Part II: Summary of Impact Networks Discussion Group Meeting 6/27/2022
Eugene was very impressed by Impact Networks by David Ehrlichman. He invited the author to speak to SCRF and suggested the creation of a reading group to discuss it. From the preface of the book, Impact Networks is about how to cultivate “networks that enable diverse groups of people to connect, coordinate, and collaborate within and across organizations to do more together than is possible alone”. As an aspirationally decentralized organization focused on decentralized activities and technologies, Eugene felt SCRF should take a strong look at Mr. Ehrlichman’s ideas.
On June 27th, the reading group Eugene initiated convened to discuss the first three chapters of the book as they lay out the main ideas advocated by the author. Below is a summary of the discussion that took place.
Eugene Leventhal (Host), Muhammad Abdurrahman, Chris Bates, Richard Brown, Hazel Dev, Umar Khan, Anna Kryukova, Ralph Lombreglia, Faith Obafemi, Ivan Plazacic, Junxi Song, Valerie Spina, Tolu Togundele, Maria Vinokurov, Paul Zube, et al. (let me know if you were in the group and I missed you)
Names of people who contributed ideas immediately follow contributions in parentheses.
Eugene Leventhal led the discussion several questions; those are marked at the start with his name in parentheses.
- (Eugene) Where do you see networks alive within your life and work?
- Educational networks - such as the spread of new ideas or in-group words across a network of people. (Muhammad Abdurrahman)
- Acquaintance networks - such as people who are loose associations one might know from a coffee shop/coworking space. (Paul Zube)
- Interest or Experience based networks - crypto, co-workers, classmates, political parties, etc. (Valerie Spina)
Picking up on a common theme of the three examples above, Eugene drew attention to how each of them could be almost by accident versus intentional. For example, few of us get to choose our classmates or our coffee shop table neighbors.
- (Eugene) What are some of the other binding factors of a network? For example, chosen versus non-chosen networks?
This question led us into the three biggest discussion points of the session: Virality, Intention, Trust, Stickiness, Structure, and SCRF.
Umar Khan shared an experience in elementary school of children wanting to play a really big game of Freeze Tag during recess, so each kid in the starter group went out and asked two other kids to join in. This demonstrated how easily a network could maximally scale around a common purpose, play. The benefits of scaling and the consequences of empowering members of the network persisted as a background feature throughout the rest of the conversation.
- I’m in lots of communities, but when does a community become a network? (Hazel Dev)
Eugene copied and pasted this answer from his notes, quoting page 8 of the book, into the chat, an excerpt is abbreviated below:
“We think of impact networks as a combination of a vibrant community and healthy organization. At the core they are relational, yet they are also structured… Impact networks build on …community–shared principles, resilience, self-organization, and trust–while leveraging… a common aim, an operational backbone, and a bias for action….”
- (Eugene) When does a network become a community? A Twitter page isn’t a DAO. So what are the differences between semantic labels for groups of humans, when is there a meaningful difference?
A community seems to imply something like a purpose, a goal, a product, etc. It may also imply hierarchy and structure. (Hazel Dev)
Communities have more intention than networks. Specifically, Learning Networks and Impact Networks go beyond merely collecting around a subject area and move toward intentional learning and intentional acting. So there is a scale between intention and lack of intention in groups. Proximity alone is different from purposeful, intentional connection. (Chris Bates)
Trust, Purpose, and Social Norms
Trust which appeared earlier in conversation with its relationship to community and intention, became a rallying point as the conversation continued.
- (Eugene) Focusing on the Stickiness of Trust, the depth of trust really glues a network, enabling it to be more than a network. How does trust change a network?
David Ehrlichman heavily referenced Purpose as a catalyst for moving away from being merely an unintentional network. It seems that having a clear and shared purpose, they can diverge in their considerations of how to achieve a goal, but because they are clear on their purpose other members of the network can maintain trust in their fellow network-members. (Muhammad Abdurrahman)
- (Eugene) Yes, if we have a strong binding factor around collective purpose, we can have trust which may allow for greater divergence because we have the same overall purpose.
Social Norms may also make a network very sticky. One may not necessarily want to attend a meeting, but due to social norms built around a purpose one believes in, s/he is still often likely to comply and attend either out of social conformity or for knowing that s/he is and remains through attending a meaningful part of the network. (Paul Zube)
- (Eugene) Great point: Does anyone have reading suggestions on the relationship between Social Norms and Impact Networks. How do co-creating norms, rituals, lore play into norms and culture? Organizational culture seems like it magically emerges, but how do we intentionally cultivate it without one person driving it forward.
In Chat Recommends: Emergent Organization by Taylor and Van Every (Paul Zube) and Durkheim
- (Eugene): Moving to the idea of Hierarchy vs a Leaderless Flat Environment, How do you create a culture wherein one can take the position of leader for a moment, without letting ego drive attempts to continue to hold onto power?
Stickiness of Social Norms
The conversation about purpose and norms in an organization can be related to durable institutions, such as the institution of marriage (governed by shared customs as much as or more than by laws). Given that, we can ask what kind of social institutions we want to create that align with values /exist in our lives that support this? (Anna Kryukova)
(Eugene) Great point! Regardless of one’s opinion on the topic, clearly the general idea of religion has persisted as an institution in societies across the world. What can we learn from such sticky institutions?
Burning Man is something of an institution; it may be the largest most successful participatory network in the world. It’s been running for decades. People join around a common purpose emphasizing anti-consumer, self-expression, and temporary living. Many networks and events around the world have sprung from it. Many principles or characteristics are assumed of others when they are known to be a member of the burner community. That makes Burning Man and its off-shoots worth considering in the discussion. (Maria Vinokurov)
It’s also interesting how many people in crypto are burners. Turning back to religion, there is a large Orthodox Jewish community in NYC. They dress the same and have a tight knit network that strongly enforces conformity to socio-religious norms. This is very different from the divergence and diversity discussed earlier as being part of a network’s strengths. Inclusivity vs Exclusivity. It’s an interesting contrast for a question about social norms of whether you have hightrust in inclusive and exclusivity communities. (Umar Khan)
(Eugene): There are interesting points in psychology the thoughts that may relate to greater tolerance for diversity. Maximizing for diversity requires a differrent mindset from maximizing for conformity. That said, I don’t want to derail us.
In the chat: Hazel Dev and Anna Krykova added messages about the “fresh syllabus” on the “Indigenous Protocol” and the kernel community (URL): Converse | Kernel
Eugene also shared a link on Governance (URL): https://www.usp.nus.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/UHB2209_Polycentric_Governance_Course_Overview.pdf
The Digital vs Physical Connection Divide
There are different kinds of networks, physical and digital. Consider that a League of Legends (LoL) Tournament is now a bigger draw than the Super Bowl, but you wouldn’t know it without looking it up. LoL has both an in-person and digital component making the border between networks interested in it more fluid than might have been for previous generations. In fact, sometimes the digital relationships seem to be stronger, perhaps because only the positive sides of its members are filtered into the experiences of others in the network. Even though tradition makes it seem that the physical connections should be more valuable. It’s not clear cut. The digital ones may be stronger, and there seems to be a struggle for supremacy emerging between the two.(Chris Bates)
In the chat: Yes, there is something called the Hyperpersonal Effect (URL): Hyperpersonal model - Wikipedia
- (Eugene): The move from a physicist only community at the start of the internet to our much better tools may indeed result in stronger relationships over time. The difference between email and Facetime is massive. As AR/VR/XR come online that could accelerate. It is interesting to see how that changes overtime. How do you use both to your advantage, the geographic and the virtual? How do we balance them to make sure everyone feels included with modes of interaction and connection over time?
Hierarchy vs Flatter Approaches
- (Eugene) New Topic: What do you see as strengths and limitations of hierarchies? Of networks?
The Author did something a lot of authors might not do. He made space for hierarchy and when it’s appropriate. Rather than maligning an organizational structure that didn’t fit his ideal, David Ehrlichman clearly acknowledged the value of a hierarchical organization when there is a clear technical goal to accomplish. (Muhammad Abdurrahman)
Emergence takes time. If you don’t have a lot of time, a hierarchical organizational structure might be a better approach.(Ralph Lombreglia)
- (Eugene) A leader in a traditional hierarchical environment, generally ends up being the person who pushes forward, and the group follows. Transisitoning to decentralized leadership environments doesn’t mean that can’t happen, but the leaders goal should be to push everyone else forward so that one person doesn’t always have to be the sole leader. It’s a kind of consistent sheep herding. The truth is, unless someone takes charge, even the decision on what a group of friends decides to get for dinner easily ends up floating in indecision.
In chat: Talking about hierarchy, is SCRF an hierarchy or a network? (Faith Obafemi)
Good news, Faith. A little of both I think. (Paul Zube)
I feel like SCRF is an hierarchy building networks. (Faith Obafemi)
One of the points made in the book is that the best leaders understand when to diverge and when to converge to create emergence. The good leader understands what is required when. Right now the direction of what is needed is divergence, and now SCRF is playing the role of enabling divergence as well as convergence . Understanding which time requires which direction can facilitate emergence, which is what SCRF’s trying to do. (Chris Bates)
- (Eugene): What leadership should look like and across networks is discussed later (beyond the first few chapters meant to be covered in this online discussion group) in the book. With regard to impact networks and research networks…Is SCRF a hierarchy or a network? “I will not pretend it’s a fully decentralized system”.
But if you look at so many organizations, SCRF is much less centralized. Of course, there is some hierarchy with me and Rich, but the fact that just about everyone here is working in multiple parts of the org, it’s way less hierarchical than many orgs. We’re trying to have minimal hierarchy as much as a net of networks can have. And working toward the goal of full decentralization. ”What is the minimal structure needed to build a community that doesn’t fall flat on its face very quickly?” Removing the ambiguity, and giving a sense of who’s good at the ambiguity vs process.
Piggybacking on the issue of fragility, “how robust are these network approaches?” There’s evidence to suggest decentralization is really robust; however, we have seen small hierarchical groups shatter robust decentralized networks. How robust is the network against strong man approaches, the power of one voice that moves the needle? (Paul Zube)
Network resilience should be strongly influenced by redundancy. The author discussed a situation with an immigrant group of parents at a school. The school only had one person as the point of contact for the entire Hmong community, remove that node / person, and the whole community would be cut off from information and influence. If we consider the value of mesh networks for things like energy, edge devices (IoT), communication networks etc. as well as blockchain, redundancy appears to play a significant role in network resilience. To piggyback on Paul’s piggybacking, SCRF may be able to use its experience with non-human object networks to develop better network performance and resilience. (Muhammad Abdurrahman)
In the chat: Muhammad, in the Hmong example, the need for redundant connections is obvious; one person is clearly insufficient. But more connections alone might not be a great thing. What if the connections were police, or people who wanted to do surveillance on the Hmong? (Ralph Lobreglia)
That is where “trust” is an important element that keeps being discussed (Chris Bates)
The way I took the Hmong example is also the reality of how many networks work, which is that they overly rely on a single person who is massively under-resourced. To scale networks, we have to create a culture and process where those individuals are identified and supported (Eugene)
Good point, Chris. (Ralph Lombreglia)
Having more than one facilitator, source of literature and information to ensure continuity of the network could be helpful in helping communities last longer than if they just have one node.(Chris Bates)
- (Eugene): For anyone who’s interested or listens to it, Lex Friedman’s recent podcast on Marxian theory discusses elements of redundancy in decentralized systems.
In chat: Kernel Syllabus Module 4 is a FANTASTIC resource on governance, rough consensus (as imagined by IETF), and institutions for anyone to dig into later https://www.kernel.community/en/learn/module-4/governance
I don’t want to circle back too far, but strong leadership and action is part of my background. “I’m not in crypto to get rich.” It’s about creating structures, facilitating emergent structure has pros and cons, including the work to get it going. Bootstrapping collective action, human will and organization, aligning them and ensuring reasonably equitable distribution of responsibility is challenging. The other path is to strictly enforce it and bake in the decentralization after words. Ninjas and cult-leaders will make it happen at all costs, and then worry about it after. It’s hard to do it without a structured hierarchy. I mean have you seen a group make it longer than 6 months without some hierarchy and reach a steady state. (Richard Brown)
No, not in crypto, but in game design, it’s funny you mention 6 months, because that is about the limit for those teams. But if they make it past 6 months they tend to find some success. But usually, it does end up falling apart without money as fuel. (Chris Bates)
The key aspects of David Ehrlichman’s book, particularly the first three chapters, were discussed by the group. The conversation’s focus was primarily on issues of trust, purpose, intention, and how to build and maintain a community. Applicability of the Ehrlichman’s model was considered for SCRF and there was discussion of how best to achieve a goal of making SCRF fully decentralized in the future.