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Progressive Open Source Thought and Action Network

An organization dedicated to establishing and disseminating the intellectual infrastructure of the progressive movement should not be thought of as a tank, because a tank is an enclosed structure, it should have an open structure that allows growth and the evolutionary development of core structures and related surrounding structures. An organizing structure should develop like a central nervous system develops in nature, through progressive iteration on the theme of nerve cell function in a multi cell network within the context of an organism. The philosophy of the open-source software development movement is used below as a starting point for looking at a progressive think tank, which would be more like a think network, or habitat, than a tank in its structure and functioning.


In his 1997 essay The Cathedral and the Bazaar,[3] open-source evangelist Eric S. Raymond suggests a model for developing OSS known as the Bazaar model. Raymond likens the development of software by traditional methodologies to building a cathedral,

"carefully crafted by individual wizards or small bands of mages working in splendid isolation".[3] He suggests that all software should be developed using the bazaar style, which he described as "a great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches out of which a coherent and stable system could seemingly emerge only by a succession of miracles. Fact is, that coherent and stable systems do emerge from Open-source software development projects."

From Open-Source Software article on Wikipedia

The babbling bizarre matches the social environment and dynamics of the progressive movement. So we should try to pick a development method for our intellectual infrastructure that matches structure and dynamics of the movement. From a systems point of view what I see is the majority of the progressive movement being event driven, not systems driven. People who see the events that comprise the list of concerns dealt with in the progressive movement as arising from systems need a way to develop intellectual material that supports a systems change focus and aligns that with the event focused folks that are the engine of change in progressive activism. In the Cathedral model, development takes place in a centralized way.

Roles are clearly defined 

Roles include people dedicated to designing (the architects), people responsible for managing the project, and people responsible for implementation. Traditional software engineering follows the Cathedral model. From Open-Source Software article on Wikipedia

This sounds like the structure of Heritage, AEI, Rockridge, and all other centralized producers of intellectual products. Their structure, like the commercial software movement has been, in my opinion, heavily influenced by the structure of industrial production. If we want a network of thinkers to produce an alternative systems approach to our current systems, we should create a systems container for them that mirrors progress in a more organic, less linear and mechanistic, way. The open-source development movement generally organizes the roles and processes of development in the following ways.

Users should be treated as co-developers

The users are treated like co-developers and so they should have access to the source code of the software. Furthermore, users are encouraged to submit additions to the software, code fixes for the software, bug reports, documentation etc. Having more co-developers increases the rate at which the software evolves. Linus's law states that,

"Given enough eyeballs all bugs are shallow."

This means that if many users view the source code, they will eventually find all bugs and suggest how to fix them. Note that some users have advanced programming skills, and furthermore, each user's machine provides an additional testing environment. This new testing environment offers that ability to find and fix a new bug. From Open-Source Software article on Wikipedia

Event oriented activists and systems-oriented architects would be working together to develop and continually refine the new approaches that support a broad diverse progressive movement. I am interested in deep assumptions, philosophy, economic and political systems, and looking at using biological analogs to create systems that fit better in the natural biological and human social environment. Other people have different interests, some purely social, economic, environmental, justice, or power oriented. Some people have a highly focused area of interest, water, prison reform, property rights reform, and many others. All would be encouraged to contribute to the richness of materials developed in the progressive think network.

Early Releases

The first version of the software should be released as early as possible so as to increase one's chances of finding co-developers early. From Open Source Software article on Wikipedia

This is what I call a thinking out loud approach. Most written work, particularly that of formal academics and the think tanks we have all come to know over the years of aggressive conservative ideology release and then promote a finished written intellectual product.

A progressive think net would be an ongoing process and would actively encourage the publishing of seed ideas that could grow, both through the ongoing efforts of the original creator of the idea and the contributions of the community of folks who engage in the thinking out loud process. This process can help all of us expand the scope of our awareness and share ideas as they form.

I often have ideas I don't have time to follow up on, I am sure this is true of other people. Are these ideas worthless, or if put out in a think net would they sometimes find a home in someone else's interest and get some time I would not have been willing to devote to the idea. Would I find a discarded idea that sparked a whole new line of thought for me that would become productive? Several Versions There should be at least two versions of the software. There should be a buggier version with more features and a more stable version with fewer features.

The buggy version (also called the development version) is for users who want the immediate use of the latest features, and are willing to accept the risk of using code that is not yet thoroughly tested. The users can then act as co-developers, reporting bugs and providing bug fixes. The stable version offers the users fewer bugs and fewer features. From Open Source Software article on Wikipedia

The progressive think net would not result in a single static written product that is then promoted via all the traditional means, there would be several versions of the work. I imagine reaching stages in the development that would resemble a period of completion resulting in something resembling a current sense of the community that could have a definition that would look like a version looks in software. That version could continue to develop while another related but significantly different branch, perhaps lead by a group interested in a focus different than the one reflected in the first version (sense of the community).

High Modularization

The general structure of the software should be modular allowing for parallel development. From Open Source Software article on Wikipedia

This is where the progressive movement lives. An array of related modules, advocacy areas, that share some expressed attitudinal or philosophical commonality, but are distinct. Prison reform and water rights might not seem to have a common area of interest but I think they do share an underpinning of progressive attitudes, not to mention that the issues they address arise under the influence of broadly shared, but seldom recognized, systems, that can be articulated and used to support a broad progressive movement. A good example of what this looks like in software is the Joomla content management system, extensions page of their website. They have a lot of modules submitted by a lot of different user/programmers, that make Joomla a huge, robust, highly adaptable, and always more useful, piece of open source software.

Dynamic decision making structure

There is a need for a decision making structure, whether formal or informal, that makes strategic decisions depending on changing user requirements and other factors. From Open Source Software article on Wikipedia

Here is where we would have to develop a structure for making key decisions that would effect all participants in the process. I think there are a lot of ways to dissect this process and develop structures that would facilitate developing a central structure that acts like a dynamic skeleton upon which the the body of the work can grow. Additionally there are a lot of ways we could assist all the modular processes that would work toward developing various sense of the community resolutions in specific areas like, eco-restoration, water rights, property rights, prison reform ... Ideas about purpose, structure, and decision making

The purpose of creating an open source progressive think network is to bring progressive theory and systems thinkers together with progressive activists over the entire range of issues that comprise progressive thought and activism in a way that facilitates the emergence of a continually developing set of progressive theories and systems proposals that are directly relevant, and give long term guidance, to progressive activism.

All participants would be related to as co-developers of the organization/site content and able to use the content in their activities as long as its source was attributed to the primary author(s) and the organization/site. The linkages and purposeful constructive engagement between people interested in philosophy, theory, systems, and immediate direct political action would produce a strong living organism of progressive cultural and political action. This purpose and form of engagement would fill the gap between progressive think tank or academic, epitomized by Rockridge nation, development of alternative theory, philosophy, and systems, and the community of activists epitomized in MoveOn and Daily KOS. The resulting process should produce an ongoing stream of vibrant intellectual material, and action supported by big ideas, that could help accelerate the rate of change achieved by the fragmented progressive movement.

The structure of the organization should reflect the purpose and desired output of the organization

I envision a structure of related areas like philosophy, theory, systems, and action initiatives that are all link together by the co-developer participants in the process. Each contribution would be authored by individuals or groups of individuals and those pieces would contain linkages, selected by the authors, to other related material with ratings as to how important the related material is to the content of the individual piece. Statistics could be generated out of this linkage system to indicate which material is most important and compelling for the authors. Readers of any article could rate the article along the same dimensions but from their point of view. Readers of an article could also, with proper attribution, take the original, modify it, or use it as a starting point or component piece in a new article that would undergo a similar process.

I imagine that sets of strongly related content would develop into different sets of philosophy, theory, system, and action areas that would become distinct branches, similar to software versions, within the community of progressive developers. Periodically there could be rounds of voting, both one person one vote and unequal weighted voting based on contribution level, that would rate individual content and sets of related content as to its usefulness and beauty. Commonality across these branches would also likely emerge and present the possibility of agreement on a common unifying set of ideas that are useful across all types of orientation or approach.

As the branches and a unifying structure begin to emerge, strategies for moving from the current state of our systems to a desired new state, as defined in a branch or unifying system of progressive thought, would develop. Following the development of strategy we would see tactics and action but it would now be directed and supported by an overarching objective and philosophy. This end point is similar to the one achieved through the centralizing conservative think tank method, but this process functioning within an open source structure fits the dynamic, decentralized, nature of the progressive movement.

Boundaries, Relationship, Rights, Ownership

A progressive thought network will inevitably seek to address and change social, legal, political, economic, technical, boundary's and ownership concepts. The construction of this thought and action network should, from its inception, acknowledge that the set of ideas we start with may be modified as the learning and growth process proceed. An initial set of ideas will have to be spelled out early in the process so that all participants understand, and can make creative use of, the established boundaries and relationships between people, and their intellectual material. The progressive thought net should probably be defined as a non profit organization so that people can contribute financial resources that support expansion of the activities of the organization. In the long run, if successful, primary works reflecting the consensus of the organization in various areas would be published via traditional commercial print publishing channels.

Material published out of the collaborative process of the think net should be shared in some way relative to author(s) level of contribution to the material. Perhaps some of the statistics derived from the linkage process could be used to establish boundaries for primary, secondary, and tertiary contributors that would be acknowledged in the publication of any material. Some general formula could be developed to share any revenue from collaborative publications with the authors and with the organization so all participants can be appropriately nourished and supported in their work to change the world for the better.

Individual writers who publish their own works and use material from the collaborative process would be subject to the well understood rule of copyright and fair use. Membership, Participation, and Promotion Initial creation of the organization and website can proceed as founding members are invited to participate in initial conceptual, organizational, and software design.

Once the initial members feel the organization and site are ready for a more public launch initial recruitment of participants will begin. Invitation of participants would proceed along three primary paths. One path would be inviting specific individuals to participate. Another path would be announcement of the new organization and site on targeted websites that attract progressive activists and thinkers. The final path would be web broadcast via search engine optimization and an attempt to attract readers and participants via search engine found site traffic. Promotion that extends beyond the three paths of attracting participants and readers can be developed as it seems appropriate, which raises another question of leadership and decision making structure that will need to be addressed in the future.

High Level Look at the Network Idea Development Process 

Network Diagram

The diagram represents a theory of how a collection of systems and event oriented activists could be brought together with the dual purpose of creating the big ideas that could coordinate, empower, and direct, the progressive movement as a whole, and developing and implementing action plans that would move the key systems in our society toward becoming enabling agents of these big progressive ideas.

The left side of the diagram represents parts of the environment that activists are part of. All of us are part of the current state and complex dynamic motion of social and physical systems. In addition to direct participatory involvement with social and physical systems, progressive proponents of change will come to the progressive thought network with many ideas based on their formal and informal learning represented by the knowledge systems object in the diagram. The activist object represents the participants in the progressive thought network and includes an event/action-oriented item point and a systems/design oriented item. The two items in the activist’s object represent the primary disposition of the person participating in the thought network and two primary objectives of the network new system design and transformative action.

The right side of the diagram represents the process of creating big ideas to coordinate, empower, and direct the progressive movement and the new designs for human systems that are connected to those big progressive ideas. On the far-right side of the diagram are two different but complementary processes.

The first is the process of fusion or consensus where agreement on what big ideas and system change proposals are suitable for acting on. The feedback from acting will then flow back into the analysis stage and give rise to further development of big ideas and systems design change proposals.

The second process is the continued development of ideas that were not included in the fusion/consensus that resulted in action. These ideas continue to loop back into the big ideas and systems design proposals. Both the fusion/consensus and the divergent streams of thought will meet again as feedback from action result in further analysis and change and further analysis of divergent ideas in light of feedback from action nourish the learning environment of the open-source progressive thought network.

How the Development, Consensus, Divergence Process Could be Managed

An organizing process within the complex collection of participants all pursuing their particular interests, the bazaar, that structures the process of developing consensus and identifying divergence is necessary for the production of a coherent set of big ideas, new human system designs, that can be moved into the action, feedback stage of development.

One way of doing this would be to establish a period of writing, discussing, and learning, followed by a period of evaluation, that would include identification of interconnections between different sets of ideas, conflicts between sets of ideas, and rating of ideas that would lead to a voting process for identifying candidates for the action planning, action and feedback cycle.

The idea sets not included in the consensus action cycle would continue to be developed by their proponents who could use the information gained from the group evaluation process to further refine their ideas for the next cycle of consensus and action planning.

Repeating cycles of this process would continue over time until several branches of thought and action were well established and under continued refinement and modular development. Twelve, six or three month cycles could be established to drive the process through the structuring element of time. My guess is that a yearly cycle is too long to generate the kind of involvement and movement I would like to see coming from the bazaar and that the optimal time frame would be determined by trial and learning, probably ending up between six and three months long.

How the Action Feedback Process Could be Managed

Action planning would follow the consensus building. As in open source software, there can be many people working on similar stages of the project in different ways, producing different results, and offering their work back to the community that forms the ever changing bazaar of the progressive thought network. Action planning would result in a detailed project plan for a specific series of system change advocacy activities focused on moving the society and its systems toward the desired transformation specified in the big ideas and system change proposals which were selected in the fusion/consensus process.

Due to the fact that human system change is the goal of the action plan the time frame for evaluating the progress generated through action could be a relatively long one. How does an organization maintain momentum in action if achievement of the goal is a long way off? Creating a three part set of action goals, short term, feedback/learning, and long term and creating separate processes for evaluating results and responding to them would help support the momentum of action and learning.

This is an area where the experienced event oriented activists will help develop the conceptual and operational structures best suited to building momentum and achieving results. The monitoring of long term goals and progress would become a high level frame for the site along with the big system change ideas that emerge via from the processes of the progressive thought habitat that participants create.

The Process of Organizational Development in an Open Network This organization must be a learning organization, not a, fixed, centralized, ever simplifying, never changing, place of marketing oriented activity like AEI. Peter Senge, in his book The Fifth Discipline, identifies organizational characteristics that help groups of people learn and adapt over time and claims this ability is a key competency for organizations which succeed in a modern world characterized by complexity and change. In an open source progressive thought network becoming an organization with a strong learning culture and competency is not only an important focus, it is the primary function of the organization.