Saturday, November 29, 2014

#334 / Scale Matters

The Thanksgiving Day edition of the San Francisco Chronicle carried an article in its business section that documented the problems being faced by the website CouchSurfing, which is transforming itself from an all-volunteer, nonprofit effort into a for-profit business. 

Th following comment in the article particularly caught my attention.

As the website grew in size it became "hard to maintain CouchSurfing's free-wheeling, community-centered ethos as its user base grew from 3 million to 10 million today."

Scale, in other words, matters. And "bigger" is not always "better." In politics, when a "community-centered ethos" is lost, the opportunity for a genuine democracy may be lost as well. 

The anthropologist Margaret Mead has provided some much-quoted advice (reprinted below), and my personal experience in politics confirms her observations. But this system of democratic change only works when, in fact, the politics of change is being practiced in a "small group" setting. You can't "scale up" the kind of person to person interactions that are the only thing that will ever "change the world."

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. 
  • Margaret Mead

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1 comment:

  1. This is so right on, Gary. Jean and I struggle with this every day. It seems to be the bane of all small groups that they want to get bigger. And bigger compounds the problems faced by groups when they are successfully engaging in community politics.

    Sometimes we just want to do it all ourselves, to avoid the problems brought about by scaling up to larger groups, non-profits, fundraising, coordination, rules and regulations, etc., etc., etc.!

    We have the Margaret Mead quote on our LLASCC web site.


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