CC as a hybrid organization and a tool for hybrids
Mike Linksvayer, June 8th, 2009
Used in connection with Creative Commons the word “hybrid” has typically denoted an “economy” or “models” involving both sharing and commerce. Over half of CC founder Lawrence Lessig’s most recent book is devoted to exploring this sort of hybrid — see Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. CC licenses are a vital tool for enabling such hybrids in an environment where the default is hostile to the “sharing” side of the equation.
In a series of thought provoking blog posts Mark Surman, Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation, has introduced a different but entirely complementary “hybrid” — hybrid organizations. What is a hybrid organization? Mark asks and tentatively answers that question in the first post of the series:
So, what is a hybrid org? In the case of Mozilla — and an increasing number of other orgs — it’s a mix of social mission, disruptive market strategies and web-like scale and collaboration. Or, at least, that’s the definition I see emerging.
Another intriguing description, from the same post:
All of these organizations are trying to ‘move the market’ on the web in a way that both engages and benefits a broad public. As they do so, they are charting new territory.
Many of the comments and blogged replies are well worth reading, offering refinements and alternative descriptions. Frank Hecker, also of the Mozilla Foundation, provides some critical grounding in the theory of disruptive innovation. Commenter Stephan provides an alternative and also compelling description:
I find it easier to think about these organizations as a hybrid between a classical (hierarchical) organization and a social movement (or network).
It is the mix of the two that requires both a market perspective (the classic organization needs to make money to function) and a social mission (need that to create passion for the product or service among your the movement or network).
Much has been said about the interaction of movements and organizations — see Epistemic Communities and Social Movements : Transnational Dynamics in the Case of Creative Commons for a paper looking at the CC case — and how digital networks are changing the boundaries and interactions of movements and organizations. Nearly all of the organizations Mark mentions in his series have a strong “movement” aspect. One open question I have about hybrid organizations is their relationship to movements, or more broadly, non-organizational actors. Are hybrid organizations better able to leverage (and be leveraged by) the non-organizational sector, itself abetted by digital networks? Or even have hybrid organizations arisen in order for non-organizational actors and movements to achieve things in the world that require just-enough-organization and market savvy?
Stephen DeBerry provides an astutely skeptical comment on hybrid organizations:
One can approach this hybrid space with varying intent. In your/my case public benefit is central and necessary. In other cases the claim of public benefit is great marketing, but the actual public benefit is secondary or worse.
If that’s the case then there’s an interesting question for those seeking to drive public benefit: how do you ensure the public benefit remains core to the hybrid model?
This is a place where CC plays a vital role as a tool for hybrids. Just as CC licenses enable healthy hybrid economies and models, use of CC licenses by a hybrid organization help signal that such an organization takes its public benefit side seriously, and help ensure that it continues to do so. With so much of hybrid organizations’ output being digital media, offering that media under CC licenses, in particular free as in freedom ones, serve as a continual check-up on the organization’s public benefit intent, and an assurance against lock-in if that intent wavers. There may be useful parallels to be drawn between unhealthy “sharecropping” hybrid models (typically where a web company retains all of the rights to media created by users, making users unfree to use their own creations) and the hybrid organization as “great marketing” or worse described by Stephen. It should also be noted that free and open source software licenses provide a similar and complementary check on hybrid organizations that produce software — and nearly all do, at least in the form of customization of web site software.
What about CC as a hybrid organization? We’re very carefully exploring the most obvious incarnation of hybrid in the form of the CC Network. However, the addition of a non-donation revenue stream to a nonprofit isn’t necessary or sufficient to qualify it as a hybrid organization (see Frank Hecker’s post). Mark Surman’s initial descriptions of hybrid organizations (see above) don’t even mention business or revenue. These are worth quoting again, as the top of this post is far away:
[A] mix of social mission, disruptive market strategies and web-like scale and collaboration … trying to ‘move the market’ on the web in a way that both engages and benefits a broad public.
This of course describes just what Creative Commons does. Through free (as in freedom as well as gratis — and yes zero price is a market strategy as is freedom) and carefully branded legal and technical tools deployed on a web scale in collaboration with businesses, affiliates, supportive movements, and individuals, Creative Commons is “moving the market” consensus and practice away from default lockdown and toward more hack-remix-opportunity-generative-ness (to quote another and not explicitly related Mark Surman post) or more conventionally, more sharing, freedom, openness, autonomy and lower transaction costs and barriers to collaboration and innovation.
Creative Commons will be watching this discussion closely, and participating. Do you find the “hybrid organization” construct useful? What insights can be gained from the construct and experiences of other hybrids to make CC a more effective organization (hybrid or not) and enabler of healthy hybrids — organizations, models, and economies?