Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Organization of Intention

So awhile back, I posed the question about centralization vs. decentralization when it comes to systems - which is better?

I’ve just been in a great keynote by Clay Shirky given here at DrupalCon Chicago. In it, he spoke about how those great old concepts of Web2.0 are playing themselves out and what our challenges we face as website developers moving forward. I’ll summarize it in a separate post - it’s worth a whole post. But bottom line, we have to stop considering the audience the audience, but rather as collaborators. We have to cede control of our web presence to the community of users.

So you’d think I’d be all about having everyone just do everything. But what I’ve been watching - both in the larger world and more close to home - is the political power of organizing intention. The less empowered, the less resourced you or your organization is, the more important it is for you to rely on community and to bring the community together. So, when it comes to the question of centralized, high-control systems vs. lots of little grassroots projects that don’t even know about one another, neither is ideal (in most cases). Instead, depending on context (which is key in an analysis of needs), most systems work best when they facilitate collaboration. That’s the key. It’s not whether or not the system itself is centralized or decentralized. It’s whether or not the system helps people to work together, leverages and harnesses their strengths, empowers them at an appropriate level. Importantly, those who are empowered have to work together, within certain parameters. That's the only way it all works. That's why there are legal systems and governance in complex societies.

A lot of times with library systems we make a huge mistake. We have databases, “digital collections”/archives/repository systems, a catalog, a website, some web2.0 tools. And these don’t work together. They’re under the control of different people. Each of those people is an advocate of their little world and in control of their little world. But they aren’t sharing with others. Often times, they’ll create a little blog on the side because they’re nervous about the high control folks saying no. All of those constructions can only be fractionally successful, at best. They are unsustainable without the one or two people who are behind them. They are really constructions of ego. They are built of fear. Fear of loss of control. I empathize, I really do, but I also see the negative results of diffusing our efforts. I see it in poor user experiences. If you want the end user to support your larger organization, you have to harness your efforts with the efforts of the larger organization. And if you're not supporting the larger organization, then who are you working for? On the flip side, the technology should be supporting us as staff to be empowered to innovate. And empowerment of staff can lead to great innovation. It's just that we need to harness all of this - we need to have collaboration, communication, and agreement about our overall mission.

With the many little independent projects, neither harnessed nor collaborative, there is no overall sense that we are creating what either the user or the organization needs to fulfill their goals. The scaffolding of all of these endeavors must be collaboration. The construction must be worked on together. We have too few resources - too few people and too few funds for little fiefdoms.

And yes, Drupal is a technology designed to help us harness and empower the collective staff intentions in service of users’ needs.

1 comment:

T Scott said...

CrossRef and the distribution of doi's is one of the best examples of this I'm aware of. It's a very decentralized, collaborative operation that is made possible by a central core of services.