A participatory organization is an organization which is built based on people participation rather than their contract obligations.
Most current organizations are contract-based. Contracts define a functional structure that holds such an organization together by imposing mutual obligations on people. For example, an employee of a typical organization is obliged to perform a certain function in exchange for some previously agreed compensation. Once established the contract relationship is quite rigid and inflexible. A breach of contract implies severe penalties in most cases. Contracts facilitate organizational planning and often shifts risks from one party to another. Contracts are necessary for existence of fixed and rigid organizational structures primarily because these structures cannot easily accommodate changes: a failure of one element can easily become a cause of the failure of the whole organization. On the other hand, the rigidity of contracts creates a major stress for the people involved, primarily, employees.
Participatory organization is an alternative to the contract model. In the absence of obligations, any participant is free to contribute or not to contribute, free from deadlines to meet. This requires flexibility and robustness from the organizational structure. It should easily accommodate new participants and their contributions, without failing if some participants leave or fail to participate. This way it gives much flexibility to all people involved, while the organization still performs its function reliably. Some participatory organizations emerge spontaneously and are better described by the word self-organization, others are initially designed and organized by entrepreneurs. Human-based genetic algorithm is one possible model to design such an organization.
A nice property of evolutionary participatory model is its ability to scale well with the number of participants. Unlike many other organizations, it becomes more efficient as more participants get involved in it. This is sometimes called the network effect, though this term can be sometimes misleading since networks is not the only way of structuring interactions in a participatory organization. The scalability property was well explored by the Wikipedia, the largest example of participatory organization so far.
The concept of participatory organization was popularized recently by Tim O'Reilly under the name "the Architecture of Participation."
- Kosorukoff, A. & Goldberg, D. E. (2002) Genetic algorithm as a form of organization, Proceedings of Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference, GECCO-2002, pp 965-972
- Tim O'Reilly (2004) The Architecture of Participation link
- Interview with Jimmy Wales at Open business link
- Yochai Benkler (2006), The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom link