TIMN applied to school governance

In recent weeks, I've left a few comments about the TIMN framework on David Ronfeldt's blog: Visions from Two Theories. Yesterday, I was discussing with a friend how TIMN could be applied to revising the governance of schools that is a facet of the current Race to the Top competition in the US. If you've followed my previous explorations of the TIMN framework, you know me to be very process oriented and eager to apply David's macro scale analysis (social evolution) to micro scales of psychological states and stages of single enterprise evolution.

My latest thinking has also been helped along by Philip Blond's essay last month in the UK's Prospect Magazine: Rise of the red Tories. He suggests that we've ended up worse off as a society from the expansion of big corporations and big governments (in the UK and the US) via too much individualism. Like the blogs of Michel Bauwens, John Robb and Jeff Vail, Blond foresees a migration toward communitarianism where small, self-governing communities thrive on the diverse contributions of local participants. I got the the idea from his analysis of excessive individualism that private enterprises in a Market could progress toward a collaborative, "Main Street" economy or regress into those "too big to fail" global corporations that function like Institutions. This helped me define the potentially progressive (M -> N) and regressive (M -> I) patterns for the M in the TIMN framework through my "process biased" lens. I then applied this perspective to the governance of schools, which looks like this:

  • Tribal school governance leaves each educational issue for every tribe to resolve by itself. There would be a lack of infrastructure like educational materials, curriculum development and teacher training. A teacher would emerge from the collective gathering as one resourceful enough to improvise amidst transient or sparse conditions. There would be very controlling legacy traditions to compensate for the tribe's inability to better serve those in need of an education. Those who respected those confining traditions would be honored while others' disrespect of them would be taken as dishonor to the entire tribe.
  • Institutional school governance replaces honored traditions with uniform policy compliance. Hierarchies of administrators would provide massive infrastructure to ensure quality in spite of incompetent or under-qualified instructors. Exceptional educators would go unrecognized to avoid "playing favorites" or stirring up resentment among the less fortunate. The system would provide uniform materials, instruction and testing to compare individual students to established norms. Everyone would be expected to meet established standards or endure the stigma of deviant, defective or deficient qualifications.
  • Market school governance opens those closed compliance systems and invites individual innovations. Emphasis shifts from uniformity to customization of services via flattened, democratic and discretionary administrative practices. Individual students get regarded as one-of-a-kind opportunities to identify special needs, work with exceptional abilities and remediate personal shortcomings. Likewise, educators would be differentiated and valued for their unique contributions. Everyone would be expected to cultivate their talents, expressiveness and viewpoint. Performance and productions could on be evaluated subjectively, as an added dimension of feedback to supplement the actual outcomes, peers' responses and self-critiques.
  • Networks school governance assumes every participant in the educational system is connected within and outside the system. Students are interconnected via social networking platforms and handheld technologies. Teachers are connected to other teachers across school and district lines as if "not invented here" no longer applies to the kinds of problems and solutions under consideration. Administrators would experience every day offering the value of "professional conferences" as they could easily tap into their network for advice, perspectives and encouragement. All this connectedness also implicates each participant as a contributor, responder and reciprocator. Everyone would spend lots of time each day keeping the conversations going within their personal networks. The prior concept of "valid educational activity" would drift from formal instructional practices to this vast array of informal explorations, contributions and collaborative realizations.
There's a pattern of regression in the long history of failed educational reforms. Breakout approaches to education innovation appear to get off to a great start. They fit the pattern of "market school governance" I detailed above. Yet, over the years, they migrate from open to closed, diverse to uniform, and distributed to centralized administrative controls. In short they regress from Market forms of school governance to Institutional forms. The advent of social networking at a global scale suggests to me that we could enter a new era of successful enduring educational reforms. Adopting the Network form of school governance could bring about that change.


  1. hi tom -- it’s interesting and helpful to see you continue with timn themes. and thanks to michel bauwens “links” post for alerting me to your post.

    i too have wondered a bit whether timn can apply to education systems. my thoughts so far seem similar to yours. here are a few quick comments:

    regarding the tribal level, i suppose i’d put home schooling here. maybe madrassahs too. as for the market level, i suppose charter schools fit here. but not necessarily vouchers, if they could be used to go in any direction.

    a grand challenge is whether there is a network design that can eventually take over educational functions. in ways distinct from the other three timn designs. i’d like to think so. it would have to be about connectivity, but also about more than that. perhaps it would have to be a part of the emergence of a nonprofit “social sector” (to use drucker’s term) that is distinct from the existing public and private sectors. lots to keep thinking about. -- onward, david

  2. lots of home schoolers do seem tribal to me, though there's also lots of local networking for athletics, after school activities, and even some specialized "courses" plus all the online networking for ideas, materials and encouragement. likewise, lots of charter schools fit the market model, but others are more like miniature institutions or big tribes.

    i've also been thinking about "the grand challenge" and greatly appreciate the way you've framed it above. I'm looking forward to reading Blond's book for some ideas about that middle ground between public and private sectors. i started reading clay spinuzzi's book: "Network" today for further insights on that ways ANT and Activity Theory can add to our current models of weak links, small worlds, power law scaling, etc.

    thanks for your added thoughts here, david.