Organising without organisations

I attended an RSA lunchtime lecture last week with Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody and co-hosted by Matthew Taylor of the RSA and Nico McDonald of Spy Media. The delegates were a who’s who of the London internet scene who had rushed out of the lunch breaks to attend and unfortunately there wasn’t a proper opportunity afterwards to catch up properly. He started out with a great statement as follows:

"web technology is becoming boring enough to be socially interesting."

i.e. the technology (blogs, wikis, social networks, email etc) is now useable enough to be adopted by lots of people to use it in new and interesting ways. He cited numerous examples of groups forming outside traditional public or private institutions to instigate change whether it is holding HSBC to account on it’s promise of no bank charges to students, or to a flashmob in Minsk, Belarus, arranging to all meet in the central square and eat ice cream, which was sufficiently threatening to the authorities that the police broke up this subversive activity!

His basic premise in the book is that informational and coordination tools are so cheap and easy that groups and organisations can thrive without traditional institutions. The book covers familiar territory in a readable and interesting way, but isn’t really new per se, however in person Clay is very smart enthusiast for the new networked economy and good value.

I was interested in where he felt change would be greatest: in corporations or governments (in public or private sectors)? He was diplomatic in his response and obviously said that both are changing profoundly however he implied that the public sector is less used to people voting with their feet/wallets like the private sector is and therefore would find changing more difficult.

He finished by saying that the pace of change is so rapid that there is a social imperative to try different approaches to organising without organisations. For me this vindicated the approach we have taken with NESTA Connect which is testing open and networked organisational models in both the public and private sectors. I’d welcome further good examples of interesting open and networked institutions/organisations, or approaches or models that we could and should be testing to stimulate innovation through collaboration.

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