Re: Fuelling ‘The Necessary Revolution’

Posted in News, Research by chrisfremantle on November 8, 2010

Missions, Models, Money, the think-tank for the cultural sector, regularly produces interesting and provocative papers.  The most recent Guide, entitled Fuelling ‘The Necessary Revolution’: Supporting best practice in collaborative working amongst creative practitioners and organisations – a guide for public and private funders addresses the subject of collaboration.  This paper identifies a wide range of formats of collaboration and draws on the results of a two year programme of ‘action research’ involving six groups of organisations developing collaborations around a range of issues from marketing, to the management of spaces, from back office functions to programming.

Two other pieces of recent reading intersect with this.

Firstly, Bringing Humility to Leadership: Antecedents and consequences of leadership humility, by Morris, Brotheridge and Urbanski published in Human Relations 2005.  This paper is one of a growing literature seeking to articulate alternatives to the conventional charismatic models of leadership, and was useful in our work on The Artist as Leader.  The MMM Guide notes the importance of leadership within collaborations, but does not correlate important characteristics of leadership, as highlighted in this paper, with those of collaboration.  The paper on humility, having tracked ideas of leadership through history, notes three key characteristics:

Self-awareness, or knowledge of ones strengths and weaknesses;

Openness, or being willing to learn from others;

Transcendence, or being aware of something greater than the self.

MMM’s Guide goes into some depth on the importance of organisational self-knowledge and the competencies, qualities and attributes required including, ‘seeing systems,’ ‘wanting to learn,’ ‘building a shared vision,’ ‘building a critical mass for change within an organisation,’ ‘developing mutual trust and respect,’ ‘managing across boundaries,’ communicating effectively and appropriately,’ ‘confronting issues and managing conflict,’ ‘adapting to changing circumstances,’ ‘valuing risk taking, tolerating failure.’ The correlation with the characteristics of leadership are quite clear.  Just as the leader must want to learn so the organisation must build a culture that values learning amongst the staff and also as a whole.

What the MMM Guide doesn’t deal with, although it purports to be about creative practitioners, is the creative practitioner.  Interestingly, collaboration between artists is taken as an ongoing and recurrent aspect of practice, but for the purposes of this paper the practitioner only exists as an undistinguished part of the organisation.  In fact the relationship between the individual artist and the organisation is a particularly difficult area.  Largely, the individual artist is at the behest of the organisation, competing for contracts and subject to management guidance.   The Artist Placement Group‘s (APG) programme offers a structure for the artist to work with the non-arts organisation without becoming subsumed and instrumentalised.  This is driven by the concept of the artist as ‘incidental person’ and the use of the ‘open brief’ responded to with the ‘feasibility study’, the need for a host and conditions of work parallel with staff (not only in terms of pay, but also expenses).  APG remains an important example offering an as yet not fully absorbed model of working.  MMM’s Guide explores the potential for organisational collaboration, but it does not fully address the question of human creativity, i.e. how cultural organisations fully engage with creative individuals.  Given that within the cultural field there is now a real diversity of forms from artist-led galleries such as Transmission, temporary forms such as Vidokle’s unitednationsplaza and more permanent structures such as e-flux, through stable collaborative practices such as PLATFORM, one wonders if the lack of questioning of the forms of organisation isn’t a missed opportunity.

Secondly an important paper, Coase’s Penguin, or, Linux and ‘The Nature of the Firm’ by Yochai Benkler, published in the Yale Law Journal, 2002.  Benkler discusses the emergence of ‘open source’ as a new means of production distinct from management and the market, the traditional organisers of production.  Focusing on the characteristics of ‘open source’ projects such as Linux and Wikipedia that make them successful, Benkler teases out the distinctive characteristics of this form of collaboration.  Whilst Claire Cooper focuses on management theory around collaboration, Benkler focuses on issues of movitation and its limits, and scale and its dynamics.  Benkler’s paper argues that the forms of collaboration in the information and (digital) cultural sector are driven by human creativity, and it is the high value placed on human creativity within this territory that makes his paper particularly interesting.

The advantages of peer production are, then, improved identification and allocation of human creativity. These advantages appear to have become salient, because human creativity itself has become salient.

Benkler argues that the motivations for participation in ‘open source’ collaboration are social-psychological, rather than monetary, ranging from personal sense of worth through to indirect career benefits derived from positioning the individual to secure monetary rewards for services associated with the ‘open source’ product.

The argument around scale is also interesting, focusing on the granularity of the tasks.  If each task is of a sufficient fine grain then the time required of an individual to complete the task is proportionate to the non-monetary value produced for the individual. Integration of the modules completed by self-selected individuals, and the associated quality management systems, are critical to success.

In Benkler’s terminology the MMM Guide focuses ways collaboration can make cultural organisations more competitive by re-organising the property and contract costs between organisations, rather than leaving them locked into individual entities.  Of course, the challenges identified by the organisations participating in MMM’s action research are precisely those property and contract costs which are not a factor in ‘open source’ models: “marketing, technology, fundraising and partnership, programming, environmental issues and professional development.”  But Benkler’s model provides a useful analysis of the challenge of unlocking large scale human creativity.

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