You can’t “own” a social network, but maybe you can teach it.

Posted: December 5th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Democratic businesses, Social networking | Tags: | No Comments »

Craig Stoltz writes that it’s a mistake for Obama or anyone else to look for ways to use his extensive social network to govern. Instead, the instigator (for lack of a better word) should/can use the social network as a place to listen to the community and, respectfully, to join the conversation.

So far, so good. But there’s another opportunity: if you’re part of the conversation, you can also teach people. That’s a lesson from democratic businesses, such as Jack Stack’s Springfield Remanufacturing. Stack committed a long time ago to an employee-run business, and found that training is crucial:

Nobody can think and act like an owner without understanding the basic rules of business….
We start with the idea that there are two things every company must do to stay in business: make money and generate cash…. [E]mployees learn about all the subtle and not-so-subtle challenges of doing these two things in the various industries in which we compete.

How could the Obama Administration encourage the development
of primers on key issues? On any contentious issue, various parties would want to have their say — I can’t imagine the conservative Club for Growth letting the Service Employees International Union frame the issue of labor organizing rules, or vice-versa, and neither organization would want to leave the framing to the Administration. Or perhaps the Administration could make available the information they’re considering as they come to policy decisions. Jack Stack relies on Open Book management. What’s the equivalent here?

Links: search Citizentools resource links for more information on open book management.

Dealing with the pachyderm in the public participation process

Posted: March 18th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Democratic businesses, Ethics | Comments Off on Dealing with the pachyderm in the public participation process

We expect that the citizens who show up will feel a sense of entitlement. What if we don’t take that at face value?

Can we talk about what’s going on?

The previous post buried the most important point. Consider:

  1. In public, the planner suggested that public participation was effective and worthwhile.
  2. In private, he disclosed that it had little impact on government.
  3. The difference between the public and private views is huge, but few people reading these words will be surprised.

So why is it difficult to discuss the value of a participative governance in a particular context?

Planners, consultants, government officials and others cant be sure what to make of the role of the particular citizens who show up.

Who are these people?

The previous post suggested that there is a general expectation, at least for PR purposes, that the citizens wishes be honored and even implemented. But its easy to argue against that. Who, after all, are the particular citizens who show up?

  • Government officials, themselves either directly elected or specifically responsible to elected politicians, can ask: how can these folks claim to represent anyone other than themselves?
  • Developers, who have money, time, and reputation on the line, can ask: what stake do these folks have in the outcome?
  • Planners, with their training, analytical tools and data, and specific professional responsibilities, can ask: what expertise do these folks bring to the table?

And yet government officials, developers, and planners are all supposed to treat the citizens as their superiors. (And consider that some of the criticisms offered from the floor would never be tolerated with such outward good humor if the roles were reversed.)

Lessons from democratic businesses

Businesses that attempt to run on democratic principles have to confront both of these problems: theyve got to find ways to make participative governance work not just once, but over and over and over again, and they are generally structured so that participants in the process have vastly different expertise, face different risks, and come from unique and distinctive roles. What can we learn from them?

This will be an ongoing theme, so lets start with just a taste. Worldblu recently convened a roundtable of democratic businesses to consider lessons learned. What emerged thats most relevant to us is that democratic business processes work best when all participants

  • Feel accountable, not entitled
  • Are comfortable with transparency
  • Recover from their mistakes quickly and with grace
  • Understand their role in making the organization perform

How to placate support?

So lets forego the temptation to placate the citizens who show up for our public process, or put them on a pedestal, and ask a different question: what are their specific responsibilities, and how can we help them fulfill those responsibilities?