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Filling In the Blanks | Cases of the VBE

An ongoing project of mine, as both of my faithful readers will know, is to evolve a method for tracing the influence and interaction of Virtual Organizations outside the limits of the traditional for-profit, non-profit and governmental organizations, sectors which are said to be converging..

Examples of Collaborative Networked Organizations and their virtual offspring, the Virtual Breeding Environment, abound in the postmodern B-school literature, making it incumbent on us to approach the question with some understanding of the thought that went into it.

One of the tools I have been studying, therefore, is an «ontology» I have copied and pasted to a related Web site of mine:

I have pondered this scheme enough by now that I should be able to proceed to the next step, which is simply to select cases and plug their values into the ECOLEAD governance model, along with some observations of Lethbridge on the Virtual Enterprise …

Above, the top-level categories of the model in question. The model provides a complete set of structural approaches to collaboration, and insists throughout on the need to take informal — indirect or sub rosa — collaboration into account.

The top-level collaborative network, for example, is ….

A collaborative network [Camarinha-Matos and Afsarmanesh 2005] is constituted of a variety of entities (e.g. organizations and people) that are largely autonomous, geographically distributed, and heterogeneous in terms of their operating environment, culture, social capital and goals. These entities collaborate to better achieve common or compatible goals, and their interactions are supported by a computer network.

Especially interesting is the role of the Public Entity, defined negatively as …

the role of a VBE participant which is not registered in the VBE.

The VBE Participant and the Public Entity both count as VBE Members.

This simple definition serves pretty well to describe the logic of the «viral campaign» that mobilizes, for example, Twitter or Facebook or Technorati users. This support group contributes to the stated ends of the VBE but is not a registered member — much as, say, a voter may donate $10 to a candidate of their choice — or like the candidate on Facebook — without belonging to the candidate’s party.

This input is subjected to «content curation» both manual and algorithmic and then used to shore up an analysis of «trends» and «movements». Virtual Teams can be found to  be operating below the level of an SEO-based PR firm, but you have to develop an eye for such «churnalism».

A Virtual Breeding Environment is an “an association (also known as cluster) or pool of organizations and their related supporting institutions that have both the potential and the will to cooperate with each other through the establishment of a “base” long-term cooperation agreement and interoperable infrastructure” [Camarinha-Matos and Afsarmanesh2005].

Achieving interoperability is a primary role of what I call «social code» — the prime movers of social networks of networks of networks.

The pro forma independence of organizations and individual who converge on common interests  is insisted on in defining the Virtual Organization as well …

A VO comprises a set of (legally) independent organizations that share resources and skills to achieve its mission/goal, but that is not limited to an alliance of for profit enterprises. A Virtual Enterprise is therefore, a particular case of VO. [Camarinha-Matos and Afsarmanesh 2005]

It seems to me that mixed governance — public-private or nonprofit-profit for example — is also an important case to account for.

In any case, the ECOLEAD model provides certain points of contact with the Lethbridge theory of virtual enterprises — above.

Lethbridge differentiates virtual organizations according to their role in providing

  1. Planning
  2. Coordination
  3. Operations
  4. Brokerage

Perhaps a useful way to understand the Lethbridge schema would be to define the Co-Alliance and Value Alliance as structures that allow for, or even depend on, the operation of unregistered agents.

The ECOLEAD model describes four modes of activity of the VBE, as follows:

  1. Partner
  2. Broker
  3. Coordinator
  4. Planner

Cases | Interlocks and Digital Convergence


The World Association of Newspapers is an international PVC — Professional Virtual Community — of national PVCs. It addresses a target audience of editorial content managers.

[… ]

Case II: Atlas Toolkit

The Atlas Toolkit is a VBE — Virtual Breeding Environment — in support of an international movement of ideological neoliberalism.

[… ]

Case III: PRX.org

PRX.org is a Market Alliance of freelance content producers …

 Case IV: Network of Democracy Research Institutes

[… ]

 Case V: COMs, NGOs and EDUs

Harvard Business School boasts a wealth of corporate sponsorships of its professors — the Edsel Bryant Ford chair, the Mizuho Financial Group Professor of Finance.

[… ]

Postscript: Structural Clues to Brokerage Roles

In some cases, analysis of a given organization’s Web presence provide solid clues to that organization’s Web of ties in the desert of the real  … and sometimes not.

Take Innovation-MediaConsulting, for example: its client roster overlaps significantly with private entities and registered members in the link ecology of WAN-IFRA, which makes sense: the consulting firm has clietns all over the world; its methodologies and design aesthetic have an unmistakable signature, and are promoted with a wealth of NGOs, PVCs, and VOs.

The remaining task is to develop a nomenclature capable of showing how networking strategies can interlock — how a VBE can breed VBEs of VBEs of their own, for example, across formal boundaries such as profit-nonprofit and governmental-nongovernmental.

ECOLEAD is explicit about the potential overlap of partially shared ends — goodwill from CPR in support of sales, nonprofit advocacy for the purposes of gaining a seat at a policy debate, and so on.

If this approach has any merit, then we should be able to apply categories of the ECOLEAD model to specific virtual organizations — this funder functions, perhaps in a manner partially shared with like-minded financiers, as a broker or scout for VBEs of VBEs of VOs and VTs, or some such thing.

The diagram below, for example, shows how General Electric Brazil chairman Hélio Mattar, a former federal minister, serves in multiple roles in the organization of the Alliance for Youth Movements, in parallel with IT companies and government agencies with similar policy aims …

The CNO in this case is the meta-alliance through which government agencies and private-sector parties frankly promote youth-driven and -oriented initiatives … The resulting «net roots» entity, Youth Action Net, works with local NGOs to promote what are essentially Virtual Teams of adolescent meme promoters, selected through a Market Alliance scouting process and operating in an academic-political breeding environment  …  a PPP of City Hall and the private university, Anhembi-Morumbi, a subsidiary of Sylvan Laureate  … Selected candidates maintain Blogspot blogs on public policy issues arising from the municipal admiistration …

There are subsantial synergies among public, private and political teams and organizations, underwritten, for example, by the Knight Foundation …

Above, the application of a simple clustering analysis to links encountered in a crawl of the «resources» page at CIMA@Ned

Can these sorts of visible network ties be correlated with an «influence» analysis — that is, if we treat these as networks of mutual citations, what does this represent for our attempt to identifying CNOs?