“Cooperation”, “Consensus” and “Collaboration” are three C-words that get thrown around in the context of Internet (technology and policy) development. Given that it is at the heart of the Internet Engineering Task Force’s organizing principles, I was a little surprised to see consensus treated as a poor discussion framework in Peter J. Denning and Robert Dunham’s “The Innovator’s Way – Essential Practices for Successful Innovation”.
While I still don’t entirely buy the authors’ view of consensus as a force of creativity stifling, with a little more reflection, I could see their argument that consensus aims to narrow discussion to find an outcome. In an engineering context of complex problems, when the problem is well understood and an answer has to be selected, that’s a good thing.
However, for many of the challenges facing the Internet, there isn’t even necessarily agreement that there is a problem, let alone a rough notion of what to do about the challenge. These are wicked problems, requiring more collaboration across diverse groups of people and interests. The heartening thing is that we’ve actually solved some of these wicked problems in the past — the existence and continued functioning of the Internet is testimony to that.