Tag Archive | community

Of Brains and Men

A short one from me, for once!  But I needed to get this out of my head, either for general discussion with you clever people, or later research / procrastination (delete as appropriate).

Watching Game of Thrones last night it struck me how many stories we keep track of, whether it be long form TV drama, soaps, movie franchises, comics, novels or games.  I’m in the middle of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy, and will no doubt pick up the latest from George RR Martin whenever he finishes it.  Star Wars is 1/3 the way through a new trilogy, itself part of a wider set of stories in a universe where there are plenty of tales to tell.  I’m sure many of you are in a similar situation, whatever genre you’re into or medium you prefer.  You may also be a student of history, and have a deep understanding of the people and stories of a particular time.

Now for each of these fictional or historical universes, we understand those characters, their motivations and relationships, the rules that govern their worlds that don’t necessarily apply in ours.  They’re stored in our brains and we switch back into them each time we pick up a book or switch on the TV.

A certain amount of our brain’s capacity relates to these social rules and relationships.  Certainly, we see from Anthropology  that there seems to be a correlation here: Dunbar’s Number suggests that the average size of a social group for different species of primate relates to the volume of their neocortex.

So here’s my hypothesis: that as language evolved, and we recounted stories of our exploits, tales of our ancestors, our brain capacity grew, even if we lived in small groups.  Our stories became more fanciful, we invented fiction.  And now we see a huge proportion of our lives are based around these other worlds and relationships that are not our own.

This prompts a number of questions:

  • As a species are we continuing to expand our neocortex because of the diverse and complex stories we consume?
  • As individuals do we sacrifice real-world relationships for fictional ones, or does this help us expand our capacity?
  • Does the exposure to more points of view and a different set of rules help us to empathise  with others and adapt to situations outside our usual experience?



MyFootballClub’s new board – 3rd time lucky?

In August, 20 candidates campaigned for seats on the MyFootballClub Society Board and the “lucky” 7 will direct the strategy over the next year, a critical role as the Society is the main financial support for Ebbsfleet United.

Despite being elected to represent the members of the Society, some of the previous Board members sermonised about their view of responsible ownership, actively opposing the open, community decision-making way of thinking that MyFootballClub was based on.  In particular, this was seen in some of the more contentious issues during the year, such as the Club budget, membership fees and player sales.

The forum discussions about these decisions went on and on for dozens of pages, with very few new facts or analysis produced along the way.  The more vocal contributors quickly dug in their heels and the casual members had no way of tracking the debate or main points.  We still need something more than the forums in this regard, at the very least to get the main points summarised regularly.

I think one of the biggest factors in the state of anomie that sometimes seems to pervade the MyFC community is the lack of faith from the Board in the ability of the membership to make the right choices.  Alice Casey describes this perfectly:

…decision makers don’t give enough credit to public wisdom and intelligence, the press consistently portray the public as being respondent, passive and powerless rather than active and influential, and people themselves do not feel able to influence decisions in their communities. These three have worked together to ensure that many citizens remain as passive consumers.

Of course for many members, MyFC is a luxury item, so the constant peril at Ebbsfleet is that if members are not engaged with the Club or if the cost is too high (bascially value for money), they can walk away.  I don’t use the term  “peril” lightly: as widely predicted, 20,000 members did not renew in February 2008.  In the run up to that deadline the Board spent far too much time wringing their hands over this, rather than deal with the issues that were causing.

My view remains that the two most important roles for the Board are to build the community within the Society itself, and to implement mechanisms to inform and involve members in the activity of the Club.

Building a succesful internet community
I’m thinking along the lines of Slice the Pie or Zopa.  I refer to these two specifically as they were also featured in Ivo Gormley’s film, “Us, Now” alongside MyFootballClub.  Like MyFC, these organisations are set up in response to the failure of “real” institutions (like record companies and banks) for certain segments of those market.

They have a product which is easy for individual members to join, participate in, and contribute towards the development of the community.  Because of this openness, they are sustainable and successful.  It’s not the ownership that is the attractive thing about MyFC, it’s the participation.

Enabling members to collectively contribute
This means more than “give us your money, now f**k off”, which is sometimes how it can feel as MyFootballClub member.  It means being open about the decisions that are being made, and that requires a philosophical change of attitude from the Club as well as the Board.

But the most urgent task for the new Board must be to sort out the communication between the Club and the Members, and maximise members involvement with decisions.

The election result:

The above was draft before the election but I didn’t post due to work things & holiday.

I’m a little bit disappointed that a couple of candidates with more technical and financial nous narrowly missed out, but the bad eggs either stood down or didn’t make it through nomination.  They’re a reasonable crew, don’t agree with all of them all of the time, but that’s democracy for you.

In general they are starting well, and the new Chairman is also keen to improve communications.   There have been a few big issues that have cropped up over the last couple of months that have served to rally people to the cause and bring cohesion to the organisation.  But I’ll talk about them later.

Crowdsourcing at Ebbsfleet United: building the Republic of Football

One of the exciting principles of MyFC was that it would allow ordinary fans to get involved in the decision-making at a football club, in a way that had never been achieved before, the theory being that the crowd could make a better decision than experts.

In recent weeks, for example, we’ve been voting on:

  • Season Ticket and Matchday ticket pricing
  • Home and Away kits for 09/10 season
  • 09/10 Season kit supplier

as well as some of the internal Society governance and club management issues.

Firefighting leads to disengagement

The voting process is far from smooth: there’s a constant balancing act between transparency and privacy, between “authority figures” recommending an option or a free vote.

There are also situations where the members approval is sought in order to authorise a Club officer to undertake an activity,  usually a forgone conclusion because we don’t have much choice in the short term but to accept the recommendation.  These kinds of votes cause the most division and the Board of MyFC really should have learned long ago that long term planning was needed as well as the short-term fire fighting.

MyFootballClub's Working Groups process

MyFootballClub's Working Groups process

Groups, working

This is where the Working Groups come in, allowing a group of ordinary members to tackle an issue, break it down into to manageable tasks, and make well reasoned recommendations to the members, with open-ended votes.  They’re still in early stages, but already we’ve seen progress from the active groups.

For example, the Financials Working Group came back with a procedure for arranging and publishing the Society and Club accounts, something that had previously been bogged down by lack of ownership and inertia.  This will add clarity to discussion and allow decisions to be made with full awareness of the implications for the Society and Club.

These are the groups that are currently in progress or being considered,  all initiated and given the go-ahead by ordinary members of the Society, and approved by the Society Board.  Links require MyFC login.

Financial WG
Aim: Strengthen the flow of financial information and prepare forecasts and draft budgets for the Club and Society (full aims)
Status: In progress, Private, Open Forum
Leader: rugbyswift
Last weekly review: 15/4/09

Marketing & Advertising WG
Aim: Focus marketing and advertising campaigns for Club and MyFC Society (full aims)
Status: In progress, Group Area, Original thread
Leader: roca
First weekly review: due 27th April

Communications WG
Aims: Make recommendations to improve communications between members, Board, Club and general public (full aims)
Status: Awaiting Greenlight Vote, Forum Discussion

Surveys WG
Aims: Facilitiate surveys to members on behalf of Society and WGs
Status: Forum Discussion

Live Streaming WG
Aims: Investigate options for providing cost-effective live streaming of TV footage to overseas members
Status: Forum Discussion

Calendar & Planning WG
Aims: Establish timelines for activity leading up to important deadlines and improve Calendar functionality
Forum Discussion

Get stuck in!

Weekly reports allow the wider membership to keep a casual eye on the situation, meaning they can get on with working on areas that interest them.  Other members may stick to discussions or just engaging in casual chat.  Nothing wrong with this, as it still contributes to the fabric of the Society.  Governance and communication are likely to be ongoing issues: the need to keep all types of member involved and informed.

This framework can take MyFootballClub from an unfocused mob to a more constructive, forward looking organisation.  Providing the Society’s Board, the Website Operator and the Club management cooperate with the recommendations of the members, finally MyFootballClub can get to grips with the fundamental problems and start owning Ebbsfleet United.