May 13, 2009

Tribes, Institutions, Markets and Networks

Tribes, Institutions, Markets and Network: A Framework About Societal Evolution

By David Ronfeldt

A key proposition about the information revolution is that it favors and strengthens “network” forms of organization. This makes sense because the new information and communications technologies—e.g., fax machines, electronic mail (e-mail), and computer conferencing systems—enable dispersed, often small actors to connect, coordinate, and act jointly as never before. The proposition is increasingly validated by the rise of web-like networks among environmental, human-rights, and other activist nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), among businesses that form strategic partnerships, and among interagency groups that operate at many levels of government around the world. In general, nonstate actors are ahead of state actors at using the new network designs.

Power and influence appear to be migrating to actors who are skilled at developing multiorganizational networks, and at operating in environments where networks are an appropriate, spreading form of organization. In many realms of society, they are gaining strength relative to other, especially hierarchical forms. Indeed, another key proposition about the information revolution is that it erodes and makes life difficult for traditional hierarchies.

This trend—the rise of network forms of organization—is still at an early stage, but it is already a very important topic for theoretical research and policy analysis. A lot of interesting work can be done just by focusing on this trend by itself. At the same time, the trend is so strong that, projected into the future, it augurs major transformations in how societies are organized—if not societies as a whole, then at least key parts of their governments, economies, and especially their civil societies.

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