Summing up our open discussion of the situation in late 2010, Fran Barone wrote:

The OAC is the Open Anthropology Cooperative. I see some anthropology, and its relatively open (hell, I've found a place here, haven't I?), but the 'cooperative' seems to be missing more often than not-- mostly I suggest because the object of cooperation is not really set out. What are we cooperating on doing? ... I think when people see that the OAC is not just a spinning wheel, but a spinning wheel that goes places, participation will climb.

This is one of the most constructive points to continue the present conversation into the long term. What are we cooperating on here? The OAC is great for the freedom that it affords members to explore and pick and choose how and when to contribute. But part of our intention here has always been to bring together a pool of like-minded and committed individuals willing to share, critique, and collaborate to achieve productive ends. We are strong on ideas, but putting them into action towards common goals can be a drawn out process, torn between total openness and democracy and a lack of clear commitment, investment or intent.

So what would everyone like to see us collaborate to achieve? What does the Coooperative mean to you? Where would you like to see this spinning wheel go and how best to keep it spinning for everyone?

The floor is open.

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In many ways, OAC discussions are already "closed" to an "inner circle" of participants. It's always the same five white males. Take a look at this discussion for example. One of the reasons for the half-yearly open forum and the follow-up discussions (this one included) was to ask how we might be more inclusive and invite wider participation in the OAC (outside this "inner circle").

Having said that, however, your proposal does raise the possibility that some discussions and collaborative work is best performed behind closed doors, and that some would feel less hesitant to participant if their contributions were not so public. Ning does support the option of allowing some Groups to be private. So long as membership and participation in such Groups were not restricted, only the content's visibility, I might support such an option. But I would like to hear what others have to say on this. Otherwise, there are other options besides the OAC to carry such work out, including private wikis and mailing groups.

John McCreery said:
Paul, thanks for the interest in the suggestions. The heart of the matter to me is that we can talk all we want about doing this or that in the best of all possible worlds and try all sorts of technological gimmicks; but unless we find ways to get what people in the ad industry call the key drivers right, none of its going to work any better than what we have now. I can imagine all sorts of people coming to OAC for all sorts of reasons. Some are just curious about what's happening. Some are content to meet new people with whom they can continue familiar debates. Some may be freeloading, lurking and hoping to discover something that they can use for some other purpose. Some want help in getting some serious work done, like Keith, who wants anthropology to change the world, you who want to pursue issues specific to Southwestern Archeology, or me, who'd like to see what we'd better understand if cultural anthropologists combined sound scholarship with exploiting new technology—got to be, come to think of it, more like archeologists, who have always been forced by fragmentary data to carefully examine every shard and ready to use other science to date and explore the context. The critical fact here is that it's awfully hard to get anything serious done if you are constantly being side-tracked into the usual free-for-alls that groups and forums tend to become.

Suppose I put it this way: Serious work may grow out of idle curiosity but has to be isolated from it. But isolation should never be so complete that others cannot find their way to the serious work if they want to be involved in it. That is why all serious organizations have gatekeepers. Since we spent our summer in Cambridge, MA, I think of Harvard. There are tourists all over the yard, but to use Widener library, we had to get library cards. And even with library cards, we couldn't get into the private studies reserved for the faculty.

What I'm proposing is fundamentally a Harvard-like system. Tourists are free to wander around the outer circle; we might even want to lay on the equivalent of Hahvahd Tours to show them around the place. The more serious types get a pass to participate in the seminars. Some, who are ready to invite selected others to participate on a longer-term basis in ongoing research, will set up work rooms, with links to data, references, journals, whatever seems useful.

How does that sound?

This, anyway, is some of the thinking behind the outer and inner circles and the Work Rooms proposal.
One conclusion is that the OAC is not a Cooperative and is unlikely to become one. On the other hand, there is scope for cooperation at many levels, provided that some clear thinking goes into working out the conditions for it.

The people who launched the OAC were an ad hoc collection of enthusiasts for anthropology who met on Twitter. I think the term Cooperative was intended to describe us, the looseknit network of collaborators, few of whom knew each other outside cyberspace. The Admins team is the rump that emerged from that initial collaboration after some fights and departures. We are, I think a cooperative in that we share the work of organizing the OAC in an egalitarian way. The OAC Press tried to become a cooperative with some 16 members, but retrenched into a triumvirate (oligarchy). The Wiki might have become a cooperative with some interaction among a number of enthusiasts, but that never occurred. Some founders of Groups put an effort into making them viable, but most withdrew in the face of general apathy. Many never put in that effort to start with.

What took us by surprise was the instant transformation of the OAC into a mass membership organization. If we had anticipated this we might have called it the OAF (for Federation). Most mass organizations are run by a few activists, leaving the rest to play a nominal role for the most part. Any member may pull the switch from passive to active, but breaking into the inner circle is hard unless invited and most people wouldn't even try. We are on target for at least 5,000 nominal members after the first two years and that membership continues to be amazingly global in its composition. The same cannot be said for the inner circle which extends from the Admins team to the handful of regular contributors in the discussion forums.

As Justin pointed out, one aim of the Half-Yearly Report was to encourage discussion of how to widen the range of activists who might develop the OAC. This is less a matter of getting more members to participate in existing activities, although we are interested in that, than in finding ways of expanding participation in animating the OAC. This means making it clear that we are open to individuals or partnerships starting something new that engages them. At present the Groups have a monopoly of such opportunities and there ought to be more. Any innovations along these lines will take place against a background of general apathy, but one or more of them may hit on a recipe that allows them to take off, at least for a time. We need to increase the number and turnover of social experiments, all within a model of following a cooperative design on a small scale.

The issue of how open and closed activities are or should be masks the truth which is that what we have already is always open and closed in varying degree. They are not alternatives. It is striking that some people think the problem is keeping the tourists out and others getting them involved. But that too is probably a false opposition. The same applies to democratic and hierarchical decision-making. Rather than dispute these poles in abstract terms, we need to identify the constituencies we want to reach in order to signal the OAC's genuine openness to wider participation.

We could make a permanent rather than occasional forum for members to come forward with suggestions and offers of new developments.

Of all the suggestions so far, M Izabel has come up with one that corresponds most closely to what I have been talking about. This should be taken up with the OAC Press, which at present is Justin, Huon and me with an editorial board that keeps largely in the background for now and with one pointer towards greater linguistic and social diversity in the Portuguese section being prepared by Vanessa and Moises. We can hardly claim to be open to new initiatives if we ignore a concrete suggestion from one of our members.

Our Federation could still claim to be Cooperative if we define a cooperative model that might underpin a variety of uncoordinated intiatives under our umbrella. Above all, we need to ask what question the OAC is an answer to. Then its constituent parts might add variety to the realization of that answer. This means returning to the issue of a mission that is definite enough to establish limits on what we do, while opening out a range of new possibilities for member participation.
I think puting the definition of cooperative, which can be a cooperative exchange of ideas, into practice is a good start.

Structure-wise, the OAC's site can include sections such as IDEA EXCHANGE, NEW TRENDS, and CURRENT CONTROVERSIES. Members can solicit and share ideas about their projects, studies, fieldworks, papers, etc. We can also start posting new or seminal papers we deem important or interesting in the field of anthropology.

A member's post about community gardening and the concept of community is a good one for Idea Exchange. Other members can suggest a place for fieldwork, a set of references, or an expert in the field. We should make the OAC a reservoir of free-flowing suggestions and ideas in anthropology.

John, if I remember it right, posted a link about something related to neuroanthropology. That can be under new trends. We can make the OAC a one-stop or an online center for new ideas in anthropology. We can reserve a space that collates and arranges readings, papers, studies, etc., that are interesting to talk about. Ralph Keeney's paper, "Personal Decisions Are the Leading Cause of Death" is a good example.

Under Current Controversies, we can include issues such as the militarization of anthropology or the anthropology of rape or any anthropological issue that will stir a lot of members and make them participate. Simply, we need interesting materials that are new, fresh, and stimulating. Most members lurk in the margins because they are waiting to be pulled towards the center. We need something that can stir and pull them.

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