Open Value Cooperativism

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Open Value Cooperativism, expands the practices of Open Cooperativism by explicitly adding Open Value Accounting and Feminist Economics. Open Value Cooperativism is also the theory informing the DisCO Framework.


Open Coops came about as a convergence of three movements: the Commons, Open Source, and the Cooperatives. Over the last few years, we have examined Open Coops and how they relate to their cousins in the Platform Coop movement. Although firmly embedded in the Commons, Open Cooperativism seemed to us incomplete without incorporating two more main ingredients: Feminist Economics and Open Value accounting. Whereas Open Cooperativism has four non-prescriptive principles (statutory orientation toward the common good, multi constituent nature, active creation of commons and transnational nature), we have taken the premise further, resulting in Open Value Cooperativism — the basic DNA of the DisCO (Extracted from the DisCO Manifesto)

7 Principles

The following principles have also been presented as "The 7 DisCO principles" but they form the backbone of Open Value Cooperativism:

The Seven DisCO Principles

With Open Coops as a starting point, DisCOs are:

  1. Geared toward positive outcomes in key areas: In DisCOs, production is guided not by profit but by social and environmental priorities. Individual organizations embed these values in their cultural, productive and organizational processes, and technical/legal statutes.
  2. Multi-constituent: DisCOs extend decision making and ownership beyond the company structure, and enfranchise all contributors whether present in all value chains or affected by the coop's actions. Beyond workers, this may include neighbouring communities, suppliers, clients, reproductive and affective labour, financial backers, etc. as constituents.
  3. Active creators of commons: Unlike the typical behavior of market enterprises, DisCOs do not just remove resources from the Commons. They reciprocate by stewarding existing commons or creating new ones. These new commons are created through market and value-tracked pro bono work. Commons may be digital (code, design, documentation, legal protocols and best practices, etc.) or physical (productive infrastructure, deliberation spaces, machinery, etc.)
  4. Transnational: This has two points. First, physical production is kept local and needs-based (following the Design Global, Manufacture Local logic). Second, knowledge, resources and value flows are shared at the global level with like-minded enterprises to create political and cultural counterpower to the prevailing corporate/capitalist economy.
  5. Centered on care work: We distinguish between two types of care work: for the health of the collective (where the collective is seen as a living entity that needs commitment, material inputs and fidelity to its social mission) and that for the living beings within the collective (the human beings within each DisCO who build mutual trust and intimacy support structures).
  6. Reimagining the origin and flows of value: Three types of value - productive market value, pro-bono / commons-generating value, and care work value - are tracked through complementary value metrics. Value tracking is applied to all DisCO members, in turn influencing decision making, payments, work priorities, and more.
  7. Primed for federation: While networks may or may not share common goals, federations are imbued with a shared direction. Scaling replicates the dynamics of colonialism - extending a worldview from a center and razing everything in its path. DisCOs are replicated/altered through a federation protocol capable of achieving critical mass. Each primary node focuses on small group trust, intimacy and mutual support.

Characteristics of Open Value Cooperativism articulated through DisCOs

In summary, we can say that DisCOs are a framework for exercising the ideals of Open Value Cooperativism in actionable, federated ways. But this doesn't tell the whole story. Beyond the seven DisCO principles detailed above DisCOs are also:

Balanced in culture and structure: Onchain and offchain dimensions, tacit and explicit knowledge - everyone's out on the DisCO floor. The algorithm's positive feedback loops won't induce runaway machine tyranny. Rather than falling subject to the tyranny of structurelessness, the good working atmosphere is strengthened by the resilient, accountable and interoperable agreements of the Community Algorithmic Trust.

Inclusive, relatable and educational: Many blockchain projects are more exclusive and less decentralized than they claim, given that access is limited to those with special knowledge (often obtained as a result of one privilege or another). DisCOs attempt to rebalance this access by providing mentoring and resources to those interested in its underlying structures, including Open Value Cooperativism, Distributed Ledgers and other bases described earlier. Here's an example: if you're visiting us today from blockchain-landia, you may be frustrated with our entry-level explanations of blockchains and DLTs. OK, but understand that for many, the sheer impenetrability of the technical language and exclusive culture are frustrating enough to leave people uninterested, and uninformed. To remedy this divide, accessibility and pedagogy are inalienable components of the DisCO vision.

Non speculative or deterministic: DisCOs do not claim they will disrupt all industries. They are a framework that increase the possibility of positive changes in the work and marketplace. Their development is emergent and dependent on the lived experience of their members. What they are not is speculative or investment vehicles dependent on difficult to grasp, volatile aspects. Large or small, DisCOs are not algorithmic blueprints for humans to conform to. Instead they take things one step at a time, beginning with tangible community wealth and stable livelihoods, to then expand and federate through secure P2P infrastructures to create resilient solidarity economies.

Multilayered/holonic: Hebb's rule states that "Neurons that fire together, wire together". DisCOs are designed to prioritise the human beings within a collective and provide a home for these to create value together. Interdependence within a DisCO is starkly evident - everyone is privy to the reality that self and collective interests are not opposed to each other, but mutually dependent. Nodes within an individual DisCO, such as Guerrilla Media Collective, practice the most intimate form of value distribution, much like an income-sharing commune. Value distribution between distinct nodes within the collective prioritises solidarity. All DisCOs can develop encoded, revisable agreements to process value flows with other DisCOs, prioritizing value sovereignty and self-determination on the terms and means of exchange among network partners. In all cases, value tracking is transparent and exchanges are geared toward consensual solidarity, network resilience and mutual support. Finally, beyond their value sovereign membrane, Community Algorithmic Trusts can function at different levels along the trustless-to-trustworthy spectrum, and transact with the market beyond.

Modular, but not prescriptive: DisCOs are one framework, and one possible answer. But if the question is, "what economy do we want?" we can point to other complementary frameworks, old and new. DisCOs support traditional coops, Platform Coops, Open Coops and the Social Solidarity Economy, as well as newer proposals like Microsolidarity, Not-for profit/Post Growth Economics and the more radical edge of the blockchain space (more on the latter below). We admire and respect what they are doing, and don't seek to impose "our" solutions. All these experiments are gaining traction on the rough roads of late-stage capitalism. Sharing our stories, successes and failures and being willing to collaborate in cultural and structural ways can only increase our resilience by strengthening our diversity. You may choose to use DisCO or not, but if any of our recommendations or ideas stick, we'd be happy to know our work has had an effect.

DLT enabled, but not dependent: Contributory accounting is at the heart of each DisCO's Community Algorithmic Trust. This accounting must be validated in secure and tamper-proof ways - we want to disrupt mainstream notions of value beyond the values typically found in the blockchain space. But while we see incredible potential in the future of Distributed Ledger Technologies, DisCOs cannot put all their eggs in one blockchain basket. DisCO cultures and structures are emergent, the former is the glue between organizations and the latter more prone to experimentation. Whether it's Secure Scuttlebutt, a bunch of spreadsheets or tally sticks, your DisCO can track value any way it chooses. Interoperability can, of course, make or break the value sovereignty of the larger DisCO networks, but impositive tools and structures are more hindrance than benefit. We want to make available, open source and mesh the technologies of Distributed Cooperative Organizations, but never impose them.

Online or offline? Onlife!Mexican-Catalan Zapatista cyberactivist Guiomar Rovira breaks down the dichotomy between our "on" and "off" line lives by saying: "My position is that, beyond the differentiation between online and offline worlds, everything occurs on-life. Seen this way, the corporeal experience of encountering is the key." There are no "material" and "immaterial" commons: all depend on material resources and knowledge. Geographically distributed DisCOs producing digital services, like Guerrilla Media Collective, are the low-hanging fruit of DisCO (because value tracking is easier, there are fewer material inputs or startup capital needed, etc.). But while material production is always more difficult, we have models to bring the DisCO spirit to collectives working face-to-face, making tangible stuff. Whether on- or off-line, we recognize our relations as happening onlife, striving to maximize trust through networks and regularly encountering face-to-face.

Copyfair Licensed: To enable value sovereignty while maximizing mutualization, DisCOs can use commons-based reciprocity licenses, or "Copyfair" licenses. While this remains an incipient project, we have an existing Copyfair (or, as the authors like to define it, copyfarleft) license: The Peer Production License. The PPL allows cooperatives and solidarity-based collectives, but not corporations, to monetize productive works. Similar to how the Fairshares Association facilitates the capitalization of assets within their networks, DisCOs can use PPL to permissionlessly allow purpose-oriented organizations become more economically resilient through shared assets. The possible on-chain dimension of these licenses needs to be modular and interoperable between all participating DisCOs and is a matter to be prototyped within the network (nothing about us without us!).

Have viable, ethical business models: DisCOs have a nuanced vision of profit. If we define ourselves as "not-for profit" we mean not for absentee, or shareholder profit. DisCOs are a framework for economic resistance aimed at creating economic-counterpower. Call us ambitious, but we want to outperform capitalism in devious ways, and this calls for viability. Rather than relying on economic exploitation, extraction or philanthropy, DisCOs generate and reinvest their own income. This viability lets DisCOs operate in the real economy, ie. offering tangible goods and services within the guidelines of their seven main principles. This contrasts with the economic viability of many blockchain projects, often predicated on speculative ICOs or the seductive promises of big picture disruption for capital gain.

Political: Of course, cooperatives are political. They upend the three basic premises of capitalism: Private ownership of the means of production becomes collective ownership, wage labour becomes worker-owners and (absentee/hierarchical) production exclusively oriented towards profit and exchange is tempered by the original seven cooperative principles. DisCO's additional seven principles turbocharge this. In particular, the addition of carework and feminist economics as essential components of the DisCO vision represents a change that is long overdue within movements that speak of emancipation (the old school left) or the decentralization and disruption of hierarchical structures (the blockchain space). Whether a future DisCO chooses to fly the flag of these political aspects (like Guerrilla Media Collective) or not, the most important thing is that their practices reflect these political principles.

Continuity extends from traditional cooperatives to Platform Coops to Open Coops and, more radical and experimental