IOPS It Is
By Michael Albert at May 26, 2011
As per the organization poll promises, we have begun laying groundwork for a new International Organization based on national branches and local chapters.
After the online poll provided motivation and hope, we had to settle on a temporary name and even more critically, do initial fund raising to finance a powerful web system for the project. Already there have been many inquiries asking what people can do, beyond donating. Here is a report on the unfolding effort, plus some projections and suggestions.
Settling on a Name
Calling our goal "the organization" or "an organization" threatened to get clumsy and even a bit demoralizing before long, so finding an interim name seemed a good and perhaps even essential task. To arrive at such a name, a message went to the Interim Consultative Committee ICC, reminding them that of course a name chosen now is only interim - like everything done now - but, that said, it asked the committee members to consider three options proposed by various folks already building local chapters...
Interim International Organization for a Free Society - which is currently being used by various people in the U.S. building local chapters.
Interim International Organization for a Participatory Society - which is currently being used by various people in the UK and a number of other countries building local chapters.
Interim International Organization for Participatory Socialism - which we offered as a way to mediate the above two, and perhaps appeal more broadly among some constituencies in Asia, Africa, Latin America, etc.
The arrangement with the ICC is that members can ignore queries about choices, thereby indicating a belief that all the choices being assessed are okay with them, or they can reply with their preferences go guide choices in accord with their advice. Regarding the name, about half the ICC replied.
International Organization for a Participatory Society had a small majority but International Organization for Participatory Socialism had almost as much support. There were, however, nearly no votes for International Organization for a Free Society. People's comments were what you would likely expect. The word free is too vague and too identified with free market, neoliberalism, etc. The word socialism carries negative baggage - or, on the other side, the word socialism gives more substance. And finally, the word participatory is too vague - or, on the other side, the word participatory conjures new and positive aims avoiding the stigma of past flawed vision and practice.
Since the initials for the two leading options are the same, it seemed like an an obvious compromise to call the organization IOPS and note that for some the initials mean International Organization for Participatory Socialism and for others the initials mean International Organization for a Participatory Society - reporting that a final determination, or perhaps complete change, will come at a founding convention, decided by an initial membership. So that is what we are trying, at least for now.
The initial cost to be handled is for building a powerful, flexible web system for the new organization. Why a web system?
The logic of this project is that while the organization we all seek, IOPS, needs to be built on local face to face groups or chapters, and while it needs to be self managing and certainly not top down, it is also true that getting started in most places has so far been and will no doubt continue to be quite difficult. Establishing an International encompassing organization as a preliminary step will provide a means of sharing lessons and experiences, a significant sense of momentum, a lot of connectivity and mutual aid, and especially a way for local folks to plug in and even a local site (otherwise perhaps beyond their means to create) to use for their work, as well as, perhaps most important, supportive local members to relate to. Such a site will also permit - say there are at the outset or shortly thereafter 5,000 members internationally - dues payments that can then help local organizing, especially where funds would otherwise be in shortest supply.
So the dynamic is dualistic, one might say. On the one hand create the International, a step that won't and couldn't itself happen de-centrally, but on the other hand, do this precisely to facilitate and arguably even make at all possible the local decentralized creation of chapters which can then take over the overarching organization as its self managing components and decision making core.
Can this dynamic be undertaken without establishing a small group, either by fiat, or even just by the weight of first come first served, who would determine the nature of the project and dominate its practice? Can it be accomplished, put more positively, consistent with real participation and self management? It will not be easy. But we think, yes, it can be done.
The organization description that defined the poll now guides and will continue guiding interim choices. And even before there was any structure, that description was "ratified" as desirable by nearly 4,000 people from all around the world. So that's not bad.
Decisions about an interim name, fund raising, web features, and no doubt some other aspects of the unfolding project will need to be made over the next few months in order to keep moving forward - but none of it will be final. And there will be no lasting elite involved, either. The ICC will disappear into the organization, with no particular rights or responsibilities, beyond having help take the interim steps toward establishing a self managing organization.
Now, what about the money to pay for the site? Money often causes problems. Well, we raised that, largely from poll takers, in three days. Further donations will probably bring us above costs - perhaps by a nice cushion, and of course anything extra will go to recruitment efforts or will just sit and wait organizational decision making later.
Building A Web System
The organizational design, plus a need for frugality, will together pretty much define the web effort. Z is donating its entire code base. In other words, we copy ZCom to another machine. We strip all the content and the database information from it. We get all the programs and features working. We change the colors and icons and graphics and menus to match anticipated needs of an organization - where all choices are interim and easily alterable again, if need be, once the organization forms. And, beyond the donated code and new content, we build into the new system these additional capacities:
- An Overarching (International) site with component entwined but self managing National and local sites
- Membership in all levels based on residence and conditions of those levels
- Extensive Polling/Voting Mechanisms at every level and for the whole
- Rich Debate and Exploration Mechanisms for Policy Discussions at all levels
- Diverse Content Display features including access to content at all levels
- Language Diversity throughout
- Participation Features such as blogging, chatting, commenting, forums, calendars, socializing, status reports, easy sharing, etc. all by chapters, nationally, and internationally
- Dues collection and disbursement, again at all levels
- Scalability to any size yet inexpensive hosting, backups, etc. etc.
- Decentralized easy Self Management of all component sites
- Rehosting, if desired, of the entire apparatus, or of any part, to new locations
- and more...
All this would cost a bundle and take a long time if done from scratch but, using our code as a starting place, the cost will be modest and the speed impressive. We can't know exactly, in advance, how low the cost will be, or how fast the product will emerge, but we believe the amount we have raised will cover costs nicely and that the International site will be ready in late summer with the sub sites following shortly thereafter.
We should add that the interactivity will be a whole lot better than what exists on ZCom now, and thus in the shared code. This is because we are building, also for unveiling this summer, something we currently call ZSocial, which will make tremendous strides both in functionality, and, even more important, in ease and pleasure of use, including useful ties to the rest of social networking. Z is financing this innovation - which was begun months ago and has been in conception for even longer - but the benefits will accrue, as well, to all the organizational sites.
So, out belief is that creation of an IOPS site and component national and local sites, can be done without cementing features of functionality, design, or even name, all at low cost with funds that have already been raised, yet providing momentum for chapter development and means of interacting, sharing content and lessons, etc. - all in accord with the organizational description and in light of feedback, as well, from the ICC.
The Path Beyond
What will follow the creation of the site? Hopefully many thousands of people will join IOPS, internationally, and become by their residency members of national and local chapters, which will be built not only or even mostly online, but via direct face to face work, meetings, etc.
Then, as well, hopefully digital voting facilities will determine plans for conventions to establish actual organizational structure and procedures - as well initial program and campaigns. Beyond this, what will happen once the organization is defined and operating, is clearly whatever people make happen!
What then, can people do now that would feed into such an unfolding picture?
Well, here are some ideas - other ideas can no doubt be put forth, and hopefully will be, by lots of other folks, not least in face to face sessions and especially if the following few ideas don't suit you.
Folks can take the organizational description and prepare it in their home language and share it widely in their home countries, cities, etc. This prepares folks for later joining in a knowledgeable manner.
Folks can take the organizational description and begin thinking through issues of implementation in their countries and cities, contacting friends and political allies and perhaps beginning to talk about local options, or even meet and form preliminary groups.
Folks can become ever more familiar with ideas, vision, and strategy consistent with the organizational description.
One way to perhaps gain ideas and materials relevant to all the above is to take a look at what others have begun doing - two options being the Organization for a Free Society in the U.S. and the Project for a Participatory Society UK - both of which see themselves as becoming national actors in a future IOPS.