DisCO Governance

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The DisCO Governance model is an extensive reworking of an orphaned open source governance protocol.[1] It was developed and put into practice by Guerrilla Media Collective (GMC), the Spain-based cooperative focusing on language and communications services, which became the first DisCO LAB. In 2018, a group of experts on decentralized/non-hierarchical organizations, facilitation, peer governance, distributed tech and mutualized finance were invited to help reimagine the model, which resulted in a new version: The Distributed Cooperative Organization Governance and Economic Model.[2]

Here is a brief overview. Co-op members are owners and shareholders, each holding different types of shares in the collective. These correspond to value-tracked pro bono and livelihood work,[3] as well as reproductive or care work [4] (see below). Shares in these three types of work determine how much is paid on a monthly basis. The money to pay shares come from the productive work performed by the co-op’s worker-owners, which is accounted for in internal credits (1 credit = 1 unit of applicable currency or income),[5] creating shares.[6] Using the example of GMC, the shares accrued by co-op members correspond to the work done in these three areas of value: 

Paid work performed for outside clients who are invoiced by GMC as an agency. We call this the “livelihood work” stream.

Pro-bono work in a DisCO’s specific productive area. For example, members of GMC choose articles to translate pro-bono based on their enthusiasm and how the material aligns with their values.[7] These translations are presented in Guerrilla Translation’s websites,[8] with the consent of, but at no cost to, the authors. These translations create an open knowledge commons. This is described as the “love work” stream.

Care work which, as explained in the 5th DisCO principle includes “caring for the collective and its social mission” ensuring that all the collective’s administrative, communication and economic needs are cared for, and “caring for the humans that make up the collective”.[9]

These are proportionally accounted for and treated as shares, and are the basis for the distributions of income.[10] Note that the same value metrics are used for both types of productive work (in this case, translations). DisCO’s model of income distribution diverts a portion of paid work towards the pro-bono work previously performed by members. Net funds held on account are distributed on a monthly basis: 75% to pay members’ agency (livelihood) shares, and the remaining 25% pays for pro bono (love) shares.[11]

Meanwhile, reproductive work is tallied in hours [12] and distributed according to each member’s ratio of benefits vs. contributions. These Care Work hours dynamically affect the 75/25 Livelihood/Love split described above. Members who performed fewer care hours while earning more in the Livelihood/Agency or Love/Pro-bono streams will have a proportional deduction from their pay. Those adjustments are redistributed towards those contributing more care hours. 

In practice, this means that if all members perform roughly the same amount of care work over a month, the 75-25% split on Livelihood and Love shares will remain intact. Any imbalances are immediately compensated. The system enables flexibility and fair compensation toward activities that each DisCO values as essential for their health and reproduction.

To show how the model can be applied in real world situations, we’ve created this infographic:



DisCOnomics does it differently

‍This type of share-holding is in contrast to that found in a corporation. While shareholders in a corporation accrue power through money, the DisCO model treats power differently. DisCOs value forms of power, understood as “shared capacity to act” and “collective strength” centered around work undertaken for the commons.[13] A corporation employs wage labor to produce profit-maximizing commodities through privately owned and managed productive infrastructures. By contrast, DisCOs work together for social and environmental purposes while also creating commons and building community, locally and/or globally. The model allows members to choose to do work that they consider value-aligned, and therefore, worthwhile. This is how DisCOs model a practice of economic resistance.

Various things are accomplished through this method. First, all members can gain income for both types of productive work, whether pro-bono or paid for by a client. Second, nobody has to compete internally for paid work versus the equally important pro-bono and care work. All three types of work are equally valued within a DisCO. Other variations, such as having several tiers of external pricing adjusted to align with means-based criteria, are also possible.[14] For example, clients with the greatest financial means who are aligned with the DisCO’s principles and values, and who wish to provide support for developing its mission, are offered the top tier rate. Extra income from this level of client payment goes directly toward repaying the collective’s internal pro-bono shares (this additional income is also used to offset the cost for work performed for clients in the “solidarity tier,” i.e., value-aligned small organizations with minimal or inadequate budgets). This sliding scale helps nurture relationships and supports collectives and initiatives with the least financial means, creating better and fairer access to the DisCO’s services.

DisCO Governance Seminar

Stacco Troncoso gives an overview of the DisCO (Distributed Cooperative) model, which he alternately describes as a brand, an economic LARP, and an open source conspiracy to take over the world.

- Seminar Slides

Source By Metagovernance Seminar. CC BY-ND 4.0

DisCO Governance Pattern Process

We use the name "Pattern Process" because:

  • Each individual DisCO is a Commons, defined as "Living Systems to Meet Shared Needs" [15]
  • Specific federations of DisCOs and all DisCOs worldwide are extended, complex living systems. They are Commons-Based Peer Production (CBPP) processes made up of individual commons (the individual DisCOs) in collaboration with each other.
  • Both dimensions (Individual "DisCO Commons" and CBPP-BASED DisCO Federations use patterns, not blueprints. For a deeper overview into this differentiation, read the following footnote: [16].
  • These patterns will vary among individual DisCOs and DisCO Federations. What they'll have in common lies in each DisCO's fulfillment of the Seven DisCO Principles. The more the merrier, we say!

Pattern Process

  1. The DisCO receives paid work or funding to perform socially-oriented, pro-bono and paid work.
  2. Pro-bono work (aka "Lovework") creates relationships and social capital which (can) lead to paid/funded work.
  3. Paid/Funded work (aka "Livelihood Work") allows the DisCO to fulfill its social mission, which is specified in DisCO Principle 1: Values-Based Design and carried out according to the full 7 DisCO Principles. [17].
  4. Both forms of work are tallied into credits
  5. Net Available Liquidity [18] is distributed to fulfill members' shares, allocated as: Paid (75%) and Pro-bono (25%), which can be adapted to a specific DisCO's needs and idiosyncrasies.
  6. Care and reproductive work is valued as highly as productive work and, in case of imbalance, even more highly. "Care" means caring for the health of the collective and also caring for its individual members.
  7. Liquidity derived from paid work or funding may vary greatly according to sources of income but members’ credits accrued are stable.
  8. Donations and additional liquidity beyond Fluid Funding economic predictions are used to accelerate pro-bono credit payment.
  9. There are four levels of participation:
    1. Casual/unpaid (commons-based peer production);
    2. DisCOlarships (Partial onboarding process with very few strings attached);
    3. Dating/partly paid (Commons/DisCO onboarding process); and
    4. Committed/paid (Commons and DisCO full membership and rights).
  10. Casual members have no responsibilities and Committed members review their work for inclusion, or not.
  11. DisCOlarship members have very basic responsibilities and Committed members review their work for inclusion, or not.
  12. Dating members have ongoing Responsibilities (Live and care work) during a flexible trial period before mutual decisions are made about becoming Committed. They are peer mentored by the collective and continually evaluated.
  13. Committed members have ongoing responsibilities (pro-bono and care work), evaluated quarterly. Members unable to maintain these are downgraded from the DisCO.
  14. All 3 types of value are valued in tokens and/or time and entrusted selectively by committed members.
  15. Decision making is made by consent. Committed members' votes are binding.
  16. Reproductive care work and productive pro-bono and paid work affect each member's standing and payout in the DisCO. as seen in their total credits over time.

  1. The original Better Means Governance Model can be read here. The changes have been so substantial that it should not be taken as a reflection of our current governance model, but mainly an inspiration.
  2. At the time of writing, the model is at V 3.5. V 4.0 will feature substantial changes in the structure, if not the intent. If you want to read a simplified overview as applied to Guerrilla Translation, click here.
  3. See the DisCO Governance Model’s sections on Pro bono and Livelihood work for more details.
  4. See the section on Reproductive Work.
  5. Each DisCO can choose the appropriate unit in which to value their credits. This could be a currency such as euros or dollars, a crypto-currency, or any other type of resource appropriate to the DisCO’s situation.
  6. See this section of the DisCO Governance Model for more details on types of Credits.
  7. See Guerrilla Translation’s Goals and Values.
  8. Guerrilla Translation currently has two blogs (English and Spanish) to present their pro-bono “Love Work”, with other languages planned for the near future.
  9. For a more detailed overview of care work in DisCOs read Chapter 6 of the DisCO Elements: Care before Code: It’s what makes DisCOs Different.
  10. For more details on how income is distributed on a monthly basis, read the DisCO Governance Model’s section on “The Monthly Payment Pipeline”.
  11. These are the ratios recommended by the DisCO.coop team for a realistic balance of income needs, vs the creation of commons in the currently sucky economy. However, there’s nothing to stop you from tweaking these ratios to your group’s preference.
  12. For more information, consult the DisCO Governance Model’s section on Care Work Value. Would you rather “tokenize” care work in a unit other than hours? It didn’t work for us so we don’t advise it, but if you try, let us know.
  13. For a short overview of power to/over/with/within, see this article.
  14. For the pricing tiers (as used by Guerrilla Translation) see the following section of the DisCO Governance Model: Credit Estimation, Translation Value and the Sliding Scale.
  15. There are many complementary and non-excuslive definitions of the commons. This one was inspired by Chapter One of David Bollier and Silke Helfrich's Free Fair and Alive.
  16. The following text is extracted from chapter One of David Bollier and Silke Helfrich's Free Fair and Alive:

    Explaining the commons with the vocabulary of capital, business, and standard economics cannot work. It is like using the metaphors of clockworks and machines to explain complex living systems. To learn how commons actually work, we need to escape deeply rooted habits of thought and cultivate some fresh perspectives.

    This task becomes easier once we realize that there is no single, universal template for assessing a commons. Each bears the distinctive marks of its own special origins, culture, people, and context. Yet there are also many deep, recurrent patterns of commoning that allow us to make some careful generalizations. Commons that superficially appear quite different often have remarkable similarities in how they govern themselves, divide up resources, protect themselves against enclosure, and cultivate shared intentionality. In other words, commons are not standardized machines that can be built from the same blueprint. They are living systems that evolve, adapt over time, and surprise us with their creativity and scope.

    The word “patterns” as we use it here deserves a bit of explanation. Our usage derives from the ideas developed by architect and philosopher Christopher Alexander in his celebrated 1977 book A Pattern Language — ideas that are further elaborated on in his four-volume masterwork, The Nature of Order, the result of twenty-seven years of research and original thinking. Alexander and his co-authors brilliantly blend an empirical scientific perspective with ideas about the formative role of beauty and grace in everyday life and design, resulting in what we would call “enlivenment.”17

    In Alexander’s view, a pattern describes “a problem that occurs over and over again in our environment, and then describes the core of the solution to that problem, in such a way that you can use this solution a million times over, without ever doing it the same way twice.”18 In other words, patterns-thinking and solutions based on it are never decontextualized, nor disconnected from what we think and feel. We suggest looking closely at the underlying patterns of thriving social processes for inspiration while keeping in mind that a successful commons cannot be copied and pasted. Each must develop its own appropriate localized, context-specific solutions. Each must satisfy practical needs and deeper human aspirations and interests.

  17. Although highly recommended, the 11 DisCO Values are more subjective and less critical to the basic DisCO Framework
  18. "Available Liquidity" means whatever the DisCO has determined as a monthly allocation based on its fungible budget