the same day would work as well;)

sure, you can put it anytime you like. I think the current time was just a default from when I created the event.

Try to leave the Sunday free!

@Natalia_Skoczylas (and cc @danohu) if possible try to leave Sunday 26th free for the unconference! We need unplanned time for impromptu work and interaction.

Yes, please check how it is right now

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