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ISSUE: A provocative essay, "De-Nationalizing Community," by Richard Cornuelle, author of Reclaiming the American Dream (1965) and De-Managing America (1975), sparked a conversation about our understandings of human action and cooperation and how these understandings inform our visions of the future.

The conversation began by looking at a single sentence that sparked Chris Corrigan's imagination: "The new, unfamiliar task is to present credible visions of alternatives to the failing programs of centrism."

CONVENER(S): ChrisCorrigan and LenoreEaly

PARTICIPANTS: Chris and I neglected to circulate the participant list, but we had about 20 participants, several of whom are mentioned in our writeup below.


Lenore began by providing some biographical background on Cornuelle's work. She has the pleasure of working with him today on a project to articulate a richer understanding of the role of philanthropy in a free society and to catalogue, incite, and nurture the credible alternatives to which Cornuelle refers. http://www.thephilanthropicenterprise.org

Cornuelle has long championed the idea that not-for-profit organizations should be categorically independent of government and that they should be the chief competitors with government for the accomplishment of public business. Lenore described the effort of Cornuelle and a group of business leaders in Indianapolis in the 1960s to extend the reach of lending markets to students needing financial assistance to attend college. The United Student Aid initiative pioneered a lending program through which philanthropic dollars were used to guarantee student loans, thereby generating tremendous leverage for the resources in the program. Ironically, while the initiative was intended to demonstrate that the private sector (commercial and philanthropic) could best discover and manage such innovations, the model was itself the one eventually adopted when the Johnson administration nationalized the student loan industry.

GerryGleason asked what was wrong with such nationalization of the program by the federal government if it worked. This turned the discussion to Cornuelle's insight that such nationalization efforts tended to have the unintended consequence of de-moralizing, de-naturing, and paralyzing the voluntary efforts of people to envision and work in their own communities for positive change.

Cornuelle's life work and challenge to us in this essay has been guided by his observation that during the 20th century American communities were ennervated and largely lost the habits of imaginative voluntary action that had characterized American life in the 19th century. Cornuelle traced this loss of community vitality to the impact of the Progressive-era vision that believed that the only way of building a good society in a complex world would be to nationalize its ends and means. This nationalization of community was based on three common beliefs:

"The first was monopoly: you could only manage the use of a resource or service rationally if you controlled all of it; second, centralization of authority: rational decision-making required knowledge of all the facts and alternatives and these were available only at the top; third, scientific management by specialized professionals. Ordinary people, uneducated and superstitious, and moreover degraded and disoriented by life in an industrial society, would need to be carefully directed not only in their work but in their personal lives."

A parallel to Cornuelle's vision might be the culture emerging around hacking, and similar tale told in the struggle between open source and proprietary software development. Open source software development breaks the rules of monopolization and centralization. The issue of professionalization is more complex, as there are clear heirarchies of merit among hackers based on a programers capability. Professionalization in the sense of credentialing by gatekeeping professional organizations and control of a profession from this "center" is clearly counter to hacker culture.

JonHusband (http://www.wirearchy.com) made incisive comments about the changing modes of corporate organization that echoed Cornuelle's insights and extended them forward to today's arrangements and pointed to several books/authors with similar insights, such as Jane Jacobs' Dark Age Ahead and Cappelli's (?) New Deal at Work.

This led us to test Cornuelle's hypothesis that "The defining polarity of our time is the choice between two anti-thetical ways of coordinating cooperative human activity, one based on the concentration of responsibility and authority, and the other based on its diffusion."

Cornuelle was clearly speaking of the arrangement of political institutions primarily, but also acknowledged the increasing recognition among corporations that command-and-control was no longer the most efficient organization of production for knowledge-age companies. Cornuelle sees the increasing shift from vertical to horizontal organization in corporations as a promising trend.

It was suggested that viewing the polarity so sharply may not be a fruitful approach to enhancing our understanding of human cooperative activity and the appropriate forms of corporate organization to changing circumstances.

MichaelHerman emphasized the transactional nature of philanthropy and commented on the need to drive transaction costs out of the philanthropic process. He spoke of the increasing fluidity of financial markets made possible by electronic trading (manual and programmed) and wondered whether there might be analogous explosion of philanthropic gift making were similar tools available to make it easier to move resources from a donor to a good idea or a person in need. GerryGleason disputed the appropriateness of the model of programmed trading on the basis that the ownership of such automation by big market players was effectively making markets less open and transparent to individual investors, so working against decentralization rather than effecting it.

PhilCubeta wondered what implications this view of decentralization had to do with philanthropy, and posed the question whether philanthropy is a transaction or something more. LenoreEaly suggested that TomMunnecke's illustration of the difference between toasters, cats, and snowflakes might help us understand how to move beyond transactional interpretations and solutions to see the properties of community that emerge beyond the transactional foundation. Giving, in other words, is greater than the sum of its parts, and its transformative power comes not directly through the transaction, nor through the sum of transactions but emerges beyond the gift itself and is perhaps instantiated in the vitality of human social institutions.

ACTIONS: Lenore expressed a desire for participants to help collect books, papers, etc exploring these issues for inclusion in a growing bibliography of resources at the philanthropic enterprise website. More importantly, we need stories of credible alternatives that are being created in communities where people are reclaiming responsibility for their health, education, welfare, and work and for the deeper vitality of their communities. In addition, Chris and Lenore are going to work on some sort of paper together to help bring his rich insights from grassroots work to bear on these questions.

I was not able to attend this session, but agree with some of the thoughts that were expressed. I recommend reading an essay titled "Backward Mapping: Implementation Research and Policy Decisions" written by Richard F. Elmore for the Political Science Quarterly in its Winter 1979-80 issue. Elmore proposes a process which gives the greatest flexibility for deicision making to those on the ground doing the work to solve a problem. This is opposed to the tops-down management process of government programs. At http://www.tutormentorexchange.net/Resources/AgeGroupsLinks/AgeGroupLinksHome.asp you can see how we apply such thinking in collecting knowledge examples that others could use to build stronger tutor/mentor programs.

Another study to read is the Quantum Opportunities Program research done in September 1995 by Dr. Andrew Hahn of Brandeis University. While this study had much information to support the development of comprehensive, multi-year tutor/mentor programs, the one point that is relevant to this conversation was a statment that said, "You cannot franchise hugs and understanding, but you can provide the infrastructure so that high-tech and high-touch are combined." To me this points to a decentralized structure with lots of local ownership and local flexibility, that is connected in a very comprehensive and user-friendly infrastructure that encourages sharing tools and methods, systems and technologies. We try to apply this concept in the Tutor/Mentor? Conneciton by hosting events where program leaders share information and work together to build resources (volnteers, dollars, etc.), while at the same time providing maps of Chicago and computerized databases that enable volunteers or donors to choose which programs to support, without a middleman making that decision for them.

In a sense we are competing with government in saying, "this is a better operating system" and using the Internet and various advertising and public awareness strategies to find partners who share the same belief and are willing to work together to make the vision a reality. I feel such a process could be duplicated in any city, and in any social service sector with similar or greater benefit. DanBassill, Tutor/Mentor? Connection http://www.tutormentorconnection.org

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