Governance - how are things decided in your foodsaving community?

Thought I’d ask people around here about the governance and decision-making structure in their respective communities…

I’m asking because we’re growing in Gothenburg, in number of active volunteers and cooperations. Things are getting more complex and also some conflicts appear, so we’ve been working on clearer rules and I’m discussing with the core group of active people on establishing a more formal democratic and participative structure for decision-making.

So here’s what I’m curious about:

  • Who calls the shots when there are important decisions to make? Is it made at an assembly/meeting or by one or few individuals?
  • Is there a formal structure in your group for making decisions or is it informal?
  • Do you have any kind of hierarchies, and if yes, what kind? Formal or informal?
  • Is there one group deciding for all the pickups and cooperations or is it different groups?

No need to answer everything, but it would be nice to hear a bit how it works in different places! Maybe @djahnie can start by sharing some info on Foodsharing? :slight_smile:

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Very interesting topic, thanks for starting it @bruno!

In foodsharing.de it’s not as homogenous as people think and every city works a bit - or sometimes very - different. But here’s the official structure (as implemented in the online platform and described in the wiki):

The hierarchy has the following levels:

  • foodsharer
    • cannot see stores, cannot do pickups
    • can create and request food baskets
  • foodsaver
    • passed a small quiz, completed a number of trial pickups
    • can do pickups
  • store coordinator
    • passed another quiz
    • is responsible for one or more cooperations, foodsavers wanting to join their stores or signing up for pickups need their approval
  • ambassador
    • passed a third quiz
    • is responsible for a district or city
    • verifies new foodsavers after their trial pickups and creates id cards for them
    • is the contact for press requests
    • is basically the main driving force

Most cities have several ambassadors and not every active member of the core group needs to be ambassador, but in most cases the ones who call the shots are the ambassadors.

The thing about decisions is a bit twisted though: All ambassadors I know would really like more people to participate in decision making. More important issues are normally addressed in open meetings and every foodsaver can voice their opinions and concerns and help solve it. The thing is that apart from the core group most foodsavers don’t really care, don’t feel empowered to help shape their community or don’t see the need as there already are ‘people in charge’ taking care of things. So one big point I hear again and again is that on the one hand foodsharing really is open for everybody to participate but on the other it normally comes down to a handful of people keeping everything running. (I guess one of the reasons for this is that people are simply used to following leaders and that’s why in Karrot we try and force them into their freedom a bit… :wink:)

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Some years ago there was a working group on foodsharing.de that developed an alternative structure that is less hierarchical and meant to increase participation. It’s called the snowflake system and is used by foodsharing Mannheim and foodsharing Leipzig. Here are the core points:

  • Everything is organized via working groups in which every foodsaver can participate.
  • Every working group has a spokesperson who gets ambassador status to have all necessary rights on the online platform.
  • The spokespeople are elected periodically by all foodsavers of the city.

For example Leipzig has the following working groups:

  • ‘food-share points’
    • central point for knowledge about food-share points in the city
    • coordinates the planning of new food-share points
  • ‘pr work and events’
    • organizes info booths at fairs and local festivals
    • helps to carry out special distributions to support cool events
    • does press work
    • does basically everything that is more about spreading the word about food waste than about direct foodsaving
  • ‘cooperations’
    • central point for knowledge about the cooperations in the city
    • provides guidelines and standards for store coordinators
    • organizes trainings for new store coordinators
    • has the overview about potential new cooperations
  • ‘administration of foodsavers’
    • central point for knowledge about the foodsaver staff
    • provides guidelines and standards for the trial pickups
    • organizes monthly info events for newbies
    • creates id cards for new foodsavers
  • ‘reports’
    • foodsharing.de lets you report other members if you think they broke the rules, this is where those reports end up
    • tries to help solve conflicts between foodsavers
  • ‘district committee’
    • for all the groups’ spokespeople
    • ensures communication between the working groups
  • ‘store coordinators’
    • for all the cities’ store coordinators
    • to share knowledge and experiences about the different stores
  • ‘elections’
    • organizes annual elections of all the groups’ spokespeople
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Thank you for the detailed description, @djahnie Very interesting!

We have a bit of a diffuse system of governance here, since not much is very officially established (except for the association and its board). But as you mentioned, it is a challenge to get people involved in participating in decision-making or in other activities that do not only involve foodsaving itself. I think working groups are a good way to go (easier for people to choose what interests them) and we’ve been trying out this here.

Officially we have the association with a board, which can be considered the core group, which is responsible for coordinating and stuff like redacting more general guidelines for saving food. But it’s not desirable to have decision-making and participation concentrated there, so we try to make foodsavers and ambassadors meet to discuss local issues, cooperations and to solve conflicts.

But really as you said I think we have to “force” people into participating and not just following rules coming from somewhere else. One example we had here once was to shut some people off from pickups until they could all find a time to get together in a meeting to discuss some recurring problems with a specific pickup and decide together what kind of rules they should follow.

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