Most abstract blog post title ever: “Intentionality and coordination”

Clay Shirky via Lucy Bernholz:

Clay Shirky answers the question of “What will change everything?” with “coordinated voluntary participation.”…philanthropy – the long tail that provides the bulk of the private resources for public good – is all about “coordinated voluntary participation.”

I wonder about this. One of my themes on this blog has been the relationship – you could say the tension – between philanthropy and democracy. What relationship does philanthropy have to the fundamental tension between markets and democracy? That kind of thing.

It’s difficult to think about markets objectively because market-based thinking is so much a part of our lives and language (we “invest” in friendships, etc.). But aren’t they a form of coordinated voluntary participation? The invisible hand, etc.?

And I think one of the more frustrating things for nonprofits who are the recipients of philanthropic capital is precisely the lack of coordination among the voluntary participants. There has to be a better way between total Soviet-style centralization and total US-style decentralization. Maybe it’s social-capital exchanges, but I find it kind of depressing that markets end up being the venue in which coordination happens. They’re intentional at the micro level and unintentional at the macro level. That’s not really coordination, if we understand coordination as an intentional act. It’s lucky coincidence. Maybe predictably lucky, but fundamentally not intentional.

And so much of what we do in philanthropy is about intentionality: make a difference, choose to give, etc. I remain unsatisfied with the idea of unintentional coordination via markets and exchanges when we’re talking about the production and dissemination of social goods….


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One Response to “Most abstract blog post title ever: “Intentionality and coordination””

  1. The Blog Briefly Known as "Democratizing Philanthropy?" » Blog Archive » Pulling together some loose strands Says:

    […] week I talked about intentionality and coordination, and expressed my dissatisfaction at market-based metaphors that would make it difficult for […]

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