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Nothing virtual about it

Engineering Management professor uses the Web to support Gulf recovery mobilization

Quintus Jett, a visiting professor at Thayer School of Engineering, returned recently from the Rights, Recovery & Renaissance summit he helped organize in Baton Rouge, La. Hosted by the Louisiana chapter of the NAACP, the summit brought groups and individuals together to develop new ways of bringing help to Gulf Coast citizens whose lives were disrupted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The summit is part of Jett's ongoing effort to transform the way relief efforts are handled following disasters of this magnitude.

Quintus Jett (third from left, seated) with his "Organizations, Technology, and Management" class. Students in the course helped Jett develop the MOSAIC Web site, which aids grassroots volunteers with relief efforts in New Orleans. (photo by Doug Fraser)

Jett is applying an emerging form of organizing that he calls "open organization." More reliant on individual flexibility than on institutional structures, open organization invites volunteers to a shared cause without imposing strict controls on the terms or content of their participation.  Participation is self-regulated and is guided by input from volunteers in different locations and organizations.

Jett, who teaches an "Organization, Technology and Management" course at Thayer, hopes to show that people don't always need the constraints of a bureaucracy to be effective. In large part, he said, many people have so internalized the enabling aspects of bureaucratic structures that they can apply their skills appropriately outside of restrictive bureaucratic controls. 

Jett studied the way information technology was used during the Howard Dean presidential campaign and discovered how it could be used to empower and mobilize individuals in new ways. His teaching and research focus on how that empowerment can frequently accomplish things more quickly and efficiently than the old model of working through highly structured organizations.  He founded the MOSAIC Project, a community that "provides tools and direction for volunteers who are contributing to recovery efforts in New Orleans."

MOSAIC was developed with the help of Masters of Engineering Management students in his course at Thayer, as well as with the help of employees and other students in the Dartmouth community. Throughout December and the winter term, MOSAIC will be extending its off-campus collaborations to advance specific steps towards New Orleans recovery, developing further understanding of how open organizations work and providing assistance for a critical national need.


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Last Updated: 12/17/08