The question of ethics in open collaboration

As I have worked on our Open Collaboration book and come up with a schema to help people build their own open collaboration projects one of the things that has me worried is that this open collaboration scheme is very powerful and can also be used by businesses that are not the most ethical – e.g. a goldmining company has used open collaboration principles. So I have pondered long and hard, reading many different philosophers, thinkers, writers, experimentalists in trying to figure out how to include in the open collaboration schema a methodology that guides people into using open collaborations in a way that is good for others, good for society, and good for the environment.

What I was experimenting with for awhile is add another few principles to the Open Collaboration Principles (principles like rapidly protoype, iterate, create feedback loops, create semi-autonomous groups etc), and that these principles would be something about how to be in tune with the environment and society. Lately I’ve also been realising I can add to the properties of an Open Collaboration – nonhierarchical, emergent, open, participatory, non-owned; so maybe adding sustainable. So in this way the definition of open collaboration itself already contains a higher ethical content.

I should probably step back here and explain that in trying to find a descriptive tag, a way to refer to all these projects that seemed to have a common thread like Wikipedia, Burning Man, open source software, transition towns that I came up with the phrase ‘open collaboration’ to describe these things. Now there are other projects too like the goldmining company that crowdsources its goldmining endeavors that could be included in this list. However if we make a redefintion, an ontological shift in what we mean by open collaboration that we can effectively not include some of these other companies that I dont find are the most ethical.

So those were some of the lines of my thinking about how to embed ethics into the open collaboration paradigm.

A better way to do this ethical embedding would be to have stages of development of a group/community/society. At each level they move to a higher stage of consciousness and also shift the way they  relate to the environment and others in society. At each stage there is a different sense of the ‘we’, and a different sense of how they relate to the environment and society.

The theory of holacratic systems (which looks at a way of evolving social structures) and the book “Tribal leadership” talk about levels of development in an organization/group/business. And at each level there is in essense a new level of ethics.

If we create such a developmental schema (and for those of you who are wondering what developmental schemas are all about google things like Piaget’s developmental levels of cognition or Kegans developmental levels of the self. Check especially spiral dynamics levels of development for societies and Ken Wilber’s work which integrates over 100 different developmental models into one schema)- then we may find that things like Wikipedia or Burning Man actually behave very differently as we move to higher stages of consciousness. And that something like a crowdsourcing goldmining company would cease to exist at a higher stage of developmental consciousness.

As the collective sense of we evolves, Wikipedia itself will change its feel. There will be less ‘vandalism’, less edit wars, less having to block certain members from defacing entries. And there will be more accuracy, and more of a higher vibrational sense to all the entries in Wikipedia. And at higher stages it may even be a guide itself for how the collective can evolve itself to a higher state of consciousness.

Things like YouTube which has quite a participatory, emergent phenomena, non-hierarchical, open feel to it, and yet is also at the same time filled with junk, pop culture rubbish, negative content etc can actually and will actually be used in higher vibrational ways with more conscious content. And the connectivity of videos will increase and one can begin to see a unified field of videos forming where one can see the relationship of all videos to each other and to the world.


3 thoughts on “The question of ethics in open collaboration

  1. I WOULD suggest creating “A State of Ethics for Open Collaboration” and people add there comments, their consensus to this, have them sculpt it……


  2. Do you know about Theory U and Presencing? It would be interesting to feed your ideas into the global community at their social networking site: . It’s all about getting past reactive “head space” and moving through the open heart and the open will to get at the future that is wanting to emerge. And it comes out of MIT!

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