Governance in a responsibility-based enterprise-architecture

I’ve deliberately chosen a rather bland title here for what may turn out to be, for many people, a seriously scary post… because what this is actually about is rethinking, from scratch, the entire basis of property-law and quite a few other types of law, by leveraging from what we’ve learnt in developing governance for whole-of-enterprise architectures.

(Don’t panic: this is only about getting started in doing so – not the whole thing! 🙂 But collectively, as enterprise-architects, we do need to get started on this, as a matter of real urgency, because the longer we all leave it, the faster we run out of options when the crunch really does come – and all the indications are that that’s not far ahead at all. (Remember that I’ve worked as a professional futurist? From what I see right now, I’d say that we do have perhaps ten years from now to get everything set up, though no more than fifty years beyond that to get the entire world economy changed over to a sustainable model. If we don’t get properly started within the current decade, I’d estimate that we’d have perhaps at most ten more years beyond that of ‘business as usual’ before the whole thing collapses worldwide in an all-too-literally bloody mess. Look at any of the planetary-scale indicators right now: you’ll see that no, I’m not being alarmist at all, and yes, it really is that serious…)

And no doubt you might ask “Shouldn’t it be the lawyers who do should do this – not us?” If so, all I can say is “listen to what you’ve just said…” – because right now, to be blunt, would you trust any lawyer, or certainly any group of lawyers, to lead any kind of constructive change, especially at this kind of scale? I wouldn’t: with very few exceptions, they’re way too embedded in the current models, in every possible way – which makes them almost the least appropriate group to guide a fundamental rethink of governance and the law. By contrast, whole-enterprise architects have a lot of practice at linking things across a very broad scope, at every layer from very abstract to very concrete; and most will have had a lot of experience at all manner of governance-issues of every category, from rules to algorithms to guidelines to principles, dealing with and negotiating on a vast array of interpersonal issues and wicked-problems between just about every feasible group of stakeholders – all of which makes EAs one of the few groups of people who do have the background and experience for this task. Hence this post.)

To make sense of what follows, you’ll probably need to have read at least the following posts:

All of those posts explored one specific aspect of what’s needed for a viable societal model, namely the architecture of its economics. What I want to do here is start going one step deeper, exploring the core architectural-principles for a system of law and governance that would underpin that economics.

(What should be clear to everyone by now is that the current system of economics, and the system of property-law that underpins it, is not sustainable. Or, to put it the other way round, a sustainable economy depends on a system of sustainable law – which doesn’t exist at present. The best that current economic-law can achieve is what I’ve described as ‘That Worst Possible System‘, where resources will inevitably end up where they’re least needed. The worst it can achieve is, well, a lot worse… and from a futurist perspective, it’s patently obvious that that’s where we’re headed right now.

Which, to put it mildly, means that we’re all in trouble. Deep trouble.

The catch, of course, is that most people won’t believe that fact. Or won’t want to believe it, more to the point. Which in itself is a problem – especially for anyone who happens to find themselves in the unhappy role of ‘the messenger’ in the age-old game of “the best way to respond to bad news is to shoot the messenger”…

Hence, for public-consumption, probably best to describe all of what follows as ‘merely a thought-experiment’. Except that it isn’t. At all.

Anyway… to continue…)

I perhaps need to make it clear that I won’t be presenting or promoting anything here that purports to be ‘The Answer’. Any competent enterprise-architect should recognise that we’re nowhere near that stage as yet: we’ve barely even started on ‘The Question’…

We do have a fairly good idea of ‘The Vision’, though – namely something like ‘a world that works in a sustainable way, with an economics that works in a sustainable way’. (I don’t think anyone would disagree with that? – or anyone vaguely-sane, anyway?) So that’ll do as a starting-point: we can leave detailed discussion of values and the like until somewhat later.

Given that starting-point, the next thing we need to establish are the fundamental constraints that any would-be ‘solution’ must address. And it’s those constraints that are the main focus for this first-stage thought-experiment here.

What came up from the research behind the previous posts was as follows:

— The money-system has now become almost completely detached from any concrete reality or from any feasible form of control: so we now have a potentially-infinite system that has no inherent constraints or controls, but that somehow supposedly obtains ‘rights’ to an inherently-constrained pool of concrete resources. That’s a very serious problem in itself: yet money in itself is not the core source of the problems we face.

— The primary purpose of all money-type mechanisms is to resolve a structural problem with barter: barter-exchanges can only take place on a point-to-point basis at or close to real-time, so a ‘currency’ of some kind provides a token of mutual trust that supports multi-way indirect non-real-time exchanges across the agreed jurisdiction of that currency. This in turn depends on a mechanism of ‘valuation’, which in essence is now all but completely broken: yet valuation in itself is not the core source of the problems.

— The same problems apply to all forms of ‘currency’: hence the currency-type is not the core source of the problems. (Hence there is no point is wasting time or effort on any form of ‘alternative-currency’, because by definition no type of ‘currency’ can resolve the real underlying economic problems.)

— Barter assumes some form of exchange of services or resources; in turn, a barter-based economy assumes that everyone has access to ‘exchangeable resources’, or ‘tradable services’ – which is simply not the case at all. Small children, the ill, the elderly, and anyone undertaking care-work or the like for such people, will either have nothing to exchange, or no time to engage in so-called ‘economic activity’. The fact that a barter-based economy – and hence any money-based economy – will therefore be unable to cover the economic relationships of more than perhaps half the people of the world, is in itself a serious problem: yet barter in itself is not the core source of the problems.

— Barter-exchanges assume that each participant has the ‘right’ to exchange the resource or service – which in turn assumes the ‘right’ to withhold that resource or service, otherwise there would be no need for the type of ‘quid pro quo’ exchanges managed through barter and the like. Such purported ‘rights’ of exclusion are typically termed ‘property-rights’, and ultimately almost all trails of provenance for purported ‘property-rights’ end up in some arbitrary act of expropriation – or, bluntly, theft – which is in itself a serious problem: yet ‘property-rights’ in themselves are not the core source of the problem.

— Right at the root – underpinning all of the above – is a concept of possession. It is, in essence, the two-year-old’s view of the world: “Mine!” It arises from an inability to perceive that the economic world depends on complex interlocking of mutual responsibilities, and hence an inability to trust that resources and services will be there as needed. It can also be seen as ‘possession’ of a purported right to not be responsible to others for some aspect of a resource or service – a peculiar form of possession that we might describe as ‘anti-possession’. The result is that all attempts at possession or any of its variants will cause resources and services to not be available where, when and to whom they are needed – and hence possession itself becomes its own dysfunctional self-confirming prophecy.

There’s a lot more detail that could be gone into here, but in essence it all comes down to this: the core problem that underpins all economic dysfunctionality is a concept of possession.

To put it at its bluntest and simplest: no system of sustainable law can incorporate any concept of possession, in any form whatsoever, applying to any type of resource or service. That includes physical-property, intellectual-property, relationships, ideas, theories, beliefs, religion, anything: none of them can be ‘possessed’ in any way.

(Interestingly, any attempts at ‘possession’ usually result in the respective person being ‘possessed’ by that which is considered to be possessed: a point which is expressed well in the Buddhist concept of ‘attachment’. Yet there’s a further twist, in that an attempt at rejection of possession is itself a form of possession, the possession of the absence of something. In a more complete Buddhist view, ‘non-attachment’ – ahimsa – is a synonym not of ‘detachment’, but of non-detachment.)

What does work is mutual responsibility: a model of ownership based on responsibility or stewardship. We ‘own’ something because we accept responsibility for that ‘something’ – and for no other reason. We do not have a ‘right’ to withhold it from anyone, other than as an expression of that personal responsibility.

All economic systems are ultimately based on interlocking mutual responsibilities: ‘possession’ is merely a dysfunctional and literally ‘self-ish’ overlay on top of a responsibility-based economic model.

Most ‘traditional’ economies are responsibility-based. The internal operation of most households – the literal meaning of ‘economics’ – is responsibility-based. Most aspects of the internal operations of most organisations are responsibility-based. All possession-based, barter-based, currency-based or money-based economic-models are aberrations that are inherently guaranteed to cause economic failure. This is, of course, almost the exact opposite of what we’re usually taught about economics…

It is true that a possession-based model will seem to deliver better economic results in the short-term: yet it does so solely by offloading some form of economic-responsibility to elsewhere and/or elsewhen. To be blunt, it ‘succeeds’ solely via stealing either from others in the present, the future or, in some specific examples, the past. Its primary method for concealing the theft is via a concept of ‘growth’: once such ‘growth’ ceases – as it always must in any closed system – its only remaining option is to cannibalise itself into oblivion. There is no possible way to make a possession-based economy sustainable.

So, that’s the context of this architectural ‘thought-experiment’:

— The vision is a sustainable world.

— The constraints are that since all forms of possession lead to economic relationships that are inherently unsustainable, that world cannot include any form of possession, and hence also cannot include any form of possession-based ‘property’, any withholding-based exchange, barter, currency, money, or finance.

— Corollaries from those constraints include an assertion that any form of ‘growth’-based economics is likely to be delusory; likewise that any concept of ‘control’ is likely to be delusory.

— By definition, possession-based societal-control mechanisms cannot be used for societal control in this model: this includes fines, confiscation of property, and many other types of inclusion or exclusion. Likewise monetary taxes, pensions, benefits and similar mechanisms for ‘wealth-distribution’ and suchlike will not be available. (It’s quite a long list of other things that would vanish, too: banks, insurances, mortgages, loans, credit-cards, wages, salaries, ‘gifts’, bribes and much, much more. Interesting, yes? 🙂 )

As enterprise-architects we do know how to do governance for this kind of world: it’s exactly what we deal with when we talk about a ‘project owner’ or ‘process owner’ or ‘business-rule owner’. It’s also the type of context that we deal with when getting different stakeholders and project-groups together to resolve architectural conflicts. And we also know how to do roadmaps for change, and how to deal with some of those really difficult change-adoption issues. In that sense, the only real difficulty for this ‘thought-experiment’ should be in scaling all of that experience up to a much broader scope – and again, we know how to handle scaling-issues of this type.

So there’s the governance-challenge:

  • How do we make this work?
  • What governance do we need?
  • In what ways does the governance change in different contexts – simple rule-based ‘law’, legal-algorithm, pattern-based guidelines, or overarching principles?
  • What checks and balances are needed for each form of governance?
  • Who are the stakeholders in each case?
  • What are the responsibilities for each stakeholder?
  • How do we identify and monitor the mutualities and interlocks between those responsibilities?
  • Within the governance-mechanisms, how do we balance all the conflicting needs?
  • How do we support viable, sustainable forms of conflict-resolution that do not simply collapse into ‘wicked-problems’ time and time again?

That’s it. It’s huge, sure; yet it’s also urgent…

So: over to you: any comments? Any questions? Or any answers, perhaps? 🙂

2 Comments on “Governance in a responsibility-based enterprise-architecture

  1. Hi Tom,

    Interesting post. I really appreciate that you shared it. You are correct in noticing that, within the bounds of an organization, we expect and demand governance to be “responsibility” based and not possession based. All “property” belongs to the organization, and it can choose to allocate that property in any way that it sees fit. The organization, acting as a unit, makes decisions that impact the operation of the people within it.

    That said, there is one thing that I possess. My skills. They are inseperable from me, and in your economic system consideration, you need to recognize that my skills, and my decisions to invest in my skills, are a cornerstone of value. It is not the age of a small child that prevents that child from playing a role in the economy of the household… it is the level of that child’s skill. Even children in primary school have an economic role in the home, because their skills have progressed sufficiently to be “valuable” for specific activities. As they grow, so do their responsibilities. In life, there has to be a way for people to self-form around the gaps in skills, to be incented to acquire those skills, and to provide them in an efficient manner.

    So all possession does not die. We still possess, and must choose to invest in, our own skills.

    I would like to point out a societal trend that you may want to think about: larger and larger portions of the world’s resources are coming under the control of enterprises that operate in the manner of responsibility-based governance. In effect, to build sustainability in the world, you may wish to consider the possibility that possession of large portions of resources will take place at the enterprise level. This may point to a “solution” that is self-forming to address your concern.

    That said, as an individual, I have the right to move from one organization to another. Why would I want to? Because organizations that govern in this way also demonstrate another trait, one that is not very pleasant: they exhibit arbitrary dictatorial behavior.

    In my social life, I can avoid that because my social life is not based on the same system of governance. It is based on the system we call democracy.

    The effect of democracy is to spread out the stakeholders of a decision and allow them to retain ultimate control over the decision-makers themselves. The result is to reduce arbitrary (some would say “unfair”) decision making. (Not eliminate… but clearly reduce). This places a great deal of emphasis on clearly written rules of behavior and transparent and trustworthy systems of adjudication. What we, in the west, would call the “rule of law.”

    Most organizations are not democratic.

    Hence, I need to move from one organization to another in order to react to the consequences of arbitrary decision making typical at an enterprise level. Let’s look at those decisions that would drive me out:
    a) the decision to use my skills in a manner that I do not believe is effective.
    b) the decision to use my skills in a process that I find unsatisfying
    c) the decision to treat my skills as “low status” when I believe that I deserve better

    Now to consider your treatise, you have to consider the motivations of the individuals who inhabit it. Those motivations have to have a way for an individual to select the skills he or she wants to invest in, to invest in that manner, and then to perform a satisfying set of responsibilities based on those skills.

    The “possession economy” has been applied to this problem through the notion of the “paycheck.” You have stated that you believe this to be an unstable situation. You are considering alternatives. As you do, I encourage you to consider the requirements of the individual, and the power of encouraging individuals to self-form around needs.

    I’d an interesting thought experiment.

    — N

  2. @Nick Malik – Many thanks for such a considered response, Nick – much appreciated!

    On “There is one thing that I possess. My skills.” – yes, and I can see how and why you would say that, because the expression of skills is indeed personal, and, in a sense, not exchangeable. (The application of skills is exchangeable, the skills themselves are not. True skills can’t be imposed from outside via ‘training’ etc, they have to inculcated from within the individual – hence ‘education’, literally ‘out-leading’.) But notice the two-edged sword of possession: the moment you say that you ‘possess’ those skills, they ‘possess’ you. And that’s where it can get kinda tricky…

    Another option is to reframe that relationships with skills as one of responsibility – literally ‘response-ability’, the ability to respond to a context in a particular way. You are then responsible for the development of that skill, for the appropriate use of that skill, responsible to the skill itself, in terms of how you respect its own perhaps-strange rules and constraints and risks and possibilities, and also responsible to others in how you relate with those others in the context of that skill. [A vast array of detail and examples there that we could go into some other time? 🙂 ]

    To me, that reframing from ‘possession’ of skills, to ‘responsibilities’ to, of, for and with skills, is a lot easier to understand, and also a lot easier to describe the mutualities in a societal context. (For example, people may well invest a great deal in the inculcation of those skills within you: how do you express and respect the resultant mutual-responsibilities? In a money-economy, you’d probably expect to pay them back in some monetary form: but how do you pay back a bequest? How do you pay back someone’s emotional commitment and support of you whilst you developed those skills? A possession-based model often doesn’t make sense there – in fact in the emotional-support case, a monetary payback would often be interpreted as an insult – but a model of ‘payback’ in terms of responsible expression in practice of those newly-developed skills does always make sense.)

    So for the purposes of this thought-experiment, replace every usage of ‘possession’ (or possession-based terms such as money, or barter, or ‘rights’, or ‘property’) with the underlying responsibilities. It’s quite a challenge, I know: but it’s definitely enlightening!

    On “larger and larger portions of the world’s resources” etc: yup, well aware of that. And in the current possession-based economy that’s actually a huge cause for concern. In some cases there are explicit responsibility-based drivers (e.g. rainforest protection), but in most cases it’s to establish and assert ‘right to exploit’, which is usually the exact antithesis of responsibility-based economics.

    On “Most organisations are not democratic”: yup. In fact most are stil based on a feudal model, which treats all of its ‘subjects’ as ‘possessions’. (To be somewhat cynical, we could argue that the only real difference between the forms of slavery practised in the South and North was that the South’s form was a bit more honest about the basis of its economics, and embedded a bit more responsibility towards those enslaved… 😐 ) There’s a lot more on this in my recent posts on the architecture of management: perhaps take a wander back a bit on this blog?

    On “Let’s look at those decisions that would drive me out”: yes, though once again, try reframing this in terms of responsibilities – especially your responsibility and ‘response-ability’. Instead of saying “they drive me out”, reframe it as your own choice: “it is my responsibility to choose otherwise than this”. It’s actually about self-respect and true respect of/to others – which again we could reframe in terms of responsibilities.

    On “You have to consider the motivations of the individuals” etc: yes, we do. And those motivations are ‘response-abilities’ too. For the purpose of this thought-experiment, keep the focus always on the responsibilities, and the interlocking mutualities of those responsibilities: that’s where you’ll get the best value from playing/working with these ideas.

    Hope that makes sense? – and thanks again, anyway.

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