Organizational structure

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From the NRP-CAS perspective, in the Valueflows and REA language, the structure is a set of relationships among agents who are involved in processes (who perform organizational tasks and duties).

See also Organization


Please import content from Sensporica legacy doc and freeze that doc as a historical artifact.

An OVN is an emergent organization, which means that its structure is evolving from its activities, within a context, and may change as its interactions with its environment changes.

If we consider organizations as living systems the structure doesn't complexity describe the organization, as the organization is not a machine, it doesn't run like a clock or like a car. The structure is a set of boundaries that constrain processes in a way to diminish the probability that the organization exhibits some undesired behavior. Within these boundaries the organization can evolve and its behavior, or future state, is not entirely determined by its structure.

Interlocking structural dimensions

We can identify various types of organizational structures, which are strongly interconnected, forming a holistic boundary system.

These structural dimensions are interlocked, in the sense that one cannot be conceived independently from all the others. For example, the tools that people use to conduct their activities have cultural elements embedded. On the other hand, using a given set of tools activities some cultural elements. The same can be said about methods. For example, when activities are documented, this documentation can be done collaboratively or not, depending on the culture, and the support or deliverable of the documentation activity can be set as a public document or restricted to a specific group of individuals. Moreover, if the organization embraces the open culture it may put in place rules (governance) to force agents to publicly share their documentation, or the documentation tools can have publication as a default feature.

The relationship among these structural dimensions is driven by the economic model, which is a set of principles that lead to a specific mode of production and distribution / dissemination, with a given set of characteristics.


The expression open value networks (OVN) comes from Verna Allee, an American business consultant and writer on topics including value networks, knowledge management, organizational intelligence, intellectual capital and the value conversion of intangibles. In essence, Verna rightfully observed that organizations could not be fully determined by their structure. For example, what was thought as organizational boundaries, the limits that delineate the within and outside of the organization, were very poorly described and could not take into account informal relations between employees and their friends operating outside of the organization. In reality, an employee is more likely to ask a friend for help to solve a problem on the job, than to ask a college. In essence, organizations were not as closed as it was believed, a lot of information was leaking in and our of the organizations through informal relations. This could be seen as a threat, but also as an opportunity, realizing that employees were getting a lot of help and inspiration from outside, through this web of informal relations. Verna operated a paradigm shift, i.e. instead of confusing the organization with the structure, we need to understand the organization as a cluster of individuals focusing on a shared goal, maintaining a very complex web of relations that extends far from the context of their activities, through friendship, professional affiliations, social events, etc. In other words, what is real is the network of agents and the organizational structure is to be understood as a set of specifications or boundary conditions that are put in place only to diminish the probability of certain undesirable events to occur. The co-founders of Sensorica initially called their model value network, until a meeting in Montreal between Michel Bauwens, Tibi, Lynn and Bob, when the term open was added in front to form the expression open value networks. This was an explicit acknowledgement of the fact that all organizations are open, they are all in essence networks of agents connected to agents in other organizational contexts. But going a little further, this was also an affirmation of the open culture and ethos, which prescribes structures that (by default) restrict flows of information and resources between various contexts of economic activity (between organizations). This second motivation was informed by the open source movement, which had already proven its superiority in terms of innovation potential and speed. Yochay Benkler the advantages conferred by openness and transparency of notworks when compared to traditional firms, in his seminal book The wealth of networks.

Historically, Sensorica stated with no structure and structural elements, such as rules, methods and tools were added as a response to an organizational problem. That is mostly due to the fact that back in 2011, when Sensorica was launched no one really knew how to organize peer production. Therefore a decision was made to let the structure emerge (taking an evolutionary approach - see living systems).

As Sensorica evolved in relation to other open communities and networks, structural patterns emerged across the field and a blueprint could be created. An OVN organizational blueprint should be understood only as a set of suggestions about structural elements, which must be treated with care and in context, by someone who is launching a new OVN. The idea here is to help new OVN initiators to think about problems that may arise in the future, to try to avoid them in order to minimize costs associated with organizational development.

Although some see the organization as structure, it must be noted that the organization is not entirely described by its structure, as it remains a complex and emergent entity, with behavior and future states that cannot be entirely predicted from its structure. The structure under-specifies the organization. Thus, the main goal in formalizing a structure (make it visible in a coherent and consistent way) is to be able to use this representation as a guide when it comes to organizing activities, in order to maximize organizational welfare and help individuals better achieve their goals.

The structure determines relationships among agents who are involved in processes (who perform organizational tasks and duties), and among agents and resources. Organizational tasks are clustered into roles, which are clustered into areas/domains of activity (equivalent to departments in traditional organizations). Example of general / procedural domains are: Process, Capacity, Deliverables, Dissemination. These fundamental domains are applied to other domains such as R&D, artistic work, communications, etc.

Through governance, structure also informs relations of authority-responsibility are also called vertical relations, involved in hierarchies. In OVNs authority is based on reputation, which has dimensions of demonstrated knowledge and experience, commitment, etc. Authority is understood in context, for a limited time, as no permanent authority exists in OVNs.

Relations between areas/domains of activity are called horizontal relations.

The structure also specifies division of work/labor and shows how different functions or activities are linked; to some extent it also shows the level of specialization of work activities. It also indicates the organization's authority structure and shows its reporting relationships. These are horizontal as well as vertical relations.

Organizational structure, information flows and feedback mechanisms

The structure of an organization maps onto its information system. See information flow page.

Type of networks

All organizations exhibit various interlaced networks (structures)

  • Collaboration (encyclopedia, bookmarking and social curation, services, Ex. )
  • Advice (discussions, forums, reviews, questions -Ex. Quora)
  • Friendship (Ex. Facebook)
  • Instrumental
  • ...

These networks interact. For instance, centrality in an advice network increases power within the organisation (Krackhardt, 1990), and participation in a friendship network is an important source of influence in decision-making processes (Kildu!, 1990).

Interactions of agents

Principles of connectivity, asymmetry and social distance.

Features of formal structure

  • Hierarchy (... status)
  • Division of labor (units of specialization)
  • ...

Specialization vs integration: the more specialization between units the more integration is needed. In hierarchical organizations integration is done at the managerial level. In networks, integration is done ... complete ...

Division of labor can lead to monopolization of tasks.

Presence of professional groups can have leverage on the managerial layer in some hierarchical organizations. In open networks we also see technical people driving development and sometimes having overwhelming influence in the whole organization. The leverage comes from their import role in achieving the goals, and the scarcity of their skills. Redundancy (i.e. more than one technical individual per role) is key to break their unhealthy overwhelming influence.

Beside the formal structure in an organization we have other parallel structures like social networks or relations, sometimes called informal structures. All structures operate, or have an impact on the functioning of the organization. Sometimes we emphasize on one structure and overlook a cause to a problem that can lie in another structure. For example, social relations can affect the execution of functions in a role.

The distinction between formal and informal structure is perhaps based on our emphasis, what we consider important for surface, make visible, explicit, codify, measure, … All structures are important. Today we have tools to surface then all.

In hierarchies, the separation between vertical layers is justified in terms of socialization of activities and maintaining focus. In other words, higher management focuses on strategy and middle management overseas the implementation of strategies at the operational layer. Thus a higher manager doesn't need to be concerned with operations, can put his mind to strategy. Hierarchy is relationally directional. Asymmetry: those at the top influence many at the bottom, not the other way around.

OVN agent-related structure

This section describes the structure relations among OVN agents and their access to processes. This is only a portion of the Governance, which is a structural feature. Agents can be seen as are governance bodies.


Affiliation is a relationship between a particular agent and the ensemble of other agents that interact within an OVN, considered as peers, and with the shared resources, in the context of processes and ventures of the OVN, respecting a self-imposed set of norms and rules. It denotes the degree of involvement.

OVN affiliates are agents, entities (individuals or organizations) who have logged contributions in the NRP-CAS.

NOTE: In a p2p context it is not advised to reduce agents or affiliates to users, as it is used in discussions about online centralized platforms such as Facebook or Twitter. The difference is that users in that context have no control over the platform. See Difference between member and user.


Individuals or organizations that do not take part in activities in any way, but might have access to public information about the OVN and observe it from a distance. These are individuals who have heard about THE ovn or who are susceptible to respond to information about the OVN. The unaffiliates are anonymous or unknown by affiliates of the OVN. But they can be recognized as a class/population and their general characteristics can be revealed by a survey and statistical analysis.
  • Privileges and permissions: Only have access to public information through the OVN's website and social media channels.
  • Obligations: OVN* Integration process: Anyone out there is a unafiliated

close affiliate

Individuals or organizations that have not contributed to the OVN's ventures in a tangible way, or their contributions are not concrete enough to be taken into consideration by the value accounting system, or have contributed but do not want to be involved directly. If the individual or organization records a contribution in the value accounting system he/she/it becomes an active affiliate (see below). Close affiliates follow the OVN's activities regularly for different reasons and are recognized by active affiliates (see below) within the OVN. They are close affiliates, i.e. are known by some affiliates, they are not anonymous.
  • Privileges and permissions: Can have access to the OVN's database, to the OVN’s main communications channels, and to some activities like meetings and presentations.
  • Responsibilities and obligations: Respect the OVN’s assets and its affiliates.
  • Integration process: Anyone can become a close affiliate, or an observer. The individual or the organization must only talk to at least one affiliate or active affiliate of the OVN. The entire OVN's community must be informed of new close affiliate. To becomes a close affiliate one needs to contact the community or one of its affiliates. The close affiliate can also follow activities on wiki, and social media.

active affiliate Anyone who contributes to the OVN in a tangible way to increase the market valuation of products designed and manufactured by the OVN or to help sustain and improve the OVN's community, its image, its infrastructure, etc., AND is recognized by the OVN's affiliates for being able to do so can become an active affiliate. More formally, active affiliates are individuals or organizations that are contributing to the OVN in a meaningful way, defined by a network-wide decision or by a governance equation. This requires logging of contributions in the value accounting system and documenting work.

  • Permissions: Have access to the OVN’s infrastructure (physical and virtual) by the nondominium and the custodian agreement, to the OVN’s production and distribution assets, to governance and decision making.
  • Responsibilities and obligations: Active affiliates need to adhere to the principles behind the Benefits redistribution algorithm. They must agree with the affiliation conditions.
  • Integration process: To become an active affiliate contact the community or one of its affiliates. All active affiliates have a profile and are listed in the affiliate registry. You only become an active affiliate based on the conditions above.

NOTE: this section needs improvement, reference to nondominium and custodian agreement, on top of NRP-CAS.

inactive affiliate

Individuals or organizations that have already contributed to the OVN in the past (meaning that their contributions have been recorded in the OVN’s contribution accounting system), but have become inactive, or that have expressed their willingness to contribute to the OVN's ventures but have not contributed with anything meaningful/tangible yet. Inactive affiliates have more creative and productive potential for the network than close affiliates, in that they have been or will be involved in some activities, and maintain strong relations with active affiliates.
  • Privileges and permissions: Have access to nonpublic information about the OVN. Can participate in some activities like meetings and presentations. Have access to some or all the OVN's communication systems. Participate in decision making.
  • Responsibilities and obligations: Respect the OVN’s assets and affiliates.
  • Integration process: To become an affiliate one needs to contact the community or one of its affiliates. All affiliates have a profile and are listed in the affiliate registry.

Formal affiliation

Becoming an active affiliate within the an OVN formally consists of a mutual and explicit agreement to the principles, guidelines and rules of the OVN. These can be considered a "Terms of Participation" (ToP) of the commons of the OVN. This Terms of Participation currently consists of:

  1. reading and acknowledging the Affiliate Handbook - see Sensorica's handbook
  2. reading and acknowledging the Nondominium & Custodian agreement - see Sensorica's template
  3. signing the "Acknowledgement of (knowledge) commons" agreement for contributions
  4. signing the Benefit redistribution algorithm agreement - see Sensorica's template

inspired from metamaps

Affiliate registration

Prospective affiliates will be invited to:

  • engage in conversation with multiple active affiliates, collaborate with other active affiliates to provide background information, work samples, written documentation
  • review the public knowledge base(s) about the OVN
  • fill out a request to join the OVN as an affiliate
  • create an affiliate profile page

One becomes an active affiliate only by recording valid contributions into the NRP-CAS.


Since Sensorica’s inception in early 2011, we have observed different types of involvement and contributions, which can help us define different types of affiliation. On passive involvement Some individuals that are on our mailing list and have access to our private database (most of them only View access) have been very passive. It is hard to know if they actually follow us regularly and if they absorb information (todo: do a survey). It is also hard to know if they propagate this information through their social networks. In fact, it is hard to know what they do with the information they absorb. On negative involvement We have NOT observed yet any deliberate destructive action of tangible property.

In the spring of 2014 Sensorica had a first crisis around the use of brand and around its core values and principles. Bob created this document to help the community analyse this crisis and learn from it. In the summer of 2014 Sensorica went through a second crisis around the question of sustaining the commons. Tibi created this document to help the community create new norms and rules. Some individuals engaged in negative publicity about Sensorica. Involvement and time

  • Intense: almost daily contributions, very committed
  • Availability driven: contributions are sporadic, based on availabilities
  • Interest driven: almost certain of a response if the right topic arises (Ex. Kurt, whenever there is an issue about value systems, governance,...)
  • Unpredictable: difficult to know when and why a network affiliate makes a contribution
  • propose others...

Sources - open Sensorica's doc on Organizational structure


See Venture page


See Project page.

Network of networks

Organizational structure must be designed to allow federation with other OVNs or other type of networks-type organizations.

Think in terms of protocols that can be adopted by similar organizations, or that can be easily adopted.

This is part of the growth strategy and mechanisms of the p2p economy.

See more on Networks of networks.

Relative to NRP-CAS

The NRP-CAS treats affiliates, ventures, partner organizations and networks as agents.

Get inspired from SENSORICA.

See Metamaps membership

See also