Need examples of formal organizations with grassroots community origins
October 4, 2021 6:04 PM   Subscribe

I am researching how grassroots communities grow up and become real when new demands are placed on them. Two examples might be the Linux Foundation (originally a student computing project) or the League Of American Bicyclists (19th c. advocates for good roads). I am interested in organizations that form in spite of their grassroots counterparts, for example when a community organization resists the needs of its new members and they circumvent it to form something larger and more organized. What are examples of such counter-orgs?
posted by migurski to Law & Government (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you are asking about two distinct phenomena? On the one hand, what sounds like informal organizations becoming formalized (but maybe don’t phrase it as “grow up and become real” - at least not if you want folks actually involved in some of the groups you’re interested in to talk to you about their organizational structures and evolution in response to changing needs or circumstances - informal organizations are no less valid, and disfunctional organizational dynamics happen in both formal and informal organizational structures, as do functional organizational dynamics). On the other hand, what sounds like formal organizations being formed parallel to informal organizations, possibly in response to needs going unmet by the informal organizations (though I note that sometimes parallel formal organizations also form to coopt informal organizations that are doing just fine). Can you clarify a bit more?
posted by eviemath at 6:16 PM on October 4, 2021

This is one orthodox historical narrative to the history of trade unions in Western countries; a phenomenon where organising started at the shopfloor (an equivalent, older term to your 'grassroots') but as part of growth, became co-opted by the State and legal processes of wage-setting, and by the very success of their negotiating tactics—to the point where a lot of 'organised' trade union activity by the 20thC consisted of central organisations talking down local chapters/branches from independent activity, and preventing strikes and wage demands.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:24 PM on October 4, 2021 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I’m looking for examples of the latter, eviemath.
posted by migurski at 6:39 PM on October 4, 2021

Hmm, I don’t know too many examples of formal organizations that were created separately from but parallel to/in response to informal organizations that weren’t meeting people’s needs, and where that was a good thing. I mean, I can think of the general ideas of towns forming actual governments rather than being de facto ruled by whatever local cabal, or practitioners organizing into a formal profession that is able to regulate standards and conduct, pushing out some popular practitioners with shady practices; but I don’t know any details about any specific such cases. That might give you some ideas for where to look for examples, though?
posted by eviemath at 6:53 PM on October 4, 2021

We had a situation here in my city where a very small, religious-based charity had a change of leadership and, in a couple decades, grew into a multifaceted organization providing social services with support from the city government. Due to government funding rules, it has dropped its religious affiliation.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:04 AM on October 5, 2021

The more common progression I’ve seen (just speaking from personal experience) is that an alternate informal organization is started when either a formal or informal organization isn’t meeting people’s needs, since it’s a heck of a lot easier to start an informal organization than a formal one. And either that suffices, or folks in the new informal group find that they need more formal structure in order to accomplish their goals, and move in that direction without any appreciable internal rancour or discord.
posted by eviemath at 5:23 AM on October 5, 2021

Best answer: Are you constraining "organization" to mean only foundations and the like, or does this include commercial interests?

You mention Linux Foundation - one example might be Debian and Ubuntu. Debian has a lot of things that people love, but had always had rougher edges and unpredictable release cycles that made it iffy for users / companies. A lot of companies tried to adopt a model of using Debian, and Canonical / Ubuntu finally got traction with it.

Another example might be the Software Freedom Conservancy, which formed to fill some gaps that were not provided by other organizations (umbrella conservancy for FOSS projects to accept money and engage in legal compliance work).
posted by jzb at 7:47 AM on October 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

The Linux Foundation is a bunch of companies who benefit from their engineers using Linux, while Linux itself was a spare-time project from a student who wasn't going to pay for the Minix research kernel ('kernel' is the conventional name for the core program of an operating system). So Linus Torvalds wrote his own kernel that could also use GNU utilities to compile software and manage the computer. This story has layers...

GNU itself (and its host, the Free Software Foundation) was spawned when a printer company wouldn't send the printer driver source code to a research office at MIT who wanted to extend it to see how many print jobs were waiting -- in a culture where the domininant networkable computer operating system came as source code you could extend so, to protect the principle of sharing code and sharing forward your improvements, a movement was spawned. They built a full suite of user-facing tools for operating a computer -- but stalled on providing an effective operating system kernel, which was a gap into which Linus Torvald's kernel emerged.

That GNU share-it-forward priniciple was key to Linux's success, albeit at the time of infighting by competing vendors (taking this shared code and extending it in proprietary ways) of networkable computer operating systems, as was the explosion of the internet and companies like Google using inexpensive and redundant consumer-grade hardware with little-to-no software licensing costs.

Mind you, that networkable computer operating system was Unix and there were both releases from Berkeley computer science department (BSD lineage) and AT&T, who were the owners of Bell Labs in which a project called Multics had been an inflexible big-ticket thing that spawned a home-grown and home-shared multi-user environment in Unix.

Splitters! And none really are 'despite grassroots' -- maybe this is: the 1998 formation of the Open Source Movement took the free-at-point-of-use of the BSD networkable operating systems and built on it without the share-it-forward of the GNU approach. Both are successful because of the swathes of people who joined the Internet rather than one having flaws the other worked around.
posted by k3ninho at 9:11 AM on October 5, 2021

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