Agreement-Based Organization (ABO) has gathered lots of positive attention since I introduced it in Collaborative Technology Alliance and Enspiral Tales this March.  I’d like to summarize ABO here, describe its revisions and versions, and extend my call for inclusive discussion.  ABO’s all about inclusion.

Why “agreement-based organization”?

As peer-to-peer technologies evolve, it seems increasingly urgent and feasible for humanity to work globally towards a norm of consent-based relationships in all aspects of adult life.  ABO promotes this by suggesting consistent open source protocols for the creative development and support of inclusive, complexly adaptive organizational forms.

I believe that ABO is the first organizational framework which fully supports personal autonomy and the “collective autonomy” which we can find through inclusively managed agreements.

We all face difficult global challenges.  Together, however, we can re-imagine and rebuild genuine social connections which have been increasingly displaced by industrial and commercial culture. We can foster genuine community on all scales of personal, cultural, economic and political action.  We can undermine distorted fears and false scarcities, to co-create an information age which is rich in freedoms and opportunities for all.

Key features of Agreement-Based Organization

In Agreement-Based Organization:

  • All formal social structures evolve as agreements adopted by the direct written consent of participants.
  • Agreements are stressed as tools for communication and coordination, not control.
  • Media access and participation rights are fundamentally important topics, for all potential levels of organization.
  • Formal proposals and agreements are related to a systematic view of shared goals, processes, tasks, roles, protocols, events and budgets. 
  • Agreements of all sorts are supported, but the peer-based development of ‘agreement-based groups’ is prioritized. For instance, practical standards are suggested for dealing with inactive or obstructive members and time-sensitive emergencies.
  • People and groups are encouraged to creatively develop formal relationships through modular design, rational hierarchies, federation, ‘intercommunity’ and distributed version control.

Special consideration is given to the equitable and sustainable distribution of group tasks and roles, in a technologically updated analog to Jo Freeman’s classic 1970 essay The Tyranny of Structurelessness.

ABO revisions and versions

In my initial discussions about ABO,  some great thinkers raised important concerns about my rigorous emphasis on explicit mutual consent.  I had considered similar concerns while writing the document, but hadn’t consistently indicated them.  I’ve worked throughout ABO to improve clarity and explicit detail, and to develop some innovations further.  The document has grown from 13 to 16 pages, despite ruthless editing and a deliberately concise style.

I’ve begun using a new WIP protocol to openly iterate personal texts.  I consider the publicly evolving Agreement-Based Organization to be ABO’s main version, but I’ll link timestamped versions such as ABO 1.2.1 for anyone who wants or needs to use fixed texts.

I’ve been coordinating ABO with Value Flows terminology when it seems feasible.  Value Flows focuses strictly on economic networks, but I always seek shared meanings and efficient communications.

Onward together

ABO is a conceptually dense document, which could easily be expanded into a book-length treatment or (my preference) an expansive system of linked topics.  I’ve created a public ABO issues and enhancements list to indicate current plans.  My main goals are to make ABO more modular, collaborative, and directly connected to the experiences of real communities.

If you’re interested, please check ABO out.  I’d love to talk with you about specific ideas, experiences and possibilities!

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