Take Your Time, Do It Right: Commons Governance

The DisCO Governance model is an extensive reworking of an orphaned open source governance protocol.1 As mentioned above, it was developed and put into practice by Guerrilla Media Collective (GMC), the Spain-based cooperative focusing on language and communications services, which became the first DisCO LAB. In 2018, a group of experts on decentralized/non-hierarchical organizations, facilitation, peer governance, distributed tech and mutualized finance were invited to help reimagine the model, which resulted in a new version: The Distributed Cooperative Organization Governance and Economic Model.2

Here is a brief overview. Co-op members are owners and shareholders, each holding different types of shares in the collective. These correspond to value-tracked pro bono and livelihood work3, as well as reproductive or care work4 (see below). Shares in these three types of work determine how much is paid on a monthly basis. The money to pay shares come from the productive work performed by the co-op’s worker-owners, which is accounted for in internal credits (1 credit = 1 unit of applicable currency or income)5, creating shares.6 Using the example of GMC, the shares accrued by co-op members correspond to the work done in these three areas of value: 

Paid work performed for outside clients who are invoiced by GMC as an agency. We call this the “livelihood work” stream.

Pro-bono work in a DisCO’s specific productive area. For example, members of GMC choose articles to translate pro-bono based on their enthusiasm and how the material aligns with their values.7 These translations are presented in Guerrilla Translation’s websites,8 with the consent of, but at no cost to, the authors. These translations create an open knowledge commons. This is described as the “love work” stream.

Care work which, as explained in the 5th DisCO principle above includes “caring for the collective and its social mission” ensuring that all the collective’s administrative, communication and economic needs are cared for, and “caring for the humans that make up the collective”.9

These are proportionally accounted for and treated as shares, and are the basis for the distributions of income.10 Note that the same value metrics are used for both types of productive work (in this case, translations). DisCO’s model of income distribution diverts a portion of paid work towards the pro-bono work previously performed by members. Net funds held on account are distributed on a monthly basis: 75% to pay members’ agency (livelihood) shares, and the remaining 25% pays for pro bono (love) shares.11

Meanwhile, reproductive work is tallied in hours12 and distributed according to each member’s ratio of benefits vs. contributions. These Care Work hours dynamically affect the 75/25 Livelihood/Love split described above. Members who performed fewer care hours while earning more in the Livelihood/Agency or Love/Pro-bono streams will have a proportional deduction from their pay. Those adjustments are redistributed towards those contributing more care hours. 

In practice, this means that if all members perform roughly the same amount of care work over a month, the 75-25% split on Livelihood and Love shares will remain intact. Any imbalances are immediately compensated. The system enables flexibility and fair compensation toward activities that each DisCO values as essential for their health and reproduction.

To show how the model can be applied in real world situations, we’ve created this infographic:
DisCOnomics does it differently

This type of share-holding is in contrast to that found in a corporation. While shareholders in a corporation accrue power through money, the DisCO model treats power differently. DisCOs value forms of power, understood as “shared capacity to act” and “collective strength” centered around work undertaken for the commons.13 A corporation employs wage labor to produce profit-maximizing commodities through privately owned and managed productive infrastructures. By contrast, DisCOs work together for social and environmental purposes while also creating commons and building community, locally and/or globally. The model allows members to choose to do work that they consider value-aligned, and therefore, worthwhile. This is how DisCOs model a practice of economic resistance.

Various things are accomplished through this method. First, all members can gain income for both types of productive work, whether pro-bono or paid for by a client. Second, nobody has to compete internally for paid work versus the equally important pro-bono and care work. All three types of work are equally valued within a DisCO. Other variations, such as having several tiers of external pricing adjusted to align with means-based criteria, are also possible.14 For example, clients with the greatest financial means who are aligned with the DisCO’s principles and values, and who wish to provide support for developing its mission, are offered the top tier rate. Extra income from this level of client payment goes directly toward repaying the collective’s internal pro-bono shares (this additional income is also used to offset the cost for work performed for clients in the “solidarity tier,” i.e., value-aligned small organizations with minimal or inadequate budgets). This sliding scale helps nurture relationships and supports collectives and initiatives with the least financial means, creating better and fairer access to the DisCO’s services.15
1 The original Better Means Governance Model can be read here. The changes have been so substantial that it should not be taken as a reflection of our current governance model, but mainly an inspiration.
2 At the time of writing, the model is at V 3.5. V 4.0 (coming in 2021) will feature substantial changes in the structure, if not the intent. If you want to read a simplified overview as applied to Guerrilla Translation, click here.
3 See the DisCO Governance Model’s sections on Pro bono and Livelihood work for more details.
4 See the section on Reproductive Work.
5 Each DisCO can choose the appropriate unit in which to value their credits. This could be a currency such as euros or dollars, a crypto-currency, or any other type of resource appropriate to the DisCO’s situation.
6 See this section of the DisCO Governance Model for more details on types of Credits.
7 See Guerrilla Translation’s Goals and Values.
8 Guerrilla Translation currently has two blogs (English and Spanish) to present their pro-bono “Love Work”, with other languages planned for the near future.
9 For a more detailed overview of care work in DisCOs jump to chapter 6: Care before Code: It’s what makes DisCOs Different.
10 For more details on how income is distributed on a monthly basis, read the DisCO Governance Model’s section on “The Monthly Payment Pipeline”. 
11 These are the ratios recommended by the team for a realistic balance of income needs, vs the creation of commons in the currently sucky economy. However, there’s nothing to stop you from tweaking these ratios to your group’s preference. 
12 For more information, consult the DisCO Governance Model’s section on Care Work Value. Would you rather “tokenize” care work in a unit other than hours? It didn’t work for us so we don’t advise it, but if you try, let us know.
13 For a short overview of power to/over/with/within, see this article.>
14 For the pricing tiers (as used by Guerrilla Translation) see the following section of the DisCO Governance Model: Credit Estimation, Translation Value and the Sliding Scale.
15 Still have questions and doubts about DisCO Governance? It is a complex subject. It’s also way simpler than, say, economic paradigms affecting all our daily lives (try to grok derivatives or high frequency algorithmic trading in a pinch). As we want DisCOnomics to be understood by all DisCO members, not just economic boffins and technocrats, we’ve also put together this F.A.Q. on the subject.

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