Using Loomio to govern a self-organising community

…without ever having everyone at a meeting

Here is a really excellent example of Loomio being used in Enspiral, a community I’m part of, with more than 200 people distributed around the world. We’re a self-organising network of self-organising companies, so we have a lot of practice doing community governance online. We never have everyone in the same physical location, but we want to give everyone the right to participate in community governance. This is the challenge that we designed Loomio to solve: small scale democratic organising without all the meetings.

On December 9th, the Brand Working Group started a great discussion thread. It’s a good discussion because it starts with a lot of context, like: thanks everyone for filling in the brand survey, we’ve taken your input and want to propose this new policy for how we all use the Enspiral brand.

First they start the discussion thread to gauge initial reactions, then a few days later they raise a formal proposal. The proposal is okay, some people agree with it, but then some grumpy people (me) start to disagree. I think the proposal is going in the right direction, but it has needless complexity.

The discussion thread is very long, but newcomers can quickly get up to speed by just reading people’s vote statements — these are limited to 250 characters, so when you agree or disagree, you are asked to give a succinct reason. Scanning this short list gives you a quick update of what’s going on in the discussion.

The discussion progresses some more, and the folks from the Brand Working Group go away and come back with an updated proposal. This one addresses most of the concerns raised in the thread, so it gets much greater approval. This is the magic of deliberation: with the right structure, disagreement can lead to more shared understanding and better decisions.

In this example, the proposal has closed with a strong majority: 22 people have agreed, one abstaining (don’t know/don’t care), and one disagree. When the closing time has elapsed, the proposal just closes: Loomio doesn’t evaluate whether it “passed” or “failed”. It’s up to each group to decide how to interpret the results. In the Enspiral case, we have a Decision Agreement which says that a decision like this will pass so long as the majority of participants agree, and nobody blocks. So by those terms, this second proposal passed, and is now one of eleven formal agreements that govern our community.

After the proposal has passed, Anthony started a check. Like the proposal, the check is another decision tool in Loomio. It’s really simple: you give people some details and then all your group members can respond with a yes-or-no answer. We use it like “tick here if you have read everything you need for this meeting next week”, or in this case “tick here if you want to join the Brand Working Group”:

We’re adding new decision tools to Loomio as we discover what groups need. So in addition to Proposal and Check, there’s Poll (so you can choose between options), Dot voting (explained here), Time Poll (so you can find a time to meet), and Ranked Choice (to prioritise a list of options).

Notice on the bottom right, the previous decisions (the two proposals and the check), all live “inside” this one thread, so it all stays nice and organised.

Threads live inside a group — here’s the Enspiral group page:

On the left you have the group description, with a quick welcome message and a link to our public handbook which explains how the community operates.

Next you have all the active threads in the group. This snapshot gives a taste of how Enspiral uses Loomio:

  1. The first thread has a proposal where I’m asking the community members if I can use these screenshots in this demo.
  2. We’re discussing what ‘onboarding’ information new people should receive when they join the community.
  3. There’s an update from one of the companies.
  4. There’s a process for people to re-commit to being an Enspiral member (people commit by agreeing to a proposal every 6 months).
  5. There’s a discussion about how to support people who engage in the community more or less (there’s a time poll so a small group can get together for a videocall).

On the right hand side of the page you have the members panel, which shows you who is in the group. Next is the list of subgroups (notice the Brand Working Group have their own private subgroup so they can have discussions without notifying the wider community). Finally is the list of all the previous decisions, so you have an archive of all the agreements you’ve made as a group (this is really handy when newcomers want to understand why we do things a certain way).

Zooming out one more step, you have the Loomio Dashboard. This shows me all my threads, in all my groups. All the threads with active decisions are at the top, and then the rest follow, organised by most recent activity.

That’s it: that’s the basic intro to most of the Loomio functionality. Why not start a group to try it out for yourself and then get in touch if you have any questions 😊