Collaboration, Cooperation and Do-ocracy

September 24, 2013 1 Comment

I always describe IISC as a “Collaboration Shop.” The founder of Interaction Associates, David Strauss, authored the seminal book “How to Make Collaboration Work.”  I’m all for people working together to achieve a common goal.  I make a living helping them do that.

But Stowe Boyd has me thinking about the distinction between collaboration and cooperation.  He says that cooperation means not subordinating your own interests to those of some ‘collaborative’ collective, it instead leads to nimble fast-and-loose connectives.

I am wondering if cooperation is a more appropriate term for working together in the network age.  In social movement work, I often draw the distinction between a coalition and a network.

I describe a coalition as a fundamentally industrial formation.  Coalitions are centripetal in nature; they are oriented towards a center.  When we work in coalition we agree to bring our strength together by agreeing to do the same thing at the same time – this way we can pull a bigger lever.

I describe a network as a post-industrial formation.  Networks are more centrifugal in nature.  More accurately, it’s not so much that they move away from a center, it’s that they are resilient because they are decentralized.

If we agree with Boyd’s definition, then the distinction between collaboration and cooperation seems to follow a similar pattern.  In which case it seems that in the age of networks cooperation might indeed be more appropriate than collaboration.

Harry Waisbren of the Jobs Party recently introduced me to the Occupy Network’s concept of “do-ocracy.”  Which, if I understand it correctly, has the potential of liberating the movement from the tyranny of consensus.  He says that “do-ocracy” is centered around respecting the work from those who do it.

“[I]f a team member does the heavy lifting on a project, others are absolutely encouraged to comment and provide feedback, but it must come with the understanding that the preferences of those doing the most work holds the most weight.”

Do-ocracy sounds right to me.  It doesn’t seem to negate collaboration, but it also makes cooperation possible.

1 Comment

  • Curtis Ogden says:


    I really appreciate your reflection. It is very timely for a number of networks with which I’ve been working. I agree that cooperation holds much potential in the network age, and that if we wait for everyone’s permission before we act, we drag down momentum and innovation (this relates to my post for tomorrow – again we are in synch!). I do think consensus has a place in the right places of net work – overall vision or purpose and core values, for example. And there may be times to amass as many players as we can in a network to engage in more concerted collaborative work around a shared goal – to change a policy, for example. I realize this risks turning everything into a campaign or a coalition, which is why it is critical to build a solid base of relationship and trust that keeps things from tipping too transactional. I also think about collaboration relative to new economic models. There are a lot of exciting and successful experiments happening out there and it strikes me they would be more powerful if there was greater co-laboring to bring them into some kind shared system, in the right way at the right time. Wondering how this connects, or does not, with do-ocracy.



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