ECOSYS Groundrules

With our collaoration process hammered out in prior posts, I say we’re ready to engage at the next level: working as a team to describe, frame and inventory the problems in our ecosystems. Besides vetting the process and our assumptions, we’ll get an important feel for the scope and scale of what lies ahead. We’ve built a team w/ high-energy talent. It’s time we put that talent to work.

The first stage in our process (per the EcoDNA model) is to establish ground rules; here’s what we have to date, from prior brainstorms:

  1. chat is for idea sharing; #ecosys collaboration is for integrated problem solving
  2. we will develop a portfolio of actionable solutions
  3. we will model our solution in the “white spaces” between areas of our expertise, as we seek to connect the dots
  4. we will build our community on mutual trust, so that all group members can engage without any preconditions, presumptions of authority, or attempts to control outcomes; all contributors will follow this model, to ensure a productive exchange
  5. we will seek representatives within the ecosystem components being discussed (HC: doctors, nurses, patients, administrators, payors, etc.; EDU: teachers principals, administrators, parents, etc.) ; we’ll start with our assembled core team, though recruiting for specific ecosystem roles will be ongoing
  6. demonstrate that virtual collaboration can drive social innovation, adapting our collaboration process for improved results as experience is gained;

plus a few more specific rules of engagement:

  1. each contributor speaks only for self, and not for an employer or any affiliated client or sponsoring company
  2. diversity of our stakeholder mix will be adjusted over time, as we identify need for additional expertise
  3. professional demeanor/respect must be maintained at all times
  4. group consensus will be required to finalize any outcome

When the above is confirmed by the team, we’ll quickly move on to the next step, framing problems, by producing an inventory of specific challenges in each ecosystem. For our 10/12 8pET #ECOSYS chat, please be thinking: a) are you comfortable with this plan; and b) do you have a sense of how we would most efficiently create a comprehensive:

  1. problem inventory for Healthcare ecosystem
  2. problem inventory for Public Education ecosystem

Prior to launch, please make sure you’re comfortable with the steps in our threaded Discovery process, as shown in the EcoDNA model. If we have consensus on the approach, work could begin as soon as 10/19.

Core team members: please download free copies of SKYPE and YUGMA, as you’ll need these in the weeks ahead to collaborate on our ecosystem domain models. Before we’re done, we’re going to develop at least one graphic representation for each ecosystem. For those already on SKYPE, we can spend the last few minutes of our 10/12 chat talking live (9:30pET) to connect voices with avatars and continue brainstorming.

The hard work is next, so let’s start the launch sequence and synchronize watches. T-minus 7 days and counting?

Imagine: A Knowledge Renaissance

Close your eyes, and imagine:

a world where education and learning are priorities, with families planting and nurturing the first critical seeds of curiosity in their children;

a place where businesses of every size and shape focus their talent on innovations that improve the human condition, less obsessed with maximizing dividends and more focused on the triple bottom line of profit, people and planet;

a time when communities are quick to form around the shared values and talents of people around them, when insights are traded as a valuable currency, and information silos are relegated to history books.

It’s one tapestry, really. Can you see the common threads? It’s all about people. In fact, relationships not only matter, they’re at the core. Collaboration is the rule, not the exception. And our cultures embrace knowledge and knowledge sharing at every level.

On Thursday 10/15 in Raleigh, I shared my perspective on a coming Knowledge Renaissance. We discussed how people can tap social processes and technologies, first to find each other, then to collaborate. We also discussed the value of learning, the positive dynamics of human interaction in communities, and the roles we can play to revive learning science.

Let’s face it. Taking on century-old paradigms won’t be easy. We’re gathering up threads for a new tapestry.

I’m pulling together the key takeaways. Meantime, thanks to everyone who came out to participate in the discussion. Stay tuned.

Problem Solving for Ecosystems with “EcoDNA”

If you’re following ECOSYS, you’ll know we’re moving quickly past the high-level overview stage and on to process details. Our goal: to prove that virtual collaboration can drive social innovation.

We ran our second #ecosys chat last night on Twitter; our transcripts are posted on NING .

To illustrate our approach, let me show you what virtual collaboration looks like: Jay and I (members of the ECOSYS core team) conferenced Friday to brainstorm how to convey “looping” (iteration) and successive stages in our draft 6-step collaboration process. Using SKYPE and YUGMA we did some virtual white boarding as we talked, and came up with the diagram below. To vet our thinking, the ECOSYS core team reviewed the details last night in an online chat, provided feedback, unanimously embraced the new visual, and coined the name “EcoDNA.”

While a small and early win, it is an important one: both the visual and the EcoDNA name convey our trajectory:

To achieve social innovation, we must first understand the building blocks of our social ecosystems; only then can we rearrange them in an optimal way. Consistent with the DNA metaphor, understanding and relating the building blocks of “how things work” is a fundamental first step to learning and to innovation.

Sure, EcoDNA is just a process model. For practical purposes, we’re still at the starting line, revving our engines. But it’s an example of what virtual collaboration can achieve. And for the complexity buffs, EcoDNA demonstrates our fist bit of “emergent” innovation.

ECOSYS Iterative Problem-Solving Model

ECOSYS Iterative Problem-Solving Model

discovery thread (detail)

discovery thread (detail)

implementation thread (detail)

implementation thread (detail)

[The blow-up of component parts on this diagram should help link it back the process “building blocks” in our prior posts.]

We have more housekeeping to do before moving on to addressing the big issues in healthcare and education. We’re hoping to keep most of our brainstorming sessions online, reaching a broad stakeholder base while documenting inputs in real time. We’re asking core team members to submit guest posts of their takeaways here, so we can establish a consensus (coming from diverse perspectives) of what we’re learning.

Please stop back often. We’ll have much to report. You can follow or search Twitter hashtag #ecosys for daily insights. And check out TweepML to meet and network with the core team.

Thanks for your interest. We’re excited about the potential, more so with every step.

6 Steps to unlock Social Innovation (aka “the Process”)

Starting in August, I began to build the case for change in complex social ecosystems. My thinking? We need to give social innovators new ways to come together for problem solving, to break the evolutionary gridlock that exists in areas like education and healthcare. Prior posts in this thread introduced a framework for change, a big picture view showing how providers and stakeholders interact. In my framework write-up, I began to lay out the building blocks for structural change.

In this post I provide the details of a new collaboration process, steps to help social innovators connect, frame problems and develop solutions.

Check out the diagram below. We’re going to focus first on the “discovery” thread, as it allows us to more fully understand the many interdependent issues and solutions. The “implementation” thread is critical too, but we’ll come back to that later.

Innovation Process (#ECOSYS)

Innovation Process (#ECOSYS)

The discovery process involves 6 key steps:

  1. Scope. Create defined boundaries around issues and needed solutions. The scope must be understood by all ecosystem players, solution team members, and anyone who is tracking our progress.
  2. Diversify. Build a solution team of 10-15 members that have the ability to look at problems and alternative solutions from different perspectives (aka “cognitive diversity”);
  3. Connect. Create environment where team members can meet and interact in a productive, transparent and virtual way; for practical purposes, we’ll be using social media;
  4. Engage. Create, communicate and gain consensus on ground rules for interaction to ensure goals and roles are fully understood at the outset.
  5. Learn. This is the step where the work gets done: we discuss the problem, frame alternatives and propose solutions. This includes developing a solution language and models showing stakeholder behavior for current problems and future solutions.
  6. Checkpoint. Evaluate interim results to determine one of three follow-up actions: (a.) more work of same scope is needed; (b.) additional detailed research or inputs are required ; or (c.) it’s time for implementation.

Cynics may say “Wait, this is nothing new; we’ve tried these steps before.” Fair enough.

What’s different is the medium. Social media neutralizes political and geographic constraints, bringing talented stakeholders together as needed. Participants can volunteer (“self-select”) and determine their role (“self-organize”).

We’re going to use our weekly #ecosys chat each MON at 8pET to vet and fine tune this process. Then we’re going to spawn two pilot problem solving groups, one for education, and another for healthcare. There is no limit to how this process can be applied. All that’s required is respect for a team approach and a passion for change. We can no longer afford to wait for someone else to come up with the answers.

Are you on ready to engage? I know a few social innovators who are. Leave a comment if you’re interested in the approach, or have perspectives to share. We value your input.

There’s lots of work ahead .. it’s time to get started.

Chris (@SourcePOV)

Enterprise 2.0: Can we get there from here?

Most would say Enterprise 2.0 is a future state: a time when people inside corporations are connected and engaged, a world where social media has taken hold. That’s how I like to frame it. Arguably, with cynics in the majority, progress will be gated by historical inertia in business, with deep organizational silos and a crowded graveyard of failed management “silver bullets”. Without a doubt, to overcome  an industrial management culture that is over 100 years old, we face a difficult journey.

We must ask: “Can we get there from here?”

On TUES at 8 pm ET, starting 9/29, we will premiere the #e20ws workshop. This session will be highly interactive: (a.) we’re going to work to attack the challenges in corporate social media adoption, and (b.) we’re going to produce useful ideas that you can bring back to your office. We’ll run this alternate weeks, so plan for 2nd and 4th Tuesdays (follow-on sessions: 10/13, 10/27, etc.).

Here’s our agenda, to get the conversation started.

  • T1. Goals, Objectives, Framing
  • T2. e20 Challenges of Silo Culture.
  • T3. e20 Standards, Alignment and Diversity of Thinking.
  • T4. e20 Engagement (n:n).
  • T5. e20 SM Technology (intro).
  • T6. Next Steps.

For more background reading, check out core principles of social media, provided by #smchat.

There won’t be time in one session to complete the above agenda; we simply want to lay the ground work for future discussions. I’ve hosted other “#chat” groups, (#smchat, #ecosys) and I think you’ll find the conversations are fast-paced, insightful, and a good source for networking with thought leaders.

I hope you’ll use the opportunity to engage, learn, and network. In fact, just by being there you’ll be participating in the social media experience.

I look forward to working with you on this.

Chris Jones (@SourcePOV)
Consulting Principal, SourcePOV, Cary, NC

The Path to Enterprise 2.0 (a Virtual Workshop)

Look around your company. Are teams working at cross purposes? Are you seeing good ideas get sidetracked? Do organizational silos and the politics that go with them result in project delays and failures?

You’re not alone.

It’s time to engage with others tackle these challenges and identify new ways to enhance productivity in your organization. You’re invited to participate in a bi-weekly Twitter-based conversation (#e20ws), beginning Tuesday, September 29 at 8 pm ET. We’ll discuss culture, engagement, alignment and technology. And that’s just for starters.

If you need some background on Twitter chats and hashtags, you’ll find that in more detail here.

All corporate professionals are welcome, but teams that generate insights, make connections, and share ideas across the organization will get the most value. These days, that’s almost everybody. But to create some focus: think Marketing, HR, Communications/PR, Customer Service and IT.

As with any public event, you’re responsible for exercising good judgment. Here are some pointed suggestions:

  • never share proprietary information about your company;
  • unless you’re an independent consultant, avoid references to your company in your Twitter ID and profile;
  • if your ID includes corporate branding, add a disclaimer along the lines of “views shared are my own, not necessarily those of my company;”
  • if your company has a social media policy, become familiar with it before engaging in online, public conversations.

In a sense, it’s no different than a regular public conference: you’re under no obligation to speak up. What’s different, however, is that direct, real-time interaction is just a few key strokes away. To access the live chat stream, simply launch the Tweetchat application at the appointed time:

That’s it! Now, all you have to do is show up and bring your point of view. Plan to network and learn in real time with some of the most engaging, insightful folks in industry. 20th century silos and workgroup problems have been daunting for everyone. The 21st century is already in progress. We’re saving you a seat.

Chris (@SourcePOV)

A Process for Public Collaboration

Thanks to Jay Smethurst (@jaysmet) for guest posting this week — as we continue to explore new approaches for innovation in complex social ecosystems, I wanted to gain an expert’s perspective on some of the challenges; Jay has an extensive background in collaboration, and was gracious enough to lend some thoughts. CJ 9/14.

Jay Smethurst

The kinds of challenges we encounter in social ecosystems like Chris has described in prior posts require new approaches to developing solutions. I have been facilitating face-to-face collaboration for over a decade, and the design process we use to solve “wicked problems” (link) in the real world is applicable to these social ecosystem challenges as well.

Our face-to-face processes, however, need to be deeply reconceived to leverage the strengths of various social media tools. The goal of this post is to propose a generic design process for solving complex challenges with a widely distributed participant population using social media. For now, let’s table discussion of the specific SM tools that are most beneficial for the different stages of the process, though tools will be central to a viable solution. Naturally, to solve a specific challenge in a specific domain, we will need to tailor the generic process and tools to the particular requirements of the project.

The Project

This entire process begins when someone brings us a problem that requires some new thinking. These problems tend to fall into two categories. The first set of problems are those new problems that haven’t been solved before — new conditions or trends are creating new challenges that require an innovative solution. The second set of problems are those in which two or three camps have firmly entrenched positions about what the solution should be — in this case, the problem often needs to be reconcieved in order to discover new approaches that don’t align with the current us-versus-them models.

Our first challenge, then, is to formulate a very concrete objective for our virtual collaborative process. Generally, our objective is to develop 3-5 options or models of potential solutions, along with an evaluation of each approach. The number of options (3-5) is intended to represent more options than the one or two that are normally on the table already. This allows both “camps” (for the second set of problems) to participate fully, then joyfully thrash the “other side’s model”, yet fully engage in the development and evaluation of one or more new approaches. Because this process does not intend to identify “the best” model (although it often does), it diffuses some of the most volatile politics — we are rigorously evaluating the benefits and costs of several options, not driving any particular agenda. Every participant should find some ideas to like and some to dislike, and they are free (indeed, encouraged) to share those ideas. In such an environment, the extremist rhetoric of both “camps” in an issue tends to lose steam.

The Team

The participants in this process will be divided into two groups – the Core Team and the Extended Participant Group.

The Core Team should consist of 5-10 people with a good mix of expertise and skills. This group should include facilitation expertise, SM experience, and subject matter experts (“SME’s”) representing a variety of stakeholders in the social ecosystem that’s in focus. The Core Team drives and facilitates the entire process, and this group is responsible for delivering the final outputs of the process. The members of the Core Team must be willing to engage in a pretty rigorous design process — exploring different viewpoints and options openly before bringing their judgment to bear. Remember, if anyone had “the answer” already, we wouldn’t need this kind of process to begin with!

The Extended Participant Group includes everyone else who contributes to the process. Ideally, this large, diverse group will engage in an extended design process along with the Core Team. It is possible, however, to engage various stakeholders in this process in limited, non-obtrusive ways. We can invite input and participation at various levels that will all add value to the process. Some stakeholders will want to contribute a lot of time, thought and energy. Others will want only to respond to a survey. Both levels of engagement are to be encouraged and accomodated. The Extended Participant Group will engage in specific tasks and assignments developed by the Core Team. Their input will then be synthesized and incorporated by the Core Team into the next round of activities.

The Process

The generic process for Virtual Collaboration includes eight stages. The different responsibilities and activities of the Core Team and the Extended Group are outlined below.

  1. Process Design (“Calibrate”). The project begins with the recruitment of a Core Team. This team will then translate this generic process into a detailed program for this particular project. They will define the objectives and deliverables and map out the assignments and toolset for the project. The Core Team will begin to promote the project and recruit the Extended Participant Group.
  2. Orient. The purpose of the Orient phase is to set the context for the challenge that is being explored. The Core Team must also orient the Extended Group to the process and tools being used to explore the challenge. A number of methods may be used to Orient a group. An Entity Relationship Diagram asks participants to diagram the flows of information and resources between each stakeholder in a system. In an education system, for example, the stakeholder might include parents, teachers, students, administrators, school boards, communities, businesses, colleges/universities, etc.
  3. Explore. The next challenge is for participants to examine new perspectives and vantage points of the challenge-in-focus. Again, there are dozens of methods that can be used to help a group Explore new perspectives. Groups can look at different aspects of the challenge from different time scales (past, future, fast, slow), from different stakeholders (end users, suppliers, investors, producers, etc.), or metaphorically from different systems (other organizations, industries or living systems).
  4. Build Options (“Prototype”). At this stage, participants must now struggle with solving the “real” challenge, but with certain constraints either imposed or removed. We want participants to “play” with the challenge and to see it in new ways. By imposing or removing constraints on their designs, we help them escape the mental trap of focusing on the barriers to change. Edward de Bono calls this the “intermediate impossible” — by playing with an “impossible” scenario, we might discover some new insight that allows us to design an innovative and workable solution in the real world.
  5. Synthesize. Each participant would then be invited to explore the models that others had developed and share insights, questions and feedback. By looking at the models created in Build and the feedback and insights, the Core Team would then identify 3-5 generic models or solutions to the challenge. The Core Team may also ask the Extended Group or a subset of that group to synthesize this short list of potential solutions. The 3-5 options would then be posted and described in general terms.
  6. Final Build (“Consolidate”). Now we develop the final solutions. The Core Team would then ask the Extended Group to flesh out each of the 3-5 models in detail. How would each model work? What would be the roles and responsibilities of each stakeholder in this model? How could the funding work? How do information and resources flow through the system? The Extended Group could work individually or in teams to develop a detailed model for one of the 3-5 options. (Participants may develop models for multiple options, but we need them to develop distinct and separate solutions for each option at this point.) These models will be posted in a shared space. Ideally, these models would include a visual model of the system, a narrative in text, possibly a quantitative model of how it would work, and a brief (1-2 minute) video of the participant explaining their model. The Core Team then has the enormous task of synthesizing all of the work of the Extended Group into the 3-5 Final Models. The Core Team will polish and publish these models publically and invite comment.
  7. Test (“Rate”; “Validate”). Next we invite public evaluation of the different options that have been developed. At some level, this is the most comfortable interaction for most public discourse — “what do you think of this option?” There are a variety of methods for collecting feedback on these options, and it’s a good idea to gather multiple modes of feedback. Edward de Bono developed the “PMI Tool” (Plus Minus Interesting) to move discussions beyond merely love-it/hate-it. We would ask each participant to list the Plusses of each of the 3-5 models, the Minusses, and the “Interesting features” — those elements or aspects that are novel, different, or just interesting for some reason.
  8. Publish. Finally, the Core Team would synthesize the feedback on the 3-5 models. As the final deliverable, the Core Team would then publish the suite of 3-5 solution models, along with the public evaluations of the PMI for each.

I’ve just described a process that engages a very broad audience in the design and evaluation of novel solutions to complex challenges. This process can be made open to the public on issues of public policy or closed to a more restricted audience for, say, corporate strategy or innovation challenges. At some level, this is a pretty generic design process: Orient, Explore, Build, Test. It is in the application of the generic process to the specific challenge that the difficulties arise. And layering in a social media toolset as the interface for all of these design interactions adds a whole new set of complicating factors.

But the output is something pretty spectacular – a variety of novel options developed and vetted by broad, engaged and informed public. How does this compare to the process for developing public policy today? This creates a much deeper and more nuanced public understanding of the issues and challenges, rather than the overly-simplified, us-versus-them battles of rhetoric that we often see around very complex social challenges. This process requires a deft and dedicated team to facilitate it, and an engaged participant group to contribute their best ideas and insights.

It goes far beyond a chat on Twitter or a discussion thread or a blog post. But the combination of SM tools in service to a sophisticated design process has the potential to raise the level of discussion on hundreds of pressing issues in our sociaty.

So, the question I put to Chris and to you. What will it take to make this work? And what challenge should we tackle first?

Framework for Ecosystem Change (2): Evolution

Below I introduce a framework for Ecosystem Evolution, a collaboration-based process to achieve innovation in our social ecosystems, which includes complex spaces like Healthcare and Public Education.

Our thought process has been evolving since August 2009, and can be tracked in this stream.

This problem-solving approach is intended to be comprehensive in its objectives and capabilities, yet straightforward in its design. It is made possible by incorporating insights from complexity science, as well as the rapid evolution of the social media platform, which allows cross-disciplinary subject matter experts (“SME”s) to work together in an efficient, virtual manner.

Paradigms: the Way Things Work

At the core of this framework is a realization that there is a current way of doing things, and multiple, new, innovative ways of doing things better.

Using paradigms to frame and analyze developing ideas is important, especially in early stages, when the alternative solutions are still formative [1]. It provides an intuitive frame of reference for discussing ecosystems: boundaries, rules, behaviors, and outcomes, all important elements that describe the complex systems we will be tackling. This “way of doing things” (both current and improved) is often the source of significant debate. Semantic challenges abound. Traditionally, problem/solution scenarios are written down in many ways, ranging from pure text (popular in legislation) and napkin drawings all the way to complex diagrams and flow charts, using a multitude of formats and tools. We will need to keep the process focused on ideas and content, not tools.

Due to the complexities of our social ecosystems, the nature of changes involved must go far beyond any notion of incremental adjustments. Contemplating the “game changing” notion of a paradigm shift precedes any fundamental, structural changes in our current paradigms [2]. To innovate, we’ll need to challenge conventional wisdom in each domain, or subject area. This approach will help us achieve that.

Let’s take a look at my proposed Ecosystem Evolution model, which provides a collaborative overlay to the Current State view that I originated in my last blog post.

Ecosystem Framework pt 2

Ecosystem Framework pt 2

The over-arching characteristics of this new model are:

– All stakeholders will have opportunity for input
– Social media plays a critical role as “open collaboration forum” for idea exchange
– Invested producers with a financial stake will have more limited roles
– Consumers (most impacted by ecosystem outcomes) will have a voice in articulating outcomes
– Consumers will get final validation (via “rating”) of proposed solutions
– Several open-loop cycles ensure iterative improvements toward final innovation
– Multiple iterations or “feedback cycles” ensure consensus

There are a couple key points to take away from this.

(1) Actionable Scope (need to be realistic). A framework like this is a representation of a complex set of relationships, interactions, intermediate steps, and deliverables. The simplicity of the model should by no means imply trivial efforts or shallow treatment of the topics. Rather, considerable work is implied. This model creates the process backbone for a series of connected collaboration teams. Further details on “how” will be forthcoming.

(2) Adaptable, Scalable and Efficient. This approach creates the means by which the rigorous and appropriate discussions might evolve uninterrupted, through a “hub and spoke” model of work group replication. In other words, any number of problem-solving teams may be spun off from the core problem team within the ecosystem, to work on sub-issues, and report back. This makes the Ecosystem Evolution process adaptable, scalable, and via multi-tasking, quite efficient. Given the complexity of our ecosystem issues, this is perhaps the ONLY way problem solving could be meaningfully performed.

(3) Focus and Rigor. We will begin to ask the right questions, and record all viable answers.

(4) Meaningful Social Innovation (“disruptive”, and otherwise). Using this model, we can embark on a journey of discovery and social change that has heretofore been unsuccessful. It will be powered by people, connected using social media, supported (with further discussions) by both government and industry, and ultimately, embraced by all stakeholders. Clayton Christensen has made strong and insightful statements about the need for “disruptive innovation” to achieve change from outside ecosystem walls, and the many mechanisms required [3]. I think his vision is the right one, and this Framework intends to achieve it. However, with participation from producers and consumers alike, the degree of “disruption” can be minimized, and simply acknowledged as a working objective. After all, we won’t score a “win” if we create economic chaos. I believe the collaborative approach is the disruptive innovation that has been needed. The approach itself is an innovation in collaborative techniques imagined by Don Tapscott, but not (as yet) fully implemented [4].

(5) Who benefits? First and foremost, it will be the consumer, as this approach is designed to achieve their objectives. But in the end, all stakeholders will win, because we will have created a viable, optimal, balanced approach for delivering services.

This is clearly ambitious. Why am I so optimistic?

Because there are lots of smart people out there. We simply need to engage them to start solving the tough problems.

It’s time for our second test (and this is a non-rhetorical question): Can we make this work?

[1] Kuhn, Thomas, Structure of Scientific Revolutions. (1992).
[2] Meadows, Donella. Leverage Points (web, 2008).
[3] Christensen, Clayton. Disrupting Class (2008): McGraw-Hill, Ch.8, pp. 179-196.
[4] Tapscott, Don. Wikinomics (2006): Penguin, Ch.6, pp. 151-182.

Framework for Ecosystem Change (1): Current State

In my last post, I began to outline a new approach for innovation in complex ecosystems. Efforts to drive reform in Healthcare, Education, and Energy have routinely struggled, and progress has been elusive. My thought process was sparked, in part, by an analysis of complexity science written by Beth Noveck & David Johnson. But much of my energy was fueled by numerous examples where barriers to collaboration and silo-thinking have long served to stifle innovation in large-scale institutions and the ecosystems they serve.

The Challenge of Social Ecosystems

Though a great many provider professionals have, in practice, devoted entire careers to excellence, overall system outcomes can appear inconsistent and, in many cases, undesirable.

Why? As noted by Noveck and Johnson, system complexity itself introduces many dynamics that need to be investigated, among them, conflicting objectives of stakeholder “agents”. Another area for focus is money. While always a powerful motivator, in social ecosystems it serves as a double-edge sword. The same financial capital that’s driven breakthrough innovations can also motivate counter-productive results. To stakeholders in the pipeline, long-term outcomes are not always visible, actionable or prioritized effectively.

A Path Forward

To achieve an efficient system-level problem-solving process, I’ve developed a simple framework for Ecosystem Evolution.

First, let’s introduce Part 1 of this framework for the Current State, to ground our discussion and better define some key concepts like “ecosystems”, their “agents”, and their operating “paradigms”. The status quo is characterized by the following forces:

  • Closed-loop, mature transactions and processes
  • Heavy control exercised by producer and government stakeholders (“agents”)
  • Much investment (financial, emotional) associated with the status quo
  • Insufficient rigor in the definition of problems and possible solutions
  • Insufficient data to effectively prove viability of alternatives
  • Largely untapped sources of insight on complex (adaptive) system behavior

Ecosystem Framework Pt1 (Current State)

How would we move forward with this model?

For each ecosystem targeted, we’d document the current state paradigms (literally, “how things work”, represented above by the black box), creating light-weight process models that demonstrate a solid understanding of core challenges. We’d also break down the paradigms themselves into easily understandable components.

Rigor in developing models is critical. Stating problems fully and accurately is on the critical path to any meaningful change.

Then would come the work of articulating alternative paradigms using the above as a baseline, using a collaborative approach that leverages social media. Resulting ecosystem designs could give us (perhaps, for the first time) a detailed understanding of our fundamental, root cause problems, summarizing the changes that may be necessary to address them.

Next Steps

I’ll introduce Part 2, a collaborative solution framework for Ecosystem Evolution in my next post, building on the Current State model above. It will incorporate new, collaborative open-loop processes and the social media aspect. Comments and inputs are not only welcome, they are critical. We can only be successful if we tackle these problems with a mutual understanding and a resolve to work the issues to completion.

Our first test: looking at the model above, can we start to see the challenges more clearly?

Unraveling Complexity (the Missing Link): A new approach for solving problems in Social Ecosystems

For months I’ve been reaching out to colleagues to explore barriers to collaboration, a key tool in the social innovator’s toolbox. Among those queried (and in spite of diverse backgrounds), virtually all had experienced significant barriers to collaboration over the years including silo-thinking, dated and inefficient problem solving models, cultures of control, and a strong, prevailing lack of trust.

Consensus? The barriers to innovation seem to be as universal as they are frustrating.

So something is broken. What is the root cause?

Beth Noveck and David Johnson have published important research on how new Social Media collaboration technologies can change the game. Their perspective on a New Science of Complexity is summarized in this People & Place blog post and explained further in an excerpt from their research. Their focus was the U.S. EPA (including the Federal process for environmental research and legislation) but their conclusion, which I agree with strongly, is that the principles are applicable in business (#e20) and broader social venues (#gov20) as well.

My primary takeaway?  I now believe that INNOVATION IN COMPLEX ECOSYSTEMS will depend on an improved collaboration process – a new middle ground for problem solving – that balances large-scale central organizational approach with grass-roots contributions by individuals. It is about finding the “sweet spot” between rigid structure and adaptive, organic sourcing of ideas. In a new and somewhat uncharted public collaboration space, it means that the forces of organizational scale and leverage can be networked – connected – with discrete centers (or hubs) for contribution to produce more rigorous solutions.

At the core of this thinking? A realization that traditional large-scale organizations (with their central thinking, hierarchical layers, and silos of functional experts) are generally ineffective when dealing with complex situations. Quite literally, they are too rigid. Without the ability to adapt to new variables or to coordinate across silos, grid-lock ensues. And complex social ecosystems are impacted, since “sending in experts” is how we tend to attack these issues. On the list? The well known structural challenges in energy, sustainable food and water sources, public education and healthcare.

What’s needed is an outright paradigm shift in problem solving models that are fundamentally more interactive and cross-functional. And focusing on complexity theory is key, because it begins to unlock some new doors. For one, there must be an organic aspect that allows solution teams to learn, self-correct and grow. And to meet the requirement of connecting people more dynamically, Social Media is the ideal technology. Some examples? Think about experts engaged in live chat. Acceleration of thought synergies. Tools to merge and re-mix knowledge. Ability to leverage and extend dynamic repositories.

With focus and coordination, we can work to find the elusive “sweet spot”.

In terms of naming and framing the problem, the above research makes significant strides. The next step is critical as well, and is just as exciting: in pockets across the internet, the new collaboration is already starting to appear.

Are you seeing it too? Let’s talk, I’ll show you where and how.