From Michael's Internet Database
The Theory and Practice of Convivial Systems
From convivial tools to convivial systems
Ivan Illich laid the foundations for a theory of the convivial tool. Developing his constant theme of giving back to ordinary people control over knowledge that has been monopolized by specialized elites, Illich envisaged tools which would allow their users to operate with independent efficiency. He also foresaw that such tools would be developed and maintained by a community of users.
Illich however was addressing tools in the limited sense of individual technical artifacts, even though such artifacts could attain the size of a factory or power plant. But there are other, wider, definitions of tools and technology, such as that promoted by Jacques Ellul in his book The Technological Society. Ellul grouped tools and technology under the broader category of "technique," which he defined as: "the totality of methods rationally arrived at, and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every field of human activity." Thus “technique” includes for example the rational methods used to run the modern state: statistics, accounting, social work and so on. (Ellul’s pessimistic conclusion was that the totality of techniques escapes human control and follows its own unstoppable evolution. Illich’s program can be seen as an attempt to regain control over that process.)
Another wide definition of tools is promoted by those who see ideas as tools (such as for example Daniel Dennett). If an individual idea can be seen as a tool, a set of interrelated ideas can be seen as a sort of technical system. Thus the concept of "technique" can be extended even to purely mental activity.
If tools can be designed to be more convivial, in other words to increase the autonomy of their users, in the same way technical systems can be designed to be more convivial.
Convivial service systems
The theory of convivial tools focuses on the individual tool or appliance, whether physical (such as a washing machine) or immaterial (such as a software program). Thus one can draw up a list of characteristics of the convivial tool, describing the desired functionalities of the individual tool. To the extent that such an individual tool is manufactured for sale on the market, it can be considered to be a product.
When we move from the individual tool to an ensemble of interrelated techniques, however, the focus is no longer on a single element that can be isolated from its surroundings, but on a complex technical system. From the point of view of its usefulness to the user, the technical system offers a service. Thus while the individual tool or appliance is to be considered a product, the technical system is to be considered a service. When such a service operates according to principles similar to those embodied in the convivial tool, it can be called a convivial service system.
The marketing of the convivial tool implies a particular type of convivial service system, which is convivial customer service. Convivial after-sales service augments the characteristics of the convivial tool by providing a complete user support system.
The same principles can be applied to any other type of service, whether commercial or social. Services such as education, information, health care and social support can benefit from being organized on convivial principles. A first attempt at identifying such principles is given as a list of characteristics of convivial service systems.
The ultimate ideal of convival customer service would be what I have called elsewhere Total Customer Service.
Convivial social systems
Service systems can be seen as a subset of the wider category of "social systems." A given service system provides one particular type of service, within the fabric of the more inclusive social system.
Principles similar to those describing a convivial service system can be used to describe a convivial social system. These principles could then be used in the design of social systems. (The dream of social design is a utopian project going back to early nineteenth-century thinkers such as Charles Fourier, the Comte de Saint-Simon and Auguste Comte.)
Some examples of convivial social systems are given below.
The convivial enterprise would be oriented towards serving its employees, in the interest of their own self-development. It would also aim to serve its customers, but it would start with internal service to its own employees, who would then be better fit to serve the customers.
The convivial enterprise would serve its employees by developing internal service systems, to provide employees with services such as training, counseling and social support. But it would above all provide the employees with as much autonomy and self-determination as possible. The ideal type of convivial enterprise would thus be a democratically-run worker cooperative.
Convivial political party
The convivial political party would be oriented towards serving the party members. This means conducting political action to promote the members’ political point of view, but it also means helping the party members in their personal self-development. The convivial political party would thus be a service organization rather than just an electoral machine. It would provide mechanisms whereby all individual members can express themselves and get actively involved. This implies a full measure of internal democracy, and could be best achieved by fostering an Inclusion Culture.
A convivial government would be oriented towards serving all of the citizens. This involves providing convivial service systems to enhance citizen well-being, and also providing means for greater citizen input, as foreseen by the Gov 2.0 movement. But above all it implies maximizing the level of democratic involvement of all citizens. (That increasing democratization is a fundamental historical trend has been persuasively expounded by Devezas and Modelski in their theory of agent-based social learning.)
Convivial virtual community
A convivial virtual community would provide a system of internal governance oriented towards serving all of its members. This implies that it would be organized as a democracy. It might also function as a consumer cooperative (see for example the description of a Cooperative Social Network).
Also, in line with the idea of convivial tools being developed and maintained by a community, the software underlying the convivial virtual community might be developed by the members themselves, following an open-source model.