I happened to notice recently in an e-mail update from the Association Forum of Chicagoland that an association wiki project has been launched—actually a range of projects that have, understandably, yet to coalesce into the cohesive presence represented by more mature Web 2.0 destinations like Wikipedia. While the content of the wiki is rather thin at the time of this posting, it is nonetheless great to see this type of initiative underway—kudos to the Association Forum.
Browsing around, I was struck by one entry that aims, with little subtlety, at capturing the essence of the whole thing: Open Source Association. For anyone who has spent even a minimal amount of time investigating Web 2.0 technologies, pondering the phenomenon of social production, and considering the role of associations in our society (come on, you know that’s you;-), it is difficult to disagree with the main point of the entry: “An emerging array of tools collectively known as “Web 2.0” may offer more efficient and effective means [than associations] for people to collaborate, create and share knowledge and information.” Yes, associations may no longer be necessary.
I am sure I don’t need to point out that this is not a trivial observation—it cuts to the very root of our democracy. Nay, all democracies. As Alexis de Tocqueville so eloquently put it more than 150 years ago (yes, it’s that quote again—or at least part of it):
In democratic countries knowledge of how to combine is the mother of all other forms of knowledge; on its progress depends that of all the others.
It is a shame that turns of phrase like “how to combine” seem to be entirely absent from contemporary discussion of knowledge management and learning. With or without them, however, it is clear that associations do indeed have a challenge ahead of them as the social possibilities of the Web grow. Given a good association management system, an e-mail marketing tool, and perhaps a learning management system thrown in for good measure, the little man behind the curtain who is currently being ignored might actually be able to run the whole show for many organizations. As the author (or authors) of the association wiki entry imply, we’re not in Kansas anymore:
A new culture is required, one that values co-creation and openness to collaboration outside of centralized structures and processes.
The open source software community is, naturally, held up as the model that associations should look to for inspiration. I look forward to seeing how this entry develops over time. For those who are tuning in from charitable or advocacy organizations—I haven’t yet found an equivalent for the Open Source Association wiki, but I am sure it is out there. If you are in any way concerned with how to “collaborate, create and share knowledge and information,” or more poetically, “how to combine,” that bell tolling may be for your organization (as it currently exists) as well.