At the Netsquared conference yesterday, I had an interesting conversation with Tom Munnecke about his attempts to model processes with positive effects. It brought together several threads I have been following recently - Tim O'Reilly's trademark brouhaha, the process of trying to effect positive change through the Open Rights Group, Jeremy Zawodny's disappointment with nofollow, Yochai Benkler's Wealth of Networks and Jaron Lanier's Digital Maoism.
What all these disparate essays share is a view of the world as a positive sum game, and varying perspectives on how the rules, practices, laws and technologies interact to adjust people's behaviour. I'm not sure if there is an overarching theory here, but there are general tendencies that can be applied when designing laws, or choosing which rules to apply to your work.
The key one is the notion of a positive sum game - that what you are making needs to be designed to add value for all parties who use it, not to try to sequester the value for yourself. That way it can grow in a natural way, because all who use it amplify the value in the world.
I've been working on something that I think follows this precept, and I'll hopefully be able to release it soon.