People-Centered Internet and Positive #ChangeAgents, Experiments, & Expertise in Our Exponential Era

The People Centered Internet (PCI) coalition, would like to highlight a blog post on why positive #ChangeAgents are needed – and why the diverse, empowerment, and horizon collaboration capabilities of those teams are essential for advancing a more “people-centered Internet” for the future. This blog post was originally posted here, and has been updated for PCI’s upcoming event that will be held in December 2018.
By Dr. David Bray, PCI Executive Director

1. The Definition of #ChangeAgents

#ChangeAgents are leaders who “illuminate the way” and manage friction of stepping outside the status quo. Anyone can be a change agent – it is not necessary to have to wait to receive a formal authority to do so.

We need more people willing to step outside of expectations, because our world is changing rapidly, and in several cases exponentially. If all we do is meet expectations and the status quo — we will fall behind within our organizations, teams, and societies.

That said, when you do step out of expectations, you will need to have a strategy for how you will manage the friction associated with stepping out of ‘expectations’ because a lot of folks don’t like change. This is partly why reinvigorating existing organizations or teams is so difficult, and yet so necessary.

2. Our World is Experiencing More Turbulence

This is a result of increasing velocity of transactions within organizations and globally, and thanks in a large part to the internet and greater connectivity of markets and nations around the world, with increasing volume and volatility of transactions. in addition, an interesting paradox is that the internet makes us both more transparent and challenges how one determines veracity based on information relayed digitally – getting to “ground truth” can be difficult. When combined these are disruptive forces for how we traditionally urge organizations to include a tried-and-tested form of top-down hierarchies. These hierarchies can be efficient and focused when an environment is known or predictable, but weak on resilience and adaptability when an environment is rapidly changing or unpredictable.

3. The Power of (Cognitive) Diversity

Science has shown that there are three empirically-tested strategies to adapt to changing, or unpredictable environments. The first is increasing cognitive diversity. With crowds: diversity trumps ability — specifically, learned perspectives may limit the search space any one individual uses to reach an answer, even for “smart” individuals. Multiple individuals with varying perspectives expand the search space employed. A diverse crowd has more “tools” to apply. This is partly why market-based mechanisms are effective, and those with views different from the norm and “fitter” than others can make a profit. That said, diversity works if everyone has the same goal, such as “getting the answer right”, or “seeing our quarterly goals get met”, and “value this goal”. If goal related values of different groups are not shared, then factions can start to form, as can ‘in-fighting’.

Effective #ChangeAgents as leaders will listen, learn, and help craft shared goals and shared narratives to bring diverse groups of people together.

4. Power of the Edge

Traditional organizations exist to harness worker output, usually via a top-down approach (note: by top-down I’m discussing the flow of directed ideas and management, not inductive vs. deductive approaches). Yet top-down hierarchies restrict opportunities for bottom-up information flows. Bottom-up information flows are less important when the environment in which an organization, team, or society operates, is known or predictable. Conversely, bottom-up information flows become very important when the environment is rapidly changing or unpredictable. If an organization doesn’t encourage bottom-up insights, it is highly probable that the top could lose relevancy despite larger scope.

The top may “see more” across the organization, however they’ll be out of sync with the “edges” of their organization who are closer to the changing dynamics to include shifts in costumer, market, or global opportunities and challenges.

5. Power of an Ecosystem

By ecosystem I mean a distributed group of entities that you don’t have direct control over, ranging from organizations that compliment, but don’t directly compete with your organization, or teams that remix and reuse products as part of a horizontal partnership.

Traditionally horizontal partnerships for the private or public sector were difficult. In the private sector, horizontal partnerships often eat into profits, or appear to be overt colluding. Whereas, in the public sector in the United States, the original country founders intended there to be turf wars between different groups as a ways of implicitly implementing “checks and balances” to prevent the rise of a King-like individual. James Madison wrote in 1788 that “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition”, as a way of ensuring checks and balances prevented too much power to be aggregated under the auspices of a single individual. The challenge is that this means for public service to work well (at least in non-dictatorships), coalitions must be built across disparate partner entities.

The good news is an ecosystem approach can help in a changing environment, because any one individual’s (or team’s) perspectives and views may no longer be relevant, and different views can better scan the environment.

In the last few years we’ve been seeing networked actors and cells learning to adapt quickly and adeptly. It is through chatter and conversation, new opportunities, and challenges that behavioural change can be addressed, and through swarming and rapid mobilization.

Closing Thoughts

There is no textbook for where our organizations or societies are going next with the rapid, exponential changes in technology and services possible as a result. The next seven years will see more change than the last twenty years combined in terms of network devices, data on the planet, and computational capabilities.

We have lots of work to do to help connect those who are pro-Internet, and we need to continue to improve access, and address the digital divide in places where services are already available – resulting in open access and transparency around news and information bias.

I remain hopeful that we can find a way to address what This right now feels like a loss of civility across historically pluralistic societies in the United States of America, and Europe — hopefully we will find a way to start healing the current fragmentation of societies, avoid “winner-take-all” autocracies, and turn away from hyper-polarized politics where the possibility of ‘compromise’ is absent.

Simultaneously, I am conscious that in an ideal world these challenges would have already been resolved by the hard work of positive #ChangeAgents over former years, but we don’t live in an ‘ideal world’ and persistence is needed to help to turn attitudes and behaviours around.

December 2018 will mark fifty years since Engelbart’s “Mother of all Demos”. At this time 50% of the planet is also connected to the Internet – and this makes up for approximately 3.8 out of 7.6 billion people on the planet as a whole. Together we have a responsibility as positive #ChangeAgents across societies to carrying on building constructive processes and dialogues and keep bridging the gaps.

Onwards and upwards together! 


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