One of the insights of Jenny's session was that collective action takes time. It is vastly different from a 'problem solving' approach (which can start and stop in very short timeframes), and is instead about building a basis for long-term cooperation, rather than finding a 'solution'. This is a limitation - can you imagine a group like ELSC focusing on one issue for that long? - but it also makes it a much more attractive option for tackling 'wicked problems'. There may be ways around this though - one thought is that the group might act to establish a cooperative situation, and then spin off the backbone role to a separate entity - perhaps funded by the cooperative members.
Another thought is that a 'backbone' organisation would also have a role clearing roadblocks, and this might be an opportunity to leverage the network for 'problem solving' (or 'doing') activity on short scale issues.
FSG.org are a leader in collective impact work and thought, United Way have done some great work, and the Stanford Social Innovation Review have published the leading material on the topic. However, I'm not aware of any community networks for whom this philosophy is fundamental - this may be a pioneering approach!
2. Problem solving
The approach proposed by the ELSC volunteers/leadership team was a problem solving one. Members come together to understand a problem, develop solutions, and then find ways to implement them. Or, in general terms, members come together to collaborate on something particular and time-limited. These processes are well understood, and there are many options for action - there are different ways of involving members, and many specific methodologies can be applied, from design to business analysis. And what's best, many of these methods offer tried and true ways to collaborate.
What I don't think is as certain is what the impact of this activity is. It is clear how to move up the 'value chain', from talking, to problem solving. But how to move from solution to impact is less clear. Some models deal with this challenge better than others...
And as mentioned above, this approach might not be as effective on genuinely wicked problems.
A philosophy of 'enabling' didn't really come up at the ELSC day, but it underpins a number of the collaborative organisations I have been involved with. The idea is that you bring people and ideas together, with similar values or vision, doing different - but hopefully complementary - things. These people then have access to a support network to help them with their own endeavors, and exposure to different ideas, perspectives and ways of working. The cross-polination is mutually beneficial. These benefits aren't necessarily all individual - out of the individual interactions emerge community and network behaviour, with bottom-up initiatives of all sorts, through the formation of groups, or the spreading of innovation.
Typically, models based on this philosophy don't aim to 'do' things themselves - but rather aim to create a vibrant space or community. The benefits of this can be understood as the leveraging of energies, and the sum of all of these results.
Heaps of examples can be found in the enterprise space, like startup weekends, incubators, and coworking models. Many meetup groups and communities of practice rely upon this as well, and I'd say TED is in this basket. It's also the dominant philosophy behind the Collaboratory Melbourne (as far as I understand).
Well, to pour your heart and soul into a collective organisation, there must be a sense that it's for something. What is the philosophy that drives bringing people together, rather than leaving them to work apart? After all, most of us are pretty good at keeping ourselves busy doing good things already - whether by ourselves or through other organisations. There needs to be some rationale for making the effort to make the world more complicated.
The above are philosophies that may help articulate the answer to that. I think they might also help to interrogate potential models, and broaden the perspective about possible options.
What do you think? I'd appreciate hearing what people think about where I've missed the mark - poke holes in it if you can, please! Advice would really be appreciated on how these might be applied to ELSC and Collab Melbourne; or how they relate to different groups that are already out there.