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Battling the Tyranny of Structurelessness

Originally for my Berkman Center application

Willow Brugh

on 31 January 2017

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Transcript of Battling the Tyranny of Structurelessness

You remember that thing you thought was going to change the world?
And then it got too big.
You didn't know how to interact with it any more.
It didn't seem like anybody did.

I'm really interested in how we view transaction costs in decentralized structures, and how that affects our ability to scale while maintaining the benefits of being adaptive.
when something is successful,
We need to make our efforts last longer, or be more intentional in how they dissolve.
when that happens,
Not just keeping things in the lab until they're perfect.
It's important the groups who would benefit from this research be a part of the research.
Call it co-evolution if you like.
Spending physical time with the groups being studied is important.
You can only get so much from reading about a thing - you have to
go do it
to be fully engaged.
Ongoing conversations with the communities of interest means this is a study *with* them, not *on* them.
I have a suspicion that method changes like moving from

and from

are going to have a lot to do with these scaling abilities.
spreadsheets to databases
IPv4 to IPv6
My name is Willow Brugh, and I've spent the last 4 years heavily invested in hackerspaces, the maker movement, and digital humanitarian response.
(the internet knows me as
for somewhat obvious reasons)
So, how do decentralized structures
Saddest of stick figures
I have my work cut out for me, and would love to expand my network of peers by becoming a Berkman fellow.
I do things like:
Seattle has many hacker spaces, but none were extroverted. Meaning, by their very nature there were barriers to entry. Founding Jigsaw Renaissance was done in an attempt to make safe space for newcomers to the movement.
The communities and projects coming out of hacker and maker spaces are shaping the world, and our interactions with it. Geeks Without Bounds was founded to provide guidance to people with technical skillsets wanting to get involved beyond their own back yard.
Those same spaces also had difficulty existing in the current world - things like zoning, insurance, and getting rent paid on time. I cofounded Space Federation to create a network of sharing and learning amongst space founders and facilitators.
More detail (and projects!) on the CV associated with this application and at blog.bl00cyb.org in the Manifesto section.
(I also really like drawing stick figures to demonstrate ideas)
These groups tend to burn out or fade out. Which is tragic, as they offer a much better alternative for life and culture than our current status quo.
If there is no on-boarding process for newcomers, they either don't complete the joining function or they disrupt the core so that the veterans feel displaced.
Groups or individuals don't try to join, but rather take on the trappings of the movement.
Which is interesting in and of itself - if this is a known stage of a movement's lifecycle, can it be used in its own way?
image via Ping
Tech for connecting different Occupy groups. I had a lot of overlap with them during OccupySandy. Interested to see how the methods they developed for crisis translate to everyday life, if they are more prepared for the next round of response.
Hackerspaces.org is a long-standing decentralized grouping of hackerspaces across the world. They do monthly call-ins and sporadic cross-space challenges, along with being a place of continued ambient community outside of big conferences.
While Burning Man has a year-round governing body, the camps and the structure on which they interact for this annual event is decentralized. Huge art projects and culture on a major scale happen around this idea.
Telecomix is a decentralized hacktivist group with a chatbot jokingly at the helm. Anonymous individuals work towards freeing communication under this shared name.
The Dark Mountain Project consists of authors, artists, and other story tellers determining how to create new narratives around our future. This decentralized group maintains a blog, events, and publishing methods.
Random Hacks of Kindness has had a core team doing coordination and maintaining branding, but is largely community-run. As the core team hands off more and more power to those nodes, how does RHoK change?
Company where people are hired for personality and impetus rather than for a specific role. Wildly popular and successful games result.
As a somewhat iconic example, the structure of wikimedia projects are decentralized. I am interested to see if these values translate to their employee structure.
(You can click on any of these for more detail. Just press your right or left arrows when ready to return to the set path)
Community-based micro philanthropy. Each group is structured differently, and associations between groups are loose. However, they still share a name and objective.
A maker/coworking space out of Milwaukee, Bucketworks has slowly increased its size and reach since 2002, now being a staple of the community.
A hacking/coworking space out of Nairobi, iHub is an example of how decentralized structures face different problems and benefits stemming from different cultural norms.
While I love working with these groups on these objectives, there is a basic problem here which must be addressed for these initiatives to ever be sustainable.
I have devoted my life to figuring this out.
Understanding this underlying problem is imperative if we're ever going to be more than Flash-in-the-Pan.
Holding events which actively break down the top-down approach of traditional conferences.
Poster child of anarchic hackerspace, Noisebridge has a fascinating multi-year history of facing challenges not only of existing in our current structures, but also the challenges of a long-term decentralized engagement.
Anarchic printing and distributing co-op, with joint efforts and authorships.
A company based on do-ocracy, Google has a plethora of moving parts, objectives, and world views. Their lack of internal consistency paired with external accountability is fascinating.
(As these change our assumptions and brain patterns around association and interaction.)
Having access to the decentralized-based projects out of Berkman and Center for Civic Media will strengthen my work.
(I also hope, of course, that what I am able to learn will help these projects to grow when released into the wild.)
I'll be talking to a number of differently decentralized groups about how they work (or don't), asking questions around:
How do people join your group?
What does accountability look like?
How do you do succession planning?
How do you determine "done"?
I'll be looking at groups like:
I start research at Center for Civic Media in February.
(!!! OMG)
The social norms we adhere to are deeply influenced by what was previously necessary.
Codifying interaction and normalcy enables us to act easily in known scenarios.
(Including those things like education and disaster response that I care about.)
Decentralized networks spring up within, between, and in lieu of hierarchical structure as need and desire permit.
They are based on knowledge sharing and proven ability rather than set methods of interaction.
Paradoxically, encoding them through documentation or even social norms makes them less of what they are (so far).
Interactions based within the status quo are easy - we know what comes next, within a closed set of parameters.
When the status quo doesn't hold up, or is not supporting what it should, or whatever, we build decentralized structures to find our way beyond proscribed paths.
In the simple act of forging new paths, we create new norms, which come with their own standards and rigidity.
portals to standards
Methods of Observation:
(this is WAY more entertaining to look at online, found at http://prezi.com/rpr-9jsfaqjg/berkman-center-application/)
Full transcript