Starfish or Spider?

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Should CISV decentralize and give more power to the chapters?

Sarah/USA referred me to this very interesting book, called "The Starfish and the Spider": The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations". I haven't read it (yet), but on the cover it says:
Thumbnail image for StarfishSpider253x168.jpg
"One thing that business, institutions, governments and key individuals will have to realize is spiders and starfish may look alike, but starfish have a miraculous quality to them. Cut off the leg of a spider, and you have a seven-legged creature on your hands; cut off its head and you have a dead spider. But cut off the arm of a starfish and it will grow a new one. Not only that, but the severed arm can grow an entirely new body. Starfish can achieve this feat because, unlike spiders, they are decentralized; every major organ is replicated across each arm."
If you look at CISV's structure, we have elements of both: The chapters could be viewed as the legs of starfish, where from each one a new organization could spring off. In many ways we are pretty decentralized. But as a whole, I'm afraid CISV is still a spider with a huge head, read IO/AIM/IEC/Committees.
The Starfish and Spider concept transfered to CISV initiated a few thoughts:

  • It takes some courage to reduce the overhead structure. Can anybody imagine CISV without AIM, IEC or IO? I do think it could be possible, and maybe liberate energy in chapters and NAs: Take away the heavy burden of financial and human resources to keep the international structure alive, and many a chapter could use them elsewhere. The chapters could become more creative, invest more time in local activities, and so on.
  • The Mosaic programme is an example where a starfish was turned into a spider. I'd have to admit though that the starfish Local Work was barely alive. Maybe Mosaic could be turned back into a starfish some day.
  • Somebody submitted a proposal to CISV Devils some time ago, suggesting that there are things we could learn from Al Quaida, a perfect Starfish. Even without the head (=Bin Laden), the idea would live on. Even if not based on religious belief, shouldn't the CISV idea be strong enough to survive without central management?

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Although I also admit I haven't read the book yet, I still think it's a very good angle from which to look at CISV. The new hospitality points decision is a good example - we chose a system that was more "fair" globally and because we value more consistent hosting in more countries over a simple volume of programs. By increasing our dependency on a central structures we remove some of the pressure on chapters to fundraise the money to host (or recruit participants who can pay whopping fees) but we also increase the risk - that if the international structure isn't strong, the chapters may suffer more.

Even though I can see some value in decentralizing the chapters or at least making them non-dependent on an international structure for their survival, I don't know if we have the strength of message for this. Even after years of work, most CISVers you ask have a different view of what the organization intends to accomplish and how this should be accomplished and promoted.

In a true starfish amenable organization, I can imagine that the product/message is so simple that the centralized structure isn't needed in order for the products to be roughly the same. Without some centralized structure in CISV flyers, websites, and t-shirts would look very different world wide - not to mention the educational content of activities. But then, don't they anyway? I wonder if the hybrid system defeats the value of having either one.

Matt left a lengthy comment over at CISV Devils on the Mosaic proposal:

Since Devils is officially shut down, I thought I'd link to it from here, so it gets some more appreciation.

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This page contains a single entry by Nick published on August 31, 2009 3:26 PM.

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