Bootstrapping the Double-Loop Governed Organization


Ready to blaze the trail for your organization? Photo by PixelPlacebo on Flickr. CC licensed.

So, you want to start a new virtual organization. Perhaps you have been awarded some funds to do so.

Here are Seven Key Suggestions

First Suggestion: Read Jono Bacon’s The Art of Community. Bacon has more good advice than you will find in a hundred blogs. Governance is not the same thing as management. “Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that governance is merely about decision-making. There is no reason why you can’t constrict it in this way, but you will be missing out on a wealth of opportunities to excite and energize your community.” (Bacon, 219). What Bacon will also tell you, and it’s very important, is that you need to build your community and its governance first thing. This is not a “phase 2” activity in any plan.

Second Suggestion: Connect with the community on the issue of membership. Who gets it, what levels there are, who gets to vote, who gets to lead, and how to manage conflicts: getting some early conversations done with the community, and particularly those who will be asked to volunteer, will help to draft that part of the initial governing documents. Remember that you are setting up the initial conditions for your member-led organization. Double-loop governance means that your members will be able to rethink membership rules and roles.

Third Suggestion: No matter how much you want to implement a plan with your team, and no matter how you have researched effective governance, you will only be creating a temporary framework for your membership to use as a first go-around for a governance system. Because you are giving your members the ability to make changes in the documents you have drafted , you have to understand this: they will make changes, probably right away before even an initial vote is taken. And then remember: this is a good thing. So, put the texts up on a wiki and let them have a go at it. The sooner they come to own the text, the sooner they will start to celebrate its vision.

Fourth Suggestion: Put some budget into play if you have this, but not to pay volunteers for their time (Here is some advice about money and volunteers: Help support communication, pay for students to do some background research for a draft business plan (the “how” of your organization), bring in some key community members for a workshop, but open this up through video conferencing, and support some others who express and interest to also be present. 

Fifth Suggestion: Always work toward a rough consensus, and never erase “minority reports.” Let conflicts rise to the surface and deal with them quickly. Leave their content open for others to see. Show your members that their time, their skills, and their opinions are honored, even if they are overruled. Jono Bacon has great advice for conflict resolution. 

Sixth Suggestion: Ignite some preliminary teamwork by having the initial community vote on two or three small, “low hanging fruit” efforts and then support ad hoc teams (clusters) to address these. By this you begin to show an initial innovation ROI the virtual organization will build upon.

Seventh Suggestion: Hold face-to-face meetings, but keep them from being PPT centric. Plan for small-group discussions and multiple breakouts, and hold the meetings in convivial neighborhoods, not airport hotels. Gather as many members as are there and read over the founding governance documents paragraph by paragraph (but only once, and then set up a process to edit the text online until the document goes up for a final vote), and let the group speak their concerns. Open up the entire budget for the membership to give their suggestions. If possible, let the membership vote on the budget after suggestions have been taken and changes made (a real vote).

These suggestions are just a starting point for boot-strapping a double-loop governed virtual organization. Once the hard work of building in double-loop governance into the culture of the organization is over, the rewarding work of seeing how this accelerates volunteer engagement can begin, and the creative work of husbanding this engagement into your organization’s business and strategic goals can be fully supported through the culture and the values, and the celebrated vision you own as a community.

Walking the walk is only hard when you haven’t tried it

For many organizations, the rush to market and the lure of some short-term exit strategy might make all this focus on congruence and culture and values and vision seem superfluous. And if your goal is to start-up and sell your business in the next 24 months, you would be wise to stick to a single-loop management plan (with a hefty stock option, because you will not have much love or glory). But if you are tasked to build a virtual organization that can stand on its community-based resources, you should seriously consider building in double-loop governance from day one.  What you are offering your membership (or your employees, or your customers) is a congruent experience: whatever your brand (or your vision) will become, it will emerge directly from your culture. When you put double-loop governance at the heart of your organization, you might want to stand back. Because ideas will definitely be having sex here.



Using Patterns to Design the Scholarly Commons


Force11 is looking to build an alternative academy based on a scholarly commons that supports the entire research to publication effort.

I just published a blog on the AGU blogspace.  Take a look here, or keep reading to get the gist.

Several groups (e.g., Force11 and theEuropean Commission) are calling for an integrative scholarly commons, where open-science objects—from ideas to published results—can be grown, shared, curated, and mined for new knowledge.

Building a commons is more complex than simply opening up objects to the public. The activity of commoning is what separates a commons from other examples of publicly shared resources. Research into the various commons found across the globe reveals that every successful commons is also an intentional cultural activity. And so, when open-science organizations talk about building a commons, they also need to consider growing a community of commoners.

How do we attain an intentional and reflexive cultural purview of commoning for science? One promising idea is to borrow from the open-access software community’s reliance on design patterns. Software design patterns reveal solution spaces and offer a shared vocabulary for software design.

A lexicon of design patterns could play the same role for the scholarly commons (See also: Patterns of Commoning). Since every commons requires a different set of practices suited to its peculiar circumstances, various commons within the academy will need to grow their own ways of commoning. The pattern lexicon would be expanded and improved as these scholarly commons emerge and grow.

Developing a pattern lexicon for the scholarly commons is an important and timely step in the move to an open-science future. Design patterns for a scholarly commons can reveal some promising solution spaces for this challenge, helping the academy make a transition from archaic print- and market-based models to commons models based on open network platforms.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to David Bollier for his contributions to this post.

Don’t like Open Science…?

…How about Ryanair’s Laws of Motion?

Science Laws to have new official names

For immediate distribution:

The International Council of Learned Societies has finalized new naming rules for scientific laws, based on negotiations with funders. These new names will be in effect for a twenty year period, starting January 1, 2020, after which a new competition will be made.

All schools, textbooks, lectures, articles, books, blogs, facebook mentions, and tweets are instructed to adhere to these new names. All digital files in any repository will be updated automatically.


OF COURSE… this has not happened… yet.

As Yochai Benkler warns us, science needs to step away from the enveloping need to compete in the market. “The Tyranny of the Margin – the need to compete in the market, to increase economic margins. A context where you have to compete and survive and deliver returns on investment. This postpones the ethical commitment. Entreprenuers with an ethical commitment vs investors raising money.” From: Notes on Benkler’s talk at OuiShare Festival.

2008… a dog, a cat, and a rat

greg and his dog/cat/rat on state street

One stroll down State Street in Santa Barbara in 2008… (retrieved from a prior blog).

While one can normally count on State Street to be a bastion of conformity and bourgeois manners, not withstanding the antics of tourists and occasional juvenile hijinks. But today was a day of small revelations. On a day like this one, we can again imagine a town ready for art and conversation.

Outside of Barnes and Noble there was Greg, whose busking talent lay (literally) at his feet: a dog, a cat, and a rat in blissful harmony. Greg is energetic, enthusiastic, and likes to talk about which YouTube video does his pets the most justice.
About the time I ran into Greg, it began to rain. Here is the problem. It began to rain, a serious squall, but the sun shone brightly and not a single cloud darkened the sky. Pedestrians stood and stared at the sky. A young girl threw her arms up and cried “It cannot be raining, it just can’t!” Five minutes later the rain stopped.
Each of us on the street had a new answer to the old Creedence song, “Have you ever seen the rain?” (coming down on a sunny day).
That’s a big “yes.”
Further up the street, now in the bright sun, couples and families were sitting out at Andersons bakery. A street performer, probably homeless, carrying a guitar, went from table to table passing out five-dollar bills. The first one he gave to a young girl, who showed it to her father. “It’s real.” He handed it back to her. The second on he laid on a table of another family. The third he gave to a couple, who tried to give it back.
“Take it,” he ordered. “That’s the last of my money. The final 15 dollars in my pocket. Now it’s up to my guitar to save me.”
He strode away toward the Art Museum, challenging pedestrians to listen to a new song of his. We all watched him go. This was the first day of the rest of his career as a busker.
The spectacle of street-people giving money away on a rainy-sunny day made the stroll up State Street just about perfect.   What with the dog-cat-rat, all it needs now is a lightblueline.

What kind of ignorant fool am I now?


[NOTE: This is resurrected from a blog post I did in 2010. Ignorance never goes out of fashion.]

Another week, and a week of reading through another flurry of aggravated blogs and blog comments on topics environmental, political, and other. One of the common strategies in these postings is to accuse someone of ignorance. “That ignorant so-and-so can’t seem to understand ________.” Calling someone ignorant is an increasingly easy, and unfortunately increasingly non-trivial attack these days. Me, I can’t understand how anyone would consider Donald Trump to be in any fashion a candidate for president. To some of my friends, that displays my own ignorance. I plead guilty. But what kind of ignorance am I guilty of?


Just as knowledge can and might well be considered to have a wide variety of types, so too does ignorance. The top of this list, up in the rarified climes of professional expertise, is the increasing ignorance of scientists in the face of an increasing deluge of scientific information (publications) and data resources. Even those in tiny specialties have seen the content load of new science double every few years. Some decades ago when I was a graduate student at Penn, I shared a house with three medical students. After their required specialty rotations each of them decided that pathology might be the only real occupation for their future. “We actually know so little about the human body,” they lamented, “It might be safer to study them after they’re dead.” Let me call this type of ignorance “professional-ignorance.” While scientists do their best to keep up and keep pace with the information load, they are all a little guilty of this. In their defense, they are the folks who face the actual precipice of the unknown–the edge of knowledge; and they are tasked to expand this knowledge envelope for us all. Their work defines the boundary between ignorance and knowability. However, “professional ignorance” is not the ignorance I’m usually reading about in the blogosphere,  even though science-bashing is back in vogue.


The next type of ignorance we find is what I would call “educated-ignorance.” There are far too few hours in a day or even a year to stay on top of all of the many possible topics of interest to any one individual. If even the experts have a hard time in their own fields, what sort of chance does anybody else have? Educated-ignorance is pretty much my life. I’ve spent several years learning how to learn various subjects, but I’m more or less (sometimes, I hope much less) ignorant about any of these, as I swim the mighty currents of an omnipresent information overload. Educated-ignorance is reflexive enough to understand its shortcomings. It is the knowledge virus of the information age. Fortunately, its victims are also savvy enough in just-in-time learning to turn a temporary lack of understanding into a more robust purview on any one selected topic. The educated-ignorant individual is appropriately suspicious of the entire notion of certainty. For even as she can, with some effort, cure her ignorance of, say, the impact of volcanic dust on jet engines, or the mysteries of credit default swaps, she knows that, in the weeks ahead, her lack of attention to these topics will increase her ignorance of them.  Calling someone who understands educated-ignorance “ignorant” has no real effect. They are prone to agree with you.


The remaining realm of ignorance is where its invective is based. It is used mostly by people who have selected a few cherished sources of information (perhaps a radio talk-show host or a famous blog). The insult is directed at everyone who have either chosen other sources of information or who have disagreements with the writer’s sources. The writer is usually certain that the messages his sources have revealed are so evident and so rational that anyone who listened to them would have to agree with them, and so would agree with him. This certainty is the launchpad for any number of claims of ignorance in others. It also reveals a more focused form of ignorance in the writer. As Eric Hoffer noted, “We can be absolutely certain only about things we do not understand.” Let’s call this “infallible-ignorance.” The infallibly ignorant has gathered all of her knowledge eggs into a tiny basket, and defends this with an unbridled ferocity. Here we find the bellowing of the demagogue, and the bluster of the true believer. The infallibly ignorant may have an under-developed skill in researching beyond the sources they trust, and can never understand the depth of their own ignorance.  They can change, of course. Most of us were like this at some point in high-school or college; clinging to the right to bullshit our way through life. Most people do move on, but the infallibly ignorant just dig in.

While there is certainly enough ignorance in the world for each of us to have our share, we can try our best to avoid the folly of infallible-ignorance, and to discover and overcome the limits of our knowledge at least for another day.

Rethinking leadership in an open science world


I posted a blog on the AGU blog space today.

You can read the whole blog here:

Problematics for science leadership in a data-rich, open-science world

What I conclude is this:

“I would like to propose just two metrics for now:

  1. The sharing of data with full provenance and,
  2. The reuse of these data.

As global open science emerges, data resources will be added to a variety of open repositories, from individual and institutional collections to national and international repositories. These data—big and small—will be generated through ever-more ubiquitous collection methods by a still-growing number of scientists across the globe. Combined, these new resources enable entirely novel synthesis opportunities for new knowledge created from existing data. The network effect, which calculates how the value of networks multiply as they grow, holds true for data. Adding a single new data resource to an open repository multiplies its value for scientists everywhere. When everyone, including Top Chef scientists, share their recipes (their data), the internet opens up lateral learning potentials that can push science to a higher velocity of discovery.

Opening up your data requires a lot more than publishing a PDF of your spreadsheet. Remember, data is the pluperfect participle for the Latin verb do, “to give.” Data are “things that have been given.” The value of this gift is highly dependent on its provenance and the completeness of its description. Producing shareable data also means opening up and sharing workflows, methodologies, and software. Haec omnia in datis sunt: “It’s all in the data.” That includes the reputation of the team that created the data.

Science leadership for a data-rich academy

In the not-too-distant future, when it comes to choosing a scientist to lead your science organization, you might want to pick somebody who has a track record of sharing the data their team spent so much time and care to gather and describe, and whose data are actively used by others to create new knowledge; somebody who has shown integrity in their workflow and a concern not just for their own research but also for the wider science research realm. Using data sharing and reuse as metrics for science prizes, career decisions and leadership positions realigns global science with the promise of its digital future.”


Science association renowned for its legacy of churlish behavior sees no need to change.

Satire alert: This is an Onion style parody…


The American Sciences Society announced today that it would not review the need for a membership code of conduct for its next annual meeting. This reporter visited their headquarters on M Street in Washington DC. The Society President was clear about this decision. “We’ve never had a code of conduct, and we have no need to start one now.” Steve Wilber stated. “We’re not philosophers or anthropologists, we’re scientists for Christ sake. We know better.”

When asked about the avalanche of misogynist claptrap vocalized by the Nobel-winning, first-day keynote speaker that caused the majority of female participants at the last meeting to storm out in protest and start their own society, Steve remarked, “I think everyone who was even vaguely offended is now gone. They’re welcome back, but they really should grow a pair before they return.”

Lauren Sample, the Society’s public relations manager stepped in to clarify the organization’s position. “Steve may have misspoken. What he meant to say is that our members are individually tasked to stand up for themselves any time they feel any level of harassment. If we created a politeness police, who would monitor their behavior? Will we need to create politeness police police?”

“It’s a really slippery slope,” Steve interjected, elbowing Lauren aside. “First thing you can’t say anything about how distracting their legs are in the laboratory, and before long, they’re authoring papers without a single real scientist among them. Look at Lauren. PhD from Princeton, three post-docs, and now she’s found a perfect career in public relations.”

“Real scientist?” Lauren said, taking back the microphone. “I hope you’re getting this down. Steve here, who hasn’t authored an original paper—or had an original thought—in over a decade, is fond of hiring female post-docs and having them do all the work while he comes up behind them and strokes…”

“The point here,” Steve stepped up and yanked the microphone away from Lauren. “…is that we’ve always managed to get along just fine. Anyone in the Society who has problem can send me an email. Our next meeting is in New Orleans in the fall. All of our members are looking forward to…”

Lauren leaned in and shouted, “…giving their pro forma papers and heading out to the titty bars… I quit.”

“Too late, you’re fired! Can you believe that? There she goes. Man, I would totally hit that. You’re not recording this are you?”

The point of this parody is that a clear, strong code of conduct that reflects and amplifies the core values of a community, and which is constructed, refreshed and celebrated by the community is a signal that the community has these shared values and holds them dear.

Photo Credit: Igor Pavlov CC license:

Getting a handle on community

Community builds trust

Cite as “Caron, B (2015) Getting a Handle on Community, retrieved [date] .”

The role of community may be the most important; least understood aspect of developing and sustaining knowledge sharing activities. It would not be an understatement to claim that knowledge sharing rests as much on community as it does on technology. To understand why this is so, it is important to understand that community is two things at the same time: community represents a social container, it describes the cohort, defines the membership for a group. Community also describes a quality of interaction within this group, a shared sense of belonging and trust. The amount of community in a group determines the level at which individuals will voluntarily support the goals of the group.

This second sense of the term “community” is what people are talking about when they propose to “build community”. Building more community into an organization or group gives each member a greater stake in the collective goal.

To makes things clear, let’s agree on terminology for the following section. The term “community” will be used to describe the social container and “community-sense” to describe the quality of shared belonging and trust within the group. A community is a group where the members share community-sense. A “weak” community is a community where the community-sense is low and a “strong” community is one where community-sense is high.

Community Sense

“Community-sense” is also a term used in social psychology (McMillan and Chaves 1986; Chipeur and Pretty 1999). Community-sense is what Wenger calls the “community element” of a community of practice (Wenger et al 2002). On the sociology side, community-sense also implies membership and consequent obligations, practical and moral. Community-sense provides the impetus for the informal community sanctions that help prevent “free-riders” from benefiting from the work of the community (Thompson 1993).

Community-sense is the engine for social capital (Putnam 2000), for shared trust (Fukuyama 1995), shared identity (Marcus 1992), shared intimacy (e.g., friendship) (Giddens 1991), and reputation (Rheingold 2002). On a grander scale, Anderson (1983) uses an “imagined” community to describe national societies, while the Drucker Foundation (Hesselbein, et al, 1998) posits that community-sense is the answer to many current social problems. Caron (2003) also notes that communities may not be universally positive in their social consequences (remember Jonestown and Pleasantville). 

There is also a growing literature on community (Koh, et al 2002, Smith and Kollock 1999), and community-sense (Blanchard and Marcus 2002) for virtual organizations, online networks (Cosley et al 2005, Butler et al 2007), and weblogs (Broß, Sack and Meinel 2007). Most of these apply some aspect of knowledge management (Finholt, Sproull and Keisler 2002) or social science (e.g., motivation research (Cosley 2005), emotions (Tanner 2005)).

References and Further Readings

Anderson, Benedict. 1983. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso.

Blanchard, A.L. and M. L. Markus. 2002. Sense of Virtual Community – Maintaining the Experience of Belonging. In Proceedings of the 35th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences.

Brown, J. S. and P. Duguid. 1991. Organizational knowledge and communities of practice. Organization Science. Vol. 2, No. 1. February. pp. 40-57.

Broß, Justis, Harold Sack, and Christof Meinel. 2007. Encouraging Participation in Virtual Communities: The “IT-summit-blog” Case. eSociety.

Butler, Brian, Lee Sproull, Sara Kiesler, Robert Kraut. 2007. Community Effort in Online Groups: Who Does the Work and Why? In Leadership at a Distance: Research in Technologically- Supported Work. Suzanne P. Weisband, ed. Psychology Press.

Caron, Bruce. 2003. Community, Democracy and Performance: The Urban Practice of Kyoto’s Higashi-Kujo Madang. Santa Barbara: The New Media Studio.
Available online at

Caron, Bruce. 2005. “Ethnic Cultural Theme Parks in China and Japan: Toward an Anthropology of Intentional Tradition.” in Tourism as a Complex Phenomenon. [総合的現象としての観光] Nobukiyo Eguchi, ed. Kyoto: Koyoshobo

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihalyi. 1991. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper Collins.

Chipuer, H. M., & Pretty, G. M. H. 1999. “A review of the Sense of Community Index: Current uses, factor structure, reliability, and further development.” Journal of Community Psychology, 27(6), 643-658.

Cohen, A. P. 1985. The Sybolic Construction of Community. Chichester, Sussex: Ellis Horwood Ltd.

Cosley, Dan. 2005. “Mining Social Theory to Build Member-Maintained Communities.” AAAI.

Cosley Dan, Dan Frankowski, Sara Kiesler, Loren Terveen, John Riedl. 2005. How Oversight Improves Member-Maintained Communities. Proceedings of the CHI.

Galegher, Jolene, Lee Sproull, and Sara Kiesler. 1998. Legitimacy, authority and community in electronic support groups. Written Communication, 15, 493-530.

Hesselbein, Frances, Marshall Goldsmith, Richard Bechard, and Richard F. Schubert. 1998. The Community of the Future. San Francisco: Josey-Bass.

Hildreth, Paul and Chris Kimble. 2004. Knowledge Networks: Innovation through Communities of Practice. London: Hershey; Idea Group Inc.

Finholt, Thomas A., Lee Sproull, and Sara Keisler. 2002. Outsiders on the Inside: Sharing know- how across time and space. In Distributed Work. Pamala J. Hinds and Sara Keisler. eds. Boston: MIT Press.

Giamatti, A. Bartlett. 1989. Take Time for Paradise: Americans and their Games. New York: Summit Books.




So, I’m writing a batch of user stories today for a software project. This got me thinking. What is my own user story for ello? What am I looking for that I’m not getting from Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.? What is a social network service for?

Part of the allure of ello is starting over. I’ve made mistakes on Facebook, liked too many pages, friended too many people. And there’s way, way too much sponsored content. And every time I refresh MY timeline, it’s completely different, and I can never find what I’m looking for, that I was looking AT just ten seconds ago. Facebook is broken. Twitter is great for immediate, topical interests, and for the buzz around events. I really like how G+ handles photos, and its search-ability. G+ is the closest service to what I envision as a great social network platform. I think ello has learned a lot from it. The problem is that people aren’t there.

What I’m looking for, what my own user story is for ello, begins with my desire to stay connected to creative people I’ve met at conferences or online, or I’ve read their books or blogs. My hope is to have ongoing, constructive conversations with them, to add my thoughts to theirs, to be able to pose a question now and then, like I would when we are having a beer at SXSW, or Dent, or (way back when) Gnomedex, or somewhere else. At it’s best, ello is an ongoing, somewhat casual connection between creative folk who happen to live wherever they do. We can log in and share a bit of insight, gain some collective intelligence, show some empathy, display some artistry, and live closer to the edge of the elsewhere where innovation happens.

I like the simplicity of the interface. I like being able to see who the people I want to follow are themselves following. I like getting informed when someone follows me. I don’t need to know should they decide to not follow me sometime later. I like how it eats up my big JPEGs. I pop these up on Flickr, so I don’t need ello to be my photo library. I really like not seeing ads. I would like to see some open-source code, as this aligns the service with its pledge to become something better than a cash cow for its makers. I would like to see ello blossom as a nextgen service, one that is owned by its users (somehow). I would also like to help celebrate the makers who would enable this kind of service.

Animated GIF by Dave Whyte @beesandbombs

Intentional Culture and Anthropology: ten years later

That's me with the camera
That’s me with the video camera

Ten years ago I published a paper (in Japanese) about doing an ethnography of intentional cultures and traditions. Ten years before that, I was capturing the very intentional effort of a Korean cultural community in Kyoto to build their own public festival. In the past ten years, I have been working toward an understanding of virtual communities in the arena of science research and data.

Here is a link to the English version of my 2004 paper: Ethnic Cultural Theme Parks in China and Japan: Toward an Anthropology of Intentional Tradition


Intentional cultures are not limited to theme parks and cities (such as Las Vegas) that are rebuilt as theme parks, but can be seen as the future of traditional (or post-traditional) culture. The act of producing intentional tradition represents a mode of “detraditionalization” in Giddens’ perspective: “A detraditionalizing social order is one in which the population becomes more active and reflexive, although the meaning of ‘reflexive’ should be properly understood. Where the past has lost its hold, or becomes one ‘reason’ among others for doing what one does, pre-existing habits are only a limited guide to action; while the future, open to numerous ‘scenarios’, becomes of compelling interest (Giddens, 1994, 92-93).” Theme parks compete with each other and with other types of destination for scarce tourist cash flows. The ability of cultural theme parks to innovate traditions—to attempt to manage their future—is crucial to their competitive position. So too, the workers in these theme parks use intentional traditions to innovate their own ethnic markers and construct cultural practices that offer them a future in the tourism industry: the world’s largest industry. And these ethnic markers and cultural practices are highly competitive as valued tokens in the economy and society of ethnic minority locales around China. In Japan, foreign-themed parks reinforce the islanders’ sense of belonging to the wider world. These offer local experiences of far-away traditions, experiences that are added to their visitors’ reflexive construction of their sense of self and national identity.

Giddens, Anthony. 1994. Beyond Left and Right: The Future of Radical Politics. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Photo by Erich Schienke