The big picture

Coalition of the Willing has inspired some tremendously positive responses. As you’d expect from a polyphonic, segmented film, not every response has addressed the big picture. Some barely reflect it. It is funny talking to someone who is raving about your vision, only to realize, halfway through the conversation, that the idea has them excited isn’t the one that you intended.

In most cases, people mistake part of the vision for the whole.

Some folks focus on the social media part of the Coalition vision: ‘Yeah, I see what you are getting at. It’s an activist networking thing like Hope+ or Jumo – it puts people together with organization, provides tools for interaction and interfacing…’

This is correct in part. But it is not the whole picture.

Others focus on the info-ecology aspect: ‘Hey, this reminds me of Appropedia. It’s a collaborative database project: people collect information, they blog on innovations and appropriate technology; add some social media to the mix – you’ve got it’.

Nice try, but no cigar. The vision on target. But it only gets part of the picture.

Reflecting on the film in hindsight, it seems that the cluster of notions that we pulled together to communicate the vision of an online network enabling cross-functional collaboration may have been lacking the keyword that ties everything together.

This word is interoperability.

Interoperability is central to the Coalition vision. One major task for the continuing Coalition will be to get this ideal out there by challenging sites and organizations to experiment with linking up in creative ways, so to enable their users to interact and explore common projects that are presently unavailable to them.

The multiple challenges of climate change and humanitarian relief demand that we accelerate innovation globally. We could achieve this with an interoperable network of platforms for co-creation.

Here are some examples. Sites for hobbyists and inventors have existed since the birth of the internet. Recently, a new generation of innovation platforms, like MyooCreate and Atizo, has given this audience something to do. At the same time, we have sites for ecologists and permaculture enthusiasts like Appropedia, for appropriate technology. There are, in fact, dozens of green wikis on the internet, foundering in a state of neglect. Why not set up interfaces between the innovation platforms and the appropriate technology sites? Surely there must be a way of coordinating these different user groups and skill-sets? Interfacing these sites would require content managements system to enable people to meet up online and form groups to collaborate. It would be difficult, and buggy as hell. But the project would make sense to a mass of people as an important contribution to the war on global warming. It would be of great advantage to everyone to have access to a set of interoperative platforms dedicated to the collaborative design of appropriate technology for a warming planet.

Now bring social media into the mix. The site Jumo, headed by FB co-founder Chris Hughes, is currently at the cutting edge of social networking strategy. Jumo aims to put individuals in touch with activist organizations, to enable people to contribute to organizations, and to enable organizations to keep up with new technology and to communicate to their audiences. This is all fantastic – but why stop here? Why not build a portal that enables activists and organizations to interface with innovators and inventors, on the one hand, and with green data-bank managers and wiki enthusiasts, on the other? Imagine a three-way interoperability between these different types of platform. The mind boggles at what could be achieved. Effectively, we’d be saying to the world: here is the appropriate technology, go ahead and build something incredible!

In the coming decades, society as we know it will need to be redesigned from the bottom up. Why wait for governments to implement the social strategy, when we can set about this project ourselves? A multi-functional interoperative system would prepare the ground for one thousand projects to bloom and evolve.

Global problems require globalized solutions. But in addressing these problems, we tend to divide them into parts, and consequently focus on partial solutions. Partial solutions are necessary to the process. But we also need to think about ‘big picture’ solutions that draw together these initiatives and coordinate them into a whole. This is what we are trying to achieve with Coalition of the Willing. We want to promote new ways that people could participate in the collective stewardship of our interdependent life. We are thinking about how to open the door to interoperability in the context of distributed information-action ecologies. To us, this sounds like the future.