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Resources for decentralised organising
I recently asked on Twitter and on a mailing list for examples of decentralised organisations that have a public, transparent, well-documented handbook that explains how they work (e.g. decision making, roles, communications tools, etc). The response was overwhelming so I’ve digested it into this page.
Documentation from specific organisations
- Most of my organising experience is in Loomio, a software co-op with a great handbook.
- Loomio is one of many social enterprises in the Enspiral network. The Enspiral Handbookexplains how we self-govern.
- The Gini Handbook is my particularly strong on decision-making, with useful sections on communication skills, personal growth, and feedback.
- The Gitlab Handbook is especially relevant for people working in remote teams — they have more than 400 staff and no central location.
- Crisp DNA is the handbook from a self-organising company of 35+ autonomous consultants. They do cool things with money and ownership!
- OuiShare Handbook – structures and practices for the distributed OuiShare network
- A Feminist Organization’s Handbook is a beautiful resource from the Women’s Center for Creative Work in Los Angeles. They explain how they work, with the expressed intention of helping others to learn from their experience.
- Alcoholics Anonymous operate as an “upside-down organisation”. Their manual is an up-to-date summary of 80+ years of decentralised organising at scale.
- The IETF is the principal body governing the development of the Internet. Their open, voluntary, self-organising principles are documented in the Tao of the IETF.
- Public Interest Research Center is a thinktank for civil society, helping social movements tell better stories. They’ve recently transitioned to a flat organisational structure. No handbook yet, but they published this excellent story about the transition.
- Platform is an arts /education / research /activism org. No public handbook, but their Social Justice Waging System is impressive.
- Barcelona en Comú published How To Win Back The City, one year after a coallition of grassroots activists won the municipal elections.
- How to Create a Rent Strike
- Repair Cafe is a place to meet and fix things together. Their handbook is available on a ‘pay what you want’ basis.
- How to Start a Tool Lending Library
- TEDx organisers guide
- Transition Towns’ Essential Guide to doing Transition is available in many languages.
- Awesome Foundation Wiki. Awesome Foundation is a network of autonomous groups who make micro-grants to people working on awesome projects.
- How to start a SOUP: a microgranting dinner celebrating and supporting creative projects.
- How to start a Food Not Bombs chapter: decentralised grassroots peace movement sharing free food with hungry people.
- Cosecha is a movement for US immigrants. They operate with a transparent strategy & structure.
- Edgeryders is a unique online community and company, a kind of thinktank and mutual aid network. A lot of their work is done in public, e.g. see their Principles for collaboration and operations in Edgeryders. “No plan is the plan.”
- Swarmwise by Rick Falkvinge, the tactical guide from the Swedish Pirate Party
Toolkits & books
Generalised lessons about decentralised organising
- New Economy Organisers Network share their toolkit for campaigners, activists & organisers.
- Code for Canada’s Civic Tech Community Organizer Toolkit contains advice on how to start, sustain and grow a civic tech community group in your area.
- Rules for Radicals is the last book written by legendary community activist and writer Saul D. Alinsky about how to successfully run a movement for change.
- Reinventing Organisations by Frederic Laloux is a really influential book sharing case studies of large organisations in different sectors, successfully operating without centralised management systems. Good wiki too.
- Going Horizontal by Samantha Slade: practices for flattening organisational hierarchies
- Horizontalism: Voices of popular power in Argentina, an oral history compiled by Marina Sitrin, told by people in the autonomous social movements, occupied factories, neighborhood assemblies, arts and independent media collectives, to the indigenous communities and unemployed workers movements.
- My book Patterns for Decentralised Organising.
- Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown: “radical self-help, society-help, and planet-help designed to shape the futures we want to live”
- 12 Principles for Prototyping a Feminist Business
- The Tyranny of Structurelessness – classic essay from Jo Freeman explaining why organising with “no structure” can be more abusive than the worst boss.
- Beautiful Trouble creative tactics for nonviolent direct action
- 350.org’s Trainings site includes resources for organisers
- Networked Change report “strategies and practices that made 47 of today’s most successful advocacy campaigns work… because of their ability to open up to the new cultural forces which favor open-ness and grassroots power.”
- Campaign Bootcamp Resources for campaigners
- Jackson Rising: The Struggle for Economic Democracy and Black Self-Determination in Jackson, Mississippi. A chronicle of one of the most interesting social transformations in contemporary USA.
- Earth First! Direct Action Manual (also available in print)
- Remote Only manifesto for companies that work without a central office.
- Remote Starter Kit – digital tools to support remote collaboration
- Atlassian Team Playbook – toolkit for effective self-managed teams, by the makers of Trello.
- Ayni Institute – training for social movement organisers. A lot of their training content is available as online videos, e.g. see the Momentum Webinar Series on the science of social movements, and the SWARM Training on decentralised organising.
- Momentum “gives grassroots organizers the tools to build massive, decentralized social movements that aim to shift the terrain under policymakers’ feet”
- Ulex Project – a residential training centre in Catalunya. They practice “integral activist training”, addressing the interdependent links between individuals, organisations, and cultures.
- My little consulting company The Hum provides practical guidance for decentralised organisations.
I think the best structure for any organising effort must be custom-fit to its local context. I don’t believe in “one size fits all” solutions, but we don’t need to start from a blank slate either. My book is a collection of “patterns”, experiences that are common in all collaborative groups. Each pattern names a common dysfunction (e.g. unfair distribution of care labour), and a response (e.g. account for care work the same way you treat other work).
My approach to organisational development:
- 🏠 understand the local context for this org: history, relationships, intentions, strengths, obstacles, etc.
- 🌏 zoom out to a global view to find an appropriate frame of reference (e.g. #agile, #teal, #sociocracy, #coops, #designthinking, #artofhosting)
- 🔎 zoom in to an adjacent local context (i.e. another organisation that shares something in common with this one)
- 🏡 return home with lessons to inform the next experiment we’ll try
So the “handbooks” listed here are examples of local context (with much gratitude to the authors who make their experience transparent for others to learn from). The “toolkits and books” are global lessons extracted from local experience.
@patconnoly @toddhoskins @shareable @JPatrickDunn @patriciarealini @WCCWLA@adriennemaree @AyniTeam @UlexProject @pircuk @NEON_UK @jaimeyann @feminineist@staccoP2P @bcnencomu @mrchrisadams @350 @rhizomecoop @jdaviescoates@PlatformLondon @CFTransition @transitiontowns @awesomefound @sam5 @radicalthnktnk@Jas_Tribe @Sam_Applebee @randallito @CosechaMovement @roguesofa @Owoy@douginamug @neil @mattcropp @wearehanno