Video: Ben Knight on Loomio as a Tool for Self-Organizing Community Democracy

A introduction as to why democratic tools like Loomio are so important for generative business communities that work around the commons:

“”Emerging in response to the need for a scalable way to make inclusive group decisions during the Occupy movement in 2011, Loomio, an activist-driven tech co-op, developed an open-source tool for democratic organizing now used by 80,000 people in 93 countries. Change-making communities, social movements and organizations have used it to make more than 25,000 decisions. In this digital world, Loomio is on a mission to empower communities and organizations everywhere to weave diverse perspectives into powerful collective action. Introduction by Matthew Monahan, Namaste Foundation. This speech was given at the 2015 Bioneers Annual Conference.”

10 Comments Video: Ben Knight on Loomio as a Tool for Self-Organizing Community Democracy

  1. AvatarDavid Week

    Hi Michel

    I know you’re trying to support Lumio, the human group, but I think that they make two errors which will forever trip them up.

    Apparent ignorance of history
    They write and speak as though they were first, or invented the field. Anybody who has the day to day need for group decision making, and therefore knows a little about it, knows that democratic small group decision-making is widely practiced in organisations, has a long history, and is a very sophisticated field. And that sits within a bigger field, of democratic decision-making. From personal memory, I remember reading books on it 30 years ago.

    I once asked Loomio what political theory their software was based on, and the answer was: none! So this comes across as a group of people building a product for a complex field, with no knowledge of the field at all.

    You can find literally thousands of case studies and theory articles of high quality. Here are some.
    Loomio seems to have been built from scratch based without any consideration of this.

    The harm that comes from this apparent ignorance of the field:

    • people searching for solutions with google will know that Loomio appears ignorant of the range of possibilities; there’s no critique of other processes; there’s no comparative positioning: no “here’s our unique contribution to the field”; no sense of expertise in their craft.

    • Without understanding the history of trial and error in the field of democratic decision-making, Loomio could be shipping a defective product (I’ve not heard good things about the Occupy decision-making process, and I see no learning history here.)

    Vanity metrics

    80,000 people in 93 countries… more than 25,000 decisions.

    80,000 people. Am I one of those people, because I signed up once and then abandoned it? A better metric would be active users, and a better metric again would be paying or contributing users. If it’s only 80,000 total have signed up since inception once for a while, that’s a poor result. If it’s counted to a more stringent criteria, then name the criteria. Otherwise people will assume the weakest.

    93 countries. I get people looking at at my academia page from at least a dozen: and I never even do anything with that. My 1000 or so FB friends reside in at least 30. So that’s meaningless altogether. It’s a globalised world, and even teenagers reach 93 countries.

    25,000 decisions. Could be good. But a small workgroup like mine makes something like 10 group decisions (2-5 people getting together to poll, discuss and then agree a decision). That’s 2200 a year. 10 organisationl years means 22,000 decisions. Since there are at least four companies with Enspiral, and theyve been going for several years, those 25,000 could be accounted for within Enspiral itself.

    The harm that comes from vanity metrics:

    • sophisticated readers will mark Loomio down for this
    • if the management are taking these figures seriously, they will suffer an illusionary comfort.



    PS: I did watch the video.

  2. AvatarGuy James

    Why did you abandon it David? I have found it works well, regardless of their ignorance or otherwise of the history of these kinds of processes.

  3. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    got this one, will look for the bigger one … this blog depends on human moderators to filter out spam and approve genuine comments … most of the time this is me, but when I travel, and others do not pitch in fast enough, there may be issues of delay in approvals. Let’s see if that is the case, or if it is a worst technological problem.

  4. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    so I have read your first long comment and I am puzzled

    * the loomio people had two choices

    EITHER start from their own experience and difficulties and develop a practical iterative solution that seems to work for a lot of people, including us at the p2p foundation

    OR reading business magazine articles and absorb 20 years of scholarship and produce one more system that nobody is using ?

    I say Enspiral did the right thing here, and things that won’t work well, they will improve with the help of their user and contributor communities.

    The Wikipedia was theoretically impossible, thanks God they didn’t listen to economic ‘science’ to determine their choices,


  5. AvatarDavid Week

    Michel, my understanding of the early days of the Wikipedia was that they originally tried the “old” expert-written way, and it was going along so slowly that in act of desperation, they opened the platform. They following morning, they found 24 new quality articles. The rest is history. (I haven’t checked these figures: going off memory.) So they kind of stumbled into it. Once wikipedia started to scale, they absolutely did drawn on the long traditions of the encyclopedia to create their editorial model: NPOV, no original research, etc.

    I’m not critiquing someone for writing a piece of software for their own use. I just don’t see that it’s any more than that. And I am critiquing the cloud of self-promoting rhetoric that surrounds it, when it doesn’t seem that special, doesn’t seem very successful, and doesn’t seem either interested or engaged in offering a tool to a broader, non-ideological humanity.

    But really, if it is super-special and enormously successful, don’t let me bother you.

  6. AvatarBob Haugen

    @davidweek: you wrote “non-ideological humanity”. What does “ideological” mean to you? What is, or where is, “non-ideological humanity”?

    (This is not a defense of Loomio, although I am a Loomio user and like them, which I would be happy to defend if asked…)

  7. AvatarDavid Week

    Bob, poor use of language for sure. I’d probably say that every human is involved in ideology (a system of ideas). What I meant was more like this: make things for more people than just those that share your ideology.

    BTW, I am not “attacking” Loomio, so no need to defend it. It is whatever it is, and will not be better or worse for attacks or defense.

    What I AM doing is critiquing Loomio. Here it is in a nutshell.

    1. Don’t kid yourself. Use real metrics. Avoid metrics that make you sound good, but don’t actually mean that you’ve achieved an outcome. Kidding yourself is self-defeating. If what you are doing matters, why would you want to impede yourself?

    2. Don’t toot your own horn. It looks bad. It’s what Donald Trump does. Just act, and let your news of your act be spread by others. You will never see an Apple ad saying that Apple is “innovative”. It doesn’t have to say it, because it is, and because it is, others will say it.

    3. Don’t make things for yourself: make them for others. (It’s all right to use yourself as a guide if everybody is just like you in this regard.) Don’t measure your life by how much you live out your ideals, but by the good you’ve done for others, as measured by them. And that means getting to know them really, really well; understanding their situation, their problems, their history, their options, and what they are trying to do.

    I don’t just regard that as ethical advice, but also practical advice that works.

    Now, these items of critique are not just for Loomio. I often say these same things to my friends, my kids, my mentees, companies where I am on the board… I attempt to follow them myself on an ongoing basis.

    Nor or the only things that I say. They are just what seem relevant to Loomio.

  8. AvatarBob Haugen

    David, I was responding to your use of the word “ideological” as well as several other instances lately where people have used “ideology” pejoratively, as in, “those other people I disagree with are ideological about this issue, therefore, they are wrong and I am right”. Which usually means to me that the speaker has not examined their own ideology.

    I responded to you rather than those other people because you seemed open to reason about it and they did not, and I was happy to find you were.

    That was all.

    As for your other comments, I agree about the metrics, but got no problem with people making things for themselves. On tooting your own horn, it depends. I got no problem with projects communicating about what they are doing, I hope honestly and accurately without hype, which turns me off. And Apple claims to be innovative all the time. They recently claimed they were the only “major company” that opened source their software…

  9. AvatarGuy James

    I think when so much of this kind of social network or collaboration software lives or dies by the network effect, if you do have a large user base it would be unwise not to let people know about it, so they are aware that firstly it’s probably going to be a useful platform if it has a lot of users, and secondly their friends might already be using it and thus collaboration is one step closer.

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