Book of the week: the shift to the era of Open Collaboration

Book: The Open Collaboration Encyclopedia. By Alpha Io and Alden Bevington. Pioneer Imprints, 2008

(you can order the book here)

This is a book that is very much in the spirit of our p2p work, covers the same domains, but in print, and bring together the work being done out there to pioneer models of open collaboration, participation and self-organization.

The editors define the qualities of an Open Collaborative Project as:

nonhierarchical (vs hierarchical)

open (vs closed)

emergent (vs planned)

nonowned (vs owned)

participatory (vs watching)

Here is how Alpha Lo & Alden Bevington describe this important social shift in societal values and practices:”

“This shift is about a way of doing things that is more collaborative and sharing-based, – less on command and control hierarchy, tit-for-tat resource exchange, and centralized planning. It taps into the power of self-organization. It taps into the power of community, local and global. Bicycle shares, tool libraries, potlucks, town squares, place-making, online social networks, ideabanks and ecovillages tap into this power. This shift is about a way of doing things that is more emergent, evolving and dynamic. Social permaculture taps into this power. Open Space Technology facilitation methods tap into this power. Agile project management taps into this power. Our world is in a difficult state right now, and what is clearly called for is a way to create system-wide change, in the environment, in the way we behave, and in what is considered socially acceptable action by governments and business institutions. There has thus far proven to be no central agency, no closed group of world-controllers, capable of micro-managing the infinite complexities of such a world as ours, at least without adversely affecting the human spirit. However, one way we have seen which holds promise to create such fundamental and systemic changes, and which still remains to be given a full try, is to tap into the power of open collaboration. The openness allows limitless people to contribute, and the collaborative part, if well-facilitated, allows the energies of different individuals to add together rather than cancel each other out. In a word, it taps the genius at the table, and the table is large. For every one-in-a-million mind, as of this writing there are 6,796 others like them on the planet. We have now the technologies to bring such people together easily. But lets not just believe the hype, or idly think of all those great things we could do, if only… We must come to application, here, now. How can you organize your town, or your state, or your company, or your country, to ride this tide of transformation, to be ready for the new game that is emerging? That is where this present study of open collaboration can be very, very useful. By mastering some of the techniques contained in this book, untold numbers of projects and organizations have become many times more effective than than they were before. Scores of communities and businesses have much more efficiently achieved their actual goals, creatively, participatively, and made their members and employees happier in the process. The cultural shift we are in the midst of is also about the changing values of a society. It’s about ever-greater social and institutional expressions of becoming more loving, honest, accepting, embracing, empathic, connected with deeper purpose, emotionally intelligent, responsible, contributing. As these are the foundation ethics of this book, many of the entries contained here may not initially make sense to a conditioned dog-eat-dog mind, or to those who, in their own interest, have callously applied half-understood Darwinism to economics and social science. To some, these principles contained herein might even at casual glance appear naive. Of course there is another perspective, and this book is a testament to that perspective, and that an open, caring, intelligent, and just system is forever on the higher ground, and with more view of the actual landscape, despite the inning’s score. To effectively accomplish the transition implied here, the shift in the social structures needs to be accompanied by, and in many cases preceded by, a shift in the values. The shift in values needs to be accompanied by, and in many cases preceded by, a shift in social structure. It works both ways. These changes may be in many cases, and especially initially, guided by people and groups adept at facilitation, with the ability to bring people together and enable them to work together and co-create, to bring people of differing views into harmony, to assist people to listen and come to care more about each other. Such facilitation creates the conditions that allow people to realize they may want to shift to a higher value system, to create social architectures that allow everyone to participate, and to seed grassroots efforts – people like Sharif Abdullah who is a catalyst for inclusivity and consciousness transformation, Joanna Macy who facilitates people to connect at deep levels with each other and the environment, Marshall Rosenberg and his lineage of Non-Violent Communication facilitators, and Linus Torvalds who facilitates the growth of Linux open source software with an inclusive, caring, transparent and allowing style. Also groups and movements such as Search for Common Ground, the United Religions Initiative, the Village Building Convergence, the Heart Circle network, and the Transition Town network. These changes will be aided by our further study, understanding and spread of facilitation techniques like World Café, Appreciative Inquiry, Deep Democracy, and Dynamic Facilitation. The essence of many of these facilitations, and many open collaborative projects, involves tuning into the larger picture, whatever it is we are doing. It is about tuning into humanity, the earth, and the life we share it with. It’s sensing how our open collaborative projects harmonize and fit into the larger system, and checking our compass often, that we remain complementary. These shifts are also mirrored by changes in our scientific perspective. The late 20th century has seen a dramatic rise in the study of systems, network theory and how systems can self-organize. The study of emergence in systems theory looks at how complex behavior can arise out of simple rules without the need of hierarchical control or planning. They provide a hopeful basis upon which we can understand how a social structure, in the absence of command-and-control hierarchies, can self-organize to form a well-functioning society populated by responsible members. In general these system theories like Complex Adaptive Systems have looked at agents that are concerned mostly about themselves, a cynical generalization of human nature that has persisted in, and underlies the data in, numerous fields of study. We have seen that cultural values, from a familial to national level, play a large part in where an individual falls on the spectrum of altruism. As such we are adding in a new variable into the equation, and this is expansion of consciousness, and inclusivity of identity. What we hope is that systems theory will begin to look at how emergence can arise out of agents who are not acting in pure self-interest but in ways where they care about each other. Part of the vision of this book is to begin to lay out what this new systems theory will look like. In our research for this book, and our experiments in our communities, we have come to find that open collaborative systems work differently as the amount of caring in the system increases. They also work differently as people are able to tap more deeply into their identity, below certain culturally conditioned layers, and give of themselves from that place. We are in the process of mapping a phase transition in the way open collaborative systems behave as these parameters increase. The open collaborative systems also undergo yet another behavioral shift/phase transition as people are supported by the system to enter into more inclusive consciousness states, allowing them to more easily tap into the collective consciousness field, a group mind so to speak, and allowing it to guide their behavior. The independent agents of the collaboration begin to work more as one unit, and the action of the whole is somehow amplified by this synergy. People, processes, theories and groups involved with helping this aspect of the transition include Integral Ecology, Council of All Beings, Theory U facilitation techniques, Spiral Dynamics in its turquoise and higher levels, global meditations, and Sri Aurobino’s work with collective consciousness.

… In this spirit, this present book is a compilation of many of the ideas and examples that are bringing this new and also ancient worldview into the forefront of our culture today. It is an open collaborative project itself, tapping into the power of the collective, by being not only about open collaboration, but the product of it as well. It draws encyclopedic content from the communal well of open-source wikis such as Wikipedia, and architects these isolated pieces of information into a form that gives a sense of this new paradigm landscape. Its principals have been engaged in it as an open collaborative experiment from the outset. Further, as an iterative book, now in version 2.2, it is an experiment of the principle that projects don’t have to be finished before they are put out to the world, as ‘finished’ is in some sense just an idea; everything is always evolving. So as you read study and apply it, do please consider this book to be in perpetual beta, and one which you can give feedback to and participate in; it is an emergent and perpetually changing, hopefully improving, collaboration. A bit like this world.”

The book is also available via Amazon.

2 Comments Book of the week: the shift to the era of Open Collaboration

  1. AvatarEmlyn

    The book “draws encyclopedic content from the communal well”, and that’s all well and good, but does it share back? What license is it released under? How is it collaborative itself? Can I remix from it?

  2. AvatarAlden Bevington


    This is from the horses mouth so to speak. I’m Alden Bevington, one of the two current compilers/info architects/editors of The Open Collaboration Encyclopedia, along with Alpha Lo, as well its present publisher, through Pioneer Imprints.

    First off, i need to clarify an error in the original listing and link on this page. The data and link to the book shown (even the cover) is over two years old, though the quotes are a mash-up from the current version. The book is currently called The Open Collaboration Encyclopedia, is compiled by Alpha Lo and myself, Alden Bevington, is published by Pioneer Imprints and holds a copyright of 2010. This misprint is unfortunate, but past, so please update your listings if you’ve told everyone on your email list. Thanks.

    You can link to the current version through

    or through Alpha’s quite useful and insightful blog,

    The encyclopedia now is in Version 2.3, which we could now consider a coherent Kernel which has been a collaboration between primarily Alpha and myself over the last two years. The idea and core kernel was conceived by Alpha in 2007, It is released under a Creative Commons license. In addition to purchasable hard copies and eBooks, the encyclopedia is also an “Open Textbook”, freely available through the Pioneer site in its professionally designed form, not simply a word doc or lightly formatted html text. Follow the links to “Freemium” for the free reader. Of course feel encouraged to buy a copy as well, it is really quite great to hold in your hands and read the old fashioned way. It is the product of much effort.

    The whole process has been one of pretty radical experimentation, and currently we are operating under an adapted Bee-Keeper model, harvesting the honey of a collective, packaging it for consumer consumption and distribution, and providing a free resource for the community which is the product of our hard work as well as theirs. The Kernel now set, we have, since our ‘official’ launch of v 2.1 in Dec 2009, opened the field to collaborators to build the site, which at least in part we envision as a collaborative design-based wiki which can handle feedback and collaboration on all the book’s features. We do wholeheartedly welcome collaboration in the areas of content, systems development, editorials, articles, navigational tools etc… This openness and welcome is explicit many times in and on the actual book.

    Regarding the common questions, realize that there are very few issues we haven’t yet pondered and researched in our process. And there are scores of uncommon, even metaphysical, questions as well which we in the project have deliberated ad nauseum.

    What the project requires at this point are collaborators to implement the infrastructure, and brainstorm as well, for the next phases of the project to make it scalable and sustainable. Alpha and I speak daily about these issues for years now. It is all well and good to open something up, but as we are product oriented, we are more interested in making a river, that has some kinetic energy, than a vast puddle. That is, we are recruiting expertise and neuron sweat to build the collaborative infrastructure that continues to live up to the promise of the book. There is a Kernel now that we feel covers much of the required ground. So yes, it is open to collaboration.

    My position is that I do not really want to fork wikipedia, where much of the encyclopedic content comes from. As well, being a publisher and book designer I have laid out the book with a quality for market appeal, and we would like to consistently release a high quality product that has some coherency, a standard held so to speak.

    In order to accomplish these two aims it appears that having a home base for the project, which we envision through, operating as a moderated open platform. There we foresee to collaboratively develop the front and back material of the book, context, articles, navigation etc… as well as use a open source programming kind of system for user feedback and collaboration on encyclopedic entry topic suggestion for admission and deletion, edits etc… and for the main body of the work, continue to harvest from wikipedia and others, which keeps the collective repository in one place. Of course I cannot speak completely for Alpha here, but we have found general agreement on these matters.

    As the infrastructure of wikipedia is already well developed, seen by millions, and working, we would lie to see entries be adjusted directly on the wikipedia pages themselves, and to notify us of updates made specifically inspired by the Open Collab Encyclopedia for inclusion. Wikipedia is published under CC and this is all accomodated within the license. We are simply offering a unique and comprehensive information architecture to this material, as well as a well-developed psychological, cultural, economic, spiritual, social, political, and evolutionary context. In addition we offer a nascent but evolving navigational interface for practical application in the real world. Plus its a really nice book to hold in your hand, and have lying around on your coffee table at your next extended family gathering or C level meeting. A real conversation starter.

    You are free to remix all you like, as I said the book is CC licensed. We’re not keen on forking the basic information as mentioned above, nor the project itself, but we have left that open. It is currently under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license,
    without commercial or derivative exclusions. That means you can make money off it, and remix it. To learn more on these CreativeCommons licenses go to:

    In order to accomplish all this listed above, and it of course can and will be evolved, we completely welcome collaboration, believe me. So do at least consider to help before you critique. We have done what we can thus far, really, and see the holes in it better than most. But we feel that now the Kernel and foundation is developed enough to have its compass remain pointed in what we consider the proper direction. Also that it is now ready to bring in a new layer of collaborators who can help build it more into its evolved incarnation, soething beyond our present expertise. The book is in perpetual beta, but we do want it to improve, surprise us all, contribute something of true value to the world, and operate in the true sprit of what it attempts.

    Please do check it out. And get involved as you wish. Any consulting is welcomed.

    Alden Bevington

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