Defining the DNA of collaboration

As a species, human beings are barely more intelligent than kindergarten kids. We revel at our place at the top of the food chain, and praise our technological ingenuity but, let’s face it, we’ve barely begun to work life out.

We’ve created one directional extractive systems that undermine our own life support systems, like kindergarten kids peeing in their own drinking water. We compete for everything, plug ourselves into blinkers and blindfolds to avoid any kind of interaction with our fellow beings. We squander the precious resources we have making individualised everythings, wrap them in layers of plastic and truck them twice round the world in the name of globalisation, while 1 in 7 of our brothers sisters go hungry and a third of food is wasted…

There has to be a better way to look after our collective family. We have to start to grow up soon, to learn the hard lessons of adolescence, if we are going to survive to adulthood.

The key, of course, is collaboration and cooperation because we can achieve so much more with less effort, and less destruction, once we learn to do more together.

A formula for collaboration?

The best examples we have to learn from come from nature, with its myriad of interdependent, complex adaptive systems, producing beautiful, synergistic results.

We need to collaborate to define a DNA for achieving collaboration, at scale, in order to weave together the numerous but independent efforts and movements and organisations that are already working on creating the regenerative economies we will require in order to survive as a species.

Take murmurations for example, which are the perfect example of a species collaborating to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate efforts.

As we mentioned in a previous post on the murmurations of a collaborative sustainable economy, the basic models of flocking behaviour are controlled by three simple rules:

  • Cohesion – steer towards average position of neighbours
  • Separation – avoid crowding neighbours
  • Alignment – steer towards average heading of neighbours

There is nothing saying that the rules of a collaborative, sustainable economy will be any more complex. After all, really, all we need to do is coordinate a synchronised movement.

So, perhaps we might try to model a formula for organisational collaboration on three similar rules.

Steer towards a better place / a more sustainable / regenerative / collaborative future.
Head towards grace / the place you think everyone and everything will be better off…

Don’t get too close to others, you’ll bump wings and they won’t be able to fly. Don’t crowd anyone out, give them space to soar and glide freely.

Don’t get too far from others either. If you need to follow your own path and split from the group because you have your own idea about where everyone would be better off then that’s ok, some others might share your vision and flock with you. But don’t burn any bridges, or spend too long off on your own lost in the clouds; there’s safety in numbers and the magic of murmurations can only happen when you’re part of a group. It’s cool to diverge and follow your own trajectory, we need mavericks! Plus, it’s always exciting when a splinter group returns to the flock, and the impetus of a new direction sends ripples through the flock which rebounds and rejoices from the reunion.

Applying the formula to our organisations to create synergy

Collaboration is about experimentation and learning what works. So, if we’re going to test the hypothesis, and the formula, we need a pragmatic implementation which we can engage with right now, since the tide of time is not on our side.

The rules above are essentially about direction and communication. If we’re going to collaborate effectively to create astonishing emergent patterns that we could never conceive of on our own, and glorious collective impact, we need to find ways to broadcast our intentions and to communicate effectively to keep everyone else updated about our progress, and to have a clear view of each others’ trajectories.

One practical interpretation of this idea could be a simple protocol, or basic publishing format which organisations could follow if they wish to join the flock. Imagine if every organisation working on building the regenerative economy was to publish a simple web page, listing:

  • The organisations purpose (In just a sentence)
  • A list of freeform tags describing the scope of their work
  • A link to their RSS feed

These basic ingredients, especially if they were indexed somewhere, would provide the ability for anyone else to aggregate and display the cohesion and progress of any particular flock of interest.

So The Open Co-ops collaborative DNA page would look like this:

  • Purpose: To build a world-wide community of individuals and organisations committed to the creation of a collaborative, sustainable economy
  • Scope: #community building, #conferences, #systems change, #economy
  • RSS:

With open access to that basic information, from a number of organisations, any mid level techy could use a free online, or bespoke aggregator to give other people and organisation who were interested in, or working in, their field a holistic overview of the organisational murmurations in their sector.

There’s probably better, simpler, and / or more sophisticated interpretations of the collaborative DNA concept – this is just an initial idea. If you have feedback to help develop the idea please leave a comment below, contact us directly, or crack on and build it… Who knows, if it has wings perhaps it might fly?

8 thoughts on “Defining the DNA of collaboration”

  1. It looks like your proposal is to put metadata on a web page so that search engines/crawlers could build directories. But all this infrastructure exists.
    Web pages have a space (metatag) to put keywords, descriptions and RSS feeds, and RSS fields themselves have a description field
    These metadata fields are not always used though because they were much abused to manipulate early search engines.
    In light of that maybe all that’s needed is a better directory – a filter of data which is already being crawled and indexed.

  2. Pingback: Video: Catalysing collaboration at scale - The Open Co-op

  3. Pingback: Catalysing collaboration at scale - The Open Co-op | P2P Foundation

  4. Thanks Oliver. This is very applicable to work I’ve been doing with intentional communities/ecovillages network organizations and directories. I think this self-hosted metadata approach is the way forward for holoptic network awareness among regenerative initiatives (rather than maps and directories that are disconnected from the subjects of the data, and therefore become stale and useless or require major ongoing redundant effort to keep up to date). Self-building networks of aligned initiatives from published metadata! Awesome!

    Using the metaphor of DNA is very good. I think it will make for quick comprehension even for people who aren’t already familiar with the problems this could solve.

    Regarding Matthew’s comment: the structures already exist in HTML, but what’s missing is a protocol so you can find the organizations in the same flock. We need to define a machine-readable way that “regenerative” (for lack of a more precise word) projects can identify themselves and their areas of work, and then make it really, really easy for projects to adopt this and start making their information available (for example by releasing simple plugins for popular platforms), From there, the flock becomes visible.

    I’m very keen to follow the development of this, or collaborate.

    The the lens of flock/swarm dynamics is also very close to work I’ve been doing on collective intelligence (subject of an event this week at Newspeak House in London:

  5. Pingback: Coordinate a synchronised movement: Flocking behavior in groups | Rapid Shift

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.