What does a post-bureaucratic organisation look like?

11 12 2009

I think that some early indicators of the kind of thing we might see over the coming years are provided by the Pirate Party. What features are post-bureaucratic?

1. The Nature of the Cause

The Pirate Party was established in Sweden and focuses on three main areas:Reforming copyright and patent law; ending the excessive surveillance; guaranteeing real freedom of speech. The nature of the issues is significant: concerning technology but not rooted in it; displaying a strong sense of natural rights but not dogmatic; and, upholding law but willing to break it.

2. Borderless Access: Ideas Go Viral

Founded as recently as 2006 in Sweden (it is now the third largest political party by membership and will soon get its second seat in the European Parliament), the Pirate Party has gone global. It now has an official presence in 33 countries outside Sweden under the Pirate Party International Umbrella. http://www.pp-international.net/

It was picked up over the web; a filesharer in London has much more in common with a filesharer in Sweden than with his own democratic representative in parliament. Information is shared quickly, the barriers to entry are non-existent, and the differences in nationality and geography are incidental not fundamental, especially to a generation which has grown up used to cheap international travel and the free movement of goods and labour in Europe.

3. Highly traditional structural continuities (and some important shifts)

It is sometimes more interesting to look at what semblances of the bureaucratic age remain, as we move into the post-bureaucratic age. The Pirate Party kept, and indeed emphasised, some important features of any organization, however post-bureaucratic we become.

It was a registered political party. It had leaders, treasurers, secretaries, and a hierarchical structure. This provided credibility and boundaries.

However, there were some important shifts which will separate the bureaucratic from the post-bureaucratic organization. First, the name ‘Pirate Party’ and the flag logo indicate the significance of branding. It could have been called ‘The Swedish Association of Filesharers’, or ‘Intellectual Property Action Group; but it wasn’t. It was called the much more romantic ‘Pirate Party’. Alliterative, assertive and youthful – embodying the values of its founders, who instinctively knew its brand would be important.

Second, it was democratic. ‘Democratic’ in the sense that anyone could contact and collaborate with anyone else – a far flatter internal structure than other political parties not much bigger than it. Young people are used to being listened to by other young people. The natural respect for vertical structures just doesn’t exist.

Does it matter?

While the Pirate Party is a great story, it cannot count any significant political victories. However, as a precursor of what is to come, it is significant. Political issues are one thing, but there is no inherent reason why a company could not be run on similar lines, or certainly a charity

Ali Unwin
( @aliunwin)

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9 01 2010
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