A recurrent theme I find as I look out at the world and human affairs is that many problems are not wanting for technical or know-how fixes. Moreover, large scale change or differences over time or place often seem to turn on small differences in application or implementation. This is more than a generalized idea of tipping points. More specifically, I mean that small scale points of interaction or articulation between components of human systems can matter. This is especially true in the case of collective action problems. I like to tell my students about how idiotic it seemed that at my kids’ school, no one ever pulled all the way up into the drop off zone effectively doubling the number of sets of cars that could pull up (since they would go to half way point and stop). A crossing guard was even standing there. A year later, new guard is in place who waves people forward. Voila, problem solved. My day starts with less fuming and cursing.
A recent article in Nature addresses the need to understand human systems, the stuff of social sciences (especially everything besides neo-classical economics since we have to deal with networks and aggregations of people. Sorry about that.). Ameliorating climate change is a massive collective action problem. The article quotes a sociologist:
The answer, like the problem, has to be wide-ranging and global, says Jeffrey Broadbent of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, who also studies how societies affect their environments. “Its only solution lies in a level of global cooperation that humanity has never seen before.”
This wake-up call will hopefully spur more activity around looking at how networks of interaction, influence, and collective identity formation, sucha s between cities, regions, or countries, are the substrate on whcih policy takes place. Understanding this, a crucial task, is the goal of the COMPCON project. Boradbent at UMN is one of the sociologists involved. They are currently collecting cases studeis and network data to look at what happens to fill the gap between know how and implementation for climate policy. Let’s hope the answers come soon enough to keep Champagne production in France and not closer to Wales.
Participating in orgtheory.net thread I whipped up these resources which I thought ought to be useful here also.
I feel like there is a lot that is at least descriptive or celebratory of lowering the coordination costs for civil society or political organizations. You mean more rigorous, empirical research? And do you mean campaign organizations (as oppose to governing or politically engaged?)
A few things I pulled off my shelf-
Mousepads, Shoe Leather, and Hope: Lessons for Dean Campaign for the Future of Internet Politics Techout, Zephyr and Streeter,Thomas. Has stories from campaign and some framing/theory chapters.
Society Online Edited by Howard, Philip and Jones, Steve. Has a chapter on voting and Internet in politics 1996-2000 (wow! Pre-history!).
Globalization from Below: Transnational Activists and Protest Networks della POrta, Donatella et al. Has a Chapter on Networks and Organizing.
Causewired By Watson, Tom. Whole book is rah-rah on wired activism. HAs chapter on politics (6, I think).
The Media in the Network Society: Browsing, NEws, Filters, and Citizenship Several chapters on politics, political systems, case studies of other countries (East Timor, Portugal e.g)
Is any of this on the mark?
The fine folks at CERN- the European physics research center where the WWW was born- seem to have a sense of humor. They are calling their new super-duper network the grid. Seems right out of cyberpunk imagination. At least its not called the matrix.
Coming soon: superfast internet – Times Online
That network, in effect a parallel internet, is now built, using fibre optic cables that run from Cern to 11 centres in the United States, Canada, the Far East, Europe and around the world.
This strikes me as a fine example of all the associated and indirect benefits form basic research funding. Something that private corporate research would never invest in. According to one FAQ from a British university, the total cost is something like $6 billion. Total.
Compare that to the $374 million/day for the Iraq war. That is about a billion every three days. In less than a month in Iraq, we will have spent more than the Europeans are on their new basic research tool. What madness and folly is this?