Humans of Loomio

Humans of Loomio

Guest post by Ben Knight, Loomio / Enspiral - March 13, 2016

In 2011, I had my first taste of collective decision-making on a large scale: sitting in a circle with several hundred other caring citizens during the Occupy movement in Wellington, New Zealand. There was something in that consensus-building process that felt deeply transformative: I watched as each individual found their place within the whole, and the collective intelligence of the group was greater than any of us on our own. 

As anyone who has experienced consensus decision-making will recognise, along with enormous potential came severe limitations. While a well-facilitated process could have amazing results, the practical constraint of needing to be in the same place at the same time to participate meant that it couldn’t scale. So often, discussions would drag out without reaching a clear outcome, or the conversation would be dominated by a small number of loud voices at the expense of everyone else.

Loomio is a tool for collaborative online decision-making.

Convinced that collaborative decision-making could be immensely powerful if we could overcome these limitations, a group of us approached Enspiral with a wide-eyed vision: ‘Could you make this democratic decision-making thing work on the internet?’

They received our idealism with a great deal of enthusiasm and grace, and explained that while they were supportive of the idea, we were going to have to build it together. So a team of activists, technologists and social entrepreneurs formed, and in early 2012, Loomio was born.

I spoke about Loomio’s journey at the 26th Bioneers conference in San Rafael California a few months ago.

As soon as we released a basic prototype, it was picked up in diverse settings. As well as the activist and community organisations we initially had in mind, it started being used by government departments to engage citizens in policy-making, by companies for team collaboration, by schools to engage students and teachers in decision-making together, and all kinds of inspiring use-cases we could never have imagined. Several years on, Loomio is now being used by thousands of community groups, government agencies and companies all over the world. 

Making a decision collaboratively on Loomio

At its core, Loomio is an online space for people to talk to each other, and make decisions together. Think of it like a meeting room that’s purpose-built for respectful discussion, with a simple process for converging on an outcome everyone can agree to. Anyone can start a discussion on any topic. When it makes sense for the group to make a decision, any member of the group can create a proposal. People participate in the decision with a consensus-building process that shows how much agreement there is with the proposal, and gives the group a way to talk it through towards a clear outcome with an explicit deadline. Because people can change their position in response to new information and other perspectives or concerns, people can develop their thinking together.

The culture behind the technology

We already know that the Loomio decision-making model is valuable to a large number of diverse groups. But we also know that cultural learning is critical to making it work. Like any technology, its usefulness entirely depends on the way it’s implemented. Namaste Foundation’s support over the last 12 months enabled us to invest significant energy in the cultural process side of the Loomio tool. We were able to build detailed help resources, and overhaul our onboarding process to provide a welcoming experience for people. This means people are educated on the way in, and they understand the cultural processes that make it actually work in the real world. 

Namaste’s support also made it possible for us to undertake a major project to improve the accessibility of the software. In particular, we worked with people who are blind, to ensure people can participate in decisions regardless of how they access the Web. This is just one small example of how digital technology can be used to radically increase inclusion, when deployed with conscious attention to the needs of real people so often excluded from civic processes.

Stories of Impact

It’s a tremendous privilege to work on something that supports so many diverse communities working towards a thriving world. One of the most exciting aspects of the work we’ve been able to undertake with the support of Namaste is telling the stories of the impact that Loomio users are making in their own communities and organisations around the world. Here are a few of the stories we’ve heard recently. 

Ouishare

OuiShare is an international community focusing on the collaborative economy and open source, headquartered in Paris. They produce knowledge, organise events, and connect people, ideas and projects around the sharing economy, fab labs, crowdfunding, the peer-to-peer economy, and society in general. And they use Loomio to scale that vision and collaborate across countries.

“The moment we started using Loomio, people that I had not heard from in a long time suddenly started popping up.”

“Even though nothing will replace being in the same location and having daily interactions, tools like Loomio bridge the gap.” - Francesca Pick, Ouishare

Red Victorian

The Red Victorian is a co-living hotel and community gathering space in the Bay Area. It’s a dynamic, mixed-use location where people come to live, work, and share with one another – and to experience a new type of collaborative living. The Red Victorian plays an interesting role in San Francisco, as a large physical space that’s entirely community run. They use Loomio to coordinate the use of the space - building a vibrant online and offline community in the process.

“A lot of the time Loomio will lead us to have an in-person conversation that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. People will see there’s a tension happening in a conversation online, and they’ll go up and approach the person to do the one-on-one thing. And then both of those people will end up representing each other’s perspectives in the online space. So it’s really a dynamic exchange between the two.” - Jessy Kate Schingler, Red Victorian

Robin Hood Co-op

Robin Hood Co-op is a transnational cooperative on a mission to change the way finance works. They describe themselves as an activist hedge fund: “We suck value from Wall Street and promote a profit sharing model, where a percent goes to yourself and a percent to commons projects.” The membership uses Loomio to decide together which social good projects to divert funds to.

“Broadly, we wanted the support of the wider membership, because we can’t do this alone. Loomio was awesome for that because it allows a multi-faceted conversation, whether you want to contribute in a larger way or just put a thumbs up.

It really gave us kind of a temperature check of the organisation, of whether we were thinking in sync with the people in the co-op.” - Dan Hassan, Robin Hood Co-op

If you want to read more stories from awesome people like these, there are plenty more on the Loomio blog.

If you think Loomio might be useful for your group, we’d love to support you to try it out.

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