Digital Life Collective

Cooperation as a Service (CaaS)

Earlier today at the #opencoop conference in London I ran a short open space session entitled “Cooperation as a Service”. Surprisingly the small, and rather hot, room was packed, with people spilling out into the corridor. Even more surprising is that almost everyone stayed until the end of the session, and lots of constructive comments and questions arose. All of which left me thinking that the idea may have some value, and be worth pursuing further.

The idea of CaaS came out of work that I’ve been doing on the development of https://platform6.coop and discussions within the Digital Life Collective (also a cooperative). Focussing on free/libre open source software (FLOSS) projects, I was aware that in many cases, these projects are not particularly robust in terms their sustainable financing or their governance. And yet much of the internet infrastructure that we all rely on day to day is dependent on this code. Also in many cases financing comes from corporate interests, which, in the absence of strong governance models, could lead to potential privatisation of code, especially where more permissive licenses are adopted.
Developers, especially in the early stages of a project’s life cycle, most likely have little interest in governance. But as the project matures, and good governance becomes a real issue, cooperative approaches, which could be an excellent fit, are very rarely adopted, most likely because they simply aren’t on the radar of the people making the decisions.

What if we could provide a ‘cooperative by default’ environment for these projects, non-intrusively, through systems and services used by these projects? My initial point of interest is the innovative opencollective.com (OC) platform, used by hundreds of open source projects to enable supporters to give them money without them having to incorporate or even set up a bank account. I’m very interested in OC’s approach, and feel that as well as finance, it could potentially help with governance. And if the governance services it offered were by default of a cooperative nature, then perhaps some of the hundreds of projects OC facilitates might in time mature into successful cooperative organisations. I’m interested in this because I think that cooperatives provide a range of benefits that other models don’t or can’t offer, and because I’m interested in defending and extending an open internet. Cooperative ownership and control aligns with a decentralised web, whilst investor-driven business models align with a centralising approach.

This, in a nutshell, is the thinking. I’m interested in continuing the conversation started in the open space session. Please comment, criticise, ask questions, and make suggestions. I’m keen to test this idea, and, if appropriate, to move it on.

Hi Graham,
Any updates on this? Is it moving forward?

I just had a chat with OC, and I think they would be open to this line of thought. (They are quite approachable, incidentally.) In fact, my understanding (I may have misheard) is that they already have some kind of work happening to support cooperatives, in the form of a cooperative “host” – their term for fiscal sponsors available on the platform. So yes, I’m also keen to test this idea, or support its exploration. (I’m involved with Snowdrift.coop, which is interested in both coops and supporting FLO goods.)

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Progress report - on several fronts - around this topic. Platform 6 Development Cooperative has now created a co-operative host on Open Collective - you can see our host page here: https://opencollective.com/platform6-coop

We’re still defining and clarifying all the details of how we plan to operate this service, but in essence we’re keen to work with projects that align with cooperative values. It is ideal for pre-start groups who want to get moving buy don’t yet have a bank account or a legal structure. As i write we have three or four collectives that want to work with us and use the service, which is great. We’re keen to work in close collaboration with Digital Life Collective on this where we can. As part of our involvement with Open Collective I’m also beginning to work on some blog posts designed to promote the ideas around ‘Co-operation as a Service’ and maybe encourage some of the many projects hosted elsewhere on Open Collective to engage with us.

Within Digital Life Collective itself there’s been a huge amount of work done on the development of a set of digital tools designed to support collectives, and this also falls under the CaaS banner. I’ll not say more at this point, but I have to say I’m hugely impressed with what has been done, and I’m looking forward to seeing more public announcements around this very soon.

Tomorrow I’m giving a short talk at this event hosted at Space4 https://www.meetup.com/London-CoTech-Meetup/events/260565717/ about the potential of the cooperative model for open source projects, along with three other speakers providing valuable insights from various perspectives. Should be good.

The Digital Life Collective has continued working on CaaS and here is the latest deck -
https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/19HS41Lbjb6h3q8AvU5SlsZENcrf8iETMjbt7pznZioI/present -
the goal is to launch CaaS later this year and invite pilot participants to try an early version.