Open Participatory Organization (OPO)

From Be The Change Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Open Participatory Organization (OPO) is a self organization open architecture that is supported by a participatory communications platform and is backed up by a governance that evolves as the organization evolves. It serves as a guidance system to help centralized organizations transform without losing the ability to “see the organization as a whole operation.” It distributes responsibilities into self-organizing teams, without losing strategic performance.

OPO operates under the principle, 'Roles are known by all, and owned by none'.

How It Works[edit]

OPO Principles[edit]

  • It is based on principles of self organization and open participation
  • It has fully integrated architecture, communications and governance
  • It continuously adapts and learns

CRiSP Governance[edit]

CRiSP stands for Continuously Regenerating Its Starting Position. This means the OPO “remains ready and able” to change form as it evolves, taking on the shape that best fits the current conditions and contexts, and allowed to change shape as those conditions and contexts change. The architecture must remain both lean and agile. This is the new definition of “the learning organization,” — one in which the architecture has plasticity, enabling it to re-wire itself in response to change — the same way the plasticity of our nervous system enables us to learn.

CRiSP governance includes principles, proposals, precedents and procedures:


Principles are foundational guidelines that help prioritize between competing choices or help adjudicate conflict when rational argument fails to do so. Unlike polices and rules, principles can’t tell you what to do, but provide an overall compass by which you and others can evaluate options. Since principles are most often appealed to when the going gets tough, they should only be incorporated into your governance if you (the starting team) are all equally and fully committed to following them. If you are already thinking about principles as things that can be revised or replaced, then they are not really functioning as principles – they are acting as working values. Often, when a team is deriving the core value set for the organization as a whole, they discover that there is one theme, or one value that supersedes all others. This is the key hallmark of a true principle, as it serves as an “evaluative value” or a “meta-value” that can evaluate other values. These are the kinds of principles that can be helpful when setting up your governance. They should be broad enough to cover many different contexts, and rich enough to stimulate generative discourse during times of contention under duress. The best principles help us with practical judgement, and steer us away from ideology and dogma, so avoid creating principles that are overly zealous or righteous.


Proposals are statements that intend to revise, replace or add entirely new policies. A policy in CRiSP Governance is that every proposal must be accompanied by a real-life story that acts as a precedent that serves as a case in point that enable us to easily see why the existing policies are contradictory or inadequate. A CRISP governance means avoiding adding too many policies.


Precedents can often serve as providing new context for interpreting existing policies, without the need to add more policies. Maybe the wording on the existing policy needs to be tweaked to make it cover a wider range of interpretations or contexts. Once a proposal and precedent are submitted, you will need some procedures to decide on new proposals.


Procedures are governance practices such as majority vote, consensus, consent, and advice process. There are many new ideas for open participatory and peer-to-peer procedures, so the organization doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel here. The key characteristic is that it is an emergent governance. Procedures for changing principles might be different than those required for changing regular policies. Typically, however, principles are not subject so much to revision, as re-interpretation, in the same way that the US constitution is seldom changed, but is often reinterpreted as social contexts change. These simple protocols allow the OPO governance to evolve, stay CRISP, remain lean and relevant to current contexts.

Local Governance CRiSP allows for local governance at each location, so that policies may differ by locations. The rule here is that “local” means “inclusive of the people who will be affected by the policy.” So if that means more than one location, then you appeal to the governance at the next higher level that includes them both.

Locations: The building blocks[edit]

The OPO is built on the notion of “location.” A location is occupied by teams and team members. Locations can also be thought of as “houses,” since, like real houses, they co-evolve with their occupants, who design them for certain purposes (and not others) and improve them and add value to them. Locations are the “virtual asset” of the OPO. It means an opportunity to produce value by contributing values and skills in the context of an operational framework. Locations co-evolve with the teams and people who occupy them.

Three foundations of locations[edit]

Locations are built on three operational foundations: performance, objectives and values, and are structured as a reflection of the human processes underlying self organization: intention, identity, interaction.


Values are what motivates us, that intrinsically sustains our effort in doing good work. They are defined as our identity. They are represented operationally as roles, which by rule, are known, but counter-intuitively not owned by anyone. The roles emerge from the objectives (intention) of the members. Values are informed by the prompts: What values best suit doing good work here?


Objectives are the short-term tasks that have a certain time frame. They emerge from the values (identities, roles). Objectives are informed by the prompts: What do we have to do to do good work here? What can we learn here?


Performance is what is actually happening, the culture. It emerges from the collaborative interaction of the members. Performance is informed by the prompts: What are we doing here? Why are here? What is our purpose here? What does good work look like here?

The technical term for “location” is “performance-objective-value zone;” a term which correlates with the three aspects of self-organizing processes, “interaction, identity, intention” (respectively) - or “performance-value zones” for short.

Two location types[edit]

All locations are more technically known as “performance values zones”, and there are two distinct types of “zones” in the OPO: core and network. The core zones are where the value of the company is generated. The network zones are responsible for the exchange of resources into the organization.

Core performance-value zones[edit]

These include all those locations where the key operations of the company are taking place. If you are a software development company, the developers occupy your core performance-value zones. If you are a footwear manufacturing company, your core performance-value zones might include where the footwear is manufactured and/or distributed. If you are software resale company, your core zone will be occupied by a salesforce. It is important to be very very clear on what your core performances are. For example, if you merely distribute goods from another country, your core performance is not the manufacture of those goods, regardless of how you market yourself. Your core performance might be a call center, design shop, or distribution channel.

Network performance-value zones[edit]

These include all the other locations that are necessary and sufficient for the company to sustain itself, develop, improve and thrive. Whereas core performance-value zones are company-specific, there are a handful of network performance functions that are essential and universal to all modern organizations. The OPO categorizes these functions as Access, Adaptation, Support and Incubation. (We will learn more about them further on in this article)

In the language of the OPO, the network zones are responsible for the exchange of resources into the organization, from the larger participatory ecology, and the transaction of value added back. It is in this sense that the network zones are like a “living membrane” that is responsible for inside-outside resource flows. Investments are understood as resources flowing in – whether those resources are supplies, information, technology, community support or financial. Resources flowing out are “ex-vestments” which include products and services, payments, and contributions to the common wealth.

As we move around the network zones, we see that the key performance activities, skills and values and the environment in which they operate, become less chaotic, more orderly and more conservative as focus moves from emergent potentials to tried and true operational tasks. The unknown becomes progressively known, the unpredictable becomes progressively certain, the impossible and improbable become obvious and unavoidable.

The OPO delineates the network zones into four major classifications:

  • Access
  • Adaptation
  • Support
  • Incubation

Tech-know-logy and Collaboratory

Access refers to that part of the network responsible for making sure the organization has open and easy access to what we call Tech-know-logy, which is a term we invented that refers to all the technology, information, knowledge bases, etc. the organization needs at any given time. An organization also need continuous access to a vibrant Collaboratory – which is our term for the wide ranging networks and relationships an organization needs to develop new potential clients, customers, partners, contractors, suppliers, vendors, and the like.

The kinds of activities that are paramount to the Access sector of the organization are characterized by exploration, seeking novelty, active inquiry, imagining, ideation, and sensing what is emerging. The strategic preferences here are to diversify, disrupt, sense, intuit, learn, seek connect, and relate. Access is the place for change-makers of all kinds, because strong preference for reinvention, a driving force for novelty including emerging markets, emerging identities, and shifting roles are more likely to be successful for the company in this sector of the network. In terms of team participation and self-organization, one of the key skills required in this milieu is the ability to hold paradox and deal with uncertainty.

As illustrated in figure 2, the network zones also indicate phases in adaptive cycles that every organization goes through, and thus represents the key dynamics of change to be expected there. Zones also correlate with the types of change environments that are operating – from chaotic to complex, to direct and open, and thus are suggestive of the set of actions that are key to strategic choices in the particular network zone.


Peer Review and Applications

Teams in the Adaptation sector are responsible for designing and developing internal adaptive pressures, and for delivering external adaptive pressures into the organization. Their primary performance goal is strategic – making sure the organization continually improves and innovates, responds to both adaptive opportunities as well as challenges, meets and exceeds quality standards as well as legal and regulatory ones. The OPO template subdivides this sector into Peer Review and Applications -broadly construed terms that refer to procedures for hiring and evaluating employees, engaging external peer review programs, finding adaptive fit in markets, applying for promotions, and the like.

These responsibilities require people occupying these sectors to be sensitive, responsive, and reflective. They must have the skills to identify emerging patterns across a broad landscape of potentials – in people, in products, in markets, in culture – before they become obvious. In addition, people in these sectors need to be able to derive processes that create the conditions for the organization’s continual improvement and adaptation. Their default preferences would be to target, innovate and exploit potentials, as well as to respond, sense, and act on pressures to evolve, by iterating cycles of continuous improvement.


Financial and Community

The OPO subdivides the Support sector into Financial and Community. Financial support includes investment and cash flow, as well as budgeting, financial planning and tracking resource flows. Community support refers to human resource development and benefit-support, as well as engagement with the external virtual or physical community which is the larger participatory ecology of the organization.

The primary responsibility of the Support sector is that the organization has the financial and community resources to fully realize its potentials. The key strategic preferences in this sector are acting, analyzing and reiterating. They characteristic goals here are to increase, concentrate, develop, plan, do reproduce, report and repeat. The milieu of this sector can be complicated, but is rarely complex.


Playgrounds and Practitioners

Whereas Adaptation is the place of adaptive pressures, Incubation is the place for adaptive pleasures. The OPO template subdivides this sector into Playgrounds which are intramural programs such as company parties and events, and Practitioners which refers to extramural associations and their programs and events. The strategic purpose of the Incubation sector is to bump into surprise through playful and spontaneous, refreshing and renewing activities. Through intentional design, it makes sure the organization, thought of as a whole, as well as all its participating members engage the time and freedom to play, explore, practice and just “be.”

The milieu of this sector is neither chaotic nor complex, nor simple or complicated. It is merely remains “open to participation.”

Locations are fractal[edit]

Locations exist at different scales in the organization: organization, zone, team, individual. The Vision, Mission and Values of the organization specify the highest level, as they represent the performance, objectives and values of the organization as a whole. Each core zone and network zone is also specified by its own performance-objectives-value set that is common to all the teams that occupy the zone. In turn, each particular team will have its own performance-objectives-value set; and finally each member of each team specifies their individual performance-objectives-value set.

OPO Manifesto[edit]

Access over reciprocity[edit]

We don’t want “tit-for-tat” transactions that accumulate social obligation, which is merely another form of debt. We want open, universal access to the social network, to be able to receive from it whenever we have a relevant need, and to contribute to it whenever we have a gift or skill to give. We are receiving upon need, and paying it forward. This free give-away and take-away is constructing a new common wealth that depends upon opening up new portals of universal access: to the internet, to information, education and training.

Universal access in the workplace means deploying an open communications system where information is stored in the cloud where it can be “pulled” into your inbox or interface when you need it or just when you are surfing for serendipitous connections. It means that information is made available to everyone, including adequate transparency around salaries, profits, and performance. It means that everyone has access to the technology and knowledge base of the organization to fulfil their personal or professional needs and interests. It means universal access to personal space, time needed for well-being and family, including opportunities to learn new skills, time off to adventure and explore, or time needed to rest and heal.

Participation over commitment and consistency[edit]

Participation over commitment and consistency: We live in the fluidity of global time, the flux and flow of attention span, the overlap of work and play. Every day it becomes harder to preplan and commit, and easier to join in and participate at the last minute. We are becoming more spontaneous and improvisational. People love the option of dropping in, of discovering something serendipitously or through synchronous events. We love interruption of all sorts — from flash mobs to selfies. But then we also can suddenly drop out and offline and disappear from sight. No one will mind. We will be back.

If P2P (peer-to-peer) denotes parity, then it is not the same as participation which allows for parity as an option, but rejects it as a given. Participation is concerned with equality, where the meaning of equality excludes parity-as-a-given, but includes values such as equal opportunity, and unconditional regard of the personhood of all individuals. Participation is a realist attitude, not an idealist position, which means it involves and includes (rather than claiming to exclude) the asymmetrical relationships between people, with respect to power, need, experience, identity and skill.

We can also talk about open participation and authentic participation — terms which point to broader and deeper means of participation. Authentic participation perfects work by integrating personhood with professionalism, aligning personal values with collective aspirations.

Participation opens toward a broader scope of possibility in relationship, such that more and more of reality is allowed in and appreciated with the kind of loving acceptance and equanimity we call unconditional regard. Participation deepens in authenticity as it becomes more spontaneous, which means we let go of pre-judgment (prejudice) or any kind of strategizing orientation toward what might happen.

Open and authentic is a state of mutual interplay, allowing everything as self or as other, to participate in the co-creation of emergent experience. In the workplace this means actively and consciously participating in the on-going interplay of intention, interaction and identity, in a field of participation where people are continuously opting-in and opting-out according to shifting needs, conditions and relationships, across a spectrum of values with obligation and necessity at one end, and spontaneity and improvisation at the other. In the workplace, obligation and necessity create patterns of stability which comes with the sense of safety; whereas spontaneity and improvisation are the drivers of novelty, innovation, and transformation, and comes with the taste of risk and surprise.

Reputation over social proof[edit]

The shift from social proof to reputation continues to grow in importance and will have dramatic consequences for the emergence of a participatory culture. In The Reputation Society, Craig Newmark writes

By the end of the decade power and influence will have shifted largely to those people with the best reputations and trust networks and away from people with money and nominal power.

Reputation differs from social proof in the kinds of networks and relationships that maintain them. Social proof is maintained by institutional methods of validation, such as licenses, accreditation, official standards, etc. These methods aggregate regulatory power into the hands of the few, and therefore social proof comes to represent the value set of the privileged and those closest to centralized power. Reputation, on the other hand, is sourced from the crowd through the cloud in the many many ways we “like,” “up-vote” or “down-vote,” and as we rate, review, recommend, and share what is presented or offered to us. Already today, reputation effects what we purchase and where we purchase from. In other words, reputation is becoming a major driver of resource allocation, steering goods, services, energy, and money in some directions rather than others. Reputation is becoming a powerful distributed decision- making process in society, turning representational forms of democratic decision-making processes into participatory ones. As evaluative processes become more distributed, reputations will come to reflect the spectra of values in the rich and diverse ecology of human interests that emerge through the complex processes of human interaction.

Legitimacy over authority[edit]

Legitimacy is earned, over and over again, through adequate participation in the work, field or discipline involved. Whereas authority is associated with expertise, legitimacy is associated with mastery. Because authority is granted by the few who hold and preserve the existing power structures, it depends upon the recommendations of experts who abstract from the local and particular elements of experience, to come up with a generalized “whole” which functions as an ideological basis for evaluation by authorities. As societies becomes more stratified and complex, then, authority becomes more and more an outcome of ideology and theory, and less and less a measure of praxis.

This distinction between expert authority and legitimate mastery is important for the future of work. It helps explain why a commission of experts is likely to become embroiled in endless argument and debate, since theories and ideologies are endlessly incommensurable. What any particular expert abstracts from the local and particular and what they leave behind, itself depends upon the many different identities, intentions and interactions that are constantly being negotiated among other experts. The problem with evaluative discourse that depends upon experts, is that the identities, intentions and interactions among the experts are not part of the very work that they are supposed to be evaluating. Whereas expert interactions happen elsewhere, the interactions that mastery depends upon, happen in the very places and in the actual experiences which is relevant to evaluative discourse. Mastery is always an outcome of the skills, adequate participation, and practical judgement that are involved in the many location and context-sensitive interactions of a particular discipline or field of work, and therefore is a legitimate source of evaluative discourse.

Connectivity over liking[edit]

The participatory attitude is one of radical inclusion. Imagine all the people in the world we are connected with, and contrast this with the subset of people we know on a personal basis — people we have come to “like in real life.” Our attention is being broadly cast over myriad connections and relationships, allowing us to engage with opinions and experiences from people who we might find hard to actually “like.” “Liking” is probably the quality of human relationship that is most limited by the Dunbar number, whereas the number of potential connections is unlimited. In 1929 Frigyes Karinthy theorized there were only six degrees of separation between any one person and any other person in the world. In a recent post facebook announced that the average degree of separation between its members had dropped from 4.74 in 2011 to 3.57 today.

Just think about that a bit. You are closer than ever to the people you admire, the celebrities you adore and the rich, famous, wealthy and powerful people you esteem. You are also closer than ever to the people you fear, rival, loathe, as well as possibly, those you deeply and passionately hate. It is always a shock when someone we know, someone from our neighborhood or workplace, turns out to be a violent offender. Today, every violent offender is more probably than not, only 3 or 4 degrees of separation from you.

And yet, the participatory attitude is not one that is particularly interested in this kind of thinking. Rather, it emphasizes that broadly shared connectivity represents a new common wealth and serves us as an emergent possibility space for freely acting humans. As we continue to become more connected, we will struggle with making sense of how close we really are to each other. Our habitual ways of reacting, with anxiety, distrust and fear, will be intensified until we adapt and learn how to make new meaning of our connectivity and interdependency. We will come to see that we need each other — that everyone needs everyone else, and realize how much more significant this is than who we like.

Abundance over scarcity[edit]

The participatory attitude is one of abundance which recognizes the tremendous wealth in human interconnection, as well as our interconnection with the natural world. We see that the living world is constituted by interconnection and relationships; that all growth, development and evolution is predicated on the richly textured and deeply interwoven mutuality of all beings — human and non-human. We have come to realize that scarcity is a false construct maintained by societies that have organized themselves to benefit the few at the expense of the many. We have begun to see that the tension between the individual and the collective is a false dilemma, as the individual emerges from the many many local interactions and relationships which we call “the collective” and “the collective” emerges from the many many local interactions between “individuals.”

Abundance doesn’t mean having more and more things at our disposal. Abundance refers to the very possibility of connecting and relating.

Atoms connect to each other and create elements, mass relates to mass and creates the fabric of space-time. Persons connect and engage each other, inter-relate and co-create the social fabric. “A person,” said the philosopher Alfred North Whithead, “is a society of cells.” Animals and plants, rivers and tides, sunlight and atmosphere — relationships upon myriad relationships from which emerges the participatory ecology we call “earth.” Abundance is all about remembering we are born of relationship, and as interconnected participants we co-create our future through continuously shifting patterns of connecting and relating.

OPO organizations[edit]

  • C-Labs - A community and learning lab for people who are writing new source code for human collectives and world-building activities.


In 2015, Bonnitta Roy developed the notion of the OPO: the Open Participatory Organization and, along with Francois Beauregard and Jean Trudel, launched triaxiom9, the first company to be created from an OPO architecture. In 2016, Bonnitta Roy launched APP Associates International as the online hub for a growing number of professionals applying open participatory practices in organizations.

Published Articles[edit]