A network-centric world

By Ann Fontaine

Just when the Anglican Communion is struggling to find a way for the varieties of churches to develop a centralized way of living together the world is going in the opposite direction. From the Defense Department to Howard Dean’s presidential campaign to Al Qaeda, everyone is learning the lessons of the network centric world. The Anglican Communion and The Episcopal Church are perfectly set up to take advantage of this way of being but seem determined to abandon it at this critical moment in time.

From its earliest days the Christian adventure developed through everyone running out into the streets speaking all sorts of languages at Pentecost: Peter, Paul, Thecla, Phoebe, the Roman church, the Eastern church, the Celtic Church – all with differing visions of telling the story but out in the field sharing the Good News.

The Anglican Church has operated as network centric for most of its history. Early on missionaries were sent from a variety of theological perspectives with no real top down supervision. Although there are some difficulties with that when we reconnect with each other, it was an efficient way of getting out the word.

Periodically, bloody, physical and verbal, battles are fought to try to bring it all under one system. One group or one person attempts to impose one set of standards on the project. This is doomed to failure especially in this era of world history.

Jed Miller and Rob Stuart of Planet Network describe the differences between ego-centric and network centric organization in: “Network-Centric Thinking: The Internet’s Challenge to Ego-Centric Institutions”

The tools of digital democracy enable us to become activists with a new flexibility and independence. Email lists, online petitions, meet-ups and blogs have altered citizens’ expectations for how advocacy groups should engage their members. MoveOn.org and the Howard Dean campaign have pioneered new models for democratic, flexible, “network-centric” approaches, but many organizations stick resolutely to traditional “ego-centric” methods. There’s a simmering tension between ego-centric thinking and network-centric thinking – the tension between the institutional power that emanates from an organization and the transactional power that inheres in its members’ myriad interactions.

Driven by top-down hierarchies, cultures of personality, and an ingrained resistance to knowledge-sharing, ego-centric organizations remain unready, unwilling, or unable to embrace network-centric organizational models. They cling instead to its opposite, the “ego-centric” model for organizations and organizing.

Ego-centric institutions are hardly dysfunctional, but the world is changing, and traditional models for organizing, fund-raising, management, marketing, and warfare are all slipping into ineffectuality.

The Pentagon has recognized, in a post 9/11 world, the power of this concept in warfare. John J. Gartska writes in “Network Centric Warfare: An Overview of Emerging Theory:

Network-centric warfare enables warfighters to leverage this information advantage to dramatically increase combat power through self-synchronization and other network-centric operations.

Across a broad spectrum of mission areas, evidence for the power of network-centric warfare is emerging from experiments and exercises. Evidence collected to date supports a strong correlation between information sharing, improved situational awareness, and significantly increased combat power.

In the face of these trends and modes of functioning why is the Anglican Communion trying to develop a more ego-centric system? Is it a death wish? Is it because most of our leaders were formed in a way of being an institution that has become outdated by rapid communication and the spread of knowledge? Let’s hope they will wake up to reality before they destroy the gift we have been given by our messy ancestors of the faith.

The Global Center understands how we must tap the gift of our diversity as expressed in their latest communication to the Communion and not lose it in talk of centralization and conformity.

The Rev. Ann Fontaine, Diocese of Wyoming, keeps the blogs Green Lent and what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

Past Posts