Making groups work

There is a growing consensus that enabling groups, and networks of groups, to work together, is essential to delivering exponential impact in collaboration and solving humanities multiple challenges.

The Magical Number Seven, ideas about committees, decision making, teams and productivity all suggest that small groups are the most effective… whilst Hagel suggests that “achieving the full potential of these small groups requires them to come together in creation spaces or movements, building networks that can help these small groups to connect more effectively with each other at larger and larger scale”.

There are various ideas and opinions on the formation and running of groups – i.e. start with land + people + practices (behaviour, experiments, verbs) versus starting with ideas + vision + principles (values, mission, nouns), but I have rarely seen anyone talk about the ‘status’ or ‘mode’ of a group – which seems equally, if not more, important.

No group will ever be effective unless its participants know what’s expected of them, according to the ‘status’ of the group.

In the PLANET concept I proposed the idea that effective groups have 3 possible statuses:

  1. Chat groups
  2. Working groups
  3. Trading groups

I see these as fairly universal i.e. that almost any group must be in one of these modes. Either the group is just chatting (i.e. a WhatsApp group, or book club), or the groups’ members have agreed to work together on some specific purpose (i.e. a open source software project, or startup), or they’ve developed an idea to a suitable state in order to present a proposition to others (outside or inside the group – i.e. as a business or buying club) and they’re trading – albeit not necessarily with money.

I believe defining groups according to their status could help groups become more effective, and pave the way for the formation and evolution of groups through the three modes, in order to enable a new economy. I propose that defining groups according to status will also help us empower groups with appropriate tools, in order to make them more effective.

Required tools for groups:

Group Status Chat groups Working Groups Trading groups
Tools required Messaging tools:
– Group wide
– One to one
– image sharing
– emojis (  🙂 )
As Chat groups plus:
Shared docs
Shared calendars
Project Management
As working groups plus:
Example of existing
proprietary tools
G Docs
G Cal
Trello / Asana / Basecamp
Zoho / Salesforce
Paypal / Stripe / Tide
Quickbooks / Zero
Netsuite / Tagetik
Example of existing
open source tools
Riot Framapad
Odoo / CiviCRM
MCCS / Cyclos
Open Collective

I believe that a cooperatively owned platform which empowers groups by providing them with the above tools, according to their ‘status’ is the holy grail for delivering decentralized collaboration at scale.

Ideally this platform would use free and open source software, and make it extremely easy to form groups and upgrade their ‘status’ from one level to the next. Chat groups could probably be delivered for free, with working and trading groups paying increasing subscription fees according to their size, data requirements and trading volumes.

A platform of this nature, organised as a co-op and co-owned by its’ members would also avoid the need for startups and other projects to deal with the incorporation minefield which plagues all startups and stifles innovation and collaboration. Trading groups could sidestep the need for incorporation, bank accounts and legal fees since they would simply be ‘subprojects’ or ‘collectives’ of a larger ‘fiscal host’, like on Open Collective, but in this case their fiscal host would be the platform co-op, which they co-own.

With the tools listed above at their disposal, Trading groups could be more effective by focusing all their efforts on their core objectives rather than having to deal with selecting, setting up and managing software – which all groups need. They would also be able to transact with each other via an ‘internal’ trading system of mutual credit, thus reducing their dependence on debt-based fiat currency and directly catalysing the new economy.

Another significant advantage of a centralised, co-owned, group-empowering platform would be the ability to cross-promote propositions and share user acquisition costs between trading groups. I see this as the key to the infinite abundance promised by the holy grail. Dylan Walsh describes the issue as the ‘cold start’ problem whereby co-ops and other startups, without huge data troves, or the venture capital to buy them, are unable to compete with existing tech giants. We have discussed this problem under the title of the ‘capital conundrum’ at previous OPEN conference. Pentland, from MIT suggests that aggregating user data is the answer. A data co-op, organised like a credit union, which is essentially what I am suggesting here, could invite all its members to engage with new trading groups so that “…suddenly that new entrepreneur ends up with 10 to 20 million customers overnight.”

There is often a preference, in open source and progresive circles, for decentralised patterns and protocols. I respect this and agree that decentralisation and subsidiarity are essential components of the new economy. But, I believe, the most effective way to enable the ‘coalition of the willing’ to build a new economy right now is to empower people to set up and develop decentralised groups by sharing the cost of providing effective group tools and aggregating data between groups via a centralised, cooperative platform.

If you are interested in discussing these ideas, and forming and joining working groups to help make this idea reality please join us at OPEN 2020 on the 11th and 12th of June in London.


2 thoughts on “Making groups work”

  1. Pingback: The case for open protocols - The Open Co-op

  2. Pingback: A platform to enable communities to thrive - The Open Co-op

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