Pursuance Group Dynamics

In the past several posts I’ve written about the technical design of Pursuance in terms of the permissions and communications systems, and how this allows collaboration between different groups on the platform.

This post will take a detour to talk about what groups on Pursuance will look like from a social and bureaucratic capacity, and how work can actually be accomplished with the Pursuance platform.

The Anarchist Model of Institutions

A pursuance is a group of people with shared objectives, and a set of methods for accomplishing those objectives. The pursuance exists so long as those methods make sense, and the objectives remain unfulfilled. Then it disbands.

This suggests that many pursuances will be short-lived and highly specialized. This is the goal. A pursuance with a dedicated and simple purpose has less history, simpler bureaucracy, and shorter on-boarding. There are fewer disagreements and greater enthusiasm, because everyone agrees on their shared purpose and has a clear understanding of their role. The infrastructure is too simple to support much corruption or obfuscation, and anyone who becomes disillusioned can leave and join a more aligned pursuance.

Complex actions are enabled by collaboration between several appropriate pursuances, each adding their own expertise. Many individuals will be part of several pursuances, applying their personal talents to different projects they agree with, and facilitating communication and discovery between pursuances.

Drawbacks to the Anarchist Model

We occasionally see structured micro-organizations as described above in in-person temporary communities, such as the Occupy Wall Street working groups. Less frequently, however, do we see such micro-organizations in online space. There are many micro-communities, which can be as simple as creating a chatroom in Discord, announcing a topic, and inviting people. However, these groups rarely have an explicit purpose, methodology, or decision-making process.

Startup costs are hard. Founding a new organization means agreeing on a decision-making and leadership dynamic, whether through formal bylaws or informal consensus. Building out infrastructure like a wiki, document storage, public websites, source code management, or collaborative editors requires significant sysadmin work to set up, and then ongoing bureaucratic work to make everyone accounts on each service, track who should have what access to what systems, and remove members from each service as they leave the group. There is a strong incentive here to re-use existing infrastructure, and avoid fracturing and creating new groups if possible.

Pursuance Lowers Startup Costs

The Pursuance rules and roles system acts as a primitive kind of bylaws, governing who has what rights and responsibilities within the group. If we provide an example library of pursuance rules then the group can select the closest template to their needs, make some edits, and have working “bylaws” in minutes, including a structure for adding, promoting, and removing members within the pursuance. They also have a task-based discussion forum, so their earliest communications and planning needs are met.

For many groups this will be insufficient, and they will need additional services described above like wikis, academic reference management, or document tagging, that are tailored to the group’s specific goals. Providing all of this functionality in Pursuance would be futile and foolish: There are too many needs, and plenty of well-developed tools that serve those specific purposes better. Pursuance itself follows the same philosophy of focusing on specific objectives with explicit methods, and exists only to facilitate collaboration between individuals in volunteer-driven groups.

However, Pursuance can still help with the administration and maintenance of these external services. Many technologies support an authentication system called OAuth, which allows users to login to a service like Twitter, Facebook, or Google, and use that same login to gain access to something like Wordpress, without telling Wordpress your Facebook password. We can make each pursuance role an OAuth provider, and allow system administrators to configure their pursuance’s infrastructure to use a role’s OAuth.

Using Pursuance for OAuth means everyone has automatic access to whatever systems they need, with virtually no trace of bureaucracy. Anyone in the “developers” role has instant access to the pursuance’s gitlab instance. Anyone in “journalists” can edit the wiki. Administrative onboarding has been reduced to inviting the user to the pursuance, then adding them to the appropriate roles. When a user leaves or is removed from a pursuance, they lose access to all infrastructure, immediately, without an error-prone process of deleting their accounts from every website. Since the pursuance rules control who can add people to particular roles, we effectively have enforceable bylaws governing who can add and remove people from different institutional infrastructure. Pursuance graduates from task-management and group discovery, to automating swathes of administrative work within small groups, freeing members to spin up new organizations for their needs and focus on the work at hand.

Posted 9/9/19