Cooperation and Transparency

Transparency encourages cooperation.

The whole Direct Sponsor system is open and public. This provides a number of advantages.

  • All participants have equal access to all data, making this a network of peers.
  • Attribution of merit to individuals is a result of what they do, not how good they are at self-promotion. Thus, people in one area can learn from others based on their actual actions, the results of which are all visible.
  • Leaders arise solely based on what they’ve achieved, and how willing they have been to provide valuable contributions.
  • If someone makes a mess, they cannot hide or ignore it, reputations can’t be manufactured.

In Cooperative communities emerge in transparent social networks (phys.org – attachment with refs below). we see that “What we know about other people in a network informs how much we are willing to cooperate with them.” It follows from this that accurate knowledge of the people in the network is crucial for cooperation to produce good results.

Working within an organization that is not transparent, where full access to all data is only granted to the top few in the hierarchy gives an enormous advantage to those few. They can control what data goes public, or to the ‘lower’ membership, and skew perceptions of their own reputations. There’s nothing “wrong” with this, it’s perfectly natural to want to cover up your mistakes and publicize your victories. The fault is in the system itself; it has a vulnerability that it should not and need not have.

In organizations, this problem is exacerbated by the fact that those few who benefit from the flaw are the only ones who can change it.

In his Crypto-Gram newsletter, security expert Bruce Schneier says:

“Secrets are simply harder to keep in the information age. This is bad news for all of us who value our privacy, but there’s a hidden benefit when it comes to organizations. The decline of secrecy means the rise of transparency. Organizational transparency is vital to any open and free society.”

Organizational Doxing – pdf attached below.

Limitations

This type of sponsorship is not appropriate to every need there is in the world. In instances where privacy is required for any reason, this system is not suitable. This is not an imposition of limits, just an observation of reality. The software is free and can be used by anyone, and if the recipient wishes to remain anonymous to all but their own personal sponsors, they can obviously do this by setting up their own system and interacting in any way they choose with their sponsors, and to promote their scheme as they see fit.

However, this use of the system would not be verifiable and viewable to a potential sponsor and thus, will not be featured in the directsponsor.org website because all the projects there are open. This is how directsponsor.org provides assurances to sponsors. The purpose is to promote the idea and attract new sponsors by letting them see for themselves what the projects using our system are doing, directly from the people doing them, not through an intermediary.

The domain directsponsor.net could be used for projects that are not affiliated with directsponsor.org.

Competition vs. Cooperation

Lack of transparency discourages cooperation.

The following is an excerpt from some research into “barriers to appropriate technology” (pdf attached to this page). In identifying these obstacles, the authors also identify faults in the current system of ‘aid’ provision.

“This [research] indicates that technology alone cannot be expected to solve development problems as it is only one piece of the puzzle. The second most significant barrier identified by the interviewees was the need for better communication as well as access to information, signaling the need for more collaboration between agencies working in the field of sustainable development.

“Further coding provided a more in-depth analysis of key single barriers. The greatest barrier identified was the need for more collaboration, better communication and exchange of knowledge, as well as concomitant problems of technological dissemination associated with appropriate technology.

“Additional barriers included the stigma of AT [appropriate technology] as inferior or “poor person’s technology”, barrier of cultural appropriateness, as well as problems of technological robustness, transferability and the fit within current industrial and economic systems. In addition,the need for better marketing, social venture opportunities and business partnerships were also viewed as increasingly important component for successful AT dissemination efforts. In general, interviewees were receptive to the core principles of knowledge commons, open source and innovation through collaboration and this may indicate a new positive trend in how knowledge is shared and built in future.”

Robert Steele made some interesting observations about this in this video clip:

To me, this seems to be a fault that is endemic in the whole business. I mean it isn’t just an occasional problem, it’s widespread and present to a certain extent throughout. There is a practically universal ineptness in the way the whole thing is done. Yes, you could point to an occasional success story, but on the whole, the situation has deteriorated as the years have gone by. Looking only at successes is a foolish thing to do. The ‘3rd World’ is in more of a mess now than it was 50 years ago, or 20, or 10. Things have not got better except perhaps for a small minority, and those for whom things have got worse far outnumber the better.

So something is fundamentally wrong with the system we use to try to make things better. Well, that seems a logical thing to me anyway.

Why do the authors of that paper say that we need “more collaboration, better communication, and exchange of knowledge”? They clearly don’t mean we need better communications technology though some might read that and run off to install more tech, but the whole point of the thing was that technology alone is not enough. What they are talking about is us communicating better.

When I approach an organization for funding the main thing that puts me off is the boring stuff I would have to do in order to get it. But that isn’t bad enough to be an excuse, I need a better excuse if I’m to avoid a dull life—something that really justifies not doing it. Mostly what justifies it for me is the jargon that spews out of these orgs. Not just their press releases and websites, but even when I am directly talking to one of their people.

It always felt wrong, not to be able to discuss things with ‘partners’ in plain English. It feels like a form of dishonesty, or at the very least a barrier between people who are supposed to be cooperating. No good will come of that type of over-formalized relationship. When it happens, I feel like I’m not talking to a human anymore, I’m just interfacing with the database they use through them. All that concerns them is how to fit our project and all its participants into their preset boxes. The system itself is in charge, and the human I am dealing with has no power, no self-direction. I hear the words: “I really like your idea, I’d love to help but…”

My interpretation of that research paper is that the mainstream orgs are all competing with each other at the most fundamental level: money because that is what they need to survive. If one org is working in a certain area, there’s only so much funding available, and the closer they are to each other in terms of what they are doing, the more closely they should be cooperating. But being totally open to a competitor is not good. They can just copy you and get more funding for themselves, or use the knowledge to gain an advantage over you and get some future funding you might have otherwise got.

Then we forget about the people we are supposed to be there for (assuming we really had them in mind in the first place). Most people in the business seem to have as their main priority some kind of salary for themselves, though only a few admit it. That’s quite natural. Where it goes wrong is when they need to convince others to support them, and they do it by advertising what they will do for the people they are helping.

In a normal business, I say to you, “I’m a fisherman. If you give me money, I’ll give you some fish”. You know that I will make money for myself, and everything is fine. So long as the price is right, I get my cash and you get your fish, and we’re both happy with the deal. If the fish is off, or if you give me fake money, we can find that out independently, I don’t need to trust you that the fish is ok, I can taste it, and if it’s bad I know it without asking you. But with aid it’s different. You tell me what aid you’re doing and I largely rely on you to tell me the truth.

If it was just you and me and a little village, then there would be a way for me to see if you were doing a good job. But if you’re working as part of a big org, you can just tell me about the successes your org had this year. There’s no easy way for me to know if my money was wasted or not, because everything is aggregated. Even with the successes, it’s hard for me to know if I got good value. Did you really need a million dollars to build that community center? And even if it was a good price, was it the best use of a million dollars for the community? All I know about the community is what you and your friends told me.

Do you even know? Imagine you’re working for an org whose passion in life is to distribute as much free dishwashing liquid as possible. Somehow they’ve managed to get huge funding. You go to some third world country, find the ‘community leaders’ and show them videos about your project. Tell them everyone will have free washing up liquid for the next three years, how good the liquid is, how everyone in Europe uses it and it’s really popular. All you need is a few local people to set up an office, they’ll get computers and a building, a few trucks and cars to play with, and a decent salary for themselves.

If you’re perceived as a rich whitey, the people will say whatever they think you want to hear. You could be there for years and still not really get to know the grassroots community.

Then when you ask these ‘community leaders’ what the community needs, what do you think they will say? If you primed them right, they’ll say “washing-up liquid!” Ok, an extreme thing to imagine, but the washing-up liquid is far more useful than a lot of aid projects. This is what most ‘community consultation’ adds up to. The local people are merely ‘consulted’, which is less than equal in a decision-making process. If someone comes to the village waving money around, and they want to bring the people ‘modern communications’, they’ll be welcomed with open arms. I only found this out by not having the money to follow through, that’s when I found out what a stupid idea it was, and what they really wanted. If my application for a grant from a major comms company had panned out, there would be an entirely useless internet center in Ait Attab and I would have a nice house and salary. So I guess the center wouldn’t be entirely useless…

The original donors (who may be taxpayers) have no input whatsoever, they’ve served their purpose already. But in reality, the ones who distribute the aid are just our agents. They are not an authority though they would claim authority if asked. After all, what do we know about it? We didn’t go to university for 6 years or more to study economics did we? We haven’t spent the last 20 years working ‘in the field’ have we? So they know better than we do!

But they don’t really know better. Look at what they have achieved. Trillions of dollars and things just got worse. The reasons don’t matter because the only sane conclusion is that having billions more dollars going through the same people is very unlikely to have a different outcome. So no matter what our politics, or our world-view, we can, at least, know that there is no point in letting the same people have our money. That’s a good start.

And the fact that we let those people have our money before shows that we’re not really fit to judge who is suitable, who will do the best things with our money. That’s just an observable fact.

Armed with this knowledge, we might consider that it would be best not to trust anyone with our aid money. That would leave us with a choice of not letting any of our money go to aid, or distributing it ourselves. The latter is what DS is for. Choose a project and sponsor a person, directly, yourself. Be as involved as you want to be. If you feel something is wrong, talk about it. Everything is done publicly, there are no hidden things you can’t find out about, and when you look at the system you can see this for yourself. You can know where all your money went and how it was spent.

This may not necessarily solve the problem of inappropriate development ideas, but it does enable you to find out if that’s happening, and to do something about it if it is. You can use the DS networking tools, or your own if you prefer, and make sure it is discussed by everyone involved. If something is wrong, it will be fixed by everyone concerned, because the organization is not hierarchical.

Communications are at the heart of everything we do, and by removing everything but the sponsor and the recipient, Direct Sponsor’s system simplifies the communications hugely. Anyone who’s played Chinese whispers knows how disruptive even the most diligent middleman can be in communications, and how easy it is for anyone to twist things to suit their own intentions. Don’t blame them, because by participating in the system that enables them to divert part of our money to different aims, we’re equally responsible.

See also Competition for some references on the detrimental effects it has in the NGO sector.