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Help us to get to the bottom of bottom up organisation


I promised (threatened) yesterday to ask my readers to help with a research project I am scoping with FRSA and social entrepreneur Tessy Britton.

The topic is small groups and this is the outline of the research report ( I would say ‘book’ but as every book idea I’ve ever had has crashed and burned I don’t want to curse the project). 

1. Small groups of volunteers can change the world, and here are some examples.

2.  But most small groups fail to fulfil their potential and here are the main reasons people give for groups under-performing.

3. Under these reasons are a set of systematic vulnerabilities from which small groups suffer (and here are some of the deeper reasons for these vulnerabilities which lie in human nature, patterns of human interaction and processes of collective action).

4. Here are a set of principles and practices which can together significantly increase the chances of small groups being successful.

5. Here are some ideas for how we could build a stronger infrastructure of support, guidance and celebration for small groups (for example, how about more prizes and awards for groups rather than just heroic individuals?).

Of course, we wouldn’t even be thinking of the project if we didn’t already have some hunches about the contents of chapters three, four and five. For example – in relation to what goes wrong in groups -  I have in the past talked about the bad apple problem that disruptive people drive out constructive people much better than vice versa, and about the ‘Stalin’ problem which is the people who focus (sometimes obsessively) on process who tend to end up with more influence than those focussed on action.

On four, Tessy believes (as I said yesterday) that groups trying to do something constructive are more likely to thrive than ones simply opposing something being done to them. I also believe that groups are much stronger if every person in the group is expected to perform functions and actions, which probably means there is a maximum optimum size beyond which a split is likely to emerge between active and passive members. We both think that groups need to spend some time at the outset agreeing norms and protocols which can avoid difficulties down the line, and that these need to be regularly re-presented to keep the group on track.

Tessy has also made the interesting suggestion that small groups may be most likely to succeed if their origins lie in two or three people who know each other well and prepare the ground before a wider group of strangers are involved.

Anyway, whether or not Tessy and I do this project depends a lot on you, dear readers. As we will both be doing this mainly in our spare time, we need to build as wide a group as possible of community activists who will help us with research, ideas and feedback.

The first ask is this: we are looking for example of successful small groups and reasons why they have succeeded. Although all small groups have some dynamics in common, we are not so interested in groups in workplaces or that bring people together in professional paid capacities. Instead the focus is on community based (for the want of a better term, ‘bottom –up') groups of volunteers, the kind which, for example, are involved in working for their locality to become a transition town.

So, over to you. Is this interesting an, if so, can you share some of your community organisation war stories?

Thank you

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