Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The new Polder Model

PolderModelThe Dutch famously subscribe to a consensual decision-making process, the Polder Model, the philosophy of “Cooperation despite differences” that supposedly originated in the need to agree on polder maintenance back in the Middle Ages, otherwise adjacent villages would both be flooded. 

As it was explained to me when I first arrived in Arnhem to lead a business group, “It is better to discuss than to decide”, and over the years I have come to value to opportunity to openly share different points of view and to thrash out differences.  The advantage is that problems get a thorough airing, and execution then proceeds with full understanding and buy-in throughout the team.

This basis for establishing a common social understanding  took on new meaning as I read an essay by Clive Thompson in Wired discussing how the media landscape is evolving with the widespread adoption of social media.

In olden days (e.g.: the 80’s), daily events were first reported in the newspapers.  The weekly newsmagazines (Time, Newsweek, the Economist) would give more nuanced coverage of events, with greater detail and better understanding of causes and effects.  Finally, monthly magazines (The Atlantic) would provide perspective on what it all means.  Walter Cronkite, the evening news anchor on CBS, once remarked that nobody could be informed on an issue without reading all three sources.

Now, events are interpreted through personal media like Twitter and Facebook.  We fairly rapidly reach a consensus about how to think about an issue based on convergence of perspectives: think about how Sarah Palin’s characterization of US Health Care Reform as leading to ‘death panels’ crystallized opposition to it.  Mass media follows the lead of social media, especially echo factories like Fox or MSNBC, and through blogs and commentators who collate and amplify the themes.

So, driving through the frozen Northwest, it seems to me that the social discussion and consensual perspective is the new basis for ‘polder model’ decision making.  If everyone chirps their two cents (the value of 140 characters) worth about how they feel about an issue, the watches “What’s Trending” to see what everyone else thinks about it, a social consensus is being hammered out.

  Of course, the whole “consensual action” part is still missing, but the sporadic rallies generated by shared media might be a start.

No comments: