More Organisation Lite

Dan McQuillan, who was also at the Tuttle Breakfast yesterday, has now blogged his perspective on the need for lightweight, dynamic and flexible structures to take forward the sort of projects merging from Social Innovation Camp and ensure their sustainability.

Our criteria for the camp selected for ideas that could be carried forward after the weekend. The winning projects have certainly showed dynamism and commitment; but how can they organize to get things done when it’s not (yet) anyone’s day job? How can they get structure without losing the passion?

Synchronously, similar questions & suggestions have cropped up in other discussions. In the Gaming for Good roundtable folk wondered how to apply the voluntary association & dynamic purpose of the World of Warcraft raiding party to the real world. At the Tuttle Club Breakfast, freelancers were feeling their way to structures that sounded to me most like medieval Guilds (an idea that Open Business has already written about) . And in an ippr briefing, the MP Tom Watson invoked the cooperatives of the nineteenth century as a good fit for organisations making a social use of the web.

Seems there’s a sea-change coming as organisational models are mutated by the web. With the emphasis on lightweight, dynamic & flexible structures, it seems to echo the radical architecture of Archigram back in the 1960s.

Whatever model we raid, from real or imagined history, there’s still the practical question of who pays the bills. Sustainability is the plan for all Social Innovation Camp projects, whether from a commercial business model, grant funding or a mix of the two. Can we also learn from open source, where companies pay staff to work on open source projects for part of their time because there’s a wider value to the employer? Social Innovation Camp had the backing of a sizeable posse from Headshift (thanks guys) – perhaps signposting a wider possible solution where commercial companies support social ventures with geek-time? As my colleague Peter Grigg has pointed out, companies need to go beyond CSR and get real about supporting pro-social activity; and what better way than to back projects like these ?

Picking up on historical allusions, this also reminds me of 1980s when I and many others looked around for legal and financial models that would enable community-based regeneration projects to package together funding, volunteering and revenue streams. We ended up with development trusts and similar bodies that were companies limited by guarantee with charitable status, sometimes with associated trading companies.

Those structures have worked well – and are now very widespread in the Third Sector. However, they do carry a substantial management and governance overhead. One additional option now available is the Community Interest Company.

It isn’t just about structure, though. One main things I learned in grappling with development trusts was that legal format was not the first thing to look at. You needed to be clear about purpose, activities, business model, people involved and lots more. There’s no off-the-shelf solution, even in the more virtual world. Archigram was fun – but how much was built?

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