An “organizational concept” is just a shorthand way to talk about the variety of features that a specific kind of organization has.
We regularly talk about “holding companies,” “nonprofits,” “trade associations,” etc., because these terms give us quick and useful insight into how an entity is organized and operates. Sometimes these distinctions are encoded into law, other times they’re there to help distinguish economic strategies, such as, “merchant banks,” “investment banks” and “mutual funds.”
When talking about a new or uncommon organizational concept, the burden of explanation falls on the user of the term. This is especially true for concepts of distributed organizations.
In common language, the term “venue” is often used in relation to sport arenas, theaters, restaurants and hotels, among many others. Venues are places in which you can do things, eat things, see things, etc. Usually they have a boundary — perhaps a door or gate — so that you know when you’re inside and when you’re outside.
Usually there is a host, owner or curator of the venue that determines how things are set up and what the terms of entry are, and who is ultimately responsible for everything that happens within the venue.
There are often different parts/sections of a venue, which are accessible under different terms and costs. Distinct venues are often nested within other venues, as when there is a back room in a restaurant or different screening rooms inside a theater, or linked to each other through agreements or contracts.
From these common meanings, we can create a concept of an organizational system that is fully made up of only three components:
- Venues –a semi-autonomous space that has:
- A recognizable and enforceable boundary, which can be as permeable or as strict as necessary for the venue’s functioning,
- Seats, tickets, membership or some other means for participants to expressly commit to the venue and which grant rights to engage with each other or consume the venue’s services,
- A capability to nest other venues within itself, controlled by the same or other curators,
- A capability to link to other venues and create an explicit system of venues (in essence, create a new venue that includes the originating venues as participants,
- A known and named curator.
- Curators– A corporate or individual adult that is responsible for determining at least:
- How the venue operates,
- What services are provided through it, and the rights, responsibilities and costs of participation, etc.
- Participants in venues — either corporate or individuals, who enter a venue and either explicitly or implicitly agree to the terms of participation.
Many human institutions can be shoehorned into this construct, even if a little uncomfortably.
For example, we could even consider the structure of the United States a venue. We call it a “system of government” but it could just as easily be considered a system of curated venues. It has two classes of participants — states and citizens — where technically one set of participants (citizens) become associated in order to create the other set of participants (states) that are themselves venues too. (Of course, one may argue which came first, the states or the citizens. And ambiguity on this point led to at least one civil war and many other challenges that have stuck with us right up to the present day.) The curator for the national venue is the federal government and the curators for the states are the state governments.
A few other points are useful from this example. First, venues “inherit” the agreements and policies of the venue in which they are embedded. States are accountable for following federal laws; cities are accountable for following state laws. Yet, each embedded venue can establish policies of its own, fully binding on its participants, as long as the venue doesn’t violate or usurp those of the powers or policies of the venue in which it is embedded.
Second, the decision-making process of any venue curator can be as simple or as complex as it needs to be. It can include the participants in the process of curation, or not. And it’s rare for the process in any two venues to be exactly the same, even as they can learn and adapt practices from the other.
Third, sometimes participants hire staff, either individually or collectively, to operate on their behalf within a venue. Even more commonly, it’s the venue curator that hires staff to help in making decisions, enhance the attraction and quality of the venue, or provide services to participants. Either way, staff is beholden to those who hired them — and tend to operate with less autonomy than the participants in the venue.
You may notice that I have not equated curation with ownership. This is consistent with common usage, e.g., a curator of a museum rarely owns the museum or the artifacts within. A restaurateur often leases her building space, but owns the decor. Private property is well protected within the U.S., although much of the land out here in the West is government-owned. This flexibility with ownership patterns is an important feature of the curated venue concept, and the benefits and potential complications of that flexibility will become clear as you play with the concept further.
- Two venues can only interact in one of two ways:
- One can become a participant in the other, i.e., operate within the other venue and according to its rules/agreements for venues doing so. (It will then be a peer to other venues that have made the same choice.)
- The two curators can form a new third venue, name the curator for that venue, and then nest within that new venue, based on a common set of agreements.
- A venue may leave the venue in which it is nested. But if it does, then it must nest in another venue, or leave the system.
Note that the “nesting” here is not a concept of one venue being inside of another’s physical space (although this can happen, too). It is a concept of being within another’s agreement space along with other venues/participants honoring that same agreement.
While there is nothing stopping a venue from organizing the venues and/or curators that are nested within it hierarchically, one would expect the most inclusive venues — those resulting from the self-organization of two or more autonomous venues — to be steadily more open as they get larger.
Any venue can grow larger by increasing its own number of participants, or facilitating the growth of the venues that are nested within it.
The potential scale and scope of such a system of curated venues is infinite, and it is ultimately biased toward democratic, market-oriented and ethical ideals.