Open Cooperatives

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Criteria as Proposed by Michel Bauwens

  1. That coops need to be statutorily (internally) oriented towards the common good
  2. That coops need to have governance models including all stakeholders
  3. That coops need to actively co-produce the creation of immaterial and material commons
  4. That coops need to be organized socially and politically on a global basis, even as they produce locally.

Example: The Cooperative Integral Catalana as a living model of open cooperativism

Criteria as Proposed by Josef Davies-Coates

"Co-ops that combine best practices from the international co-operative movement with best practices from the open source software and hardware communities are now possible. Soon anyone will be able to set up an Open Co-op and invite all their stakeholders to help finance, govern and organise the co-op online." (


Pioneering examples:

Catalan Integral Cooperative


Josef Davies-Coates:

"Sensorica are an ‘Open Value Network’ focussed on two primary activities: creating open hardware products; and developing the Open Value Network (OVN) model. OVNs are variously described as “people creating value together, by contributing work, money and goods, and sharing the income” a “framework for many-to-many innovation” and a “model for commons-based peer production.” The basic concept is very similar to the Bettermeans “contribution-based-rewards” idea, but in OVNs contributions other than completed tasks are also accounted for. They are currently working with Bob Haugen and Lynn Foster at Mikorizal Software to develop a prototype open source value accounting platform called ValNet."

The Enspiral Network

Josef Davies-Coates:

"Enspiral is made up of three parts: The Enspiral Foundation, Enspiral Services and Startup Ventures. I’d say they’re the best current example of an Open Co-op, but how they actually describe themselves is as “a virtual and physical network of companies and professionals working together to create a thriving society” and as an “experiment to create a collaborative network that helps people do meaningful work.” A core part of their strategy is to open source their model. In short, not only are they doing almost exactly what United Diversity wants to do — they’re also building the open source tools actually needed to do it!

The Enspiral Foundation is the charitable company at the heart of the Enspiral network. It’s the legal custodian of assets held collectively by the network, and the entity with which companies and individuals have a formal relationship. Decisions are made using Loomio and budgets are set using Cobudget.

A network of professionals work together in teams to offer Enspiral Services, a range of business services under one roof. By default members pool 20% of their invoices into a collective bucket, 25% of which goes to the Foundation. Loomio and Cobudget are then used to decide how to spend the rest. For Startup Ventures, Enspiral works with social entrepreneurs to launch start-ups who then support the work of the Foundation, and Enspiral as a whole, through flexible revenue share agreements: ventures choose their own contribution rate, usually around 5% of revenue." (



(and other funding tools)

Josef Davies-Coates:

"Originally started by Cambridge-based entrepreneur Emily Mackay, Microgenius is the UK’s first platform for community share offers and is now part of the Community Shares Unit. Societies can also sell shares via Crowdfunder and BuzzBnk, and can advertise share issues on Ethex, the Trillion Fund, and on — where the widest range of live Community Share Offers in the UK are listed. Co-operative Companies Limited by Shares can do equity crowdfunding on Crowdcube (which also powers Microgenius) and Seedrs.

Open source platforms specifically created to help open and/or co-operative projects include: Goteo for crowdfunding the commons; Open Funding and Bountysource for cofunding free software; Gittip for giving small weekly cash gifts to people you love and are inspired by; Snowdrift, a monthly matched patronage system; and, a wordpress powered crowdfunding platform for co-ops in Spain (we’ve got plans for something similar in the UK). Catarse, Selfstarter and tilt are other open source options, and there are numerous bitcoin powered platforms out there, too (e.g. Swarm)." (

One Click Coop

Josef Davies-Coates:

"One Clicks Orgs, a social enterprise whose strapline is “Legal Structures and Group Voting Made Easy,” created the One Click Co-op in partnership with Co-operatives UK and NESTA. Launched in June 2013 and approved by UK regulators it is the first fully-online co-operative structure in the world. The open source platform permits members to contribute agenda items, browse archived minutes and participate in votes electronically. It’s pretty awesome, but having been built on a relative shoestring also pretty basic. Only Co-operatives UK’s multi-stakeholder co-operative rules are supported and you can’t, for example, the balance the interests of stakeholder groups by giving them different proportions of overall control (like you can with the Somerset Rules)." (


Josef Davies-Coates:

"Loomio — a free and open source tool for collaborative decision-making — is what happened when Enspiral met Occupy. Enspiral were committed to being a flat organisation, empowering employees to be autonomous and involved in leadership and decision making. But without the right platform, the overheads of engaging lots of people made it hard to deliver on this grand vision. In practice, only a few people were making most of the important decisions. Similarly, Occupy activists were finding it hard to make consensus decisions with large groups of people. Loud voices dominated and people with less time to commit to the process were being marginalised. They were missing out on the power of including a truly diverse range of perspectives. Together they developed Loomio." (


Josef Davies-Coates:

"Cobudget is another open source app being developed by Enspiral. It works like this: each month contributions to collective funds are published. Everyone can see who contributed what and how much money is in the budget. Basic core expenses (previously collectively agreed on Loomio) are subtracted and what’s left is the discretionary budget. Each person or company retains the right to allocate their part of discretionary funds and anyone in the network can start a “bucket” ­— a proposal to do work that requires funding. They write up a proposal making their case for why the work they want to do will benefit everyone and why they are the right person to deliver the project. Everyone then considers the buckets and decides which ones to “fill” with their portion of the discretionary budget. If people collectively feel like a project is a good use of resources, it will get funded. If there are critical budgeting priorities taking precedence, “nice to have” projects won’t get any funds that round. Funders can split up their allocations as they like, or put it all in one bucket. In aggregate, the result is a budget that reflects the collective priorities of the group, determined in proportion to real stakeholding and in the context of the big picture goals. The entire process takes place transparently." (

The Open App Ecosystem

Josef Davies-Coates:

"Building on the work of Loomio and Cobudget the Open App Ecosystem is an Enspiral project to develop suite of integrated and open sourced apps which support transparent, democratic and decentralised organising. The aim is for the software to act as a delivery mechanism for cultural viruses which decentralise money, information and control and promote happiness, empowerment and wellbeing throughout an organisation. They also have the side effect of helping organisations become more efficient, resilient and adaptable." (


Josef Davies-Coates has developed a concept of open cooperatives which focuses on open and transparent non-hierarchical distributed governance and ownership. See: Open Co-ops: Inspiration, Legal Structures and Tools

Michel Bauwens developed a concept of open cooperatives that stresses the co-production of open commons. See: Why We Need a New Kind of Open Cooperativism for the P2P Age

Antecedents and Inspirations

Josef Davies-Coates:

  • "The Open Organisations Project emerged. Their goal was “to explain how to set up and maintain transparent, accountable and truly participative communities” and they came up with a useful set of six process and eight functional rules together with some basic guidelines for how to implement them."
  • The Viable System Model (VSM): "Stafford Beer used the term ‘viable system’ to describe the same thing and outlined some of their properties in the VSM.

In short, the model says that in order to be viable (i.e., able to autonomously adapt and survive in response to a changing environment) a system must have the following five sub-systems:

  1. System 1: Interacting operational units. Think organs in a body, or players in a team.
  2. System 2: Responsible for stability and conflict resolution between operational units.
  3. System 3: An ‘Internal Eye’ optimising and generating synergies between operational units.
  4. System 4: An ‘External Eye’ allows strategies and plans to adapt to a changing environment.
  5. System 5: Where ultimate authority lies and is responsible developing policy.

  • Bettermeans and The Open Enterprise Manifesto: In April 2010 a project called Bettermeans “formed to promote the values of openness, transparency, autonomy, contribution-based-rewards (meritocracy), democracy, integrity, and values-oriented, purpose-driven work” released The Open Enterprise Manifesto. It was a familiar story: replace “the command and control hierarchy” with “collaboration and open participation;” create organisations “more like living dynamic networks, and less like pyramids;” plus the standard mentions of Linux, Wikipedia, Mondragón and Visa to demonstrate how aspects of the model had already been shown to work at scale. Bettermeans were trying to bring these various aspects together in a single cohesive model, and they made a pretty good stab at building the necessary tools to make such a model widely available and adoptable."



Towards a Open Coop Development Agency

As proposed by Henry Tam:

"I’m thinking that the priority should be given to the setting up of some form of Open Coop Development Agency – it could be a stand-alone or a federated network with existing pro-Open Coop groups and institutions as supporters.

Scale is important, but we know that effective coop federation can give us big organisational clout while retaining accountability to small autonomous units. And what would OCDA do? From your report and other writings colleagues have produced, I would say an 8-point programme:

1. Promote and provide learning on why and how open cooperatives should be set up and developed.

2. Provide coop business angels to give advice (on a voluntary basis; funded by a central body supported by members’ contributions; or a fee on terms agreed with the advice-receiver).

3. Arrange low cost loans/investment.

4. Arrange cooperatisation of non open coop businesses (arranging for discussions/voting sessions, lending money to workers to take over the business).

5. Work with political parties to secure commitments to pro-open cooperativist policies.

6. Negotiate with local and national govt to set up community owned trusts, and other appropriate policy actions.

7. Adjudicate/mediate between multi-stakeholders.

8. Safeguard open coops from sell-outs or unprincipled takeovers.

If these elements are already covered by a range of organisations, then joining them under a much higher profile umbrella would itself give impetus to maximising their synergy (1 is certainly the raison detre of Synergia!).

Historically, if we look at the development of social democracy in Sweden in early 20th century, or the rise of the New Right in the US in the 1970s/1980s, the key change came from the establishment of organisations that are dedicated to drive hitherto disparate movements and fragmented forces into a common mutually-reinforcing change programme." (email 2/2015)

More Information

  • Cooperativism in the digital era, or how to form a global counter-economy : openDemocracy essay



*From the Communism of Capital to Capital for the Commons: Towards an Open Co-operativism. By Michel Bauwens, Vasilis Kostakis. Triple C, Vol 12, No 1 (2014)



Two prominent social progressive movements are faced with a few contradictions and a paradox. On the one side, we have a re-emergence of the co-operative movement and worker-owned enterprises which suffer from certain structural weaknesses. On the other, we have an emergent field of open and Commons-oriented peer production initiatives which create common pools of knowledge for the whole of humanity, but are dominated by start-ups and large multinational enterprises using the same Commons. Thus we have a paradox: the more communist the sharing license used in the peer production of free software or open hardware, the more capitalist the practice. To tackle this paradox and the aforementioned contradictions, we tentatively suggest a new convergence that would combine both Commons-oriented open peer production models with common ownership and governance models, such as those of the co-operatives and the solidarity economic models."

*Digital economy and the rise of Open Cooperativism: The case of the Enspiral Network (site, text)


This article explores how autonomous workers/contributors, involved in peer-to-peer relations, can organise their productive efforts so that they have sustainable livelihoods. The discussion is guided by the concept of ‘open cooperativism’, which argues for a synergy between the commons-based peer production movement and elements of the cooperative and solidarity economy movements. To this end, we review the case of Enspiral, a network of professionals and companies that empowers and supports social entrepreneurship. We explore its values, operation and governance as well as the chosen strategies for autonomy and sustainability. Finally, some lessons are summarised for the cooperative and union movement, which point to open cooperativism as an integrated vision.

*Cooperativism in the digital era, or how to form a global counter-economy (here)


Josef Davies-Coates:

"Two books, A New Way to Govern: Organisations and Society after Enron by Shann Turnbull (2002), and Gaian Democracies: Redefining Globalisation and People-Power by John Jopling and Roy Madron (2003) were both very influential on our thinking. They introduced us to the principles behind Spain’s huge co-operative network Mondragon, and other large scale business with innovative organisational structures such VISA International and Semco in Brazil.

In A New Way to Govern Turnbull summarised the terminal flaws of command and control hierarchies: the tendency of centralised power to corrupt; the difficulty of managing complexity; and the suppression of “natural” — human —checks and balances. In their place he proposed organisations which are able to “break complexity down into manageable units, and decompose organisational decision-making into a network of independent control centres.” In short, his thesis argued that command and control hierarchies must be replaced by “network governance” and that where this includes stakeholders — not merely staff but customers, communities, suppliers or distributors — a whole new dimension of economic, social and political benefit opens up. ("