Organic Design peer group

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Info.svg This article is the public portal, or entry point, for a trust group. In the context of OrganicDesign this is a group of people that have common alignment in a way which is explicitly stated in their group's alignment statement. For organisations this alignment will normally refer to other aligning documents which the members have agreed that the group will operate in accord with such as charter, manifesto and best practices.


Organic Design peer group/Vision statement:
Our vision is to see all of our world's inhabitants governing ourselves with an open, accessible and understandable global system which has as its bottom line the common good, and which we define and operate ourselves by effectively utilising and allocating our common expertise and resource.
One way of deriving a group is from how people answer a specific set of questions. Even if the "members" of such a group don't appear on any list, are not stored anywhere or never communicated their answers to anyone, the group still exists in a certain sense if it exhibits the potential for action. Here at OrganicDesign we call this kind of "non-explicit" group an organic group, as distinct from a trust group which is one whose members are known to one another.

One such question is, if you were performing a particular task, would you like to know if anyone anywhere else performing the same task had a better way of doing it? Another related question is, would you like to live in a world where all such "best ways" were made openly accessible to and easily understandable by everyone? An overwhelming majority would answer "yes" to the first question. The second though is one that many people would think about more deeply before answering and may answer "no".

The people who share the common vision we talk about here at OrganicDesign are those that answer "yes" to both of the previous questions. We don't know how many people that is, but judging from the popularity of the free software movement and other similar projects, we can be very sure that even if it's not a global majority it's certainly hundreds of millions of people world-wide!

That's an enormous potential for action, but how does an organic group like this begin to achieve anything together? We believe the answer lies in alignment... [more]

Key defining aspects of the peer group

  • It aligns itself with Organic Design (it aligned to the Organic Design charter and the Organic Design manifesto to help attain the common vision).
  • It's primarily concerned with the platform specification and software architecture aspects of the common vision.
  • The peer group are dedicated to openness and are attempting to make all aspects of their operation open and public, not just the resulting software and documentation.
  • It's members are system architects and developers, and as such are dedicated to "eating their own dogfood" by using the system for as many aspects of the group's operation as they can. Currently this means using Wiki Organisation, this may soon become Drupal-base, and ultimately our own Squeak-based system.
  • The members are committed to spending a lot of time in conceptual and research-oriented group sessions and for this reason have a lower ability to take on hands-on work such as programming or IT-support.
  • The members are dedicated to exclusively using Libre software where ever possible.

Peer group membership

Membership is based on collaboration and governance. In general, membership is composed of those who take sufficient interest in, and have the required expertise, to collaborate on the core architectural documents such as glossary items, platform specification, software architecture, manifesto or to help with development of our code or procedures. People who are involved, but not in this collaborative capacity, are considered to be subscribers; passive members who are engaged at an observational level.

The Organic Design peer group has existed in one form or another for close to ten years and also acknowledges the past contributions of members who have have had significant input through attending meetings, working together on projects and partaking in general discussions of interest over the years. All of these people have contributed more or less substantially to the efforts of the Peer group, even though they are not currently actively collaborating online.

Finance & Contracts

There are three three important issues that come up for the members with regards to the group integrating with business:

  • When any member(s) of the team decide to engage in a financial contract with one of their contacts, it must not compromise in any way the right of the other members to remain free of obligation.
  • Members that engage financially with their own contacts must be able to fully call the shots with respect to that funding source, as they are the ones that have entered into contract for it, and know the specifics (some of them possibly private) of those obligations.
  • The structure we operate to must be capable of reflecting the reality of financial trust that exists between members. The question "which members would you operate a shared bank account with?" immediately shows that there is a trust network amongst members that forms from relationships covering a spectrum of financial trust ranging from weak to strong. Ignoring this awkward fact will result in arguments, and as more members become involved this will become more of an issue.

So to ensure that these key points are accounted for, the peer group can have no contracts as a whole, any of its members can chose to enter contracts outside of the context of the peer group, i.e. not representing the peer group in their external activities within other groups or organisations, but rather making use of the knowledge they have gained from their engagement with the peer group.

Any funding that does come into the peer group is purely in the form of donations and is completely free of contractual obligation. How its gets used and distributed will be determined by the current manager of the peer group, and by the groups internal governance system.

Related groups

Another issue of critical importance to the peer group is that we aren't Platform One or Brazil Trust, these are groups dedicated to implementing particular instances of the concepts architected by the peer group. These groups sometimes make the mistake of believing that they somehow form an umbrella or management structure around the peer group and its concepts, but this is not the case. The peer group is an independent self-governing group of peers with membership formed through collaboration on the architectural concepts.

Organic Design Limited

The company is being run by members who are not part of the Organic Design Peer Group so that the two entities can maintain full independence from each other. The purpose of Organic Design Limited is to create and implement a service-based (SaaS) business model on top of the free and open-source solutions composing the package as defined by the peer group. As the business grows, it will help fund further development of the Organic Design System.

The Organic Design System

There are many software tools required across the diverse spectrum of projects and organisations we're involved with, but it's the common system that ties them all together into a unified structure. This site is our ongoing effort to create a reusable collaborative system for organising these aspects using open source software.

This system involves establishing and refining a set of best practices, conventions to which the members should adhere when working together on projects managed within the site. In addition to these, all the procedures are documented and refined through use, optimising re-usability and knowledge sharing. This practise also reduces human error and makes tasks require less mental energy to perform.

Our site is based on the MediaWiki software, which was designed for the Wikipedia online encyclopedia. Wikipedia is a massive project involving thousands of tasks being performed by thousands of users, so it's a very good example from which we've learned a lot during the development of our own system. Some of our ideas for wiki organisation are more specific than Wikipedia, so we've developed many extensions to the software to help it support our way of working more effectively, see wiki organisation for more detail.

Even quite diverse projects tend to have many needs in common, such as financials, contact management, invoicing, stock and suppliers, document and knowledge management, code development, web sites, printed material, LANs and servers. We have built up a number of procedures and best practices covering these aspects of organisation as a result of documenting our own administration requirements whilst working on internal projects and taking on work for other clients.

Documenting procedures and establishing conventions is the basis of our organisational system. As we structure this knowledge more effectively, our means of allowing it to be re-used by others will also improve. Eventually the distribution of this system along with all the free software and knowledge necessary to use, refine and redistribute it will form the foundation for seminars and workshops that we'll be putting on around the community.

We've found that in working together as a group, once in a while, some concerns come up amongst the participants regarding their contributions and the distribution of profits made from the work. Following are the main concerns that have cropped up, and our perspectives on them, which may be of use to other groups wanting to work in a similar way.

Working on Commercial Projects Together

Organic Design members working together use our freely-available system of procedures, extensions and best practices. The site has no ownership of, or direct relationship with these projects. Each such project is an agreement purely amongst the client and those working together on that project, and in particular the team member designated as the "owner" of that project (usually the member who initially connected with the client in question). Any profits or losses generated by such projects are the responsibility of those who accept payments or contracts for work covered by that project, and in the case of unresolvable dispute will ultimately be decided by the project owner.

The site procedures, templates and structure provide guidance on which aspects should be discussed and agreed upon before moving to each phase. This way of working is very similar to that used on sites like RentACoder and eLance, except that the infrastructure does not take a cut and is more casual, and therefore, relies on a certain level of trust and professionalism among members working together. In fact, many of the jobs we work on together have come from bids that members of our team made in RentACoder or eLance, and some of the aspects of projects that we can't handle ourselves have been listed on those sites.

The projects we're working on tend to become prioritised based on a balance of how interesting the job is, how much it benefits our own R&D, and how much may be charged for the work. This prioritisation determines how our available time is apportioned amongst the current projects.

From the client's perspective, they look at what value is delivered for the time they're paying for. If for whatever reason, the value delivered is lower than usual, then some of the time will need to be unchargeable. If a person is consistently delivering lower value in their role, then a lower charge-out rate will need to be accepted until the ability for that person to become more productive is achieved.

Sometimes conflict or confusion arises amongst the team regarding roles. The general rule is that role's on projects come about through the existing roles (those performing work and being accountable for various aspects of the project in question) specifying required skills that are missing and leading to sub-optimal progress. The team attempt to find candidates to fill the role, and then decide together which candidate best fits the role. It's important to note that our best practice for decision making which is in accord with our manifesto is to make such decisions based on action not opinion, which means that candidates would normally be people we've worked with in that role before and so we'd have a good idea of their capabilities concerning the required role.

When it comes to attending meetings involving a particular project, it depends on the nature of the meeting as to what members might be expected to be present or what members are invited. If its a general brainstorming session then it's often appropriate for any team members to be there and join in even if they're not actively working on that project. But sometimes, especially when a meeting concerns business decisions and finances, only the active members of that project may be invited, and in some sensitive instances it may be appropriate for only the client and the project owner to be present.

Work improving Organic Design

Some of the people working together on projects in the site have put significant time into developing software and content solutions used by the site and the organisational system. All the software and content is free to use and modify under the GPL or LGPL licenses, and most work done on it is done voluntarily, because those developing it realise that working on good, freely-available software brings opportunity, for example, the ability to offer consultation, installation or administration services. The content that the members and public spend time refining and improving is freely available to be used on any of their own servers, and the method of doing that is documented clearly as procedures, so all such work is beneficial to all contributors.

Some of the work on open source software in the site has been funded by clients requiring various functionality, their incentive to allow it to be open source is that we usually offer a lower price to work on open source projects, and often refuse to work on proprietary software regardless of price. Most of the paid work we do is content and procedure oriented rather than software development so this concern rarely arises for us these days.

Some of the work required by this site and the system may require financial incentive before any roles will commit to working on it. These situations are handled as projects in the system for the members to discuss the resource requirements and allocation as they would for any normal client project.

Income generated from the Organic Design wiki

Some of the members have set up pages in the Organic Design wiki which generate revenue by selling products. If the product is sold on behalf of a member, then a percentage of the total sale price (default 15%) is retained by Organic Design. If the product is being sold on behalf on an external affiliate on a page which a member curates, then the member will receive a percentage of Organic Design's cut of the sale (default 85%).

Income generated with Organic Design technology

Our system which is currently in the form of Wiki Organisation is able to be deployed much more easily now, and will soon be able to be set up for people by anyone who invests sufficient interest to learn and practice the procedures. The system is free software licensed under GPL and can be installed by anyone. They can install it for free or can ask any amount they wish for their time, but the software itself must remain free and must always be shipped with its licence. If people who are installing the system for others require expertise from outside their own organisation, then Organic Design or our affiliates such as Adeft or Mint Media may be available depending on the nature of the project and other circumstances at the time.

Other Organic Design income

Organic Design also generates revenue from hosting other sites, selling service subscriptions or selling products for clients through other sites running on its servers. These revenue streams are independent of the members working together on projects within the site, and some such projects may be completely unknown to the members - i.e. the Organic Design organisation was set up specifically to support a number of open source projects and goals, but is also a business entity representing one member who is entitled to work on private business operations. All the other current members also have one or more of their own businesses and sites and are free to use the resources and knowledge learned on this site to carry out their own private business ventures in addition to those carried out together in the site.

Projects funded by Organic Design

Organic Design has a number of projects under way, some of the work is done voluntarily by the members, some is paid for by clients who need certain aspects put in place for their own needs, and sometimes a bounty is agreed upon amongst members to help get some aspects developed faster. In these situations, determining how to allocate income fairly amongst participants can become difficult. For Organic Design these issues are minimised by all members accounting for the time and resource they commit to the various projects using our wiki-based organisational system.