British Digital Cooperative

From P2P Foundation
Jump to navigation Jump to search


Dan Hind:

"The transformative mission of the British Digital Cooperative (BDC) must dictate both its structure and spatial organisation. Legally it will be established by Parliament as a public cooperative whose members are the citizens and residents of the United Kingdom. The responsibility for managing this cooperative will be borne jointly by its workforce and by the public. The powers of the latter will be exercised by assemblies formed through random selection.

Parliament will create this public cooperative with a mandate to develop the infrastructure of a more complete social, economic and political democracy. It will impose a particular duty on the BDC to establish working relationships based on civic equality. In the first instance the Prime Minister will appoint a chief executive to deliver on detailed articles of instruction that elaborate on its fundamental mission. The chief executive will serve for a single four-year term. They will appoint an executive board and after one year a quarter of these board members will be elected by the workforce.

Parliament will create this public cooperative with a mandate to develop the infrastructure of a more complete social, economic and political democracy. The chief executive will be required by statute to convene an oversight assembly of thirty people selected by lot from one of the local authority areas in which it operates. All assembly members will be paid at the national living wage for the equivalent of one day’s work per week. They will serve one year. This assembly, supported by its own secretariat, will be responsible for invigilating the operations of the BDC to ensure that it meets the obligations imposed on it by Parliament. It will have general powers to summon the company’s officers and to hear complaints from employees in confidence and representations from the general public. They will be free to conduct research, hold public and private hearings and publish reports and recommendations.

The first chief executive of the BDC will establish Research, Development and Production (RD&P) centres in severely deprived local authority areas. The physical geography covered will include cities, towns, villages, coastal resorts and rural areas. Mirroring the national structure, the centres will have an operations officer, an executive board and an oversight board selected by lot from local residents. These assemblies will be responsible for ensuring that the BDC acts in accordance with its statutory responsibility to promote working relationships based on civic equality. They will also be responsible for establishing and testing the governing principles of the platform architecture as it relates to privacy, civility, security and so on.

Product design and development will be structured as a partnership between the BDC and the communities in which it is based. Technologies will meet the needs, and defend the interests of citizens, in part because citizens will be involved throughout the development process as both participants and invigilators. Through their involvement in product design, residents will be familiar from the outset with the potential of new technologies to build community wealth. The centres will act as transfer points for new skills and capacities and the duty to promote equality will require them to establish educational projects wherever they operate.40

The RD&P centres will have a defined mission under the articles of instruction and will be free to establish subsidiary institutions, including land trusts, to ensure that they meet their objectives in a timely and thrifty manner. They will liaise with public sector institutions to improve the physical infrastructure for data collection, and to develop municipal resources. Local public sector institutions will have defined rights to representation on each RD&P centre’s consultative boards.

Each centre will also be required to establish ‘high street hubs’ where the public can use free software, open hardware and other resources. BDC employees will be free to spend up to two days a week in these collaborative spaces working on their own projects, provided these are consistent with the overall mission of the BDC. Beginning with these production hubs, the BDC will also experiment in ways of using technology to promote diverse forms of online and offline sociability.

The chief executive will have overall responsibility for ensuring that each centre meets its obligations under the articles of instruction, and for ensuring that all technologies are deployed in ways that maximise the public good in a manner defined by statute. They will decide how to spin out new institutions and promote the work of the BDC nationally and internationally. They will maintain an overall view of the centres’ projects and to ensure that, wherever possible, resources are shared between centres. They will also be required to build and maintain connections between the BDC and the rest of the public sector. Their office will ensure that, wherever possible, the BDC proceeds by adapting existing free software resources in a way that helps socialist and non-profit projects worldwide.

Operational details are beyond the scope of this paper, but the chief executive will want to draw on best practice in the private sector and in civil society to ensure that the collection of public resources envisaged here starts with what John Gall called ‘a working simple system’ and grows rapidly to achieve considerable scope and sophistication. The emphasis on adopting and adapting existing open source and free software resources means that the BDC won’t be tempted to develop ‘a complex system designed from scratch’ which ‘never works, and cannot be made to work.’41

In the fourth year of their term the chief executive will convene a large assembly drawn by random selection from the UK population. This 100-person assembly will draft new articles of instruction within the terms established by statute. It will sit for six months and take evidence from staff, from the other BDC assemblies, and from the public. Its deliberations will be public and the new public infrastructure and the other digital resources outlined above will bring the drafting process to the attention of a large and engaged audience in the UK and beyond.

In this way, every four years the BDC will host a widely shared discussion about the future of the digital sector, which will shape its operations for the next four years. This conversation will inform the country’s broader industrial strategy by providing a venue in which organised labour, the cooperative sector, private industry and other interests can articulate their needs in a manner that the public can understand and assess. The BDC will be mandated to give the deliberations of the large assembly due prominence in the communicative resources it controls.

Once new articles of instruction have been published, all candidates for chief executive will be interviewed by one of the RD&Ps’ assemblies, which will send a confidential note to the large assembly. The large assembly will interview the candidates it wishes to consider. It will then appoint a chief executive to a new four-year term. Past service to the public and a plausible agenda for the future will count for more in this selection process than a talent for office politics.

The large assembly responsible for appointing the chief executive will meet once a year during their term to receive a report on progress, hear representations from the workforce and the public, and to publish their own findings. During this time it will also confer honours on employees and citizens nominated by the various other assemblies.

If the first oversight assembly decides that the BDC is failing to pursue its articles of instruction with sufficient vigour it will be able to begin recall proceedings against the chief executive. If the move to recall is confirmed by the large assembly, the chief executive will be removed and the workforce will elect a replacement for the rest of that term." (

More information