WSIS Proposal

To: Louise Lassonde/ Alain Clerc

Executive Secretariat, NGO’s and Civil Society Division, ITU

World Summit on the Information Society

From: Artur Serra

Global Community Networks Partnership

Date: Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Project Proposal:

New Models of Governance: How Self-Organizing Online Communities Inform Public/Private Stakeholder Interaction in an Information Society



In society as presently constituted, the functions of management, governance and integration (such as community) are not in balance and, in fact, the integrative functions are depressed. In this proposal, we are talking about cooperative actions in the context of self-organization as representing a completely different form of governance from partnerships and hierarchies of control. In self-organizing systems, integrative functions are necessarily dominant.

At the conclusion of this research project, we will have a fuller explanation of the experience underlying these practices and we will use that perspective to recommend global action in support of development in the Information Society.


The purpose of the Global Community Networks Partnership is to express the online practices that contribute to the formation of community

Community is about integrative social relationships, not just locality. As social networks, communities are primarily concerned with reciprocity in addressing common objectives and needs. Community can emerge whenever groups of autonomous individuals ask themselves “At this moment, what can we do to work and learn together?” What the individuals in those groups have in common is a need to learn their way forward. That need can occur in social circumstances whether the primary motivation driving integration is private profit or public good.

Any social network that is characterized by high degrees of self-organizing interdependence is behaving as a community. The rules that pattern the behaviors of a community relate directly to the immediate circumstances of its relationships to the ecology it inhabits. Community is nothing more than an agreed set of rules for behaving consistently in resolving problems of daily life in a particular locality or common set of circumstances.

WSIS is defining civil society as:

Primarily about people freely associating to achieve common aims as distinct from striving for political power or the accumulation of capital.

A set of public interactions which involves, but not exclusively, self-organizing groups autonomous from the state, market and family that operate or are linking across territorial boundaries.

GCNP’s understanding of community overlaps with WSIS’s understanding of civil society, but also departs from it in significant ways. The key point of agreement and departure rests with the concept of self-organization. GCNP1 assumes certain consequences for acting in the context of self-organization that are not normally included in public policy thinking. In part, this is because GCNP assumes an “Internet” oriented model of the cultural functions that structure an Information Society (or, as we would prefer to think of it, a Learning Society). In that view, the Internet is an artifact of the culture of a commons that we all share. This is in contrast to the worldviews of governments and corporations who still assume that the Internet is a device that can be adapted to their purposes.

The Internet is a set of technologies designed to support the communication needs of self-organizing social systems. Its purpose is to allow anyone or anything to connect and to communicate when an opportunity to integrate action for mutual advantage is perceived. Autonomy in the decision to initiate or reciprocate a link must be present for self-organization to occur. The link will be sustained as long as the assumption of mutual advantage in cooperation remains true over time. The Internet has, as a result of its unique design, a demonstrated capacity to sustain learning in distributed networks of human-machine assemblages acting as social systems.

In the absence of an adequate theory of information that encompasses meaning, the phrase “Information Society” is almost empty of descriptive power. Its use leads inevitably to the false epistemological position that knowledge is some kind of object and can be commodified. The phrase Learning Society, on the other hand, does have utility because we do have access to a working theory of how self-organizing social systems learn. In the theory of learning as social practice,2 all self-organizing spaces for socialization are inherently learning spaces. That is to say, all communities are inherently communities of practice.

Governance in self-organizing systems that learn is different from governance in hierarchical systems that control. In self-organizing systems, social practices related to learning can act as a bridge between those motivated by resource management issues and those motivated by cooperation in the public interest or for the common good. In community, functions that integrate and functions that differentiate do not work in opposition to each other

In a Learning Society, the separation of the private and the public may not be all that important. For example, in a networked economy, markets can be thought of as communities. When all participants in a market have access to something that approaches perfect information about price, that market approaches behaving as a community of practice. There are examples of where the function of community is integrated into the pursuit of profit to the detriment of neither. Community networking associations have experience of this that has not been brought into focus.

This proposal presents a process that would identify and characterize community networking models from several regions where online action within the principles that shape self-organizing systems is causing the integration described to occur. (It is important to underline that we are not talking about private and public sector “partnerships.” We are talking about cooperative actions in the context of self-organization as representing a completely different form of governance from hierarchies of control.)

Some possible examples systems that exhibit the “context” of self-organization are listed below. However, the selection element is a critical part of this project.




United States:

Latin America



Grounding theory in specific practice and experience as a basis for recommendations:


Progress report for the July 2002 Prepcom

To be completed by mid Fall 2002

Costs (in $U.S. ):

Logistics of regional discussion meetings,

(6 regions X 4 meetings each = 24 meetings) $16,000

Regional research facilitator support and logistics, (6 mtgs) $47,000

Research coordination support (including GCNP admin),

Fee for service but approx. 30 days time equivalent $16,000

Research coordination logistics $ 4,000

Web spaces maintenance over approx 4 months $ 5,000

Translation (Fr & Sp) ?

Total $88,000 (US) + transl.

1 There are two documents that flesh out this position that have been tabled and discussed at GCNP Global Congresses:

Garth Graham. SOCIET(E) CONNECTS THE DOTS: The role of community networks in making the G8 dot.force relevant to the majority of the world. Global CN2000:First Global Congress on Community Networking. Thematic sessions track 1: global community issues. Barcelona, November 3, 2000.;template=blank.htm

Garth Graham. Community: the link across digital divides. Background paper for the Plenary Session Panel, Community Networks and Globalization. Strategic Options, GlobalCN2001; Second Global Congress of Citizen Networks, Buenos Aires, Argentina, December 5, 2001. October 24, 2001. For downloading only, see additional material link at end of document found at: <>

2 Etienne Wenger. Communities of practice: learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge University Press, 1998.