Transparent finance for cooperative organising
Money. Why is it such a problematic part of our society and organisational structures?
That, of course, is too big of a question to resolve in this post. But there is a very simple tool to help us clear a lot of the problems that come with using money. That is transparent finance.
We are often used to not talking about money. How much we earn is often not even open to our colleagues. Who and how much different companies are paying for the right to advertise straight into our feeds is definitely not disclosed to us. Supply chains are generally very opaque so it is very difficult for anyone that is interested to see where money actually goes.
Words like expensive, cheap, affordable and costly have different meanings for different people and too often we do not really look into why things are priced the way that they are. While some of this may be due to a lack of interest, some of it is clearly because monetary flows are for the most part not visible.
If we want to create a world that is cooperative, so that we can work together in creating resilience given the challenges we have now and in the future. If we want to create vibrant living systems, we need to make our organisational structures transparent by design. Transparency builds trust and trust is fundamental to cooperation.
Ask yourself this: how much of the distrust that exists around large corporations, governments and NGOs exist because we think that they are driven and motivated by people “just trying to make money”?
If the incomes and expenses of an organisation was beautifully presented in plain sight, where you could see exactly where all the money is coming from and going, how would you feel about the integrity of that organisation?
This is what we are doing with Local Food Nodes.
Why transparency now?
We are currently experiencing some major changes in our societies. We are facing biodiversity losses and decline in the productive capacity of our biological systems.
Our political landscapes are fluctuating wildly and we are trying to understand what happens to our experience of reality when we spend up to a majority of our waking time fixated on a screen.
Right now our economic activities are more responsible for creating these issues then they are in helping solve them. Much of the efficient organising around our most pressing issues are done by grassroots organisations with limited monetary resources.
Many, many people are involved in just as many ways in constructing a new operating system for society. As we are involved in doing this we are recognising that a key part of why our current systems are not functioning are because of a lack of transparency.
If we can see into the organisations and structures that are trying to work with us then it is much easier to connect and cooperate. This is going to become obvious in any sectorial setting (civic, private, public, academic, etc). When structures are transparent we can participate in them.
A major problem that we see, for instance in the realm of politics today, is that participation has been reduced to consumption. We pick political parties the same way we pick consumer products. Maybe we look for the certified words like low-taxation, work-friendly or environmental like we might look for the organic certification or the red reduced-price sticker. It is clear to see that this is not a way to have a functioning democracy where people have their voices heard. We need an engaged populace.
In a similar way, we expect that services cost money and that the provider will tell us just how much it costs so that we can say “yes that is a fair price, I will buy it” or “nope, too much money, not for me”. But what if we could stop thinking of these services simply as products that we buy, but structures that we engage with to support their functioning, like democracy.
What would this look like?
For us it looks like this:
In order for a user to book produce from a producer on the Local Food Nodes platform, we require that you become a paying member of the site. What does this cost? That is up to you. You may enter your credit card details and then enter 0 as the amount that you want to pay for your yearly membership fee, you could enter a large amount of money or anything in between. It is a conscious choice that you have to make, do you value the functioning of this service?
If you feel that you do not appreciate what we are doing to any degree then I think you are right to enter 0, but if you feel that this service is providing you with value then consider how much you could help with in order to keep this service running for you and many others. Our finances are completely open so you can see what we have received so far and where that money has gone.
But just like in democracy this is not where the engagement ends, it is where it can start.
We understand fully that many are not interested in engaging with the decision making and financial allocation of the project funds. However, for those that are, we are open for your full participation!
We have set up a Loomio group where we intend to discuss and document the development decisions and policy surrounding the work that we do. It is also a place where we hope that the community can have conversations about how to best make use of the tools we are providing.
We are also looking into how we are going to set up collaborative allocations of the funds that we contribute as membership fees (possibly though cobudget). This means that when a user submits a yearly fee, some percentage of that fee will be earmarked “maintenance” and will not be subject to allocation. The rest of it will be available for the user to choose what features or projects this money will go towards.
We intend to create much needed digital infrastructure for local economies. Our first stop is the most vital function for our society to function, feeding ourselves with local food.
After that we have many other milestones to find and pass, local production of all sorts and community organising. We don’t have to do it all but we are creating infrastruction that will be helpful towards fullfilling these functions. And we hope that how we structure ourselves can rub of on other organisations. Join us at: https://localfoodnodes.org