Welcome to the combined fall/winter issue of the Nonprofit Quarterly. With this we close out one year and open the next.
As for 2011 .?.?. wow! It has been a barn burner, what with the disagreements between the top one percent and that bottom ninety-nine. At NPQ, where our intention is to promote active democracy, we have been excited by what is obviously a major resurgence of citizen action. The fact that it has taken place in an explicitly connected yet loose global network is more than fascinating. There is a breaking away from tradition here that reflects an era change in no uncertain terms.
So what portends for 2012? Within the sector we have heard many calls for new ways of doing business, for innovation—but (and please take the following musings as my own) none of them respond accurately to the core shift we think we observe in OWS, which can be likened to one of the architectural principles behind the Internet—that is: We reject: kings, presidents and voting. We believe in: rough consensus and running code.
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This quotation, attributed to one of the Internet’s primary architects, David Clark, was referred to in a recent New York Times article by Joichi Ito, “In an Open-Source Society, Innovating by the Seat of Our Pants.” We think it is an interesting counter to the notion that social innovation is best promoted through the heavy capitalization of a few “high performers” rather than through the enabling of networks.
The article is well worth reading for the simple but profound lessons it imparts. Even the first paragraph is worth its weight in gold: “The Internet isn’t really a technology. It’s a belief system, a philosophy about the effectiveness of decentralized, bottom-up innovation. And it’s a philosophy that has begun to change how we think about creativity itself.”
Later in the article, Ito talks about the Internet’s early standards, saying they were “uncomplicated, consensual—were stewarded by small organizations that resisted permission or authority. And they won: The Internet Protocol on which every connected device relies was a triumph of distributed innovation over centralized expertise.” Ito believes this has resulted in driving the locus of innovation to the edges, where it is less controllable.
This issue of NPQ is most notable, then, for its timing—coming at a point where we must basically choose a belief system about how promising and sustainable change occurs. Is such change designed and implemented by the few for the many, or is it more a collectively held project with a set of unifying principles and intentions but many and diverse implementers? It is an interesting question, and one we will be wrestling with in the coming year.