Tue 11 Feb 2020 10:29PM

Defining the best questions

OS Oli SB Public Seen by 104

At OPEN 2020 we're going to try and come up with some answers, to really move things along, and get people collaborating inside a new economy. But that means defining the best questions....


Oli SB Tue 11 Feb 2020 10:49PM

Part of the plan for OPEN 2020 is to run a kind of citizens assembly where groups will be tasked with tackling questions, and developing answers, to report back to the wider group.

If we start with the idea that the event seeks to determine "How can we co-create a new economy which puts people and planet before profit?" What do the best sub-questions become?

Some ideas could be...

  • Which tools can we use to collaborate more effectively in working groups?

  • Which tools can we use to coordinate more effectively between working groups?

  • How can we fund new working groups and address the 'capital conundrum' for co-ops?

  • How can we start to move our business from the old economy to the new?

  • How will we reach the required scale to enable a vibrant alternative economy?

  • How can encourage subsidiarity in our governance?

If you've got ideas for specific questions which you would like to discuss pop them in the comments and we can try to tease out the best ideas to make the event as effective as possible...

May the games begin :)


Simon Grant Tue 11 Feb 2020 10:59PM

  • How will we design and construct a suitable open knowledge base for people to share how to do everything necessary?

  • How will we help people arrive at a common approach to this?

  • If that common approach includes diversity of technology, what will the open common standards or interfaces be?

  • How can this knowledge be effectively found by as many people as possible, with diverse backgrounds, and perhaps using varied languages?

  • How will this all be effectively governed, by commoners, as a true knowledge commons?


mike_hales Tue 11 Feb 2020 11:04PM

What are the characteristics that we need the new economy to have

  • In the lives of individual households

  • In localities

  • in the new skills and kinds of knowledge and organisation that people will need

  • in relationships between regions?

I don’t think the tools questions can be sharply framed, until questions of this kind are answered. What are we making with the tools?


Oli SB Thu 13 Feb 2020 9:57AM

but surely we know the main 'characteristics' we need the new economy to have already... don't we? they're the opposite characteristics to the existing one! i.e. Abundance instead of scarcity, diversity instead of mono-cultures, decentralized instead of centralized etc etc - but maybe you are saying we need to get more into the 'values'? or something else?

I guess maybe I need to define the 'vision' a little better to answer your question about 'what are we making with the tools?' but, briefly, I'm thinking that...:

What we need to build is "a movement which co-creates an alternative, democratically controlled economy which enables an alternative means of exchange, investment and management of value flows (just like the existing economy) but which puts people and planet before profit."

I think the way we might want to do that is mapped out in this post about enabling small groups https://networkweaver.com/the-foundations-of-exponential-impact/

So, in terms of tools I was thinking specifically of tools which help small groups to work together on the above vision, and tools to help coordinate the groups. Make sense?


mike_hales Thu 13 Feb 2020 10:46AM

That helps Oli, thanks. The notions of movements or formations, and cells, help to specify the architecture of tools. imo “people and planet before profit”calls for a whole lot more specification. But for present purposes, maybe it’s enough?

The main tweak I would insert is to make ‘movement’ plural. A single movement is so last-century, a modernist ambition? The future is plural - ‘a pluriverse’? And perhaps that pushes the challenge of tools-architecture into a whole other domain? Many cells (activist formations) weaving into plural movements (coop, commons, permaculture, new-municipalism, FLOSS, Web3, all the threads of the solidarity economy, feminist economics, etc etc etc). Personally, I don’t feel that the anarcho-libertarian DNA of FLOSS tools culture can be trusted to develop collectives and associations in that way. The heritage of ‘coop’ means solidarity, community and common weal? So that’s a challenge to address?


Oli SB Thu 13 Feb 2020 10:52AM

really good points Mike - I wonder if we can develop a clear concise question from this thinking that will help us get to appropriate answers!?


David De Belleville Tue 11 Feb 2020 11:51PM

Capital sub-question : what could be legal forms and statutes that simultaneously enable
- access to capital for growth
- shared ownership and democratic control
- sanctuarized mission and values (making demutualization impossible).
Interesting elements from multistakeholder coops and steward/foundation ownership.


John Waters Wed 12 Feb 2020 12:39PM

The number of questions to which can possibly find an immediate answer is limited. New questions will arise as contexts change. (That doesn't mean that I disagree with the questions already raised, but these are short- to medium-term issues in contexts currently understood.)

Whatever the components (subsystems, entities, whatever term we might use - individuals to the whole planet, and everything in between), their inputs, outputs and sustaining needs will change over time as they interact in new ways, form new relationships, and abandon old (damaging) relationships. As I see it, we need to design tools that enable these components to identify and nurture new, synergistic, co-operative relationships, and we lack the omniscience to predict what these might turn out to be. We also need tools to enable these components to understand, predict and measure the consequences of their actions at every level - from the local to the global. The fundamental problem (as I see it) is to optimize the matching of resources to needs in ways that are least damaging at these numerous levels.

Unfortunately many at the individual or intermediate level ignore (or fail to recognize) the need to minimize damage up to planetary level. I fear many never will, so (as I see it) appropriate metasystemic levels need to be constructed to match the variety of those categories to that of the planetary system - and matching the variety of those constrained by ignorance, indifference or conditioning is no small challenge. Self-organization and co-evolution will be far more important factors than design or detailed analysis (neither of which are practicable to more than a very limited extent).

Relationships will change rapidly during any remedial phase, continuing to change more slowly once a terminal sustaining state has been reached - no matter how short-lived that might be. No "steady state" will persist for ever, but the slower the rate of change in any phase, the greater the ability of any subsystem to stabilize. However things unfold (and I believe it would be both futile and dangerous to try to predict this in any detail), I believe only the simplest of fixed reference goals - care of the planet, care of people, and finding acceptable resolutions to the many conflicts between the first two - are realistic.

Therefore I believe the most fundamental questions should include:

  • What can we agree as shared objectives?

  • How can we minimize the risk of unintentional damage to others' remedial and sustaining initiatives?

  • How can we develop approaches identifying points of synergy?

  • How can we co-develop layered metasystems, what tools might help in the short term towards this goal?


Diana Finch Thu 13 Feb 2020 11:08AM

The big problem is that we are all trying to work on complex systems that cannot be predicted. For this reason we need a variety of experiments and to see the impacts in the real world. Hopefully we can work out from those projects what approaches work, and gradually refine our work. So for me the questions have to be about:

  • How do we share information about what we are all are doing - and ensure that everyone working in this space knows about this method for sharing information?

  • How do we share learning to avoid repeating mistakes and capitalise on effective approaches?

  • What are the indicators we should be focusing on, that have the potential to show at an early stage whether a project is likely to produce the intended impact at scale? Should we standardise on indicators and measurement, and if so, how, given that all experiments will be pretty unique?

I guess in effect I'm saying that over-emphasis on design questions, desired impacts and trying to preempt the consequences in complex systems is not the right focus. No amount of thinking can predict the unintended consequences or maximise the intended ones. No amount of joint working will come up with an approach that will definitely work and therefore should be our 'common' approach. We have to learn by doing and experimenting in varied ways, and we need to focus on ensuring all the learning opportunities are maximised.


Oli SB Thu 13 Feb 2020 11:48AM

great questions - thanks Diana


mike_hales Thu 13 Feb 2020 12:55PM

Yes, over-emphasis on design questions, and need to shift towards means of discovering what in fact is working 🙂 I think this is akin to what I was saying to Oli here, about ‘pluriverse’ - there will be a multiplicity of approaches and groupings that any of us needs to pay attention to and distribute our contributions across.

How do we share information? Way too many channels! We can be seduced by corporate social media or be open-source zealots, we can broadcast or narrowcast, we can explicitly post/blog/toot/etc or tacitly leave signs that can be observed by those who care to look our way. I’d be very glad if someone offered an analysis of this at OC2020, and had some patterns (and platforms/apps) to highlight. Myself, I’m inclined to focus on small pods of active collaboration, in which each member pays attention to locations where others post stuff or leave signals. As long as we all know where those locations are, that’s OK? But given that we each will be in numerous pods/movements, we could do with personal aggregation tools, to provide us with just one or two ‘feeds’? Also, we could do with some pattern models that might help us choose at the outset what kinds of digital locations were going to work OK (not ‘best’) for our particular collaboration? Is anybody up for leading on those?

How do we share learning? My own big hunch here is - pattern language. Given that ‘what works’ is evolutionary, pattern language is an obvious form to adopt, bcos in its origins it’s about great capabilities and great forms that have evolved over many generations and locations. Maybe OC2020 should have something on pattern languaging, and tools for pattern languaging? Perhaps every pod should subscribe to one or two or more (digital) pattern language commons . . . curating, stewarding, using? So - an ecology of tools needed there, to facilitate the weave of c/s/u activity in digital media commons? Do these already exist or do some need to be created?

Indicators and scale? I honestly don’t know what to make of this. That pairing echoes 90s post-Fordist corporate competitive-strategy thinking too much for me to be comfortable. ‘Scale’ is problematic, and we need to be much more careful about when we mean scale (‘mass’ scale, a Fordist, modernist, imperialist aspiration?) and when we mean scope/diversity/evolutionary niches/ecology/interoperability? Indicators tend to imply quantification, with many pitfalls including monetarisation and single vision. But perhaps pattern is another way? Maybe there could be pattern recognition tools that could diagnose emergent viable forms? Can anybody make practical sense of that - for me, it’s all a bit sci-fi, and I’m reluctant to buy into algorithmic analytics, unless they offer very robust means of control by the communities whose practice is analysed. Once again, tooling up the commons. Anybody feel like leading at OC2020 on socially controllable pattern recognition tools applied to amorphous, emergent, radical social-economic activity?

Seems like pattern is my response to everything! I guess thats because this is all about discovering and resonating, in the midst of complexity?


John Waters Fri 14 Feb 2020 10:08AM

The three questions here are examples of things that should be addressed in the the mestasystemic layers to which I referred yesterday. These will necessarily co-evolve with the "operations" they support and with the environments in which they operate, which will in turn be modified in some way by any remedial actions.


John Waters Fri 14 Feb 2020 10:20AM

I take pattern languages to be heuristic variety attenuators, but I worry that they sometimes attenuate the variety too far. Even where helping to describe and summarize established practice, they discard information that might explain how they came to be settled upon.


mike_hales Fri 14 Feb 2020 10:30AM

It's a tightrope! Building the right pattern language - not too coarse not too fine, not too big not too small, not willfully separate from other langauges, not too formal not too sloppy - is a matter of lifetime skill. Like everything that matters!


Oli SB Fri 14 Feb 2020 10:47AM

Does anyone have example of how pattern language can help in a real-life scenario? I struggle to see how it can work in practice - but may well be missing something critical here...?


mike_hales Fri 14 Feb 2020 11:39AM

Here are two practice oriented, practice-rooted, learning-rich pattern languages
http://tree.tries.fed.wiki - group process and faclitation
http://npl.wiki - regional and urban development

I imagine that the facilitation language is used - live, and in planning - all the time by its originator. I imagine that the originators of the urban development language continually use it too, in assessing situations, in planning interventions and in developing designs. I think the problem with pattern languages is diffusing them to extended communities. Which has to be done in practical collaborating, not by just publishing. Walking the hard yards.

Here is a small beginning of a resource base for pattern language


Diana Finch Thu 13 Feb 2020 2:29PM

Hi Mike. I agree with most of what you say. But indicators do matter, so that we can assess whether something is working. And by scale - I don't mean necessarily that we scale up one big project, just how do we amplify the outcomes? How do we change more of the economy using what we've learnt?


mike_hales Thu 13 Feb 2020 2:37PM

how do we amplify the outcomes? How do we change more of the economy using what we've learnt?
Yep :) I would call these scope issues - how do we develop another activity, in another location or community, which resonates aesthetically, and can interoperate operationally?


John Waters Fri 14 Feb 2020 10:12AM

Indicators are essential, and direct indicators preferable to proxies. These are essential transducers in remedial and sustaining feedback loops.

Working at scale requires effective variety management.


Gary Alexander Fri 14 Feb 2020 12:32PM

I think that what I would like as an outcome of Open:2020 is to find a smallish set of projects or people that are reasonably closely aligned with what I am working on, that keep in active touch with each other for mutual support and ongoing learning. This group would be small enough so that I could actually pay some attention to all of them, and they to me/us, but each would be connected to others, and so on, so that there would be an active network of support reaching very widely.


Hugh Barnard Sat 15 Feb 2020 8:06AM

My view of this is different and depends on various current strands of philosophy,. philosophers and (mainly) utopian anarchists. A good, current one, for me, is Ruth Levitas:

Utopia should be understood as a method rather than a goal. This book rehabilitates utopia as a repressed dimension of the sociological and in the process produces the Imaginary Reconstitution of Society, a provisional, reflexive and dialogic method for exploring alternative possible futures.

This is about the only place where I feel that 'top down' is useful and that folks, especially kids (who get to have it, or, more pessimistically, endure it), sketch out the kind of futures that they desire and that prefigurative projects fall out of those conjectures.

I'm unlikely to be in London for the conference. However, if I were to be (nothing like a good counterfactual at 7am on a rainy Saturday morning), I'd probably propose a Utopia Workshop, involving some unconference techniques and a great of enthusiastic crayoning for all ages.


Graham Sat 15 Feb 2020 12:56PM

"to really move things along, and get people collaborating inside a new economy"

For me the way forward on this stems from trade, and services that add practical value to new economy projects. The Open Credit Network is a good example. These create effective and mutually valuable interconnections - the glue that knits us together. The question then is in part about how to access and leverage the data that these interconnections generate.


Oli SB Sat 15 Feb 2020 3:45PM

This is what I am thinking too Graham - we'd really like OPEN 2020 to promote real-life working projects that people can get involved with right now, that offer genuine alternatives which help build / grow the new economy. One example is https://fairbnb.coop/ which pays 50% of their 15% booking fee directly to local projects in the communities where people book to stay. This not only takes market share away from the regular VC backed alternative but also helps build local community economies... (Blog post about Fairbnb coming soon).

We're really hoping that OPEN 2020 will be less theoretical and philosophical (there's no more time for naval gazing / debate! We have a climate / systemic emergency after all!)... instead we aim to encourage participants to work together at the ebvent to DO stuff, solve problems together and to join or form ongoing working groups (like the projects listed on our Open Collective page) - so that progress on our collective efforts continues after the event.


Jordi Vidiella Amposta Tue 10 Mar 2020 9:30PM

How can we avoid the accumulation of power?

How can we empower everyone and make them participate actively?

How can we make it accessible to everyone?

How can we decentralize everything even more? a question to ask ourselves every while.

How can we decentralize and make knowledge accessible and understandable for everyone?

How can we engage more people and communities?

How can we be more resilient to new ideas and visions? How can we implement those?

How can we integrate all the visions and ideas?

How can we question our selves and what we do?

How can we keep innovation going on?


Vincenzo Giorgino Wed 11 Mar 2020 6:07AM

Hi Jordi,

great questions indeed! No grandeur of systemic visions, no concerns typical of those who want govern others knowing in advance what their good is etcetera.... Our common inquiry starts from everyone of us, with practical humbleness, with a sincere concern for ourselves and others (including all living beings). There is no use value against exchange value: the measure is life itself. I suggest to starts from here in a fully non deterministic and non divisive approach.

Thank you.

Vincenzo Giorgino