Card's author : Jean Michel Cornu
Card's type of licence : Creative Commons BY-SA
Description :

Motivations to ease involvement

Book "la coopération, nouvelles approches" version 1.0

Paradox: the HS system

A project does not develop simply because the participants are doing what they are told to do, but also because they get involved.

When the ORTF (Office de Radio et Télévision Française) started up, teams worked in a large emulation. Many premieres have been possible thanks to groups of passionate people who invented television (how to shoot a drama, the overlay mechanism that adds a background behind a anchorman ...). There were wonderful innovations and also and of course many mistakes.

To finance television which was becoming increasingly expensive, advertising was introduced. Gradually, a pernicious effect appeared: during ads it was necessary that a maximum of people should watch television. It became impossible to fail. TV programs were clearly defined and selected BEFORE by managers. Innovation and creativity became risk factors. People who realized emissions became performers of fully defined and calibrated projects. They lost consequently the pleasure of discovery and recognition when they invented something extraordinary. Another form of recognition was granted not to innovators but to those who had a visible place with the growing broadcasting of media. It became interesting to fight against each other to get the best seats, the best titles and even fame.

Those who wanted to keep on innovating and making beautiful things were less and less recognized, they lost heart and fell into the system that François Closet called the HS system ("Holy Shit ...")1.

Let the best contributors get their hands on pieces of the project

When television programs became critical events, the right to make mistakes had to be deleted. But innovation and creativity are not robotic process. It takes many failures to achieve a great idea. Providing a precise planning of what needs to happen kills innovation. Thus, Norbert Alter 2 explains that innovators are not recognized when starting up and are often rejected.

On the contrary, one of the characteristics of collaborative projects is that the coordinator-owner only has the right in the end to change his project as he wishes. Everyone can come and go on his " territory." The more the passers-by will want to stop and settle the richer the project. To retain the best and most active contributors, it is good to give them a small piece of property in the form of a sub-project that they can coordinate, even if what they do is not originally planned.

The key is to adopt an "active let-do'' as long as the proposals match the project. For example, it is better as much as possible that everyone choose his role, seeking to get involved in roles that are not or ill-taken in order to "find his place", rather than assigning roles beforehand. The queueing theory present that kind of rebalancing 3.

The counterpart of gift

As seen previously, cooperating in a project, and even getting involved and giving without expecting immediate counterpart is not necessarily an altruistic act but a way to reconcile personal with public interest by postponing and globalizing the given counterpart.

Consumable goods (or their counterpart in money) are poorly adapted to provide an effective counterpart, because we have there a simple exchange based on a unitarian assesment of the value ??of each gift. This shows the difficulty to live only on the gift because we also need, among other, consumer goods for our basic needs. However, we will see that by rebound effect, the most intangible goods gained in a gift system can in a second time greatly facilitate the obtaining of these tangible assets.

Gains that can be expected as a result of these gifts are of three kinds:
  • Skills
  • Pleasure
  • Recognition
In trading, we get back for our labor the developing of skills and some money that indirectly helps to fullfil the basic needs and to buy what can please (even if it is possible and recommanded to take pleasure directly from work).
In gift economy, we get in counterpart of our work the development of skills and pleasure, as well as recognition that enables to get indirectly a valuation of the social status to fullfil better ones vital needs.
The feeling of a job well done is also a bonus for those who are sensitive. It's a personal feeling free from collective reactions, and for that we won't give more details here.

First counterpart: Skills

Any participation to a project must enable the acquisition of skills in the operational areas where we get involved, but also the meaning of the participation and the project management. From this point of view, we can compare the acquisition of skills to what a company tries to get with its training budget and its research and development budget in an economy of exchanges.

Second counterpart: Pleasure

This might seem a low score which could be obtained in many other ways. However, in the exchange economy too, once our basic needs fullfiled, money helps mainly to satisfy our need for pleasure and even our need to look good and our need to show others our social success through more luxurous godds such as travel, entertainment, etc.. In cooperative projects pleasure is no longer brought ??indirectly through gains in money, but directly by the project itself. It is even an essential criterion in project management: it must allow participants to find pleasure and as a counterpart, pleasure will act as an engine to generate involvement which is the key of success for every project.

Third counterpart: Recognition

It is a fundamental gain in a free collaborative project. As well as the exchange economy does not directly provide the fullfilment of basic needs but brings money which allows to do so, recognition has by rebound effect several advantages:
  • A very effective way to attract the cooperation of others in projects that we could offer
  • The fullfilment of the need for recognition that we all have
  • Increased resources (hiring, promotion) that results indirectly from esteem that we generate or the titles that we have acquired.

The last two counterparts are often disowned by the diehard of volunteer projects. The need for recognition is too much alike about its perverted version: egocentrism. As for the increase in means, it is possible to ignore it only if we have fullfiled all our basic needs and obtained safety. This advantage is often denied because it involves a significant risk of deviations as we shall see later. To give a comparison, recognition enables to get what a company looks for from its research, communication or marketing budget in an economy of exchanges. provides that a company in the exchange economy research through its marketing and communication budget.

Now again, something which can seem negative in our environment where personal interest is paradoxical with general interest, becomes a foundation of the cooperative project when personal and general interest are reconciled.

Deviations of recognition

In the gift economy recognition plays the role of money with the differences already identified: global evaluation afterwards on all the gifts. The counterpart is not asked but received from the whole community.

It takes more time "to get'' your first pay, which explains that a gift economy works all the better since the actors have already fullfiled their vital needs and can concentrate on other less urgent needs (need for recognition, pleasure, acquisition of skills, facilitating cooperation of others in future projects...).

We have seen, however, that two of these gains at least (fullfilment of the need for recognition and the increase in means) have possible deviations.
Particularly, the fullfilment of the need for recognition can grow in egocentrism. In this case, the recognition is not received from others, but is considered as a due. However, thanks to a mechanism of natural regulation, the person who falls into this trap and has no coercive power over others sees her peers turning away from her.

The different kinds of recognition

Regarding the increase in means through an increased social status, we must distinguish several forms of recognition. If each one brings a form of power, it is also necessary there if there is or not a kind of coercive power over others linked to it.

  • The honorary title is normally obtained after the end of a participation in a project. In order that this kind of recognition works operates, it is necessary that involvement in the project stops afterwards. The title then provides a measure of the recognition gained without bringing power. The only possible deviations are to keep on being involved and a poor assessment of the reward. This may happen particularly if a single person or a small group decides to award the title. It is possible then to influence the person responsible for awarding to get a not deserved title or on the contrary to deny it to someone.
  • Esteem is obtained during the clife of the project and allows those who receive it to keep on acting by attracting even more easily the cooperation of others. Its biggest drawback is that it is not measurable (there is no "unit of recognition"), although it can be ... estimated. But this form of recognition brings many benefits. Assessment is continuous and may increase or decrease by a permanent self-correcting phenomenon. The evaluation is distributed as it is done by all. It is done according to what we have done and not on what is announced. It provides a non-binding power: it will be easier to attract the cooperation of others but esteem can't force them to cooperate. Finally the last advantage, the number of people who can receive esteem is not limited, we are in an economy of abundance that facilitates redistribution of esteem for others.
  • The operational title is obtained before filling the role associated with it. This time, it is a readily identifiable measurement. But the evaluation is done by a particular person or a small group on the basis of the esteem already obtained in other roles. The title can also be obtained from the announcement of what will be done (eg in tendering for a contract ). Then we are completely in the field of the Peters' principle 4 " In a hierarchy, every person tends to rise up to achieve his level of incompetence." This is a consequence of this evaluation system "beforehand". One significant point is that the operational capacity gives most of the time a coercive power on the " subordinate " that we would like to see cooperating. Finally, the number of posts available is limited, and to give an operational title it is often necessary to release one .

First rule: facilitating the mechanisms of counterpart

One of the fundamental roles for the coordinator of a project is to get sure that everyone finds his interest in cooperation with others. For this, it is important to be continuously careful to facilitate the learning of new things and of funny times especially if they are collective.

The coordinator should also be aware that each one harvest the esteem he deserves. Organizing the circulation of information on the each member's achievements, keeping a history of achievements are effective means of facilitating self-regulation esteem.

Second rule: Allow everyone to see each other by building by stage

Even before achieving great things, members of the community will unconsciously test the ability of the community to recognize its results.

We have seen that the larger the group the more it generated opportunities. This seems opposite to the ability to receive recognition, the actions being drowned in the number. However, it is possible to be visible even in large groups because whay counts is the number of contributors and not the total number of people.

But the number of regular contributors is limited. To allow more people to get involved, there must bea gradual segmenting of the project into sub-projects. The art of the coordinator is to advance the project at the right pace from a unified idea until the branching to subprojects, to allow at each step a minimum number of contributors and that this number is not an obstacle for contributors to see each other an to be recognized.

Third rule: Don't give titles but non-exclusive roles to members

The subtlety between the title and the role is important. The title brings the realization of recognition. It is often exclusive, which makes impossible having other people who assume the role openly if the level of incompetence is reached. In addition, the title is often accompanied by a coercive power that goes against regulation mechanisms proposed by the participants of cooperative projects.

The non-exclusive role allows to guide and encourage a member to contribute (especially at the beginning when the number of contributors is low or zero). But the role should be won every time to receive esteem in return. If it doesn't go along with a coercive power, the person with a role a role will have to motivate other contributors if she wants to multiply her according to a process close to the implementation a complete project process. The distribution of a non-exclusive role in a person's motivation to get involved and can eventually lead to the coordination of a successful sub-project.


In order to involve even more the best contributors and to keep them motivated, the natural counterpart mechanisms must be facilitated:
  • The development of skills
  • Pleasure
  • Recognition

For this, the coordinator must follow these rules:
  • Facilitate exchange mechanisms (knowledge, pleasure, recognition)
  • Allow everyone to see by constructing the project step by step
  • No titles but non-exclusive roles for participants so that they make their own pieces of the project.

Reducing the risks to get involved in a group

Paradox: only those who do nothing have time

No doubt, if you've tried to bring together people, you have stumbled upon this curious paradox: Those who could make the most of a community are either already involved in other groups, or they are putting together their own project. They do not have the time to invest in your project.

Others do not have sufficient material safety to get involved.

There is a third class of persons involved in numerous projects. They will join with your joy. But if they can bring the wealth of links to other groups, they will have neither the time nor the interest to contribute significantly to your project.

The paradox can be stated as follows: "Unless exception, the best contributors do not have the time to invest in your project."

Reducing risks when during the involvement

Those who are often asked to participate in projects have become accustomed to say no first and then possibly think about it. For having very poorly followed this rule, I have often found myself overwhelmed by too many commitments. This can only be done at the expense of our involvement in the projects we participate in or that we take up.

Once again, it is necessary to let the regulatory mechanisms play their part. Someone who arrives in a project can never be sure that it is really interesting for him or even if he will stay. It is therefore necessary to minimize the risk of getting involved in a new project.

For this there are two criteria:
  • One depends on the person itself: You can get involved once vital needs are fullfiled.
  • The other depends on the group: Entering a group should not be a commitment to contribute or even stay.

First Rule: Everyone must have a material safety

It is necessary that everyone has solved its problems of material safety:

  • Either by participating in the project within the framework of his work if the organization to which he belongs sees an interest in it,
  • Either by having a sufficient flexibility to participate voluntarily.

The direct funding of people for a project raises a problem of acceptance by other unpaid people and of expectation of results that require other methods. A person may, however, be employed by a participating organization in the project. She is then paid for her role of link to the project rather than directly for the work done within the framework of the project.

Open or closed communities

An important area in the development of cooperative projects is about the open or closed aspect of groups.

If a coordinator gathers a community of users who can not easily make the choice to leave the community, then the community is said to be closed. If instead the community allows any user to get out easily, if contributions can come from anyone, then the community is open. It seems that some rules stand out to form an open group:
  • Each member of the community can come out of the community any time and on his own initiative. If a member disrupts the functioning of the community, the coordinator has the right to exclude. He however does not have the power to maintain in the community someone who wants out.
  • It is possible and even very positive to be part of many communities. Everyone can freely choose the groups he wants to join.

The establishment of an open community of users-contributors is preferable to a closed community.
Sects are closed groups.The membership to other groups just as the exit from a sect are highly discouraged. The guru has more than one power to compel its members.

The criteria that we have given are not about the entry into the community. There are cases where communities stop entry using cooptation or other mechanisms. There are several types of these mechanisms such as the coordinating nucleus of a project when it involves many people or the community of project coordinators.

Coordinating nucleus and steering group

We have seen that the great difference between contributors and resident coordinators lays in the execution of critical or non-critical side tasks. Thus the coordinating nucleus of a project can sometimes consist of several people. In this case it is best to choose the coordination team in which each member will support critical tasks very carefully. Cooptation is then the best system. It's the the main coordinator's job to choose its partners and ensure the coherence of the team.

Users do not choose each member of the coordinating nucleus but penalize the efficiency of the coordination team by contributing or else by going out of the community. The information they have is a key criterion to avoid deviations. Paradoxically, the operation is similar to a stock exchange or financial market : A "bet" is built on an idea, a strategy, a team and the penalty is an increased demand of the title.

In all cases it is preferable that the coordinating nucleus (and also the number of critical tasks) remains as small as possible to avoid increasing complexity imposed by the law of Brooks. Ideally the coordinator must be alone.

One solution is to form a steering group. It gathers members of the community who were given roles (non-exclusive and non-critical) to undertake tasks of which none is vital to the project. Such a non-critical steering group allows then to have very active contributors who can even take over the coordination of a subproject without the risk of jeopardizing the whole project if one of them fails.

Community of peers

The community of project coordinators is a community of co-opted members: people enter the community when they are recognized by their peers. Here, the community is only aiming to exchange. Without anything to produce in common, there are no critical tasks. It is mainly used to host exchanges and recognition among its members. This closed community is dangerous, however, if recognition is based only on its members and not on an open community of user-contributors.

Thus, in free software, there are two types of communities. Hackers (also called ethical hackers to distinguish them from others): They are often people who implement cooperative development of free software projects. They get their recognition (and therefore their status as hackers ), not only from the hacker community, but also from user-contributors of their open communities.

Communities of interest such as hackers protect their coherence from the outside by mechanisms of selection:
  • The vocabulary or social context allows recognition between members
  • The need for an initiation time enables to acquire the qualities needed to be recognized as a member of the group (technical skills, patience, sense of compromise ...). Secrets must be gradually discovered.
On the contrary, the "crackers" are hackers who secretly develop viruses or pirate websites. The community of crackers is formed of people who recognize them as crackers. If they have the equivalent of users (who are so in spite of themselves!), they don't have an open community of contributors. Regulation by the involvement of users-contributors can't occur.

A community whose door is closed is not necessarily a bad thing if it allows the building of a coherent coordinating nucleus by cooptation or allows exchanges between people with a common culture. However it must enable exit and multi-membership to stay open and it has to be based on other open communities to allow mechanisms of regulation of recognition and hence avoid deviations.

Second rule: Entering a project must not be a commitment to contribute or to stay

This "opening" may seem as a disadvantage, and it seems more interesting in the short term to make its users "captive". But the real assessment of the project needs the esteem of the users who choose to contribute or on the contrary to leave. The questioning made imperative by this continuous assesment leads the project to a virtuous circle of quality. Of course the coordinator keeps the power to expel a member who would disrupt the overall operation.


In order to avoid that good contributors perceive participation in your project as a commitment to risky involvement, it's necessary that they have a good material safety and that the group is open.
An open group allows everyone to leave at any time and encourages multi-membership on the member's initiative.
To minimize the risk of getting involved in a project:

  • Each member must have a material safety
  • Joining a project must not be a commitment to contribute or to stay

Involvement : lowering the threshold of acting out

Paradox: the train is gone

If you arrive just in time to catch your train, you can hop in and go as expected. If you arrive 20 minutes before, you have a safety margin and the total duration of your trip (including waiting time) will be extended by 20 minutes. But if you get a few seconds after the train, all of your travel is messed because you missed your train!

We often have a linear vision of things. However, many phenomena occur non-linearly according to a threshold. One area where we often encounter this kind of threshold and fall is psychology.

Lowering ''the threshold of acting out''

The acting out with humans corresponds to a brutal swing. The mathematical theory of chaos describes quiet well the threshold which lead from passivity to cooperation 5 . This threshold depends on the person but also on environment.

Example: encouraging action by sending an email

Consider an Internet message asking users to view a specific page of your website. If the address of the page is in the message and the user only has to click, you will have much more people who will visit your page than if you consider that they have the address of your site and they can do very well to find it. The enemy in this case is the phrase you hear too much in projects " it's their problem ".
If the coordinator sends a message to its users to contribute actively, he must send all items so that those who receive his message won't have to seek additional information to contribute. Otherwise he can only cry over the lack of dynamism of his users. He will however be the first responsible for it. Think for a moment oft the different times in your life when you got involved and those when you didn't. Your attitude depended on your direct interest to what was proposed, the dynamism of the group, but also on small insignificant details that have facilitated or not your first action.

Authorizing the use and the modification beforehand through a license rather than imposing an authorization request before any action is another example of elements that facilitate the acting out.

First Rule: KISS (Keep It Simple and Stupid )

A project will find his contributors if they are able to understand what the initiator wanted to do. At each step, the choice should be simple and understandable. Very often simple solutions are the best.

There i one golden rule to ease contributors to act out. It stands in 4 letters:
K.I.S.S (Keep It Simple and Stupid).

Don't consider that all the participants in your project understand the project as well as you – in the heart of it – do. There are several reasons for this:

The information you provide to your participants are likely to be more easily understood with your mindset than with theirs.
Your participants do not have access to all the information, especially those which seemed obvious enough to you and that you didn't send.
Finally, although some contributors can be very involved, they will always be less than you and therefore select and assimilate better the subset of information that is related to the project.

Second rule: Be reactive above all

On the contrary, a project presented long ago and whichh does not start leaves the potential participant in an attitude of non-participation that he will quit with difficulty. Be careful with promises of actions that are delayed. These delays in the starting up are usual in traditional projects based on constraints (eg financial). They kill motivation and opportunity to switch potential participants to cooperation.

Being reactive... This rule may seem simple but it is often what makes the success or failure of people's involvement. It should be understood that the mechanism of action evolves over time. The more time goes by the more difficult it becomes to act. At every moment the threshold goes up.

In time management, it is always recommanded to start right away what we have to do. Otherwise you will need more willpower to do it later. This "disease" that leads to postpone is called "procrastination."

If you want to coordinate a project, do not try to just be reactive: try to surprise your members being hyper-reactive! Thus you will not only get your contributors themselves to be reactive, but they will feel more recognized if you answer quickly to their suggestions and you will also save a huge amount of time simply by reacting quickly and often.


In addition to the increasing of motivation and the minimization of risks, the secret of involvement is in lowering the threshold of acting out.

Two rules are needed to lower the threshold:

  • KISS (Keep It Simple and Stupid)

1 CLOSETS, François de. Le système E.P.M. Paris, France : B. Grasset, 1980. ISBN 2-246-00969-3.
2 ALTER, Norbert. Sociologie de l’entreprise et de l’innovation. Paris, France : Presses universitaires de France, impr. 1996, 1996. Collection Premier cycle (Paris), ISSN 1158-6028. ISBN 2-13-047491-8.
3 Queeing theory, see for example MORSE, Philip M and KIMBALL, George E. Methods of operations research. [Cambridge : Published jointly by the Technology Press of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Wiley, New York, 1951. ISBN 026213005X 9780262130059.
Recherche opérationnelle. [online]. [Accessed 29 January 2014]. Available from:
4 PETER, Laurence J and HULL, Raymond. The Peter principle: why things always go wrong. New York : Collins Business, 2009. ISBN 9780061699061 0061699063. "in a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence."
See also the interview of Peters : The Peters Principles - [online]. [Accessed 29 January 2014]. Available from:
5 See an example : Chaos and flight home page - Daniel Vandewalle. [online]. [Accessed 29 January 2014]. Available from:
PRIGOGINE, Ilya. Les lois du chaos. Paris, France : Flammarion, 1997. Champs, ISSN 0151-8089, 369. ISBN 2-08-081369-2.

Source: Cornu, Jean-Michel. La coopération nouvelles approches. Available online <>

Photo crédits: Via catalana by SBA73 sur Flickr - CC-BY-SA