Seeing beyond constraints — An infrastructure of the social commons (Part 1)

Reader caution advised… I’m just getting these ideas out into the open! I’m no expert in these matters, it is just me working out loud…

In previous posts I’ve put forward some of my thinking on networks (the network dimension/network perspective) and also touched on the topic of development (national, personal, organisational etc).

These don’t immediately look like they’re connected but I’ll try to bring them together by the end of this post.

What is capacity?

Capacity can mean lots of things. In order to keep things simple and married up to the ideas I’m going to try to get across I will suggest two broad categories;

Internal Capacity —Capacities of being able to do (actualise/doing/agency/to cause effect/change) which are enabled by; ability, skill, vision, time, freedom etc.

External Capacity — Various forms of potentiality (e.g. resources, knowledge, energy, expertise etc) which can be harnessed by the Internal Capacity to get things done.

You can see this thinking within in my previous posts and represented here within Networked Space as The Interior and The Exterior.

In Networked Space all that exists at the highest abstraction is Purpose, Relationships, Capacities and more Network.

In this model/perspective it is relationships orientated around purpose which convert internal and external capacities into something that is then actualised in the real world (e.g. artefact/effect/result/outcome/or new form of capacity).

What is potential?

Networked Space may give us a way of understanding the Potential within a specific context. i.e. Purpose + Relationships + Capacities = The Potential of the System we’re looking at.

Let me try to illustrate how this all fits together…

Using the picture above it is possible to understand where elements of the Networked Space model interacts with this view of a network instance.

This is a ‘Networked Society’.

What’s missing from the picture above are; RELATIONSHIPS (just because something is connected doesn’t mean that an actual relationship exists) and PURPOSE (what is the intent).

Let’s imagine for a moment that a town decides that they want to do something about local employment.

They feel that by working together in partnership they will be able to help more people get into work and into better life circumstances or into entirely new industries and better paid work.

This is the PURPOSE.

The group of organisations involved will form a RELATIONSHIP to meet this PURPOSE and by doing so create an INTERIOR space within the larger network (which now becomes EXTERIOR).

In plain English, the partnership forms a collaboration to meet a desired objective. They will be using their own skills, knowledge and capabilities to do so but are able to bring in additional help and resources from outside.

Zooming in

Now that we have the PURPOSE and the RELATIONSHIPS the network composition changes to become more relevant.

If this view of the network looks a lot like Asset Mapping that’s because it is.

There’s probably quite a lot of potential in a platform which enables these networks to easily be formed and collaborated upon by communities and partnerships everywhere.

The key is in bringing all of the organisations into a single system.

I digress.

Understanding the Potential within Society

I’d like you to look above at the Routes to Employment image and begin to ask questions related to the Purpose.

An example to get your thinking going.

Everybody’s employment needs are different. Think of the different people you may be helping, their unique preferences, and their circumstances and then look at the picture again.

It is likely that some combinations will be more suitable for one person than for another. It is possible to be very person-centred and effective through these kinds of community partnership.

Other considerations

The POTENTIAL of any collaboration to meet the desired purpose has a limit.

Purpose + Relationships + Capacities = The Potential

To realise the potential that exists within a network society we may need a new developmental model

Much of my concepts and ideas can probably appear quite superfluous. Why bother with something like a ‘networked model’ if an Asset Map will do the job? I’m certainly not expecting that any community member or platform user has any need to understand these things. As long as they can login, get a view of the potential which surrounds them and start collaborating on getting things done, that’s all they need.


There is a higher and more strategic level of knowledge and responsibility which sits above all of this latent potential.

It is The State. Government departments, agencies, public bodies, local authorities etc .

Remember this is INFRASTRUCTURE. It is a BIG THING.

By creating a platform which interconnects all of this CAPACITY we also create the need to understand how this capacity; functions, operates, is utilised and moves to where it is needed.

‘The State’ should have the ability to understand the POTENTIAL of the ‘Network Society’ and take action to ensure that this can be achieved and improved upon.

Using the Networked Model may allow capacity to be better visualised and understood at the highest level of abstraction. It is a vastly simplified view which is rather the point but we are able to conduct detailed examination from this level downwards.

CAPACITY consists of CAPACITIES (skills, capabilities, resources etc. all of which also break down into further categorisation).

If we want society to have greater POTENTIAL then we can develop the capacities within it (can you see how we connect with DEVELOPMENT here?).

Remember the equation?

Purpose + Relationships + Capacities = The Potential

This is as applicable to to a residents group organising a litter patrol as it is to a local authority working on a climate collaboration. It is scale invariant.

To provide an example in the governmental context. Instead of thinking about local employment I would like you to consider ‘Community Preparedness and Resilience.

It’s serious stuff yes?

It helps to know where you are, where you can be, and how you might get there.

We need to understand Networks, Purpose, Relationships and Capacity to do this.

Additionally, it may be legitimate for a ‘Community Partnership’ to decide to improve local people’s employment opportunities but THE STATE have a responsibility to know; what’s going on, how they might help, and where they might need to intervene or provide additional support.

If public funds are being used for any purpose within this system we all need a very clear picture of what ‘value’ society is gaining from it and where it might be failing to realise its full potential.

An ‘Infrastructure of the Social Commons’ is national infrastructure and needs to understand this role and behave as such.

Just because the platform allows people to get on with things for themselves doesn’t mean that state involvement is not required. It just necessitates a different type of involvement on the state’s part.

The platform infrastructure, operations and reporting all have a role to play in informing this involvement and I feel that the Networked Model may present a way of bringing all of this thinking and information together into a unified view and actionable understanding.

I am happy to be wrong of course, but ultimately any such platform should include this kind of intelligent, insightful and enabling capability.

Moving beyond constraints

This view of potential within society is not just restricted to towns and communities.

It is possible to use the same model to zoom right in and build networks which can accommodate an individuals needs (whilst developing their potential) throughout their life’s journey.

It is also possible to zoom right out to the district, county, regional, national and global and begin asking much bigger questions about our society and its unrealised potential.

At these larger distances it becomes possible to visualise and understand the social potential which is currently latent within entire industrial sectors.

I will attempt to elaborate on some of these in Part 2