Developing community in a centralized culture


A few months ago, I posted on the idea of creating a maker culture in government, and have been making interesting progress (I use the term loosely) in the meantime. Looking back, I see my thoughts on it weren’t particularly well focused, only because the challenges weren’t really well explored.

To date, not much has changed. The major challenge remains, namely, developing a sense of community in a public organization that’s built on control. The details would make this a painfully long and confusing post, so I’ll not get into them. I will say, however, that I’m working on developing an internal structure designed to manage this dichotomy directly - to find a way to build a structure of community without unnecessarily threatening those who currently have control.

I’ve branded the approach as “minding the gap” (even borrowing the well-known icon prevalent in subways throughout the UK). In this case, I mean it as identifying problems in the way we manage and adopt technology and proposing better ways to do it without requiring significant reorganization.

With this as a platform and buy-in from higher-level staff (which I have), I need to garner buy-in at the lower levels - the people who actually do the work / exercise the control and would likely view this effort as a direct threat. The concept of community, especially as expressed in open source software development, is almost entirely alien here, but I feel it’s the right idea.

I realize this is a large and rather vaguely-defined question, but it must be one others have faced, though I don’t know of any good examples.

To articulate the question as clearly as I can,

How does one develop a structure of community and contribution toward managing a large organization’s technology problems when centralized control is (and always has been) the dominant strategy?

And yes, I have Jono Bacon’s book. And I’ve gone through at least some of it. :slight_smile:

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So @Joel_Graff , Joel - you seem to have not taken any of my ideas or read any of the books I suggested, although I respect you.

Basically - you are acting simply ‘as a guide’ through this minefield of a community, and 1stly, you have to understand that.

That is why you need to keep it simple - and don’t go off at a tangent with ‘Minding the gap’.

your project doesn’t seem to encompass mindfulness , (a link to that shall be forwarded to you (privately), later), so why would you call your project Minding The Gap ?

it seems to be a gaff, in that regard.

you say not much has changed ? Well do you have a dollar a day to keep the project afloat ? budget-proposal, please !

you mention a platform, but say nothing technically about it.

A structure of community = websites with sub-domains, outside a government org

contribution = bountysource

managing = github

technology problems. = discourse sub-domain.

centralized control is dominant = not with a separate website like :
(ask the community about open SSL certificates aswell)

hope that helps.

dude you can PM me anytime.

It sounds like you’re on the right track, by couching things as a brand or platform, rather than something attempting to completely upend the ingrained culture. I guess public service doesn’t lend itself as well to culture change :slight_smile: Have you had a hard look to see how this kind of thing is handled in similar scenarios, e.g. 18F?

I’m thinking you misunderstand what I’m trying to accomplish. I did take a look at your book recommendations. Wikinomics is an interesting read, but a bit too meta for what I’m dealing with, here, and the other reference was just a bit too far afield for my immediate needs.

I also get the impression that I may have misrepresented this as a technology issue. It’s really a people / organizational issue. Technology is really just the catalyst for dealing with long-standing organizational / structural issues.

I’m in a position to help create a new way to deal with technology that stands in the gap between our technology staff who hold the keys (have centralized control) of our computing resources and our engineering staff who use them daily. The gap itself is exposed in two ways. First, it shows up when our engineering staff suffer the consequences of having to wait on others who don’t share their priorities for permission to use their computers to do their work (we don’t have control over our own networks / web filters, user groups, etc). Second, it shows up when we ask our technology staff to help us use our technology better and they can’t because, frankly, they aren’t engineers…

So, a work unit that’s devoted to better articulating our computing needs to our technology partners and more fully integrating our technologies into our daily workflows is really the need that I’m trying to meet. But that’s hard to do when key people who are directly involved see this as a threat and refuse to give up control. Hence my intuition that I need to find a way to instill a sense of community in a culture dominated by centralized control.

It’s hard to articulate without getting really bogged down in details, and I apologize if you misunderstood where I was coming from. I wish I could state it more simply than that.

Maybe I need more coffee. :slight_smile:

Thanks for the reference. I have no other scenarios to consider, which is why I brought the topic up again.

Anyway, the GSA link looks really interesting. Their mission statement is substantially different from my own, but I see some primary and secondary concerns of mine reflected in the language. To the point, I’m going to spend some time going through that - maybe even shoot them some emails.

I’ve got tons of ideas - not the least of which involve open-sourcing our own code and integrating Linux and other F/OSS technologies at various levels, but it’s all about selling it right - as you said.

To the point, I really would rather build this on a platform based on the concept of community. “Minding the gap” isn’t a bad start - people understand that intrinsically. But it’s too easy to have high expectations that a solution will be successful, then harshly criticize it when it fails, without also having a sense of personal responsibility in it.

Right now, I’m basically saying, “Let’s just give control to this new group, and they’ll mind the gap for us,” when what I really want to say is, “Let’s use this group to help us all learn how to mind the gap better.”

The need for control is really secondary to the need for community, here. Unfortunately, while we’re experts on control, we suck at community.

Anyway, I appreciate the feedback - it’s more than I’d hoped for, tbh :slight_smile: At very least it helps to have a forum to articulate my thoughts.

Please respect our code of conduct which is simple: don't be a dick.