Ownership (glossary entry)
The dictionary defines ownership in terms of the transitive verb own, in the sense of posession. I refer to ownership in this ordinary sense as physical ownership. This article covers an metaphorically extended concept of political ownership. Political ownership extends the ideas of physical rights and responsibilities to a set of analogous political rights and responsibilities.
Using a physical ownership example, with which all readers should be familiar, it is easy to see that ownership involves several related components:
- There is an agreement, respected by the entire community, that an individual owns something (like a parcel of land),
- Certain rights are granted, and responsibilities imposed upon, the owner (for example, rights to access, privacy, and to use the land as provided by zoning regulations; responsibilities to pay taxes and respect neighbors),
- Certain responsibilities are also imposed upon the rest of the community (for example, do not trespass, and do not pollute).
Now translating to the case of political ownership, all of the same components are present. Considering the example in the cartoon below: the workgroup members (or at least the boss and the worker) agree that the project is owned by the worker; they have the right to define the details of the project's implementation and to use necessary resources to carry it out, and the responsibility to not get in the way of other company projects, and others at the company also have the responsibility to help out in certain ways and not to obstruct progress.
Typically, because political ownership goes with something new or different (like a work project, which usually differs in substantial ways from anything that has come before), the responsibilities concomitant with ownership are almost all of the assumed type (see responsibility for more). Because of the nature of assumed responsibilities, there is a need for accurate and complete communication and agreement to ensure that the commitments and the expectations are correlated.
Assuming this communication and agreement has occurred, we can then separate the ownership entity into its personal and communal aspects. The personal aspect is commitment, and the communal aspect is empowerment.
In order to manifest ownership successfully, an individual must have both, and in an ongoing fashion.
Ongoing commitment is fairly well understood. Here it is important to note that true ownership pretty much requires taking "recommitment" actions like those suggested on the priorities page. This includes identifying when a commitment to a lower-level thing (such as a task or a goal) must be abandoned (and possibly replaced) in order to keep the higher-level commitment to a project, mission, or purpose.
The empowerment part of ownership is the part that is generally not acknowledged, and mainly because it requires cooperation on the part of more than one person. The influence of empowerment upon ownership is illustrated clearly by this example:
The individual who is to manifest ownership (of some kind of tangibly-stated goal, task or project) often must remind others that empowerment (through their responsibilities as members of the community and as collaborators in the assignment of ownership) is necessary to achieve the goal, task or project. In workgroups, communal ownership of workers' well-being is a common and important example.