Tag Archives: tragedy of the commons

Community Responsibility vs. ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’

Over the next 8 weeks I hope to run a series of discussions on community responsibility and how it’s critical for how I (and many others) work on the internet. I’m planning to write a series of reflections about the topic but, more importantly, to invite in a bunch of community folks to talk about what community means to them (likely not the same for everyone), to describe valuable examples of community responsibility that they’ve seen and to talk about their ideas for how they would like to see communities operate.

I was talking about this with Lawrie Phipps the other day and he pointed me to “The Tragedy of the Commons” as an interesting foil for discussion. According to wikipedia

The article describes a dilemma in which multiple individuals acting independently in their own self-interest can ultimately destroy a shared resource even where it is clear that it is not in anyone’s long term interest for this to happen.

The article itself is focusing more on the idea of a ‘limited’ resource, and we could argue that the ‘limited resource’ here – people’s attention, community focus on a cross section of the long tail – but I’d rather not get bogged down there, but our time certainly is limited… and the energy that we have to constantly create and recreate our knowledge bases is certainly limited. There are ways that we work together that are more effective and ways in which we can design spaces that are more effective. There are reasons to start work, to leave a trail behind you and reasons to decide that you shouldn’t start ‘Yet Another List’ of whatever it is you are working on.

The work that we do in communities is important to all of us. The work that is done in those communities is valuable and, in many cases, well worth tending as the projects go forward… but how to do it? Are we responsible to the communities that we participate in? If we are how do we, as community members, live up to our responsibilities?

Please… no more rules!
I doubt there is any single way to be a responsible community citizen, nor is this project intended to be an exclusive ‘8 ways to be a community member’… the idea is more about discussing the best practices and trying to avoid being either legalistic (you must do exactly this or…) or jingoistic (“yes we…” uh… probably too fresh there… just not jingoistic).

Our existing guidelines on things like citation and IPR are more about what you are ‘allowed’ to do, these things focus on the individual and what that individual can do to get the most of out of the commons of knowledge. What I’m more interested in is rather how we can be more ‘responsible to’ the communities that we work in and around. This goes all the way from realizing we HAVE participated in a community to acknowledging the work that you are building on in a way that furthers the community you have learned from, giving to that community in a way that makes it stronger and crafting communities so that these things are possible.

It’s a big mandate for one little eight part project, but I’ve been thinking and talking about this alot recently, and I’d like to crystalize some of the ideas that I have now if for no other reason than to use them as a frame of reference for later. I’m inviting in a bunch of smart people to hopefully learn from them and also better learn what I myself think about these things.

What you can do
One, I’d love some more suggestions about who to invite… I’ve gotten a few ‘yes’es so far and am hoping to get a few more people brought into the mix… no need to stop at eight folks for eight episodes… this is the internets, it’s not like I’m paying by the word :)

I’d also love if you folks, my own community, would interact with these ideas as they come along. I make no specific claim to ‘knowing’ how this should be done… really I don’t even think that’s possible. It’s only through the interaction that we get a sense for what is the ‘knowledge’ of this…

oh right… and like i said before… i got this idea after reading Steve Dembo’s 30 days to becoming a better blogger. Thanks steve.