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How can a planetary-wide, non-hierarchical network regionalise?

Strategising for the long term. These comments are not proposals, they are just thoughts and arguments to help clarify possibilities.

the numbers

Communication among people involves getting to know each other. A group of 30-40 seems to be the natural size where people can reasonably have some chance to build up trust and to be able to effectively communicate and function as a group to deal with some social issue. A group of 100 is already getting to the size where full participation becomes unrealistic unless tacit (silent) approval is considered participation, but it's already a situation where the majority risks becoming anonymous, and in order to remain non-hierarchical, process rules have to be taken seriously, whether in face-to-face meetings, mailing lists or other fora.

equality politics - the Global South

In Indymedia we don't want activists from the rich countries, no matter how well-intentioned, to dominate those from the "Global South".

numbers + equality => the arithmetic

There are about 6 billion of us. If we want about 30-40 people (liaisons) on a global mailing list, and we also want equality, then on that global list, there should be about 1 liaison for a region of 200 million people. If we're willing to go up to 100 liaisons on a list, then a liaison could correspond to a region of about 60 million.

So if we accept about 100 liaisons on a list, then for the following regions (considered as regions, not as organisations built on the use and continued threat of violence) we would have:

  • 1 liaison each for a region like ImcFrance, ImcUk, ImcGermany or ImcPoland
    • would require French city IMCs to shift to a single liaison
    • would require United Kollektives IMCs to retain (?) a single liaison
  • 4 liaisons for the US region
    • would require US region IMCs to go much further in regionalisation
  • 2 liaisons for ImcJapan
  • about 16 liaisons for ImcMumbai, ImcIndia, a handful more for South Asia generally
    • this will only be reasonable once participation starts getting to that level
  • 16-18 liaisons for PRChina IMCs
    • still some time to wait, but with ImcJapan up and running and ImcKorea getting started it's hard to believe that it'll take much longer
  • a handful or two of liaisons from Latin America
  • a dozen(?) liaisons from West Asia and Africa

the population numbers are not perfect, feel free to correct them


If the idea of, e.g., imc-process having 16 liaisons from India and only 4 liaisons from the US region sounds unacceptable, then please find the error in the above arithmetic or the error in the political assumptions behind it.

In the case of a working group, like NewImc, which is based on hardworking individuals and which only helps get a new group organised and documented in a way that a liaison-based global list can make a real collective decision, there is probably less formal need for global balance, since the biases can be corrected by a liaison-based global list. But it would probably be reasonable to shift towards the same sort of global balance anyway.

The fact of the matter is that if we want to call the indymedia network a global network, then we're going to have to accept something like the above as the long term equilibrium situation: until local IMC liaisons from India and China constitute about a third of a global list (by numbers), we're still a long way from being a global network. Feeling good about where we've got to so far is fine, but we've still got a long way to go.

rotation, what is a liaison, etc.

None of the above discusses what a liaison is. Does anyone know of a TWiki page that discusses this or have another good link? Every now and then, there are some discussions on the mailing lists...

All the above is not meant to imply any sort of "parliamentary" style representation, nor any repression of individual initiatives. Each region should be able to come to its own decision and culture of developing, in practice, the difference between a liaison and a representative, of rotation of liaisons, of a recall process when a liaison is unable to carry out her/his communication and facilitation tasks, etc. Each region should also be capable of finding local multilinguists.

censorship of creative, innovative, dissenting individuals?

The argument that this sort of regionalisation would suppress individual thought is invalid in the context of Indymedia.

The whole culture of Indymedia encourages many channels of communication so that original thoughts by individuals are very difficult to suppress. On the contrary, original thoughts which have some relation to reality (even distant) have a good chance of being amplified. A regionalisation process would add some filters, but as long as there are still open, face-to-face public meetings at the city level, and reasonably open mailing lists, IRC channels and TWiki pages at all geographical levels (plus functionally focussed virtual fora), and decision-making processes "aligned with" consensus, it's likely that any minority viewpoint which matches real world experience would make it to the global list level.

positive and negative feedback loops

Another way of looking at this is that there are many positive feedback loops which amplify concerns by individuals, and they would also amplify them at the global list level. These positive feedback loops include:
  • a decision-making process aligned with consensus - it amplifies concerns, at least when they are first raised
  • independent decision-making among autonomous local IMCs - a minority idea which sounds credible and realistic has a good chance of being taken seriously by people who think for themselves rather than blindly accept majority points of view

In the absence of negative feedback loops, positive feedback normally leads to exponential growth of a parameter (e.g. discussion on a given theme, let's call this a meme). This is one of the most powerful elements of independent media: even if started by just one individual, a meme that matches reality grows quickly to fill the whole environment. But for the same reason, it's a problem when there are no negative feedback loops to limit growth of memes that are bad matches to reality.

Negative feedback loops generally occur in Indymedia once people think that a concern has been adequately dealt with, or when they feel that a point has already been discussed, or when they feel the point has been understood but that it's unrealistic or does not match experience, for example. Negative feedback mechanisms in Indymedia include:
  • telling people that the discussion has terminated
  • formal decision-making leading to a decision on a theme by some deadline
  • redirecting further discussion to either a more local virtual forum or to a meta-forum about process
    • the "bottom-up" principle probably suggests that a more local virtual forum is more likely to be acceptable than a meta-forum, and it would be more likely that the meme is confronted with non-virtual reality
    • however, a meta-forum is probably also OK since by definition it does not have a strong link with reality, so exponential growth within meta-fora is likely to limited by the limited nature of its environment, and avoids dominating the whole system

Just as an individual who has a good idea and material and links for a global feature can get this onto the global features page (PublishingFeatures), provided s/he does the communication work first with local groups, and then with the global list, and provided that the idea has some credible match with reality so that the local groups respond, it will still be possible for an individual to get an idea up to another global list.

Is a liaison system hierarchical?

A liaison system is certainly temporarily hierarchical in terms of communication processes. It's hard to see any way of avoiding this apart from total absence of structure.

However, whether or not it's hierarchical in terms of authoritarianism and coercion depends on whether or not its decisions are considered only as suggestions or recommendations, or rather as commands, and on whether or not any coercive mechanisms (formal or informal) exist. The whole Indymedia culture, as described, e.g., by the PrinciplesOfUnity and MembershipCriteria, is likely to help make the difference between authoritarian command-and-control hierarchy and a communication, coordination hierarchy.

horizontal global lists

Global lists which try to "liaise" (connect) among all IMC regions, and hence indirectly among all local IMCs, are in some sense vertical.

Functional lists will necessarily be more horizontal, but risk being unevenly distributed geographically - the people in the richest countries have the best internet access and it will be difficult for them not to dominate.

An alternative to make sure global solidarity and communication is possible at a human scale is horizontal global lists, where, for example, a local IMC from Europe develops close links with a local IMC in S.America, another in N.America, another in East/South-East Asia, another in Oceania. Something like 6-7 local IMCs from around the world could get to know each other and use their complementarity to support each other. With 2-3 liaisons per list doing the translation work, this would make about 10-20 people, a comfortable number for getting to know each other and coordinate.

A minor practical difficulty would be picking a name for each such horizontal list. imc-horizontal-1, imc-horizontal-2 would probably be too boring...

These sort of local-to-local relationships already happen to some extent. Maybe simply having a few liaisons subscribed to the other local lists would be enough, rather than a specific list.

time scale

During 2003, we probably won't have enough participation from India and China to need 30 or so liaisons from those regions on a global list. But Indymedia is not just an internet-based network - IMC India and IMC Mumbai may find other ways of developing which remain internet-connected but which are more practical in rural South Asia. And internet development is booming in PRChina.

A 3 year time scale in the future is already double our present age, so a much more intense participation from Asia could certainly happen within this time scale. And having some empty virtual places to sit around our meeting space is likely to be more welcoming than if newcomers have to stand up at the back of the room because the comfortable places are already occupied by people writing long English messages to global mailing lists.

participative political structures - parpolity?

petros from ImcCyprus has often said we should discuss the politics that we support. One of the most interesting economic visions is ParEcon, but there's also a model of a participatory political system, parpolity, http://www.zmag.org/shalompol.htm, which is intended to be consistent with and supportive of a participatory economy.

This is especially interesting for Indymedia. The first three headings of http://www.zmag.org/shalompol.htm are:
  • I. A political system that is appropriate for ParEcon
  • II. Why do we need a political system at all?
  • III. What values do we want for our political system?
and while Indymedia is a media system, not an economic system, there are certain to be many parallels.

Possibly the most interesting answers in stephen shalom's proposal are in
  • IV. Legislative Functions
    • A. Nested councils. The primary-level councils will include every adult in the society. The number of members in these primary-level councils will be somewhere between 25-50.
      • Of course, probably noone would want Indymedia to include all 6 billion of us, but as the network covers geographical regions more and more densely, we will hopefully become more and more just one example which is widely copied and evolved. Should all adults in society participate in media production and consumption? Most people already do participate in dependent media consumption, but maybe in a better society not everybody needs to participate in media...
    • B. Each primary-level council will choose a delegate to a second-level council. (Each second-level council will be composed of 20-50 delegates, depending on the agreed upon council size.) Likewise, each second-level council will choose delegates to third-level councils, and so on, until there is one single top-level council for the entire society. These delegates would be charged with trying to reflect the actual views of the council they came from. But they would not be "mandated": that is, they would not be told "this is how you must vote," for if they were then the higher council they were attending would not be a deliberative body. In fact, the delegates could then be easily replaced by a computer message relaying the sentiments of the lower council.
      • The liaison-vs-representative debate has a somewhat different answer here than what is generally accepted in Indymedia. Maybe the different answers are appropriate in the different systems (media vs real political system). In Indymedia we probably have no need nor any wish to make rapid global decisions, so the slowness of liaising is probably OK for Indymedia.
    • The number of members on each council should be determined on the basis of a society-wide decision, and perhaps revised on the basis of experience, so as to meet the following criteria: small enough to guarantee that people can be involved in deliberative bodies, where all can participate in face-to-face discussions; but yet big enough so that (1) there is adequate diversity of opinion included; and (2) the number of layers of councils needed to accommodate the entire society is minimized. For example, a council size of 25, with 5 layers, assuming half the population consists of adults, can accommodate a society of 19 million people; a council size of 40, again would need 5 layers to accommodate 200 million people; a 50-person council could accommodate 625 million people by the fifth level. With a sixth level, even a 25-person council could accommodate a society of about half a billion people.
      • Six levels with 50-person councils would include 15 billion people, enough to cover the maximum population, during the middle of the 21st century, after which population decline is likely.
      • If we have 100-person "global lists" and 100-person "regional lists", then with just three levels (local, regional, global), we would cover 10,000 local IMCs. This should probably be enough to see us through 2-3 years. By that time, Indymedia will probably be more of an idea than a single network.
    • C. Councils at every level would be deliberative bodies. They will operate by consensus where possible, majority rule where not.
      • The deliberative bodies bit is different to Indymedia, but the consensus vs majority rule bit is interesting in the context of the April/May 2003 debate on consensus during the NewImcRogueProcess. We probably have close to... consensus... in Indymedia that majority rule is unacceptable in general (except for a supermajority as a backup procedure), but it's still interesting to see what parpolity proposes.


If we aim for a long term (e.g. think up to 2006) goals of:
  • at most 100 regional liaisons on any global list
  • at most 100 local liaisons on any regional list
and if we have:
  • the right sort of positive and negative feedback loops
  • we just possibly might have a workable, strongly anti-authoritarian global communications system
    • which has few enough people on any mailing list so that they can get to know and trust each other and can constructively deal with conflicts and (if required) make decisions
    • which is welcoming to people living in the Global South and lets them genuinely participate and
    • which allows for about 10,000 local IMCs, which will surely be enough on this time scale. Indymedia will be very different by 2006.

One of the most dramatic changes from present practice would be the long term goal of US liaisons auto-limiting themselves on any global list to a total of about four (4) liaisons.

Reminder: these are not proposals, they are just thoughts to help guide discussion.


corrected ImcUk wikiname

-- SpaceBunny - 26 May 2003
Topic revision: r7 - 04 Jul 2007, AlsteR
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