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DisCOs build whole-community governance: DisCO decision making and ownership extends beyond DisCONauts to include all affected by the DisCO's economic activity. This can include local communities, clients, suppliers and contributors, as well as the non-human world and its palpable needs.

In short: DisCO governance involves persons, communities and environments beyond the (permeable) boundaries of the DisCO itself.


DisCOs extend decision making and ownership to all contributors whether present in all value chains or affected by the DisCO’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. 

"Governance" is a tricky term, as David Bollier and Silke Helfrich explain in Free, Fair and Alive: the Insurgent Power of the Commons:

Governance refers to multiple arrangements of guiding and controlling human behavior. Like the term government, it derives ultimately from the Greek kubernaein [κυβερνάω], which literally means to steer. The question is: Who steers whom and by which techniques? The term, as re-minted by economists and political scientists since the early 1990s, implies that a separate class, power group, or institutional apparatus stands over others and governs them — in other words, that the government and governed are separate. The term governance in its standard usage does not encompass the idea of collective coordination and control by people themselves. Our provisional alternative to the term governance is [#Peer_Governance Peer Governance].

Governance in this sense has to be undertaken at various levels of community. DisCO’s approach to Peer Governance is inspired by the Permaculture Design Principles, in particular Principle 1: Observe and Interact: Observe your community, the people you interact with, map out how your DisCO's activity affects others and map it out. This process will also help you find the others.

To what extent these extended communities should be involved in actual decision making depends on the individual DisCO, however, let's be clear: decision making power has to be proportional to the effect the decisions have on specific individuals or groups of individuals. Committed DisCOnauts will most usually be the most affected due to their accrued input, so their decisions should correspondingly have more weight. In the case of care- or service-oriented DisCOs, those receiving the care should also be given a say. There's no one size fits all solution, which is why Principle 2 is very much concerned with observation and dialogue.

There are options to consider for holding these dialogues. Online, we're big fans and users of Loomio, which is an Open Source discussion and decision making platform built by Enspiral (one of DisCO’s many inspirations and precursors). Loomio had its origins in Occupy's Assembly culture, which was in turn informed by anarchist general assemblies. Individual DisCOs may choose to base their decision making on consensus or consent. The former is slower, but can yield valuable discoveries. Consent is quicker and allows people to dissent or offer contrasting opinions without censoring processes. Choosing one or the other may depend on the type of decision being made. In Guerrilla Media Collective, consent is used for most day to day and work-oriented decisions, while consensus is reserved for large-scale structural changes. All of these processes (and tools such as Loomio) are being factored into the design of the DisCO DECK, our value tracking and decision making software.

We encourage each DisCO to review other DisCOs’governance models and approaches to Principle 2. While most of your decisions are probably internal, you may do regular check-ins with the larger community, hold open houses or calls to gather feedback. With these additional types of interaction, you’ll need to consider the impact and power-sharing aspects of expanding your decision making process. You can also choose something as simple as veto power: perhaps you invite the extended community to vote, but only DisCONauts can have veto power over decisions. One exception here would be when an external community member is carrying out the actions implicit in the decision, in which case their opinion should have more weight, according to the effect that the decision will have on that member.

If you have social media channels, get your community involved as a routine: don’t wait until you get stuck. Even when things are running smoothly, having the community (or representatives) already interacting regularly can be invaluable once there’s a problem. If your DisCO operates in a physical space, do an open house. Get together with people, share food and introduce some of these ideas in conversation to see what the community thinks.

We've mentioned the non-human world as a part of this intended community. We obviously can't engage in direct verbal communication with it, but this engagement can be as simple as asking ourselves how our actions affect the environment, positively or negatively, and strive always for the former with the best knowledge we can access on the relevant topics or circumstances.

Whole-Community Governance is a process of discovery, experimentation and dialogue. It explicitly shows how our decisions affect one other and the environment. This process can help us design better methods and tools for doing right by each other and the planet that sustains us.


DisCO.Coop has several layers of membership: Casual members perform pro-bono contributions with no strings attached. Those wanting to become Committed go through a dating phase where they progressively accrue higher levels of decision making power and compensation while learning to build trust within the collective. 

Why this is important

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Interactions with other principles

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Related Elements

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More Resources

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