A Karrot co-op?


#1

The question comes up sometimes about having a more proper organisational structure for karrot. Sometimes it’s about how to receive money, or handling data access/ownership/privacy, or who gets to decide in which direction it goes, etc.

We are hesitent to resort to traditional hierarchal structures for these kind of things, and one of the alternatives to this is the co-operative.

The ICA define 7 co-operative principles:

  1. Voluntary and Open Membership
  2. Democratic Member Control
  3. Member Economic Participation
  4. Autonomy and Independence
  5. Education, Training and Information
  6. Cooperation among Co-operatives
  7. Concern for Community

I like it because I think the values fit closely with what we already do, and it’s an existing wider movement/network we can tap into.

There is also the platform co-op movement (see platform-cooperativism-vs-the-sharing-economy) - which is to some just an application of the co-op model to digital platforms, but I sense a slightly different vibe (can see that in discussions like this one and this one), has a less grassroots-y feel to me.

There are quite a few questions/variables to consider:

Please share your thoughts!


#2

Thank you Nick, this seems a step in the right direction!

I think typical topics for a karrot coop would be:

  • who should have access to the database?
  • what things do we want to do with the database, e.g. remove offensive users? And who is offensive anyway?
  • last conflict resolution stage amongst karrot developers and users

I think the members of the coop should be contributors in the wider sense of the word. Everyone should feel invited who participates in karrot development discussions. The membership should be decided on a case-by-case basis by existing members.

We could also think about a two-stage membership similar to Kanthaus, where only long-term members would be able to vote on the coop constitution.

I would like some inactivity threshold for members, to maintain a reasonable expectation how many people are in the loop and will give feedback. Re-evaluation periods like in Kanthaus seem useful here.

I’m fine with an unincorporated coop for now, until we solved the more important issues :smiley:


#3

Our internet connection still is pretty bad (might be due to the fact that we’re in the middle of a forest somewhere in central Poland…^^), so I didn’t click any of the links you gave, @nicksellen. But even without that I can say that I really appreciate your thoughts and work in this direction!

My main reasons for wanting a cooperative structure for Karrot:

  1. Clarity – We know who is responsible for what and who can make which decisions why and we have this so clear that we can also easily explain it to other people.
  2. Collaboration – We have something to get more foodsavers more involved with.

So, to push this forward more, I don’t think that an incorporated entity is what we need most. Instead, we should try to find words for the structures we are aiming for. I believe that right now this is still a pretty boring topic to most foodsavers because they don’t really know what we’re talking about. (Please correct me if I’m wrong!) We need a concise description of what we want to achieve, so that we can successfully invite more people to collaborate on clarifying the structures or – at least – taking part in the outcome.

What I would like to see next is a draft for a Karrot constitution. :slight_smile:


#4

I’m glad to see you are all already thinking and planning on this direction :slight_smile:
I usually associate cooperatives to a democratic form of organizing an enterprise, and I see the discussion on platform coops stemming both this tradition and from a reaction to the new exploitative forms of the so-called sharing economy, the cases of uberized workers earning the money for a tech company that owns and controls the platform, user’s interactions there and the monetary flows. In this sense a platform coop is more about the democratic control of monetary flows associated with the platform, the way I see it.

That is clearly not the case with Karrot. There are no monetary flows as an integral part of the platform. Users are not “workers” earning anything through the platform. However, I see the point of thinking in terms of coop, which I believe is about preserving and fostering democratic participation, of developers and users (preferably with no distinction between these two).

That being said, maybe the case for a foundation, as many FLOSS projects do, would make more sense? I don’t know, I don’t have detailed knowledge about these legal persons and what they allow for in each country, but my point is that maybe other legal forms such as non-profits would do the job pretty well for the aims of democratic participation, including how money (say grants) is collected and distributed within the organization.


#5

Thanks for the input @bruno - I agree the main focus is about democratic participation of developers, other contrbutors, and users, etc. basically anyone who feels they have a stake in the project.

A co-operative can actually be many types of entities at the same time, so a charity could organise itself as a co-operative, or a business, etc. The most important aspect for me is the co-operative organising structure and ownership of the things (in the case of karrot who owns karrot.world? the decision making process? etc).

I’m also in the mindset of @tiltec and @djahnie that we don’t need an incorporated legal entity, just more clear and transparent organisational structure.

If we did need a legal entity at some point, it could be a foundation/non-profit/whatever is a useful mechanism for that.

I don’t see the lack of monetary flow being very significant. Although I would enjoy there being some money flow for karrot in the future :slight_smile: I’m involved with https://social.coop too which is a co-operatively run mastodon instance which also has no money flow as part of the platform (but does manage to get $5k/year from the members through an opencollective group). But perhaps that part was more specific to how you see platform co-ops @bruno?


#6

Sounds like a very good idea to start by deciding a clear and transparent organizational structure, which will prepare the organization to whenever there will be the need to create a legal entity out of it. The by-laws of the cooperative/foundation will be basically written down already. Though I remember reading a text by one of the founders of Enspiral in which he talks about how specifying rules and writing down the agreements might be a waste of time if things are not actually practised and ingrained in the working culture of the participants. Tricky things to consider, but very interesting!

Some money flow to keep up the development and with other costs is very important. I’d like to see that on karrot in the future as well. I tend to think of co-ops as the democratic variant of a business or enterprise, so there’s a “business idea” behind a co-op as an organization. So a platform co-op in my view is the platform used for market transactions of some kind, the means that people use to do some kind of business (selling/buying or leasing/hiring stuff or services), making it possible to extract some transaction fees that will cover whatever costs and investments people in the co-op decide. In this sense a platform co-op does not rely on donations or grants (usually the case with charities and foundations, I guess).

Reading again I see that I’m talking mostly of cooperative as an organisation or legal entity, whereas you @nicksellen are talking about it more as in the verb, the action of cooperating. Is that right?

I’m a fan of cooperatives anyhow :sunglasses:


#7

Indeed, I think the co-operative/democratic structure fits the culture of our dev/product team already (as we’re all part of kanthaus, etc) - and keeping a constitution lean and mean should work out! What I think is less clear is whether the foodsaving group people understand it and want to get involved. I hope you would join @bruno :slight_smile: … in this way it’s a way to try and invite people into to sharing ownership and control of their own tools.

I don’t think receiving a grant is incompatible with co-op (platform or otherwise), the platform co-op consortium themselves just got a heathly $1m grant`, I think there are many ways of achieving financial stability (social.coop asks co-op members for a monthly donation for example), or others sell their services, etc.

I mean it as an organisational structure that can apply to many types of organisation, including a low key thing like karrot - democratic, transparent, open, etc… Basically, those 7 principles from my first post (with more/less emphasis on some of them).


#8

The 7 principles are a good starting point and I think the values of the people involved in Karrot and interested in this are aligned, so all we have to start with is drafting some constitution document, like Janina said. Count me in for sure! :slight_smile:

I saw the 1 million grant for te consortium btw, that’s great!


#9

Thank you Nick for pushing forward the idea of creating a Karrot co-op!

According to the above discussion, there seem to be five main motivations for creating a Karrot co-op:

  1. Distribution of responsibility
  2. Facilitation of decision making
  3. Meeting legal requirements
  4. Fostering collaboration
  5. Reinforcing money flow

I think all of these points are justified and we can tackle them all with the help of a co-op. How the co-op will finally look like depends on how much importance we attach to each of the points. And in this respect, I would like to emphasise the last point, that is, the importance of fundraising. Here is why.

The development of Karrot effectively started about one and a half years ago (even earlier if the yunity era counts in). The result is great, and Karrot is already used by several groups on a day-by-day basis. However, while Karrot is steadily growing, the core team (Tilmann, Janina and Nick) has not grown at all. This is although various attempts have been tried to find new team members (e.g., networking, RGSoC, open days at hackweeks). As a consequence, Janina has to take care of the communications (keeping in touch with the user groups, writing blog posts, social media, etc.) all alone, Tilmann maintains the software all alone and meanwhile even develops new features together with Nick, who in turn can only work part-time for Karrot due to his job at outlandish. Moreover, Tilmann mentioned he will soon need to look for a paid job to be able to pay his health insurance. What I am concerned, in the last 18 months I spent more time away from Karrot than actually working for Karrot. I would have preferred to work for Karrot all the time but I had to earn money elsewhere to pay my rent. I do not know Lars’s situation but I guess it is similar.

For now, it may more or less work out the way it is. However, I suppose we all hope Karrot will get more and more popular until the point when Foodsaving truly goes worldwide. And in my opinion, this is very likely to happen because we can leverage valuable experiences made by foodsharing.de. And when it happens, sooner or later we will no longer be able to meet the needs of the users unless we have some steady money flow. This is one of the lessons learnt by Foodsharing.

Now you might think, okay, right now we are managing without funding, so let us wait until we really need it, we can still talk about it then. I disagree. I think we should approach this issue right now, for two reasons. First, when money is needed, there is no time left to develop a funding concept, to establish a legal entity, to do fundraising, to regulate money distribution. When money is needed, we will be glad to have the whole structure already at our hands. Second, if we do not think about funding right now, we waste a whole lot of resources. For example, Tilmann, Nick and I will have less time for Karrot because we will need to earn money externally - a waste of development time, so to say. Furthermore, at the hackweek in March Janina told us about groups who received grants to kickstart foodsaving in their areas. They considered using Karrot but then decided to have their own tool developed instead. If they had “invested” that grant in Karrot, they would have got a much better result for sure. Still, they did not. Why? Apparently, they did not have enough trust in Karrot. Now imagine we would have had a Karrot co-op at that time, with a legal entity that inspires confidence, and information on the Karrot website on how they could invest their money to receive certain services (e.g., to have a new feature developed or to have their own Karrot instance deployed and maintained). Would they still have preferred to build another tool and thus waste their money? I doubt it.

To summarise, for me the main objective of a Karrot co-op would be to achieve a steady money flow to increase the average number of working hours, while preserving our working culture. I prefer an incorporated co-op because a legal entity inspires confidence to potential sponsors and lowers the barrier to transfer money. In general, I think if Karrot is meant to grow sustainably, we should start to seriously discuss funding concepts - the sooner the better.

To kickstart this discussion, I created a new forum thread.


Funding Concept for Karrot
#10

Thanks for all the thinking! Will reply in more detail in the future, just wanted to correct a small point about my work:

can only work part-time for Karrot due to his job at outlandish

I think I worked for about 10 days for/with them in the entire year :slight_smile: (and that is almost all the paid work I did this year iirc).