Over the past few weeks I have come across a number of projects and initiatives being led by “unorganizations” — groups of people who come together for a common cause, but who are independent agents and not a formal corporation, organization or association of any sort.
The first was, of course, the recent unconference that I co-organized, Government 2.0 Camp. It was important to me from the event’s inception to make sure that it was owned by the people. By design, the largest sponsorship was $1,000–just 1/20th of the total funds raised–so that no single organization owned the gathering.
But how do you do business as a non-entity? Duke Ellington School of the Arts (DESA) required Government 2.0 Camp to sign a standard contract for use of the venue.The contract was between DESA and Government 2.0 Camp. I signed the contract, but felt soft of silly doing so, as Government 2.0 Camp wasn’t a formal organization.
One interesting idea that was suggested by Nancy Faget, an attendee of Government 2.0 Camp, was selling the proceedings from Government 2.0 Camp to a book publisher. In fact, she claims that two are already interested! Session leaders and other attendees could author the chapters and the proceeds could fund Government 2.0 Club. How do you fund a non-entity? To whom would the publisher write the check? (Yes, in reality, I know we’d form a 501C3 or similar, but the philosophy of this is still a rather intersting conundrum.)
The closing session of Government 2.0 Camp was a brainstorming discussion about creating and formalizing Government 2.0 Club–the and official creator of Government 2.0 Camp. We were lucky enough to have Chris Heuer, founder of Social Media Club, to guide our discussion and ideas with his experiences from creating and growing Social Media Club. The difference, however, is that Social Media Club is owned and operated by founders Heuer and Katie Wells. Our vision for Government 2.0 Club is the embodiment Government 2.0, itself: owned and operated of the people, for the people, by the people.
A few days after the unconference, my co-organizer, Peter Corbettsent out an summary and wrap-up e-mail to all attendees that directed interested parties to the Government 2.0 Club website for session summaries and other unconference proceedings. He signed his message “the unmanagement.”
The “unorganization” phenomenon extends beyond Government 2.0 Camp and Club, however. I have been working over the past two weeks on a proposal for a community organizing project for a local municipality that is being created, driven and funded by “concerned citizens.” It’s quite a legitimate initiative led by a number of impressive for-profit and non-profit organizations as well as philanthropic individuals. I frankly don’t know who will sign the contract or write the checks. Those are details that someone or some organization will shoulder for the sake of the cause, just as I signed the venue contract for Government 2.0 Camp.
Another example of “unorganization” made its way across my computer screen earlier this evening and prompted this blog entry: TEA Party Tax Day. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the politics of Tax Tea Parties, it’s interesting to note that there is no Organization behind this tremendous grassroots organization. When you click the About or Contact buttons on the site, you are just brought back to a page that says ”Please see the Help Organize area for the most commonly asked questions and the answers” and enables you to fill out a form for more information or to organize a “tea party” in your area. I asked a top Hill staffer for more information about this and learned that this initiative really is being run as a collective effort of like-minded tax opponents and is not “owned” by any single organization.
The challenges of the “unorganization” also remind me a lot of what’s going on right now in the Government 2.0 movement. Government agencies–especially the General Services Administration–are successfully working through barriers, like Terms of Service challenges, that prohibit them from signing agreements with third party social media service providers, e.g. YouTube. Issues of indemnification and defense are two barriers cited by the Federal Web Managers’ Council in its December 23, 2008 paper Social Media and the Federal Government: Perceived and Real Barriers and Potential Solutions. In cryptic non-legal simplification: because the government is owned by the people, it cannot be sued and thus, cannot agree to indemnifya third party.
Why are all of these “unorganizations” popping up? Collaboration. As I’ve written about in many previous blog posts, we are in the midst of a major cultural shift from the Broadcast Era in which large media organizations intermediated our information, to the Collaboration Era in which we can have influence that rivals the most watched Superbowl ads. Individuals + collaboration = game changing ideas.
How will the legal, organizational and philosophical challenges be resolved for and by the increasing number of “unorganizations” that are emerging in the Collaboration Era?