DisCO in 7 Principles and 11 Values
The DisCO Principles (also known as "Distributed Cooperativism", expands the practices of Open Cooperativism by explicitly adding Open Value Accounting and Feminist Economics. Distributed Cooperativism is also the theory informing the DisCO Framework.
As explained in the "Precedents to the DisCO Governance Model section of the DisCO Governance model, DisCO evolves on the initial premises of Open Cooperativism by re-conceptualizing Open Coop's four original principles and adding new, explicit principles on Feminist Economics, Open Value Accounting and Federation.
This evolution is codified in the 7 DisCO Principles and 11 Values. Starting with the 7 Principles, the following infographic and PDF text on the DisCO Principles are extracted from The DisCO Elements.
Click here to download an illustrated PDF on the 7 DisCO Principles The texts on the PDF are partly identical to the extracts below but also provide practical examples from the DisCO LABS.
DisCO adds seven additional principles to the original seven cooperative principles in order to reunite cooperativism with its commons origins and better prepare it for technological futures. Apart from the OG principles, the Seven DisCO Principles also intersect with other radical patterns of organization, such as Elinor Ostrom’s 8 design principles for successful commons and the 12 Permaculture principles. The uniqueness of the DisCO Principles is that they serve as guidelines for tech-savvy (but not techno deterministic or tech-dependent), highly efficient and socially and environmentally oriented organizations.
The 7 DisCO Principles
Building on the groundwork laid by movements such as Platform and Open Cooperativism], the DisCO LABS follow these principles. The principles are orientative and each DisCO is tasked on interpreting them through Worldmaking. This means that the principles are pattern solutions to recurring problems. DisCO LABS need to adapt them to fit their own specific circumstances:
1: Put your effort where your heart is: values-based accountability
In DisCOs, production is guided not by profit but by social and environmental priorities.
Most companies and indeed many cooperatives, orient their production toward profit and meeting market demands. In DisCOs, production is explicitly guided by need, including social and environmental priorities. This orientation towards positive outcomes is the heart of a DisCO’s values. The needs-based priorities defined by the cooperative are embedded in each DisCOs legal statutes, as well as the technologies and cultural practices that let DisCOs assess and reflect on the outcomes of their effort.
2: Building whole-community governance
DisCO extends decision making and ownership to all contributors whether present in all value chains or affected by the coop’s actions.
Cooperatives are traditionally geared towards bringing democracy to the workplace. But their economic activity has knock-on effects throughout broader chains of production and consumption. Rather than restricting democratic principles to one organization, DisCOs extend rights of ownership and decision making powers to all those affected by a DisCO’s activities. Inspired by the multi-constituent social care co-ops in Quebec, Canada and Emilia Romagna, Italy, DisCOs place measurable value on the distinctive contributions of a defined community that can include workers, neighboring communities, suppliers, clients, those who perform reproductive and affective labor, financial backers, etc.
3: Active creators of commons
New digital (code, design, documentation and best practices) and physical (productive and deliberation spaces, machinery) commons are created through various types of work.
Typical market enterprises permit the exploitation of shared wealth, such as land, natural resources or human knowledge. According to mainstream economics, businesses are drivers of a process of enclosure, whereby resources are turned into commodities and relationships into services. DisCOs reverse this trend by actively generating decommodified, open-access resources. These commons can be digital (e.g., code, design, documentation, legal protocols and best practices) or physical (e.g., productive infrastructure, deliberation spaces, machinery).
4: Rebalancing the scale: rethinking global/local economics
Physical production is kept local while knowledge, resources and values are shared globally with other DisCOs.
Corporations extract resources as if they were infinitely abundant, while restricting immaterial flows of knowledge, usually reproducible at marginal cost, through intellectual property laws and patents. Conversely, DisCOs support and provide a business model for the Design Global, Manufacture Local template. Here, physical production is kept local and needs-based, while knowledge, resources and value flows are shared at the global level with like-minded initiatives to create a political and cultural counterpower to the prevailing corporate/capitalist economy. This also requires directing attention toward exclusionary social practices and the willful invisibility of environmental impacts, which are habituated responses carried over from mainstream techno-cultures into peer production communities. DisCOs foster explicit attention to environmental justice and the various forms that enclosure can take, in the so-called new industrial revolution.
5: Care work is the core
DisCOs are living entities reflecting the values of its members which need care and attention to mantain their health and the well-being of the persons working there.
Care and affective work are essential in DisCOs and are supported through established mutual support structures. These can include a rotating list of designated mentors and support “buddies” in a roster where each person both gives and receives support within the group. In this way we establish a peer-to-peer mentorship, which is horizontal and reciprocal. Emphasis is placed upon openly expressing observations and criticisms about the workings of the group and also sharing individual and collective aspirations, preoccupations and humor. This makes space for stronger interpersonal bonds and better trust-based communication, employing healthier and more emancipatory conflict-resolution tools. Beyond individual members, DisCOs extend the notion of care work towards the collective as an entity represented by the upkeep of its goals and values. This empowers individuals to undertake, or at least understand, what would usually be considered bureaucratic or administrative work. This work is often channeled to either a highly-paid upper management class, or a low-paid assistant function, both acting in the interest of the capitalist class. Upkeep of any DisCO’s social mission is the responsibility of working circles or self-organized teams which collectively manage specific needs (e.g., building community, following leads for livelihood work, evaluating potential co-op members) to ensure that the DisCO is healthy and able to fulfill its values ongoing.
6: Reimagining the origin and flows of value
Three types of value — market value, commons-creating value, and care work value — are tracked through complementary metrics.
In the capitalist marketplace, production is determined hierarchically and is exclusively oriented toward profit, while value is measured through opaque mechanisms and financial instruments. Further, the value only becomes manifest through market exchange. Everything else is externalized, omitted from the value equation. In DisCOs, production is communal and value measurement aims to be transparent. Three types of value are highlighted and rewarded:
- Livelihood Work: productive market value (the DisCO’s goods and services are paid for);
- Love Work: productive pro-bono value (the commons created through self-selected volunteer work);
- Care Work: reproductive work value (towards the collective and among its members, see above).
All are tracked through complementary value metrics that apply to all DisCO members. Recognizing different types of value influences functions including payments, work priorities and certain key decisions. This recognition gives visibility and empowerment to other values left out by the market nexus. Tracking and revealing the often invisible, even dismissed, strands of value-producing labor is structurally different from purely quantifying work. By having the ability to track flows of value produced for both the internal operations and also for external exchanges between clients and the DisCO members, we can hack the neoliberal labor classification, hence value exploitation. Seeing, naming and tracking the value of Love and Care work lets us reclaim these contributions with the same level of respect afforded to the provision of goods and services.
7: Primed for federation
DisCOs replicate through a standard federation protocol that allows critical mass without regimenting all parts.
Cooperatives worldwide have a combined turnover of US$3 trillion, which is similar to the aggregate market capitalization of Silicon Valley’s greatest players (Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook). Unfortunately, this economic power is dispersed, with many coops only nominally acknowledging the sixth cooperative principle, cooperation among cooperatives. Unlike networks, which may or may not share common goals, federations are held together by shared commitments and power is equitably distributed among all nodes. Federations also provide viable alternatives to the dangers of scaling, where a worldview is simply extended from a center of power and forces everything in its path to conform to its values.
DisCOs are distributed and differentiated structures that replicate themselves through a standard federation protocol. This allows federations of DisCOs to achieve critical mass without regimenting all parts. The modularity of DisCO Value Tracking allows DisCOs to mutualize economic power (as well as shared, non-monetary resources) for greater impact. Every node retains the levels of trust, mutual support and well-being that only small groups can achieve, while still achieving a larger collective impact by being part of broader economic networks. The long-term goal is to make cooperatives transcend their status as a form of economic alternative and instead, become a collective economic counterpower.
DisCOs are a framework for exercising the ideals of Distributed Cooperativism in actionable, federated ways facilitated by digital technology. But this doesn't tell the whole story.
What do DisCOs in the real world look like? Who’s there? What do they do to care for one another, make a living, and share their experiences with others? Beyond the seven DisCO principles outlined above, and in our experience, DisCOs are:
- Balanced in culture and structure: Onchain and offchain dimensions, tacit and explicit knowledge - everyone's out on the DisCO floor. The algorithm's positive feedback loops won't induce runaway machine tyranny. Rather than falling subject to the tyranny of structurelessness, the good working atmosphere is strengthened by the resilient, accountable and interoperable agreements of the Community Algorithmic Trust.
- Inclusive, relatable and educational: Many blockchain projects are more exclusive and less decentralized than they claim, given that access is limited to those with special knowledge (often obtained as a result of one privilege or another). DisCOs attempt to rebalance this access by providing mentoring and resources to those interested in its underlying structures, including Open Value Cooperativism, Distributed Ledgers and other bases described earlier. Here's an example: if you're visiting us today from blockchain-landia, you may be frustrated with our entry-level explanations of blockchains and DLTs. OK, but understand that for many, the sheer impenetrability of the technical language and exclusive culture are frustrating enough to leave people uninterested and uninformed. To remedy this divide, accessibility and pedagogy are inalienable components of the DisCO vision.
- Non speculative or deterministic: DisCOs do not claim they will disrupt all industries. They are a framework that increases the possibility of positive changes in the work and marketplace. Their development is emergent and dependent on the lived experience of their members. What they are not is speculative or investment vehicles dependent on difficult to grasp, volatile aspects. Large or small, DisCOs are not algorithmic blueprints for humans to conform to. Instead, they take things one step at a time, beginning with tangible community wealth and stable livelihoods, to then expand and federate through secure P2P infrastructures to create resilient solidarity economies.
- Multilayered/holonic: Hebb's rule states that "Neurons that fire together, wire together". DisCOs are designed to prioritize the human beings within a collective and provide a home for these to create value together. Interdependence within a DisCO is starkly evident - everyone is privy to the reality that self and collective interests are not opposed to each other, but mutually dependent. Nodes within an individual DisCO, such as Guerrilla Media Collective, practice the most intimate form of value distribution, much like an income-sharing commune. Value distribution between distinct nodes within the collective prioritizes solidarity. All DisCOs can develop encoded, revisable agreements to process value flows with other DisCOs, prioritizing value sovereignty and self-determination on the terms and means of exchange among network partners. In all cases, value tracking is transparent and exchanges are geared toward consensual solidarity, network resilience and mutual support. Finally, beyond their value sovereign membrane, Community Algorithmic Trusts can function at different levels along the trustless-to-trustworthy spectrum, and transact with the market beyond.
- Modular, but not prescriptive: DisCOs are one framework, and one possible answer. But if the question is, "what economy do we want?" we can point to other complementary frameworks, old and new. DisCOs support traditional coops, Platform Coops, Open Coops and the Social Solidarity Economy, as well as newer proposals like Microsolidarity, Not-for profit/Post Growth Economics and the more radical edge of the blockchain space (more on the latter below). We admire and respect what they are doing, and don't seek to impose "our" solutions. All these experiments are gaining traction on the rough roads of late-stage capitalism. Sharing our stories, successes and failures and being willing to collaborate in cultural and structural ways can only increase our resilience by strengthening our diversity. You may choose to use DisCO or not, but if any of our recommendations or ideas stick, we'd be happy to know our work has had an effect.
- DLT enabled, but not dependent: Contributory accounting is at the heart of each DisCO's Community Algorithmic Trust. This accounting must be validated in secure and tamper-proof ways - we want to disrupt mainstream notions of value beyond the values typically found in the blockchain space. But while we see incredible potential in the future of Distributed Ledger Technologies, DisCOs cannot put all their eggs in one blockchain basket. DisCO cultures and structures are emergent, the former is the glue between organizations and the latter more prone to experimentation. Whether it's Secure Scuttlebutt, a bunch of spreadsheets or tally sticks, your DisCO can track value any way it chooses. Interoperability can, of course, make or break the value sovereignty of the larger DisCO networks, but impositive tools and structures are more a hindrance than benefit. We want to make available, open source and mesh the technologies of Distributed Cooperative Organizations, but never impose them.
- Online or offline? Onlife!Mexican-Catalan Zapatista cyberactivist Guiomar Rovira breaks down the dichotomy between our "on" and "off" line lives by saying: "My position is that, beyond the differentiation between online and offline worlds, everything occurs on-life. Seen this way, the corporeal experience of encountering is the key." There are no "material" and "immaterial" commons: all depend on material resources and knowledge. Geographically distributed DisCOs producing digital services, like Guerrilla Media Collective, are the low-hanging fruit of DisCO (because value tracking is easier, there are fewer material inputs or startup capital needed, etc.). But while material production is always more difficult, we have models to bring the DisCO spirit to collectives working face-to-face, making tangible stuff. Whether on- or off-line, we recognize our relations as happening onlife, striving to maximize trust through networks and regularly encountering face-to-face.
- Copyfair Licensed: To enable value sovereignty while maximizing mutualization, DisCOs can use commons-based reciprocity licenses, or "Copyfair" licenses. While this remains an incipient project, we have an existing Copyfair (or, as the authors like to define it, copyfarleft) license: The Peer Production License. The PPL allows cooperatives and solidarity-based collectives, but not corporations, to monetize productive works. Similar to how the Fairshares Association facilitates the capitalization of assets within their networks, DisCOs can use PPL to permissionlessly allow purpose-oriented organizations become more economically resilient through shared assets. The possible on-chain dimension of these licenses needs to be modular and interoperable between all participating DisCOs and is a matter to be prototyped within the network (nothing about us without us!).
- Have viable, ethical business models: DisCOs have a nuanced vision of profit. If we define ourselves as "not-for-profit" we mean not for absentee, or shareholder profit, but for the benefit of participants in the collective and its social mission. DisCOs are a framework for economic resistance aimed at creating economic-counterpower. Call us ambitious, but we want to outperform capitalism in devious ways, and this calls for viability. Rather than relying on economic exploitation, extraction, or philanthropy, DisCOs generate and reinvest their own income. This viability lets DisCOs operate in the real economy, ie. offering tangible goods and services within the guidelines of their seven main principles. This contrasts with the economic viability of many blockchain projects, often predicated on speculative ICOs or the seductive promises of big picture disruption for capital gain.
- Political: Of course, cooperatives are political. They upend the three basic premises of capitalism: Private ownership of the means of production becomes collective ownership, wage labour becomes worker-owners and (absentee/hierarchical) production exclusively oriented towards profit and exchange is tempered by the original seven cooperative principles. DisCO's additional seven principles turbocharge this. In particular, the addition of carework and feminist economics as essential components of the DisCO vision represents a change that is long overdue within movements that speak of emancipation (the old school left) or the decentralization and disruption of hierarchical structures (the blockchain space). Whether a future DisCO chooses to fly the flag of these political aspects (like Guerrilla Media Collective) or not, the most important thing is that their practices reflect these political principles.
- Fun or bust! Humour, joyfulness and wellbeing are routinely disregarded in politics and changemaking projects. Fun is also painfully absent from many blockchain projects (notable exceptions would be Cryptoraves, Facecoin, Plantoids and Dogecoin — much meme, very wow). The name DisCO is no coincidence, nor are what we think of as the DisCO aesthetics. We think that true inclusivity needs to be an engaging and fulfilling process. When much of our leisure time has been hijacked by online platforms designed to encourage addictive behaviors, why can't we offer enjoyable alternatives which also fulfill a social mission? Relationships within a DisCO (including the DisCO CAT platform) have to factor in fun!
- For a fuller breakdown of these principles, either download the PDF, read the DisCO Elements or visit the DisCO in 7 Principles and 11 Values entry.
- For a layperson’s overview, see our article Reimagine, Don’t Seize the Means of Production.
- As mentioned above, Valueflows is the economic vocabulary informing DisCO interactions. For more information, visit Valueflo.ws
- See our entry on Mentoring for more.
- See our entry on Mutual Support
- Pazaitis, Alex, Primavera De Filippi, and Vasilis Kostakis. “Blockchain and Value Systems in the Sharing Economy: The Illustrative Case of Backfeed.” Technological Forecasting and Social Change. Science Direct, June 10, 2017.
- Until recently (2018) these were similar numbers. At the time of writing MAGAF has leapt to US$4.9 trillion. Source for cooperative stats: Measuring the size and scope of the cooperative economy: Results of the 2014 global census on co-operatives. Dave Grace & Associates, October 9, 2014.
- See our section on the Federation Protocol
- That is, in our own DisCO experience within Guerrilla Media Collective. These features are meant to guide and inspire, but we look forward to other variations.
- In A Postcapitalist Politics, feminist economic geographers J.K. Gibson-Graham remind us that there are innumerable economic practises existing within, alongside and beyond capitalism. The panorama for non-capitalist economic diversity is vast, but capitalism blinds us to it by pretending to be all-encompassing and inescapable.
- Guerrilla Media Collective is, in fact, legally constituted as a non-profit, socially-oriented Andalusian worker cooperative.
- Many of these ideas are further explored in Donnie Maclurcan and Jennifer Hinton's How on Earth. Our future is not for profit.
- We must, however, point out that the original seven cooperative principles are often ignored. Many co-ops are simply market players for the collective benefits of their members. In spite of this, we believe that the DisCO framework can help make the cooperative principles more likely to be enacted.