Why do hybrid orgs matter?

May 12, 2009 § 10 Comments

I’ve been poking at the question ‘why do hybrid orgs matter?’ for a couple of days now. Emailing friends and colleagues. Grilling people over dinner. Drawing little doodles. As I did this, I kept stumbling around ideas like ‘huge impact’ and ‘creating public goods’ and ‘massive participation’. Important ideas, but not quite what I was hoping for. It turns out that coming up with a crisp, helpful ‘why hybrids matter’  statement is tough.

Why do hybrids matter?

It’s tough because the ideas we’re playing with here are (in part) very new, and the term ‘hybrid organization’ is still quite fuzzy (there are many different takes on hybrids beyond what I am talking about). However, the more I dig, the more I am convinced that organizations like Mozilla, Wikipedia, Kiva, Miro and so on that mashup mission, market and the culture of the web represent a new pattern worth understanding. Even if we don’t yet have the right words to describe this pattern yet, we need to dive in, think and play.

Elements of what matters

So, that’s what I did. I rolled up all the notes and email comments I gathered in the last few days into a short ‘why do hybrid orgs matter?’ blurb that goes like this:

Mission + market + web hybrids matter because they can wield the power needed to move markets at a global scale, while still looking out for the small guy, taking the long view and staying true to their public benefit mission. They show us how organizations could — and maybe should — work in the future.

It’s pretty awkward and wordy, and in a number of ways not quite right. That’s okay. Even more than earlier, my hope here is to spark conversation. Why do mission + market + web hybrids matter to you? What would you add to this statement?

As a way to feed the conversation, I figured it would be useful to share some quotes from the email conversations I’ve been having and notes on my own thinking. They break down into six things that matter about hybrid orgs:

1. Power to move markets …

This one comes from something johnolilly said in email: “Sometimes we need organizations with financial and market strength but mission-orientations to keep capital-only-organizations doing the right things for the commons. Historically, those with money, and money-missions, have had all the power. Hybrids are important because they have the potential to let mission-oriented orgs wield similar power, but for human-oriented needs.” No question this is at the core of what matters.

2. … at a global scale …

tonyasurman agreed but pushed one step further: “What’s unique about hybrids is the ability to take move market but also the ability to do this at a global scale without losing the integrity of the small. This is really important. Non-profits and social enterprises have never had the potential for this kind of impact. Hybrids can take public benefit products and services to a scale never before imagined.” The global scale that comes w/ the web also seems critical, and not just on the market transformation side. It’s an essential part of creating high quality products and services using peer production.

3. … while still looking out for the small guy …

Global scale, high quality product and public benefit mission mean that hybrids tend to be good at getting great stuff into the hands of incredibly tiny, otherwise-ignored markets. nreville said: “These hybrids are able to bring the full benefits of market influence to underserved constituencies that would otherwise be completely ignored a big company or poorly served by traditional charity. If someone made a special browser for just for people who speak Telugu it would probably suck. But Mozilla is willing to put energy into translating Firefox into Telegu, even when it’s not profitable to do so. The result is that a small constituency gets a world-class product.”

4. … taking the long view …

Similarly, hybrids can think beyond short term gain and consumer support. beltzner wrote: “Hybrid organizations have a distinct advantage over traditional organizations in acting for long-term benefits. Many traditional organizations, concerned with quarterly performance and growth, are consumed with what they can do to increase their immediate position at all costs. Hybrid organizations, concerned with public benefit and ecosystem growth, can trade off immediate short-term advantage with long term development more easily. For example, while a traditional organization may find it difficult to stop activities which have a short term benefit but a long term detriment, a hybrid organization approaches that decision differently. Practically speaking, this also means that hybrid organizations are as concerned with *how* they do things or develop systems as they are concerned with the things themselves.”

5. …. and staying true to their public benefit mission.

Responding to my first post, stephendeberry asked: “how do you ensure the public benefit remains core to the hybrid model?” This is actually a huge challenge for both traditional non-profits (grantmaker demands trigger mission drift) and social enterprises (can become more about the market than the mission). And it’s somewhere I think hybrids built on the idea of mass participation and peer production have a special advantage. They not only have boards and leaders committed to the mission, but they also have huge communities actively involved in interpreting the mission every day by helping to make something. The aggregate decisions of people who contribute to Firefox, or Wikipedia, or Kiva help shape what these things are in very real ways, which is in turn likely to make sure things stay more or less on mission. This isn’t to say peer production is democracy. Usually, meritocracy is the rule. Still, having a massive number of stakeholders involved in building things helps hybrid orgs stay public benefit focused.

6. Hybrids can show us how organizations could — and maybe should — work.

The organizational tools available to us as a society are quite broken, or at least don’t fit all the things we need and want to do. The current economic crisis shows this. The overly bureaucratized world of grant dependent non-profits shows us this. And, on a more positive side, the growth of massive informal social movements shows this. We don’t have good organizational models (or legal incorporation structures) to figure out how to channel the energy of huge numbers of people who want to play across mission and market make things better in a coherent, collaborative, high-impact and sustainable way. The hybrids I am talking about are taking a shot at fixing this, inventing and evolving new ways to organize as they go. This is pretty meta, I know. But it’s also pretty important.

7. ….?

I think there is some good stuff in here. But it definitely isn’t completely right yet. So, the question now is: what’s the seventh item on this list? The eighth? And the ninth? I really want people to add to this list, to poke at it further and to call out the bits that feel like just plain bull. The more I struggle with these ideas, the more I think conversation is useful.

Why do they matter to you?

Why? Because figuring out why these organizations matter, what makes them tick and what challenges they face (my next post) is a part of making them work better. Working in uncharted waters is hard. Sharing what we’re learning along the way helps. It helps those of us trying to nurture organizations and communities that mix mission, market and the web. And it provides fuel and encouragement to people who want to set up such organizations anew.

Hybrid orgs. What’s old? What’s new?

May 7, 2009 § 7 Comments

It’s been fun reading reactions to my first post on hybrid organizations. The conversation so far has underlined one very critical point: we are talking about something that is at once very old and very new. While I hinted at this last time, it feels like its worth digging deeper on which bits are old and which bits are new.

The idea of people organizing for the public benefit is almost as old as the hills. England started calling these organizations charities and created a law to support them around 1600. Before that, maybe people just called it ‘community’, or took for granted that we should get together to help each other out? Whatever we call it, this impulse to make things better — and to organize around it — runs deep. It is not new.

What is new is the toolbox that hybrid organizations draw from. Cheap global networks. A willingness to use markets as a channel to drive change. Collaborative peer production. Combined with the 500 year tradition of public benefit organizations, these new tools make it possible to organize huge numbers of people to create massively scaled, tangible public goods that out-compete what’s broken and make things better on a global scale. For me, it’s this mix that makes hybrids interesting.

If we push on ‘what’s old?’ for a moment, it’s clear that the hybrid orgs I am talking about build upon well established public benefit roles and traditions:

1. Championing important ideas. One of the first things we think of when we hear ‘public benefit organization’ is championing a big, important idea. History is filled with examples of organizations gathering millions to do everything from claiming their civil rights to protecting our planet to toppling colonial governments. The public benefit organizations behind such movements have not just been important, they have in many cases been transformative. When successful, they have changed the thinking of not only governments and businesses but whole societies for the better.

2. Protecting the commons. The idea of building and protecting things we hold in common like ‘bridges, seabanks and highways‘ has been recognized as a public benefit right from the outset of charity law. And of course, organizing people — and money — to protect the commons remains a major role for public benefit organizations today. Just think of libraries. Or the neighbourhood watch. Or organizations that protect forests and wildlands. These common assets are not just ‘nice to haves’. They are essential ingredients in a rich, healthy society. They make it easier to learn, keep us safe and clean the air. And, in the end, they even make it easier to do business. Organizations that protect common public goods play an essential role in our world.

3. Making markets wiser and more humane. Companies and markets don’t always do the right thing. In the last 50+ years, we’ve seen an increasing number of organizations that have tried to ‘move the market’ in ways that make it wiser and more humane. Organizations like the Forestry Stewardship Council, which has become the gold seal for planet friendly wood products, have shown that creating incentive for market players to improve their behaviour can make the world better for everyone. Many other organizations try to move markets in similar ways, using everything from humour to boycotts. The goal is not to be the market, but to make it easier for markets to feed, strengthen and respect the rest of what makes the world tick.

All three of these public benefit roles and traditions are important. But pursing these roles using the traditional organizing models of the not-for-profit sector has significant limitations and challenges. Turning big ideas and mass movements into concrete change is hard, and a bit of a crap shoot. Scaling the commons and out-competing enclosure requires — or at least has required — huge resources. Finding enough strength and influence to truly move markets has proven tough for players who are not in the market themselves. For these reasons, public benefit organizations often struggle to have the impact they want to have, or accept that their impact will be small and local.

What’s happening with hybrid orgs is a mashup of old traditions with new tools and ideas in ways that make it more likely that public benefit organizations will have the massive impact they want and need to have. Some of the new tools include:

a. Cheap networks, global scale. Clay Shirky has made it trite to say that the cost of organizing has gone through the floor. The thing is: he’s right, and it’s important. Cheap networks have made it possible for a very small group of people to organize effectively on a global scale. This is especially important for public benefit organizations which have typically had limited impact just because they couldn’t afford to reach out far and wide. The networked world makes it possible — in some cases even easy — to champion big ideas, build the commons and move markets on a global scale. This is genuinely new.

b. Mixing mission and market tactics. The idea of mixing tactics from the mission (volunteerism, calls to action, donations) and market (products, competition, earned revenue) worlds is also fairly new. Social enterprises that develop products and services as a way to pursue their mission have really only been around since the 1980s. Organizations like Mozilla and Kiva that try to keep markets doing the right things for the commons on a massive scale are even newer. Despite this newness, the idea that mixing mission and market is a legit public benefit strategy is seeping into the public (and more slowly government) consciousness.

c. Collaborative peer production. In the past, it the public goods created by non-profits and charities were by there very nature small and local. Collaborative peer production — the idea that many people on the internet can pitch in a small amount of effort to make something big — has changed that dramatically. A top quality, standards-based web browser. A massive, high quality encyclopedia. A huge alternative financing pool for poor entrepreneurs. No — or certainly few — public benefit orgs could have created such things 25 years ago. Peer production and open source changed this. The result: there are now organizations that can create public goods of a quality and scale that can directly move markets in ways that benefit the commons. These organizations don’t just describe big new ideas. Using the power of mass contribution, they make them real.

It’s the mashup of all these old and new elements that is the hallmark of the hybrid organizations I am talking about. Mozilla protecting the Internet commons by engaging millions of people to move the market. Wikipedia organizing people to create tremendous public asset that gathers the sum of all human knowledge. Kiva building a collaborative bank to move the finance market for the poor. These organizations are mixing the old and the new. They are in the public benefit remix business, figuring out how to get beyond the limitations of the past. From where I sit, that’s exciting, and important.

In my next post, I want to dig deeper into the question of ‘why do hybrid orgs matter’? The fact that we are seeing innovative public benefit organizations mash up the old and the new is cool. But what specifically does it get us? After that, I want to loop back to the challenges faced by public benefit orgs and look at the Mozilla case in a bit more detail. In the meantime, please comment, post and trackback to keep this hybrid org conversation rolling.

What is a hybrid organization?

April 23, 2009 § 30 Comments

When I first met Mitchell last year, she talked alot about Mozilla as a hybrid organization. I didn’t know exactly what she meant. But it felt right. Personally, I’ve been mashing up mission-based orgs, products, services, philanthropy and the web for well over a decade. It’s what I love most, and something the world needs alot more of. It is also one of the most powerful forces that drew me to Mozilla.

Hybrid Org

Over the last six months, I’ve found ‘hybrid org’ rolling off my tongue more and more. It’s as good a moniker as any for the organizational mashup that is Mozilla (and Miro, and Kiva, and so on). But every time the hybrid term drops, it begs (or I get asked) the question: hybrid of what? I figured the time has come to push on this question a little with a series of posts about hybrid orgs and why they matter. This is the first one.

So, what is a hybrid org? In the case of Mozilla — and an increasing number of other orgs — it’s a mix of social mission, disruptive market strategies and web-like scale and collaboration. Or, at least, that’s the definition I see emerging.

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If we take ‘social mission’ as the first element, then a hybrid organization looks alot like a traditional charity or not-for-profit. Public benefit is the core reason that these organizations exist. For Mozilla, the mission is to promote and protect the open nature of the internet. This means ensuring that the internet remains a public commons where anyone can innovate, experiment or express themselves without asking for somebody else’s permission. On our increasingly digital planet, we clearly need public benefit organizations that care about such things.

... now let's add the market ...

When we move on to ‘disruptive market strategies’ hybrid orgs start to look a little different. These organizations use products, services and consumer choice to promote the ideas and move the issues that they believe in. Think about this in the context of Mozilla’s mission: the internet is shaped far more by the choices of people who build and use it than by regulation or high minded ideals. By creating products that a) many millions of internet users love and b) have open standards, security and innovation from the edge baked into their core, Mozilla leverages consumer choice to make the internet more open. With Firefox, this approach not only shifted the browser landscape from near monopoly into a more diverse ecosystem but also helped build the foundations for an era of standards-based web applications. Mozilla jumped into the market with a great product not to make money, but as a way to grow and protect the internet as public commons.

Of course, there are thousands of organizations that use the market and consumer choice to pursue their mission. Social enterprises like Jamie Oliver’s 15. Market-standards organizations like the Forest Stewardship Council. And, in some ways, even traditional charities like Goodwill. All advance their cause (and sometimes to sustain themselves) through the market in one way or another.

... and the scale of the web.

The thing that makes these hybrid orgs unique is mixing mission and market with the scale and collaborative nature of the web. The culture and technology of the web make it possible to grow a global community of passionate people who can pitch in to build stuff. The things they can — and want to — build are often quite complex: software that makes the web more open; an encyclopedia that offers free access to knowledge; a system of cheaper and better credit for the poor. With the web and collaboration, they can not only build these things, but they also have the potential for impact at a scale that only governments or huge corporations could have imagined in the past. From the programmers who contribute code to the localizers who make Firefox available in 70+ languages to the thousands of people who funded the first Firefox ad in the New York Times, Mozilla is filled with examples of web scale and collaboration.

Does this mix of mission, market and the collaborative nature of the web really represent a new kind of organization? Some days, I wonder about this. But there is no question that there are an increasing number of organizations that combine these elements. Mozilla. Kiva. Participatory Culture Foundation. Donors Choose. Wikipedia. All of these organizations are trying to ‘move the market’ on the web in a way that both engages and benefits a broad public. As they do so, they are charting new territory.

Hybrid Org Overview

Over the next couple of weeks, I want to ask a few questions about this new territory. Why do these hybrid organizations matter? What challenges do they face? And what role does optimism and the desire to create play in hybrid orgs? I’d love to get people’s comments, blogs or tweets about these questions, and will definitely be posting more myself. Hopefully, there is an interesting conversation in all of this.

A quick comment on open, yin and yang

February 13, 2009 § 2 Comments

Just now, I was commenting on my friend Steve’s post on The Yin and Yang of Open. As sometimes happens, the comment grew into a bit of a tome. Or, at least something long enough that I figured I should make it a post instead. So here it is.

Great post, Steve. While I am always waving the flag of open, I am also a big yinyanger. Balance is important.

But, for the most part, I think were already surrounded by enough ‘closed’. Getting to balance is a long way away. So, closed mostly doesn’t need our help.

There are exceptions. Privacy is a big one. We’re losing it quickly. And it’s a pretty critical part of the balance. You need the privacy kind of closed in order to protect most of what we value in freedom and openness.

On the elements of open, I think you mostly have them. The three that I stick to these days are:

1. Transparency: Can you *see* inside something, and understand how it works.

2. Permeability. Can energy / labour / ideas / whatever get in *and* out of the open thing you are talking about.

3. Malleability: Can you shape / remix / make something new. This is similar to Zittrain’s generativity. Or, in layman’s terms, it’s hackability.

I did a similar exercise to yours here:

http://commonspace.wordpress.com/2008/02/02/open-vs-open-vs-etc/

… and then iterated and tested by talking to alot of people in alot of ‘what’s open?’ conversations.

A fourth item that may be on the list: permission. As in, you don’t have to ask for it to do something. I am not sure it’s quite the right word. But my colleague Jay suggested it as we were talking about what an open mobile ecosystem would look like. It would be one where you don’t have to ask permission to add new apps, invent new services, and so on. Like the internet.

One small area I disagree: you say ‘openness is not in and of itself a virtue’. Something can be virtuous but, like all things, require moderation and balance. Personally, I see both ‘openness’ and ‘privacy’ as virtues, and don’t see much of a contradiction.

That’s all for this sunny Friday. ‘Hi’ to family and all in Durbanville.

And, to anyone else reading this, happy Friday to you too.

Interview: Gregorio Robles from URJC in Madrid

February 11, 2009 § 1 Comment

Over the past few months, Pascal Chevrel has been introducing Gregorio Robles to the world of Mozilla. Gregorio is part of Libresoft.es — a unit of the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid that offers a masters degree in free and open source software development. After some discussions and small add ons workshop, Gregorio and Pascal have agreed to develop a Mozilla development course that will run this coming summer.

As a part of my interview series on Mozilla Education, I asked Gregorio to share his thoughts while he was at FOSDEM:

For the non-video-inclined, here is a quick summary of Gregorio’s comments:

  • Mozilla is important for education. This is the first time in history where students can learn by working on real live code in an open project. But education is also important for Mozilla. Projects like Mozilla need people who know our technologies, and universities can help solve this problem.
  • We already have a masters program on free and open source software, but it is mostly on general topics and technologies. We want to add courses on specific technologies so students can get involved with the community around that technology. Mozilla is a good place to start.
  • Our specific plans for Mozilla are to have a face to face week in the summer followed by a longer online component. Students will take on projects where they get to really touch the code and know the Mozilla community.
  • In terms of Mozilla’s broader educational effort, the priority should be to get materials done and then to re-use them. I am sure there will be lots of people wanting to use these materials. This will make life easier and make it easier to become a Mozilla contributor.

Gregorio will be working with Pascal, Frank as well as Dave at Seneca to prepare his course over the coming months.

Brussels EduCamp debrief

February 11, 2009 § Leave a comment

Last week in Europe was a wonderful whirlwind. One of the highlights was EduCamp — a small, pre-FOSDEM unconference about the link between open source and higher education. It was a bunch of people I knew (eg. Greg DeKoenigsberg from Red Hat, Leslie Hawthorne from Summer of Code), and a bunch I hadn’t met yet (eg. Ross Gardler from Oxford and Gregorio Robles from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos). Plus a bunch of Mozilla people working on education. All great, and all passionate about the learning potential inherent in the open source development process.

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Much of the day was spent sharing info about the projects that people are working on or developing. Some things that struck me as interesting:

  1. Folks at Oxford are planning to develop simple training for open source contributors to help them become more effective student mentors. The ideas is to help people know what they’re getting into, and what to expect in return, when they take on a student.
  2. In addition to planning a Mozilla course as part of it’s current programs, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos is also working with a number of universities to develop a Europe-wide masters program in free and open source software development. This would mean standard accreditation and significant numbers of students across the continent.
  3. There is a group at the UN University in Maastricht doing research on how learning happens in open source projects, and how best to link university students into the process.

I knew about the people behind all of these efforts and vaguely understood what they were up to. But getting together face-to-face always brings things to life more. I was impressed by the things people are working on.

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The last bit of the day was brainstorming simple actions that might keep the energy around teaching open source going. Top ideas from the flip chart included:

  • Plant a flag in the ground, and come up with a name for what we’re all working on (‘teaching open source’ and ‘open source education’ don’t really to work).
  • Figure out how to tell the story of why open source projects are such great learning environments, and about efforts to make the link to formal education. (Chris Blizzard claims ‘tell the story’ is his answer to everything)
  • Develop a simple way to map what people are doing in the open source education space. Maybe this is an online survey?
  • Write compelling (and critical) case studies of people teaching open source in colleges and universities. Maybe this is an O’Reilly book?
  • Create a blog planet of everyone who attended, and others working on open source and education.
  • Develop a monster.com-style site for open source interns.

Truly a brainstorm. But some good ideas here. And some similarities to ideas that came out of the Teaching Open Source track that happened at FSOSS back in October. There is another meeting of people working on open source education happening in Chattanooga next month. It feels like there is momentum building around this whole idea. Hopefully that means some of the ideas above can turned into something real.

The future of open: what’s on your map?

February 10, 2009 § 15 Comments

On Saturday, I gave a keynote at FOSDEM called Free. Open. Future? My goal was to encourage people think of free and open as concepts that extend beyond software, and to spark a conversation about the ideas / design frameworks / mental maps we’ll need to make sure complex spaces like mobile and messaging are open in the future.  The slides are here:

If you don’t feel like flipping through the slides, the basic line of reasoning goes something like this:

  1. Free software and open source have been successful in part because there is a clear mental map and values. RMSfour freedoms — use, study, modify, copy — and similar ideas make up this map.
  2. The mental map that guided free software has also contributed to the creation of an open web. Transparency (study) and remixability (modify) are particularly critical to the web feeling and being open, and have started to bleed into more than just the code that makes up web pages but also into how regular users experience the web when they remix content and reconfigure their online tools.
  3. The challenges we’re about to face in coming years are complex, and it’s clear we will need more than just use / study / modify / copy to chart our future course. If you just look at mobile, we need to figure out what ‘open’ means not only at the hardware and software level, but also in cloud services, carrier pricing, end user rights over their devices. There is a great deal to sort through if we want to get anywhere close to the success we’ve had with free software and the open web.

All of this ends up with a question: what new ideas can we add to our mental maps to make sure we can take free and open even further? Similar to the mobile scenario above, the current state of online shows why this question matters. David Ascher pointed out in his FOSEDM talk that things like Facebook and Twitter now make up a huge percentage our online conversations. Yet they are mostly closed and walled off, much more so than standardized email. If we want messaging to be a part of the open internet we’re building for the future, we need some sort of shared (but probably quite rough) mental map that includes criteria to answer ‘is this approach toonline  messaging open?’ Without this, it’s hard to build innovative products will win win in the marketplace, which is critical to ensuring that ‘open’ wins. The same is true for spaces like mobile and cloud computing.

I gave a couple of quickly hacked together ideas on what I think our future maps need to include, and listed them near the end of my slides:

  • Strong values, freedom beyond just code
  • Great free software, that people love to use
  • Users as hackers, anyone can bend anything

These aren’t necessarily the most important ideas, except for maybe the last one about ‘users as hackers’ — that’s critical to the future of open innovation. And there are definitely places like the Mozilla Manifesto that have key elements for the mental map we need. However, my main goal here was really just to spark a conversation.

And, I must say, I failed dismally at that goal. One question from the floor, and it was off topic. Some good comments from Mozilla people afterwars. But the conversation I wanted.

On the plane to Munich, I asked a fellow FOSDEMer about this — someone who works in big car company and also attends Chaos Computer Club every year.  I figured he’d have a good perspective. His response: “You made some inroads. Ideas like these take time to settle in, and make cracks. But you also need a broader audience. Ask more people.”

Funnily enough, simply throwing my slides online yesterday sparked a few replies. One about the importance of open innovation. And another about the value that comes from ‘acting’ online, simply being a contributor to the openness of the web by posting content. Interesting.

So, taking my flightmate’s advice, this post is another chance for people to answer: what’s on your map? What are the critical ideas that will help us succeed with free and open in the future? If you think these are interesting questions, comment away.

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