Monthly Archives: March 2010

Trick-or-Treat, Take 2

FPF member Eliza J. Anderson just blogged on Goodkin about an FPF episode…

This past October I rescheduled Halloween. Yep, moms really can be that powerful. I salvaged Anakin’s High Holy Day despite the H1N1, but I also suggested I have the power to move mountains (which makes me nervous)…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud as hell of this. Maybe because I never pretended to do it with magic; it was a simple Internet solution.  Front Porch Forum—our town’s listserv—is highly deployable for such moments of true crisis. Anakin spiked his fever at noon on October 31st, transforming from a commanding Darth Vader into a deflated lump of couch coal. Horrified, I reasoned that since a third of his school was out sick, others would likely bite at a little Halloween redo. And they did.

A week later, the fever passed, we had a list of seven participating households, a lovely dry evening for dress up (it poured on the real Halloween), a mutually agreed on 1 ½ hrs to go door to door, and the pleasure of other children greeting us (whose parents signed up to get rid of their sugary surplus).

Gotta love ingenuity and happy endings!

P.S.  “Listserv?”  Egads, no!  Read my rant.

Northeast Rural Summit to Feature FPF

This promises to be a great event hosted by USDA RD and VCRD

The 2010 Northeast Rural Summit: Generating Rural Innovation and Regional Partnership ~ April 12 and 13, 2010 at the Burlington Hilton Hotel

Visit the Summit Website to Register or for more information

Join national and regional USDA leaders, state agency leaders, non-profit and business leaders from throughout the northeastern United States for two days of strategic planning around four crucial directions for the rural northeast:

  • Food Systems: Local Foods Development and Regional Foods Systems
  • Energy: Advancing Efficiency, Generation and Fuel Development
  • Broadband: Global Opportunities & Rural Lifestyles
  • Rural Economic Development: Investment in Innovation

The Summit is designed to share best regional and place-based practices and build strategic partnerships among state Rural Development offices and rural leadership organizations throughout the region.

It’s a real honor to have Front Porch Forum featured April 12 at this event.

Social Media Bubble? Relationship Inflation?

Oh boy.  Umair Haque is gonna get it.  The boisterous boosters of the blah-blah-blah-o-sphere won’t let his Harvard Business Review piece pass without comment (and lots of them).  Here’s a snippet…

Despite all the excitement surrounding social media, the Internet isn’t connecting us as much as we think it is. It’s largely home to weak, artificial connections, what I call thin relationships.

During the subprime bubble, banks and brokers sold one another bad debt — debt that couldn’t be made good on. Today, “social” media is trading in low-quality connections — linkages that are unlikely to yield meaningful, lasting relationships.

Call it relationship inflation.


Cooperation vs. Competion or Regulation

Scott Heiferman’s tweet led me to take a closer look at the work of recent Nobel Laureate (economics) Elinor Ostrom.  She studies how cooperation works best in some cases… better than competition or regulation… our two dominant forms of organizing markets.  From a Forbes article

Garrett Hardin called his famous 1968 essay on shared resources “The Tragedy of the Commons.” He argued that a shared village grazing pasture would tend to get overused and eventually destroyed. But even Hardin later acknowledged that shared common resources did not inevitably have to end in destruction, saying that he should have called his essay “The Tragedy of the Unmanaged Commons.”

And from Fran Korton’s interview at Shareable

Fran: It’s interesting that your research is about people learning to cooperate…

Elinor: I have a new book coming out in May entitled Working Together, written with Amy Poteete and Marco Janssen. It is on collective actions in the commons. What we’re talking about is how people work together. We’ve used an immense array of different methods to look at this question “case studies, including my own dissertation and Amy’s work, modeling, experiments, large-scale statistical work. We show how people use multiple methods to work together.

Fran: Many people associate “the commons” with Garrett Hardin’s famous essay, “The Tragedy of the Commons.”… What’s the difference between your perspective and Hardin’s?

Elinor: Well, I don’t see the human as hopeless. There’s a general tendency to presume people just act for short-term profit. But anyone who knows about small-town businesses and how people in a community relate to one another realizes that many of those decisions are not just for profit and that humans do try to organize and solve problems.

If you are in a fishery or have a pasture and you know your family’s long-term benefit is that you don’t destroy it, and if you can talk with the other people who use that resource, then you may well figure out rules that fit that local setting and organize to enforce them. But if the community doesn’t have a good way of communicating with each other or the costs of self-organization are too high, then they won’t organize, and there will be failures.

Fran: So, are you saying that Hardin is sometimes right?

Elinor: Yes. People say I disproved him, and I come back and say “No, that’s not right. I’ve not disproved him. I’ve shown that his assertion that common property will always be degraded is wrong.” But he was addressing a problem of considerable significance that we need to take seriously. It’s just that he went too far. He said people could never manage the commons well.

At the Workshop we’ve done experiments where we create an artificial form of common property such as an imaginary fishery or pasture, and we bring people into a lab and have them make decisions about that property. When we don’t allow any communication among the players, then they overharvest [the commons]. But when people can communicate, particularly on a face-to-face basis, and say, “Well, gee, how about if we do this? How about we do that?” Then they can come to an agreement.

That last bit there about communication leading to better community decisions… love it.  It’s so obvious. I guess that’s why it takes a non-economist Nobel Laureate in Economics to explain it to the economists of the world.  And, for what it’s worth, her observation jibes with what we see at Front Porch Forum too.  FPF leads to better communication among neighbors, more face-to-face conversation, and, in many cases, better community decisions.

Congratulations Dr. Ostrom!