Self-organizing is perhaps the most important and least understood aspect of System Shifting Networks.
There are many scientific definitions of self-organizing but they are hard to wade through. After 20 years of helping networks self-organize, I’ve created a definition that is very concrete and practical for getting started with self-organizing.
Self-organizing happens when any individual or group…
- sees an opportunity to make a change or try something out (idea or opportunity isn’t dictated by anyone else)
- feels like they can initiate action (self-generated idea and action)
- finds diverse others from a large network to join with them or collaborate (those who work on the project aren’t dictated by anyone else, people self-select to participate)
- experiments with small actions
- accesses the (usually small) resources they need to act
- spends a lot of time paying attention to what is happening, debriefing, learning from the experience, and analyzing what they did — all to enable them to take a better next step
- shares what is learned with the larger network
A self-organized project has an end — when it ends, all the participants can decide if they want to work with others on their next project or not.
Self-organizing becomes transformative when there are thousands of such projects in a network, and each individual is involved in a number of projects, so that innovations and new ways of looking at problems spread rapidly throughout the network, enabling each new project to be more effective. The spread of the use of zoom.us videoconferencing platform by networks over the last two years is an example of how innovations can spread from project to project virally.
Self-organizing is based on the assumption that we don’t know how to solve most of the problems we are trying to solve. Self-organized projects probe the problem, helping us learn more about it and how to best shift the system that is generating the problem.
Another transformative aspect of self-organizing occurs when participants in self-organized projects come together in communities of practice to share what they have learned from their project, support each other with challenges, and discuss how they can apply what they have learned to future projects. When this is shared with the larger network everyone can benefit.
Here is an excellent video of Tamara Shapiro of Movement Netlab on a Leadership Learning Community (LLC) webinar on Self-organizing in Occupy Sandy. Highly recommended!
You can download a copy of the Self-organizing Toolkit.
In the coming weeks we will outline the simple steps you can take to jumpstart self-organizing in your network.