Pools: A Proposal for One-Click Co-ops in Online Groups

I’ve been trying to think about ways of mainstreaming the co-op model, and the idea keeps coming up of something like a co-op layer on top of a site like Meetup, kind of akin to Stripe’s Atlas. The goal is making it as easy as possible to turn a Meetup group into a one-click co-op—perhaps not even calling it a co-op, but instead a “Pool” or something. This way, members could easily contribute and manage funds around projects related to the group.

The spec could be something like this:

+ Groups could easily create a Pool, which is a Delaware LLC with co-op-like, boiler-plate bylaws, such as shared ownership among members, shared investment, commitment to social good, etc. It could also be a legal co-op somewhere if we can find the right jurisdiction. Maybe the membership of the main group wouldn’t be the same as its Pool—some additional investment or commitment might be required—or maybe it would be.

+ Using tools like Loomio and/or CoBudget, members of the Pool could make proposals and vote on decisions about what to do with the funds they pool. Groups could decide what the threshold for a decision is as part of a small set of variables in the back-end. But the principle of one-person-one-vote would be hardwired.

+ Pools could be modular swarms, making it easy to combine or disconnect around projects of shared interest—call them Floods. Together, they could use the decision-making tools to determine how to use their combined resources. This way, lots of these mini co-ops could federate and cooperate.

A result of this is that lots and lots of people could quickly become cooperativists without necessarily gulping down lots of co-op ideology. It’d be a simple, obvious way of funding group projects. And this in itself would have huge educational effect; it would demonstrate how practical and easy democratic resource-management can be.

Does this idea hold water, so to speak? What is it missing? What would be needed to make it work?

14 thoughts on “Pools: A Proposal for One-Click Co-ops in Online Groups”

  • Opt-in, opt-out ideology is basic to co-ops or should be! Simple opt-in, opt-out technology could be a vital tool for friends and contacts. Your post seems to emphasize that co-op voluntary principle in a new framework. Let’s talk Nathan.

  • In a Facebook discussion, the eminent Danny Spitzberg offered a lengthy and eloquent reply requesting more concreteness on the use-case, which seems wise enough. It can be summarized by its conclusion:

    With a clear use-case and a simple activity to rally around, the value inherent in a one-click co-op “Pool” might come to life. Otherwise, it reads less like a proposal and more like wishful thinking.

    A very good point (though perhaps it’s a task better suited for an actual starter-upper rather than the irresponsible provocateur throwing around ideas). My main thought about this above is that, rather than starting from scratch, Pools would be “a co-op layer on top of a site like Meetup.” It would become an easy option for existing communities. In my experience, it’s quite common for Meetup groups, for instance, to create their own economic layers informally—for instance, by charging people at the door (for a group that hosts public events), or pooling money for equipment (for, say, a group of hikers). Pools would make this process a little easier and more transparent.

    In fact, this is a use-case already being explored by OpenCollective, which is a project along these lines that is already underway. Founder Xavier Damman adds:

    we are focusing right now on two concrete use cases:
    – open source communities: they are groups of people already doing things together and they have no way to collect money from companies who use them. See [this Medium post]
    The problem we are facing here is that they are not used to deal with money. So they are not sure what to use the money for. It’s a learning curve. It’s also new for companies to be able to support financially those open source projects so there is some education to be made here which takes time. If you have good contacts at tech companies that are using open source and that you think would be up to show publicly their support to the open source communities, we would love definitely love to reach out to them.

    – meetup groups: many have expenses (food, marketing materials, gifts for speakers, …) but no way to collect money. So they have to find a sponsor for every expense which is very limiting and leaves a lot of money on the table. See https://OpenCollective.com/RailsGirlsAtl
    Another meetup that has been very successful on open collective is Consciousness Hacking: they have more than 100 members now contributing $10/month https://OpenCollective.com/ConsciousnessHackingSF
    If you know interesting meetups that could make use of an easy way to collect money from members/sponsors, would also love to hear from them.

    I think that answers Danny’s question well.

    • Thanks to Nathan for carrying over/liberating this comment thread. Huzzah to provocateurs throwing bombs… uh, I mean… ideas!

      And yes, Xavier’s deep-dive into details did address my question about having a “killer use-case.”

      And beyond that, there is another level deeper that’s critical to what I wrote.

      So, I’ll add my other comment here

      //and I quote

      I’m inspired to see how OpenCollective is looking at its initial use cases, and now the question becomes: what is the current process/workflow people in these cases currently carry out?

      For the first use case, I am curious about the specific moment in which you are making it easy or possible to “deal with money.” And for the second use case, I am puzzled, as Meetup-dot-com already has some nifty automatic mechanisms prompting members of any given Meetup to “chip in.”

      Additionally, I could have been more clear about designing for collective action so that “activating potential” actually happens. Providing a mechanism for, say, collecting contributions, is just that – a mechanism that needs to be animated by people, not automated for them. That’s why I used the examples of forming a weekly reading club, or taking a pledge to improve workplace email habits. More than a call-to-action, you might think of it as a sort of “invitation.”

      Let me know your thoughts on that– and like I said, I’d be happy to share what we’re working on and how we’re “inviting” users, too.

      //end quote

      • I hadn’t really gotten that far:) This is really just a lazy sketch that tries to see if a small, simple thing can be added to an existing, organized network like Meetup without a high-intensity invitation and on-boarding process. But maybe that’s naive—organizing is everything! But would love to hear your ideas.

  • To understand more about OpenCollective, which is building a model that could implement the proposal above, I asked a few more questions on Facebook of founder Xavier Damman about what he and his team are up to. I asked:

    + Is an Open Collective a legal organization? I see that you allow existing organizations to form chapters with it, but what if there is no existing organization?
    + How do group members make decisions about how to manage the money? I see there’s transparency, but what about decision-making?
    + What’s the ownership/governance model of your company?
    + Do you have a release timetable in mind?

    To which Xavier replied:

    OpenCollective is a C Corp. we are looking into turning it into a B corp. We are also in the process of creating a foundation to host the software that we are building. We already released it under the MIT license on https://OpenCollective.org. The goal of the foundation will also be to act as a fiscal sponsor for collectives that don’t have one.
    – we are still in private beta. There are plenty of features that still need to be build. So right now we are focusing on laying down the foundation on top of which we will be able to experiment. Hence transparency throughout the app. There is no collaboration without transparency. Right now, we don’t offer any decision making software (yet). What we’ve seen is that people take decisions by chatting on slack between themselves. Good enough for now at our stage but we definitely want to do more. For example we like to consider expenses submissions as pull requests that anyone can comment on and only the admins can “merge” into the ledger. Our philosophy is that we don’t want to impose top down a decision making process. Some collectives will decide to operate more like a cooperative, others will have strong leaders, others will come up with new systems. We want to embrace that.
    – our governance is based on the book Reinventing Organizations https://www.facebook.com/xdamman/posts/10153348500016106
    – we are already operating but in private beta. Meaning that we only accept collectives with whom we can have a direct line of communication to gather feedback and to learn together. If you have groups/communities in mind that could benefit from this and willing to experiment with us, we would definitely love to hear from them.
    – no timetable yet on a public release. We are still learning but it’s been very exciting so far 🙂

    Very exciting indeed. I think it remains to be seen to what extent OpenCollective will incline toward the development of truly democratic online communities; it seems to depend very much on how groups see fit to organize themselves. People could end up, by default, opting for more conventional, centralized business models for their groups. But there definitely seems to be considerable potential.

    • – Oh and London tips… Go drinking in Shoreditch and Hoxton. Eat at the restaurant at the top of the Tate Modern at night, it has a glorious view over St Paul’s. Shop around Portobello Road in West London.

  • Nathan,

    Just ran across this post. This is what Co-op Source is building as well, much like opencollective.org although more like Altas than Meetup.

    I’m excited to get it out of our prototype stage and out where everyone can play with it. Thanks for keeping this topic front and center.

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