Networked scenius, private patronage, and the partner state

Remember Ian Skerret ‘s (Eclipse Foundation) quote a few days ago ?

It is a myth that committers are volunteers. The committers for the established open source projects are nearly all paid by companies to commit code to open source projects.

This reminds us of an uncomfortable truth: peer production, in order to work, needs a core group of committed ‘leaders’, with a nearly full-time attention to the project. But such a full time engagement is impossible to sustain through pure volunteering, unless you are, somehow a ‘rentier’, i.e. you have a full-time job which gives you freedom, you are a student on a research stipend, living on unemployment benefits, living off a heritage, etc…

This assessment is echoed by Alex Steffen where he discusses the physical infrastructure to sustain ‘collective genius’ (i.e. scenius, a concept proposed by Brian Eno and discussed by Kevin Kelly here)

Steffen, indeed writes:

Worse yet is the trend towards (relying on) half-assed citizen media and social networking approaches, projects based on the insane assumption that all that’s needed to court collaborative creativity is a website and a good advertising campaign. This tendency to think that innovative collaboration comes free of cost, bubbling up out the Internet like spring water, betrays a poor understanding of the actual workings of either online collaboration or quality thinking. Most often, when these open/ citizen-media/ online-collaborative approaches work, it’s because a core group in the project provides most of the important input, and usually curates most of the other participants’ input into useful forms. So, frequently, funders’ hopes that they can create transformation on the cheap actually just create a system that appears cheap because it externalizes the cost of expert participation onto the shoulders of others… and when their enthusiasm lags (or they need to get day jobs), the project falters or dies. The examples of failed peer-based social innovation efforts outnumber the successful cases by orders of magnitude.”

The situation is not unlike the early growth of science. Society had created a surplus of time and creativity, which allowed many people to engage in scholarly research and publishing, which was done either by independent rentiers, or through funding by the aristocracy. It is only later that these mechanisms got institutionalized and more recently inserted in a for-profit environment that is actually detrimental to innovation.

(This idea of a patronage economy, citing the work of Paul David, is discussed by John Willinsky in an article for First Monday, and see also here).

Today, one of the main mechanisms is benefit-sharing, whereby companies that benefit from a commons, such as say IBM, also return part of their benefits to the community that sustains the commons, by financing infrastructures of cooperation, but also by paying a core group of committers/maintainers.

I’m guessing that this is the model that Ian Skerrett, quoted here at the beginning, is referring to.

But clearly such private benefit-sharing is not enough, and we need the active intervention of public authorities, i.e. partner state approaches , that directly support and enable the direct creation of social value. The state hereby acts a meta-regulator (between public, private market, and collective public support for networked ‘scenius’ environments.

The following definitions are from Bob Jessop :

Meta-heterarchy … involves the organisation of the conditions of self-organisation by redefining the framework for heterarchy or reflexive self-organisation.

Metagovernance … involves re-articulating and ‘collibrating’ the different modes of governance. The key issues for those involved in metagovernance are ‘(a) how to cope with other actors’ self-referentiality; and (2) how to cope with their own self-referentiality’ (Dunsire 1996: 320). Metagovernance involves managing the complexity, plurality, and tangled hierarchies found in prevailing modes of co-ordination. It is the organisation of the conditions for governance and involves the judicious mixing of market, hierarchy, and networks to achieve the best possible outcomes from the viewpoint of those engaged in metagovernance.

Thus metagovernance does not eliminate other modes of co-ordination. Markets, hierarchies, and heterarchies still exist; but they operate in a context of ‘negotiated decision-making’.”

Obviously, such a role for public authorities does not obviate the need for a coupling of immaterial peer production and innovation, through networked scenius, and the physical production entities, whether these are businesses or cooperatives. This we will attempt to redefine tomorrow.

3 Comments Networked scenius, private patronage, and the partner state

  1. Avatardonald

    Question, is it possible to split the difference here? I think if we’re being realistic we have to accept that large corporate firms and major governments will always hold movements like p2p at arm’s length. In part because they operate in a manner so divorced from the massive growth in bureaucracy we have actually seen in every large organization this century, but mostly because they are new, hard to explain, and violate the logic of individualism that is generally presumed (I’m speaking in the American context at least).

    But we could quite potentially get local governments to anchor p2p communities through maintaining paid offices for maintainers, as essentially civic volunteer coordinators. I live in Austin, Texas, and I could actually imagine this happening here. I could see it in a variety of other cities as well, eager to engineer the explosive economic growth that comes with a meshwork of “scenius” communities. So we could begin to actually approach this incrementally.

  2. AvatarMarcin

    We are pursuing in-house neosubsistence- a mix of productivity and low overhead operation supported by a substantial resource base that includes facilities and land tenure. This is our approach, and we think that this is the most integrated route that can be taken to this pressing issue. This route is marked by self-reliance which elminates bureaucracies from this picture, and serves as a foundation for much deeper societal transformation.

  3. AvatarSam Rose

    I think Marcin’s approach is and will be the cutting edge from which change filters back to cities and suburbs. It is ironic to think that the places where the real “cutting edge” is at have totally flipped from highly-monied institutions in big cities, to people in rural settings. It seems to boil down to freedom at this point. Whoever is the most free to explore will get the furthest along.

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