P2P interview at Open Business: the logic of distributed leadership

Michael Holloway conducted an interview with me for Open Business, a site which is becoming a major resource for anyone interested in the intersection of peer production and its sustainability through innovative business models.

The interview covers various topics, I’m selecting the excerpts on distributed leadership.


OB: How is the role of project manager / facilitator fulfilled in an instance of ‘distributed leadership’?

Bauwens: Projects and sub-projects appear to need a dedicated leadership. Someone has to have a vision of the project, an interest in its going forward, gently pushing the willingness of people to contribute.

Of course, different projects use different kinds of such leadership. At the P2P Foundation I, half jokingly, use the term of Chief (p)Leader to describe a person who gains the respect of the other co-operators through his engagement with the project. Since it is all based on volunteering, there is no command structure, only motivation, hence the ‘pleading’. Next to this “benevolent dictator” model, some other projects use majority voting, or a rolling roster of voluntary leaders who take turns (I think this is the case for Perl).

OB: You discuss holoptism and non-hierarchical participation in your writing. Can you summarise these practices and point to successful examples in both the public and private sector?

Bauwens: Holoptism contrasts with hierarchical panoptism, where information flows so that only the elite has a total vision of what is happening. By contrast, in peer production, holoptic transparency is inscribed in the very way the technological tools are designed. Every line of code in free software, or line of text in a wiki, can be attributed, and there is extensive version control. This ensures transparency within these projects.

In classic hierarchical, or semi-hierarchical environments this would also require cultural and behavioural adaptation. An example of this is when extensive verbal communication between few is not recorded in the system, acting as an exclusionary filter for everyone else.

OB: Who are the ‘netarchists’, and where do they fit into your theories?

Bauwens: The concept of netarchists helps to explain the logic of rule in our mixed capitalist / participatory society. The rule of the industrial owners has been left behind long ago and the locus of power is shifting.

The basis of both cognitive and vectoral capitalism is being undermined by the new peer to peer practices. It has become increasingly difficult to maintain the artificial scarcities on which monopoly rents are based, and producers of content no longer have to pass through the classical vectors of the mass media age.

These are being replaced by the creators of participatory platforms, the Web 2.0 type of companies, in other words, the netarchists. Their role is double. As enablers of participatory platforms, they support and enhance p2p developments, but as private companies, they seek to monetize it. Advertisers pay them for their aggregation function.

For peer producers, it is easy now to create use value, but still rather more difficult to monetize it and to make a living from those creations. The emergence of netarchists is creating a whole new set of issues of equity and distribution of value. For example, with companies like YouTube producers are asked to sign away rights to their creations though it seems they recently changed this practice. Even still it is obviously no longer necessary to rely on strong protection of IP rights to build a business.

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