The Politology post suggested that political activists adopt the tools typically used by open source projects to manage large projects with decentralized contributions.
The article suggests:
A public issue-tracking system: These have existed for software developers for a while – bugzilla; mantis – but they’re so obtuse that only geeks get into them. Plus, they tend to only be for actual bugfixing of existing issues. There needs to be a new system where a community can
- Identify an objective
- Start working to publicly create tasks supporting that objective
- Assign those tasks to willing community members
- Track progress and make reports It’s similar to bugtracking, but instead for public use and activism.
This suggestion raises questions about the organizational processes for using these tools effectively. Open source projects use various different organizational structures for managing releases and maintaining quality.
A bugtracking tool alone doesn’t drive an open source project, and an action tool alone won’t drive a campaign. The tools enable large-scale, effective collaboration, but they don’t cause the collaboration — leadership and organizational processes do.
Similarly, the politology article calls for:
A better “volunteer tracking” system. A marketplace for matching up projects with specialized needs, with people that have specialized skills. Someone who needs a thirty-second music soundtrack for their political ad, or a large tab-delimited text file of precinct data put into a mysql database, should be able to define those needs somewhere for someone else to snap up. I can do either of those things, but no one would know it without that service.
There have been a number of these volunteer markets already — does anyone know how effective they are? Do any of them have critical mass in a domain area? Any metrics about successful matches made?
Since people engage in political action as part of broader motivations for affiliation and purpose, one might think that a “volunteer market” might be most effective in the context of a broader social network — either centralized by an organization like MoveOn, or decentralized like a network of blogs. Or perhaps, as part of overall flea market like Craig’s List, where you can find volunteer opportunities along with apartments, jobs and lovers.
Yochai Benkler’s classic “Coase’s Penguin” theorizes that “peer production” will arise where there is a vast supply of decentralized skills, low transaction costs, and low communication costs. It stands to reason that these dynamics will come into play with political action as well.
The “issue tracking” and “volunteer tracking” tools described in the article are part of the toolset used to co-ordinate large peer-production projects.
And yet. The “invisible hand” of Adam Smith’s capitalist free market allocates resources effectively in complex societies. Despite the “invisible hand” there are many business schools that teach people how to set up and succeed at a capitalist enterprise.
Similarly, the “peer organizing” enabled by cheap coordination requires its own set of learnable organizing practices. Web-based organizing tools have promise, but they require human organizing to make them effective, just like any other domain.