Temporary emergent organizations meeting contemporary challenges

This month we share a blog written by a community member of the European ODF, Barry Camson


At the recent European Design Forum Conference (EODF) in Milan Elvira Kalmar and I offered a joint perspective on emergent or temporary organizations. The EODF conference was attended by practitioners involved with organization design.

My perspective is based on having worked with organizations that take the form of networks. In these networks, groupings of people emerge as needed in order to respond to common challenges. The groupings often start as conversations among several people. Over time, more people may join the conversation. These conversations lead to the exchange of knowledge and often to taking joint action. Joint action may take the form of short-term initiatives or even longer-term, more formal spin-offs. When the work of this emergent grouping is completed, people move on to other endeavors. I refer to this result of self-organization as “emergence.”

I have seen this emergence occur on a daily basis in a network of universities and colleges around Boston that joined together as the Boston Consortium of Higher Education in order to deal with common administrative and financial challenges. Though a given university will be a highly traditional organization, the network among them offers flexibility to self-organize based on a minimal infrastructure and on common purpose, norms and values.

Elvira’s perspective is based on her having been involved with the volunteer group, Migration Aid, which was formed to help refugees now reaching Hungary who are escaping from the crisis in Syria and other places. She noticed how temporary “purpose-driven organizations” are formed by the volunteers to provide for the basic needs of the refugees: food, water, shelter at transit stations and information about the legal rights of refugees. This volunteer group had a very clear purpose and it could mobilize over 9000 people, 500-600 active in the field and financially supported by the rest.

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