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Notes on Emergent Democracy and Leadership

I made these notes a few days ago while researching our Monday Emergent Leadership presentation. Thought it worth posting here for reference:

Joi Ito conducted a “happening” to discuss the concept of “emergent democracy” in 2004. This was a conference call plus chat room (for visual feedback) plus wiki (for gathering notes) plus QuickTopic (for later discussion and creation of a collaborative document). This itself formed an ad hoc organization, with Joi as instigator and leader.

After much talk about a democracy of conversation, wherein many voices are heard, I suggested that democratic conversation or deliberative dialogue was insufficient to produce real governance, and Joi agreed: we needed to decide how decisions are made within democratic groups or groups that run by consensus.

This is where I started thinking about the concept of emergent leadership. If we assume that emergent democracy can be effective, then when we reach decision points, someone must be able to make the decision. In a traditional command and control vertical hierarchy, “who’s the decider” is determined by assignment or election. In a self organizing group, or in “organizing without organizations,” there’s no one to make the assignment, and there’s no formalized election, Instead, leaders emerge, and to the extent effective leaders emerge, these “dis-organizations” can be effective.

Steven Johnson, in discussing the Dean campaign, noted how it had been effective at clustering – bringing people together – but less effective in coping. (Longer term, the organization actually was effective, but that’s another story.) This lack of effective coping is an issue of leadership. In the case of the Dean campaign, there were internal issues that subverted real leadership. I have an idea what those were, but the point is that the campaign grew quickly but lost its bearings in Iowa.

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