Open Thinkering


Month: November 2022

Weeknote 47/2022

Doug Belshaw

I’ve watched more hours of football than I’ve done (paid) hours of work this week. Given that it’s the first week of the FIFA World Cup, and that both my kids play football for more than one team, this is how it should be, I think?

In addition, I’ve also written three posts here, which used to be absolutely normal but it now a bit rarer. I think the reason for this is that they’re all related to federated/decentralised social networks in one way or another:

On the work front, I ran an online workshop for the first time in a while for national governing bodies which fall under the auspices of Sport England. The focus was on working openly, something we’ve got some badges for that anyone can earn. Anne and I will be running the workshop again next Tuesday for those who couldn’t make it.

We’re moving into a new phase with the digital integration project for which WAO, Happy Porch, and Common Knowledge are helping Wellbeing Economy Alliance. After doing some user research, we’re getting started with the digital strategy part of it, and will begin this by John and I running (virtually) an in-person session for the 12 members of the team. It won’t be without its challenges, but we’ve got a plan and people in the room who can help.

The rest of my work with other clients is with Laura, within whom I always enjoy collaborating. On top of our work for Participate, Greenpeace, and Passbolt this week, we recorded a podcast episode with Mark Otter and Julie Keane about Communities of Practice and social learning. We also did a bit of planning for our WAO in-person meetup in January just north of Amsterdam.

I published a few posts over at Thought Shrapnel but not enough that I had enough to put out a newsletter today. Instead, given it’s not December 1st until Thursday, I’ll send it out next week:

On Friday, I was supposed to appear on the LernXP podcast, but I had to postpone due to being scheduled to have a smart meter installed. The electricity would have had to be turned off, so I cancelled my meetings. In the event, the engineer didn’t turn up, but I had an enjoyable morning working in a coffee shop.

In the afternoon I had a chat with Ivan about Bonfire. There’s not much for me to do or help with on the project at the moment, as Ivan and Mayel get their heads down and things ready for a v1.0 in the new year. It’s exciting times for the Fediverse, as both Flickr and Tumblr are reportedly integrating ActivityPub (the protocol that underpins everything) with their sites.

Next week, with three weeks of work left before the Christmas break, I’ll be making sure clients are invoiced, that everything we said we’d get done before 2023 is on-track, and that I keep my routines going until the last. Work is harder once you get on the festive hedonic treadmill.

Photo of me taken last weekend and used to update my profile picture everywhere. The previous one was five years old and, well, I’m not in my thirties any more…

Defederation and governance processes

I’ve noticed this week some Mastodon instances ‘defederating’ not only from those that are generally thought of to be toxic, but also of large, general-purpose instances such as This post is about governance processes and trying to steer a way between populism and oligarchy.

The first thing I should say in all of this, is that I’m a middle-aged, straight, white guy playing life on pretty much the easiest difficulty level. So I’m not commenting in this post about any specific situation but rather zooming out to think about this on a wider scale.

What I’ve seen, mainly via screenshots as I rarely visit Twitter now except to keep the @WeAreOpenCoop account up-to-date, is that Elon Musk has run some polls. As others have commented, this is how a Roman Emperor would make decisions: through easy-to-rig polls that suggest that an outcome is “the will of the people”.

Tweet from Elon Musk: "Should Twitter offer a general amnesty to suspended accounts, provided that they have not broken the law or engaged in egregious spam?"

Yes 72.4%
No 27.6%

This is obviously an extremely bad, childish, and dangerous way to run a platform that, until recently, was almost seen as infrastructure.

On the other side of the spectrum is the kind of decision making that I’m used to as a member of a co-op that is part of a wider co-operative network. These daily decisions around matters large and small requires not necessarily consensus, but rather processes that allow for alignment around a variety of issues. As I mentioned in my previous post, one good way to do this is through consent-based decision making.

Screenshot of the Loomio for with multiple discussion threads

Using Loomio, the instance that I currently call home on the Fediverse, makes decisions in a way that is open for everyone to view — and also for members of the instance to help decide. It’s not a bad process at all, but a difficult one to scale — especially when rather verbose people with time on their hands decide to have An Opinion. It also happens in a place (Loomio) other than that which the discussion concerns (Mastodon).

So when I had one of my regular discussions with Ivan, one of the Bonfire team, I was keen to bring it up. He, of course, had already been thinking about this and pointed me towards Ukuvota, an approach which uses score voting to help with decision making:

To “keep things the way they are” is always an option, never the default. Framing this option as a default position introduces a significant conservative bias — listing it as an option removes this bias and keeps a collective evolutionary.

To “look for other options” is always an option. If none of the other current options are good enough, people are able to choose to look for better ones — this ensures that there is always an acceptable option for everyone.

Every participant can express how much they support or oppose each option. Limiting people to choose their favorite or list their preference prevents them from fully expressing their opinions — scoring clarifies opinions and makes it much more likely to identify the best decision.

Acceptance (non-opposition) is the main determinant for the best decision. A decision with little opposition reduces the likelihood of conflict, monitoring or sanctioning — it is also important that some people actively support the decision to ensure it actually happens.

The examples given on the website are powerful but quite complicated, which is why I think there’s immense power in the default. To my mind, democratic decision making is the kind of thing that you need to practise, but which shouldn’t become a burden.

I’m hoping that after the v1.0 release of Bonfire, that one of the extensions that can emerge is a powerful way of democratic governance processes being available right there in the social networking tool. If this were the case, I can imagine decisions around instance-blocking to be able to be made in a positive, timely, and democratic manner.

Watch this space! If you’re reading this and are involved in thinking about these kinds of things for projects you’re involved with, I’d love to have a chat.

No management but self-management

The robber of your free will does not exist. (Epictetus)

Eylan Ezekiel shared a Twitter thread (single page) with me recently from former monk Cory Muscara. In the thread, Muscara explains that he meditated for 15 hours per day for six months with one of the toughest Buddhist monks on the planet.

To me, one of the overarching themes of the 36 things he shares in the thread is that you can’t outsource self-management. I’m a world away from the level of meditation and discipline that Muscara details, but my background in philosophy, a lifetime of self-reflection, and some therapy have enabled me to get to a stage when I mentally flinch (and almost physically recoil) when some refers to another human being as their “boss”.

Despite the existence of HR departments in larger organisations, humans are not ‘resources’ to be ‘managed’. We live in a world with many problems, but also one of abundance. The biggest problem that seems to plague people and organisations across the world is one that is often referred to as ‘time’ but which, upon further investigation, often turns out to be ‘prioritisation’. We all, after all, have the same number of hours in a day.

The ability to make decisions is almost like a muscle; it withers without practice. When we employ individuals to make choices that affect others (instead of collaborating on a process), we create systemic bottlenecks. I’ve always felt constrained when working as an employee, finding that people making decisions that affect my practice are often one or more steps removed from the thing under consideration.

This is not an argument against expertise or experience. In fact, it’s the opposite, as often the people with the most relevant understanding of the situation are those closest to the problem. Finding ways for them ask for relevant input and come to alignment isn’t a problem that requires hierarchy as a solution, but rather one that requires collaborative processes.

Last week, I helped facilitate as a group of people without a clear hierarchy came to a decision to form a new organisation. The process we used was one that I’ve discussed here before and which we use at WAO: consent-based decision making, or Sociocracy. I understand that hierarchy is the ‘default operating system’ of how groups of people organise themselves, but it doesn’t make it the best.

We now live in a time where people, across arbitrary borders can collaborate with one another using technology tools that are increasingly prosaic. They can make decisions without hierarchy using consent-based decision making processes. And they can raise and disburse money through platforms such as Open Collective.

The idea of a ‘boss’ is a collective fiction. We can and should do better. Of course, we need leaders but that’s an entire other post…