Participate in a study on collective intelligence!

Loomio has received a small grant from Catalyst to help Litemap and Assembl develop their collective intelligence tools. These tools enable users to map the structure of a discussion and visualise the connections between people, thought and action.

If you’re interested in participating please fill out this form.

Participants will use Loomio, Litemap, and Assembl to map out the discussion theme of “what should web-based tools for direct democracy look like in the future?”. We hope to gain a comprehensive view of this theme and insight into the best practices for generating collective intelligence online.

collective intelligece
from https://blogs.commons.georgetown.edu/cctp-797-fall2013/archives/699

Continue reading Participate in a study on collective intelligence!

Loomio Crowdfunding: That’s a wrap!

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Successful crowdfunding

We did it!

Thanks so much to the 1600+ people who supported the development of Loomio 1.0, collectively giving $US125,000.

The campaign was the biggest high-pressure project that most of us have been involved in. By the end we felt overwhelmed with gratitude but also pretty tired.  Luckily the end of the campaign coincided with Easter holidays so we’ve had time to recharge the batteries. We’ve spent the last couple of days putting detail into our plans for the next six months, and making sure we can deliver as much value as possible in a way that meets our values.

Loomio featured in Wired and FastCompany

It was encouraging to get  featured in FastCompany and Wired right at the end of the campaign Loomio was!  This kind of exposure can really promote your app. We’re pretty chuffed :).

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What’s Next?

We’re pretty excited about what we’ve got in store. A big part of our mission is enabling organisations to be more democratic and this includes practices outside of just using Loomio. You can anticipate blog posts on the Loomio 1.0 plans, what we’ve learnt about running a democratic organisation efficiently, and also on what we learned running a successful crowd funding campaign.

There’s also plenty of people that helped out behind the scenes to whom we happily owe favours -too many to mention here, other than to say we’ve got your back!

Decentralised Decision-Making for Decentralised Currencies

bitcoin network

By now you’ve probably heard of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin is a decentralised currency created by computers. To ‘mine’ bitcoin a computer  solves a mathematical problem that is hard to solve but easy to confirm. If you think about it this is sort of  like regular paper currency -its hard to forge banknotes, but its easy to recognise them.

The cryptocurrency community have been growing rapidly and depending on who you listen to cryptocurrencies are poised to either simply replace Paypal and Western Union by providing a simpler, cheaper way of transferring money, or collapse of the dominant financial institutions into a smoking, crumbling heap. Hmmm, probably somewhere in between :).

While cryptocurrencies aren’t perfect, they do allow people to participate in issuing their own currency and decide the rules that govern them. This is very similar to the motivations behind Loomio but for finances instead of decision-making.

Loomio is used by Bitcoin groups

Given that crypto groups are often spread out geographically and have similar ethos its not surprising that a number of them have started Loomio groups:

Redstar Mining is a publicly traded bitcoin mining cooperative that doesn’t have a physical meeting space. Loomio enables members to make business decisions in a private virtual space.

Let’s Talk Bitcoin’ is an online crytpocurrency community  who have started using Loomio to put  together a magazine ‘The Altcoin Observer.

Ethereum is another really interesting crytpo group that we’re in contact with. They’re starting a more generally applicable ‘crypto-platform’ that can be used for all kinds of applications -insurance, cooperative shareholding, secure identification etc. That’s why is really important to get any kind of insurance from sites as Insurance Partnership, in case of something bad happen, like a natural disaster, to have an easy way to claim it like using Insurance Claims in Florida and keep on with your life, and if the problem is more specific like only roof problems but the rest of the house is okay, you could get professionals from http://www.palmbeachroofingexpert.com/boca-raton-roofing/ so the problem get fixed easily.

Loomio accepts bitcoin and dogecoin

We’re really interested in furthering our relationship with the crypto community. Our first step has been getting bitcoin and dogecoin wallets set up since Bitcoin to Paypal has proved a little tricky for us in the past. Then allowing bitcoin donations through our crowdfunding page.

Down the line, there are areas beyond simple online transactions where the crypto community can help.  For example, our long-term plan is to allow people to use loomio without a centralised database -users would have the option of being responsible for their own data and host it where the individual could have complete control over it. This functionality is currently only available at a group-level for groups who set up their own loomio installation. Its possible that a decentralised architecture could be built on top of crytpo network like what Ethereum plans to offer. In addition, we’d like to explore other features like crytpographically secure anonymization and identification, issuing cooperative shares etc. There are all kinds of possibilities. Our friends AgoraVoting have made some great strides here and I recommend checking out this article at Bitcoin Magazine to get a low-down of the possibilities of integrating online voting with the Best VPN and crypto-technologies.

If you have any ‘crytpo-expertise’ or belong to an online cryptocurrency community please get in touch or start a group on loomio!

Loomio used for large-scale citizen democracy project in Greece

ben
Ben Knight

The best thing about building Loomio is hearing how groups are using it in their communities. It was humbling to learn about a cooperative effort between direct democracy groups in Greece, planning an ambitious experiment in citizen democracy across the country, using Loomio as their main platform. The Alliance for Direct Democracy is launching 461 Loomio groups, covering 18 federal departments, 13 regions of Greece, 23 prefectures, and hundreds of counties and municipalities. Their aim is to foster a sense of active citizenship, and cultivate meaningful democratic participation in their country.

Rebecca Chao of Tech President goes into depth about the project’s aims here: http://techpresident.com/news/wegov/24818/loomios-largest-project-yet

Coordinating the effort are Giorgio Mariotti and Chris Taklis.  Chris and Giorgio answered some questions about their plans for the project: Continue reading Loomio used for large-scale citizen democracy project in Greece

Loomio crowdfunding campaign goes live!

Our Crowdfunding campaign for Loomio 1.0 went live today! Help us build a truly inclusive platform that allows anyone, anywhere to participate in the decisions that affect their lives, by supporting our campaign here: love.loomio.org

The funding will help us build a truly inclusive platform. We have a prototype that is working well for some groups, and we have done all the research and design to make it work for all kinds of people:

  • It needs to be mobile, to include people in places where computers and internet are scarce. So we’re building a platform that works on any device, built with best in open mobile technology: Ruby on Rails, AngularJS, HTML5

  • It needs to be easy, to include all kinds of people. So we’ve designed it to be as easy to use as email, so you don’t need to be a computer geek to participate.

  • It needs to be safe, to include people discussing sensitive topics. So we’re making it really easy to set up and run your own independent version, so your privacy is entirely under your own control.

  • It needs to be accessible, to include people of all levels of ability. So we’re making it work great with screen-readers and other assistive technologies.

  • It needs to be open, to include everyone. So we’re building 100% free and open source. We’re building public infrastructure for decision-making, held in the commons.

Crowdsourcing the UK Constitution

Over the last couple of weeks the London School of Economics has experimented with  crowdsourcing a constitution for the UK using Loomio. Jack Bailey from LSE – Public Affairs has written about the experience so far. Thanks Jack!

My country, the United Kingdom, is an odd one. Unlike most of its neighbours, and most of the world, it has no written constitution. Instead, it has laws, conventions, practices, and activities scattered all over the place that lawyers gather up and describe as the UK constitution.

Continue reading Crowdsourcing the UK Constitution

Pattern Recognition for Management

simon

Simon Tegg 

Middle managers have it pretty rough. Pop culture knows them as Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss or the insufferable David Brent from The Office, but their job is essentially to solve unsolvable problems.

Before Loomio I was occasionally thrust into positions of managerial authority over my fellow slackers. A queasy feeling would come over me when I realised that I would constantly have to infringe subordinate’s autonomy by trading off with business objectives. I would quickly downshift back to my previous minion role. In Venkat Rao’s terms I was a Loser -that is, someone who loses the economic status game by making the strategic, rational decision to reduce stress levels and slack off rather than ‘climb the ladder’.

Since I started at Loomio things are much more complex. Everyone is the Boss. It just depends on their domain-specific experience and track-record, for how much of the Boss they are at any given time. Again I’ve found my self with some authority, or at least strong opinions on how particular things should be done, but with a personal investment in Loomio’s success I can’t shy away from messy problems. I’ve also had my fair share of management failures and learnings from my year in a fluid, startup, co-op, social enterprise.

To help think about the problem of management I appropriated the Competing Values Framework and remixed it, with inspiration and heavy borrowing from Fred Kofman’s and Venkat Rao’s recent posts about the impossibility of management. The result was the following 2×2, which I’ve found useful for deciding which management pattern to apply to particular work contexts.

Before we dive into the patterns, to navigate the 2×2 you need a grasp of three key variables of work and business: motivation, uncertainty, and coupling.

Motivation

Management is still coming out of the shadow of Taylorism. For the Taylorist, productivity is a simple matter of providing the right incentives for performing tasks in the most efficient manner. Incentives can be either positive, e.g a bonus, or negative, e.g. a reprimand or the threat of being fired.

Kofman splits incentives into individual-level outcomes or team-based outcomes. When managers incentivise individual-level outcomes (track individual sales targets, lines of code written etc), it’s easy to spot the shirkers and low-performers and coach them or move them on, while at the same time attracting top performers by awarding bonuses. Unfortunately, collaboration and overall performance suffer as individuals focus on their own targets at the expense of helping others.

With team-based performance management, the team can easily share tasks and risks more efficiently by buffering each other. The downside is that individual staff have the incentive to skive off without being noticed by the boss, and arguably star individual performers aren’t attracted to a work environment where the team will take the credit. Kofman has a talk about this tradeoff here:

This is a useful insight, but if you’ve been paying any attention at all, you’ll know that there’s much more to motivation than rewards and punishments.

Dan Pink has popularised intrinsic motivation with his book Drive. In Pink’s model (get this), we can perform tasks for their innate joy, and are happier and produce higher quality work when three conditions are satisfied:

  • Autonomy – the task performer is free to choose the task.

  • Mastery – the task is neither too hard nor too easy.

  • Purpose/Relatedness – the task connects its performer to some greater mission and provides a supportive social environment.

Most workplaces are hierarchies where the boss chooses what you’ll be working on, you rise to your level of incompetence (the Peter Principle), and you’re striving to make the shareholders richer, so satisfying all three conditions is pretty rare.

To be fair though there’s more of a continuum between extrinsic and intrinsic in the underlying research. Its possible to leverage quasi-intrinsic motivation by indoctrinating your employees with a feel-good corporate mission, team-building exercises, and granting degrees of autonomy etc. But even clever tech companies like Google struggle to match tasks to the appropriate skill level.

Uncertainty

The second variable is the degree and quality of uncertainty that a venture currently accepts. According to Rao there are three uncertainties relevant here:

  • When – are you trying to minimise time uncertainty (i.e. a hard deadline),

  • Who – role uncertainty (who will be doing what),

  • What – output uncertainty (you need a very specific thing)

In a mass-production factory it’s possible to reduce all three uncertainties to levels where next year’s production forecasts are meaningful. Management can be a colour-by-numbers activity.

But for a startup or creative service venture, like the ‘Fast, Good and Cheap’ adage it’s impossible to have all three simultaneously. Accordingly, Rao defines talent management as: “dynamically managing the returns on human resource investments by exploiting the coupled uncertainties involved in who, what and when decisions.”

In creative industries talent management becomes an artform. The skilled manager must make constant tradeoffs among business uncertainties and between these uncertainties and workers’ motivation and wellbeing.

Coupling

The third variable, coupling, is a constraint. Different types of work tend to require different degrees of coupling between workers, and workers will generally have their own preferences.

Software development often requires highly coupled ‘pair programming’, code reviews, and QA to ensure large projects are maintainable long-term, while a sales rep can operate independently of the mothership for long periods.

Simply put, highly coupled (functional) teams will help satisfy social needs but often reduce autonomy, while loosely coupled work can operate with minimal managerial overhead and satisfy autonomy, possibly trading off with social needs.

The Patterns

Management patterns for worker run businesses

To make our 2×2 we’ll split off the two factors that we have the least control over, coupling and outcome uncertainty and see how the other parts of the puzzle intersect.

Coordinate: Explicit Outcomes + Tight Coupling

The coordinate pattern should be familiar – it’s textbook project management. You require explicit outputs, and to achieve these you have a team of specialists, each working on sub-projects with dependencies.

For our team here at Loomio, this pattern crops up whenever we interface with a government bureaucracy. Bureaucracies are notorious for requiring explicit outcomes (“can we get this stack of forms filled out in triplicate, please”), often due to well-intentioned regulations to ensure accountability. These tend to need specialist knowledge like legal, accounting etc, and different parts of these projects will have to be arranged in series, rather than in parallel (“Once legal have signed off, we can review, then send it off to accounts payable”).

You’ll probably need someone with an overview of the entire process (the project manager) to keep things ticking along, who, in a traditional company, will perform this role on an ongoing basis. In Loomio flatland, these roles are temporary (I like to think of this as “temporary hierarchical zones” in a sea of collaboration).

Inevitably, there will be time and cost overruns. Individual specialists and high dependencies means the system is fragile to any slip. Due to serial dependencies, a slip in one specialist’s workflow ripples through the project as lengthening delays as everyone falls out of sync.

Hierarchies use the coordinate pattern by default. ‘Who’, and ‘What’ uncertainty are minimised at the expense of ‘When’ uncertainty blowing out. While the coordinate pattern is often necessary, getting stuck in it tends to burn out workers. The work tends to be routine, high pressure, low autonomy, and extrinsically motivated by the threat of missed targets (which typically happens).

Collaborate: Flexible outcomes + Tight Coupling

Moving across to the collaborate pattern, we now have a tightly coupled cross-functional team working towards flexible outputs. Devs know this as Agile Software Development. Here the desired outcomes are penciled in and the team is free to implement as it sees fit, using some highly structured processes, within which the details are emergent.

For teams that adopt sprints and report some measure of value, the ‘When’ uncertainty is reduced, at the expense of ‘Who’ uncertainty, while ‘What’ uncertainty slips as the implementation details emerge on the fly. We know that at least some value will be delivered on a continuous basis, but with all that collaboration there are no legible metrics on who did what, reducing opportunities for managerial control.

The lean startup crowd love continuous value delivery. When the product evolves rapidly the likelihood of finding market fit goes up. Further, working in a tight, collaborative team, with a degree of autonomy is going to strike a decent balance between social needs, task-skill match and autonomy.

Compete: Explicit outcomes + Loose Coupling

The compete pattern usually applies to the work of the sales and marketing teams. They get some explicit outcomes alright: “make it rain”. But this doesn’t need to be tightly coupled with everyone else. Sales seems to be one area where the commissions and performance bonuses may work, and seems to suit the goal-focused type (what Dan Pink calls Type-X).

Personally, I can only go about 2-3 weeks on 100% Compete mode before burning out. Whereas I can probably sustain a 70/30 Compete/Create split for 2-3 months.

Create: Flexible Outcomes + Loose Coupling

Finally, we have loose coupling and flexible outcomes. For a traditional organisation the create pattern carries far too much risk. You just let workers just go off and create stuff? On company dime? ‘What’ and ‘When’ uncertainty shoot up, you only know ‘Who’ is not available to do all that other urgent work.

Yet only the create pattern offers optimal conditions for the innovation that your organisation desperately craves. You’ve got autonomy, the worker can self-select an optimally challenging task, management just has to supply some social support and a higher purpose worth achieving.

Companies like Atlassian, Google, and 3M have leveraged the create pattern with their famous 20% time. Though it seems in Google’s case this often more to do with talented bullheaded employees than official policy. Apparently, Gmail, Adsense, Autocomplete and Google News originally started in 20% time, so that worked out okay.

The balanced portfolio of management patterns

Try thinking of these patterns as a balanced portfolio. For us, Collaborate provides baseload returns through continuous value delivery and reasonable levels of worker happiness. Coordinate and Compete are tactical moves that depend on the terrain, and Create is high-risk play with high potential returns.

For example, Jon shifted from his responsibilities as coordinator of the development team and went into create mode. We got a major boost in Jon happiness, a comprehensive set of mobile mockups, an entire new UI for Loomio 1.0.

At the personal level, you may want to consciously adopt a split and consider a deloading phase. I’m using weightlifting terms here, but the same concept applies to mental and emotional work. Weightlifters recognise how spending too much time in the same pattern can lead to burnout or stagnation. My personal preference is a 40/60 create/collaborate split. I’ll shift into this split after heavy episodes of coordinate and compete to rejuvenate.

I’ve found that many organisational problems (whether that’s a project failure or unhappy workers) stem from choosing the wrong pattern for a given scenario. A critical ingredient to this is knowing your position on the map and knowing when it’s time to move. The pattern needs to be chosen intentionally, rather than by default, and reconsidered frequently.

Thanks to Richard Bartlett, Alanna Krause, and Matthew Bartlett for their thoughts, editing and graphic design help.