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Ivan Henry Scheier

CO - MiniMax II

Central Network Pool

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Co - MiniMax II

Ivan Scheier
Unpublished essay prepared for the New Volunteerism Project,
May 1998)

Re-reading the chapter on Co-MiniMax I after many years, I pondered why the process was never widely applied. It seemed logical and rational enough, and closely patterned after the original MiniMax which was, in fact quite popular and well-used in practice. My conclusions – please check me on this – were that the translation from individual to organizational participants, became too complex and "iffy"; for example the issue of how an individual could represent authoritatively and negotiate effectively on behalf of the needs and shareable resources of her/his organization. Another vexatious issue was the apparent difficulty of large vs small, strong vs. weak organizations negotiating fairly and productively in the Co-MiniMax process.

I began to envision instead a big bulletin board or a large wall posting surface in a location accessible to participating organization (Offices of a Human Service Council? Chamber of Commerce? United Way? City Hall?). On this surface, each participating group would post:

  1. Its Willingly Shared Resources already solidly agreed upon within the group, organization, agency or program; for example space not fully used; surplus or not fully used equipment; expertise; open slots at workshop they were conducting; extra materials such as furniture, food, books, computers, etc.
  2. Its Needs, also solidly agreed upon as what the group wished to put out publicly. These needs would be of the same nature as the willingly shared resources, that is needs for space, used computers, etc.

Periodically, organizations participating in Co-MiniMax II (or whatever less formidable name is decided upon) would check the Bulletin Board, for other organization which a) had something they might want and also b) a need they might be able to fill. If this seemed possible, the bulletin-board checking organization would contact the listing organization and the negotiation henceforth would be directly between them. With two or more "suitors" for a resource-need match, the negotiation is directly between all of them. A nice refinement to this process would be if one or two person, perhaps people in the office were the postings are, would periodically check the board, scanning for potential resource-need connections. These "connector coordinators" would then advise the parties to the potential match, and leave it up to them, henceforth….

I’ve never seen a full precedent of the above-described process operating on an ongoing basis. I have however seen the posting-wall approach at a large national conference where the participation was a mix of individuals representing organization or alternatively, themselves as individuals.

I’ve seen a similar mix of organization and individual participation where a newsletter served as "bulletin board."

  The Central Network Pool

Ivan Scheier
June 1998

This is a 1998 revision of two earlier publications on The Central Network Pool:

  1. "The Bridge: A Guide for Networkers," with Susan Dryovage, 1981, Yellow fire Press, Boulder, Colorado and
  2. 2) "Getting The Best From Your Group: The Central Network Pool" 7 pages, 1985, Yellowfire Press, Boulder, Colorado

Both publications are long out of print; moreover, the present revision makes substantial adjustments in the process, and I view these as improvements.

The original MiniMax method tended to have a ceiling of no more that 150 participants, usually meeting only once or at most twice to initiate a network. As a variation of MiniMax, the Central Network Pool is designed to deal with these limitations. That is, its ceiling is a virtually unlimited number of people, certainly many more that 150, and has increased potential to maintain an ongoing network beyond the initiation phase.

Essential Characteristics of the Pool
It is assumed the reader is familiar with the original MiniMax method, described earlier in this packet. The major difference is that The Central Network Pool builds its network by having participants interact with a single resource bank or pool, rather than individually with one another. The physical repository of the bank or pool can be a bulletin board or an entire wall serving that purpose in a location accessible to participants; a special in print record of transactions distributed periodically to participants; part of a newsletter if the bank is small enough to fit there; or a computer mentor.

(((((( As this is written, well into the computer age, I am beginning to be comfortable with desktop computers. So, far all I know, the general process described here could be implemented many times more efficiently and easily via computer. So be it, if so. However, there are still many unadvantaged people without computers. )))))))

A second difference between the pool and the original MiniMax is a difference of degree. The Central Network Pool is mainly a set of general guidelines, flexibly amenable to situation modification; MiniMax is more a set of fairly detailed rules. This relates to a third difference of emphasis. The Central Network Pool compared to MiniMax, is even less concerned to achieve a precise barter-like balance between participants’ giving and receiving – more on that later.

Selecting Participants
The ceiling for participants is in the hundreds or even thousands; the lower limit can be as few as ten or twelve, in which case the main advantage is in the potential for continuation over time.

It is almost always desirable to begin with an established group in which a level of familiarity, trust, and membership identification already exists. This might be an extended family, a block or neighborhood, a club, a religious congregation, an office, a class in school or college, etc. A somewhat different case, where familiarity and validated trust can not be assumed is a computer Internet group. Moreover, as a general rule, strangers should not be excluded forever; they can be reached out to and brought in, incrementally, e.g. through the participants’ own networks, once the initial group network is up and running.

Finding Coordinators and Monitors
The system does not run itself. A crucial task is therefore to find and engage people who are willing and able to help make and monitor matches, and see that network rules are observed – all this with a light but firm rein. This could easily take five to ten hours a week in a smaller central network pool, more in initial stages of setting it up, and certainly more in larger pools. Depending on the amount of time required and the available funds, the coordinators/monitors might be paid or volunteer (with the "volunteer paycheck" an extra portion of glad gifts). Especially if volunteers, it’s advisable to build in some redundancy, e.g. backup and relief people to be sure you have continuous coverage of needed functions; also more than one person will be needed for decisions best handled by consensus.

Choosing a Theme
It is almost always better to decide on some theme for the pool, neither too broad or too narrow, e.g. somewhere between "saving the world" and "the courting habits of the central Nevada sand flea." Examples of more appropriate levels might be "improving quality of life in our neighborhood," "career development for women." "recreational opportunities for youth," and "opportunities for members of our church to help one another."

Preparing the Participants
Explain the face-to-face MiniMax process and if at all possible have potential participants actually experience it, or at least the key part of it – how easy and how much fun it is to match glad gifts with needs. (If the total of possible participants is in the thousands, the above can be done in number of smaller groups). After this, it is crucial that the decision to participate or not, be voluntary. The system simply doesn’t work very well with obliged involvement. Only be sure initially reluctant people get regular news of success stories along with periodic opportunities to change their minds about being involved.

Inputing the Resources: "Everybody Into The Pool"
The pool is filled with "glad gifts" defined as something fairly specific a person wants to do and can do pretty well, which might be of help to other people. (Please see earlier section on MiniMax, for examples of glad gifts). Every participant puts in a standard number of glad gifts, lets say five for purposes of description here. Ongoing experience with your central network pool might adjust that number up or down, out of experience with your particular situation. You will also want to explore options on whether glad gifts contributed to the pool should be conditioned as to time involved, repeatability, etc. Thus, to the glad gift – "teaching young people basic maintenance on cars" - might be added statements such as "maximum of fifteen hours involvement" and/or "I only want to do this once with one or two young people, not over and over again."

"Raw" gifts might sometimes be difficult to categorize and refine. But I strongly urge resisting the temptation to give people only pre-digested forced – choice alternatives from which to choose as their glad gifts. This endangers removing from the pool, a precious freshness and surprise-ability of possible-resources.

Another issue to be decided largely on the basis of experience, is the extent to which you will want to screen out glad gifts which are too trivial or too distant from the network’s theme. Such screening would best be done lightly by the system monitors possibly in conjunction with a representative participant committee.

The same committee might find it desirable to develop convenient and meaningful sub-categories for grouping raw glad gifts under the network’s main theme.

Reaching Out for Gifts
In one mode of operation, each participant has the responsibility to check the pool or resource bank regularly, for glad gifts she/he might use, however, these are presented, e.g. on bulletin boards, a network print-out, on computer, etc. In another mode of operation, the system itself, with some help usually via its coordinators/monitors, makes initial prospective connections between glad gift and need. In the latter case, of course, a person would have registered in the pool, main needs as well as glad gifts, (as in the MiniMax process).

It might also be feasible to combine both approaches.

Negotiation a Match
A participant should not count on finding a glad gift that perfectly matches her or his need. Needing help with gardening in general, the closest glad gift she may find in the pool might be "help planting fruit trees." A satisfactory negotiation therefore requires her to scale her need down and/or the offerer to scale her glad gift up. That’s often easy enough to do, e.g. the glad gift gives you help at least with some aspects of gardening and maybe you can even get other help with (some of) the rest of it. Potentially more difficult is negotiating a match in which there is something like a qualitative difference between the need and the glad gift, e.g. the glad offer to teach tennis and the wish to learn badminton.

In any case, the match should almost always be negotiated directly between the needer and glad gifter, with "directly" including, with due cautions, telephone e-mail, and regular mail, as well as face-to-face. The exception would be standard categories of need and glad gifts, which could be pre-designed to interface. I’ve already entered my cautions on this cookbook approach.

Usually the contract between glad gifter and the needer will include a time period within which the glad gift-need transaction is to be completed.

For the Record
The "system" be it bulletin board or computer, must be advised when a match 1) is contracted for and 2) is satisfactorily completed. This notice removes the glad gift from the pool provisionally and finally, respectively (unless the glad gifter has specifically said he wants to offer the glad gift more than once). Any difficulties or disagreements on satisfactoriness of the transaction, for either or both parities, should also be reported to system monitors.

As prelude to addressing some potential problems in the system, please note this recommendation: that the pool be emptied and re-filled somewhere between quarterly and bi-annually. This does not exclude a participant putting in some or all of the same glad gifts at re-start; it only means she/he will have the opportunity to reconsider and modify input on the basis of experience in the previous cycle.

…is where the participant is still not participating. That is, none (or very few) of their needs have found glad gift matches, and none (or very few) of their glad gifts have been called of by people needing them. Such people can be carried as "deadwood" until the end of the current cycle, or talked to towards the end of the present one or in any case, as soon as feasible. In speaking with them, consider these points:

**given the richness and variety of glad gifts almost certain to exist in significant sized pools, it is somewhat unlikely that lack of same is the main problem.

**possibly, the person doesn’t fully understand how the system works, e.g. the degree of initiative that must be taken by the needing person, in seeking out potentially relevant glad gifts and negotiation clear matches.

**in regard to usage of the person’s glad gifts, maybe they weren’t screened properly in the first place for relevance and significance in terms of pool theme.

**is the person too busy with others things? If they are truly urgent, such as illness or severe but temporary career pressures, consider getting back in the pool when these pressures ease.

**possibly, the person just isn’t particularly motivated by the process and joined for trivial or irrelevant reasons, such as social pressure, felt obligations of group membership, etc. Such people should be discouraged from continuing with the pool in the next cycle. Not incidentally, one reason motivation may be lacking is that the person is in the wrong network for him/her – the theme is largely irrelevant to their needs.

In general, results of the above kinds of discussion should be the basis for deciding whether the person should stay in the pool with a fresh approach next cycle, or withdraw.

Imbalance I: All Give and No Get
Suppose all or most of the person’s glad gifts are being matched/taken and none (or very few) of her needs are being met via match with glad gifts. At first glance, this might seem a clear case of exploitation. But what if she really wants to be a giver in this situation essentially considers it a good opportunity to enjoy helping others? And remember, the gifts are glad. So I say, leave her alone, with grateful thanks. On the other hand, if there is some sense of the person feeling taken advantage of, there are several possible remedies: 1) be sure the person understands that the initiatives that are usually necessary to find glad gifts for their needs. Pool coordinators might even help the participant a time or two in the search process. 3) Decide that no more of this person’s glad gifts can be taken until some of her needs are met/matched. Generally, consider a system rule in which only a certain number of a person’s glad gifts, say three, can be taken before some of her needs are met. 3) Related, grant the person a "free ride," if she wants one, in the next cycle; that is, she can seek need-fulfilling matches without putting in any glad gifts.

Imbalance II: All Get and No Give
This person is getting a lot of his needs filled without having any of his glad gifts taken in matches. A temptation would be to tab this person "exploitative." Avoid such judgmental reflex. Remember, the person put his glad gifts in the pool just like anyone else. And, assuming they were properly screened for relevance and substance, it is not his fault that his gifts weren’t requested and taken. One remedy would be working with him to develop more "popular" gifts in the next cycle. Less desirable, in my view, but possible, is to place a limit on the number of needs that can be filled before at least some of person’s glad gifts are taken.

((((Experience over the years with Central Network Pools, suggests to me that a basic rule from the very onset of the pool should be to make one’s number of "gets" somewhat smaller than one’s number of "gives," at least initially. Thus, the rule might be initially at least, that for every five "Glad Gifts" you put in, you can take out three of someone else’s glad gifts. The likely resulting "surplus" in the pool, would be part unusable glad gifts.))))

Here, I would be especially wary of discouraging initiative among participants in seeking glad gifts to address their needs.

In The Real World
Sprinkled through the text, there should have been statement like "When they set up their Central Network Pool in Peoria…" Such examples are, however, missing. The reason is that such examples are missing in real life, so far as I am aware, at least in exact precedent. Not to despair; there seems to be ample analogous or partial precedent "bracketing" the Central Network Pool closely enough so full precedent is a plausible possibility in the future, if not now in summary:

A. The Central Network Pool, very much as described in this essay, has been used quite frequently and successfully as a demonstration at national or regional conferences and workshops. But after the demonstration, the conference participants scattered back to their homes and the Pool dissolved, thereby failing to test the perseverance characteristic we have attributed to these Pools.

B. There are many examples of Pool-like processes which, however, focus on only one type of glad gift-need transaction rather than a range of them. Include here, the penny dish by the restaurant cash register; a baby sitting pool; and the lending library once set up by a professional association in Boulder Colorado and probably elsewhere, too – you donate your extra books and magazines (glad gifts) and borrow whatever other books and magazines you want. Similar examples include seed banks, and many of the processes on which intentional communities depend. At a laid back extreme, one occasionally finds ‘systems:" where you put in what you can and take out what you need/want. The Stillpoint example is another example of that approach. You receive benefits via participation, after which its largely up to you to decide whether you want to do something in return and, if so, what that will be. That is, the services have been like bread thrown on the waters and, so far at least the bread has come back buttered…..

C. Barter systems, of which there are many share a basic resemblance to the Central Network Pool, except that they are usually far more strict on necessary equivalence between what you put in and what you take out.

I believe there is generally an intermediate level of give-get equivalence embodied in the Central Network Pool.

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Ivan Scheier
607 Marr
Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, 87901
Tel (505) 894-1340

For comments and editing suggestions please contact Mary Lou McNatt