Tech/workflow/decision-making issues that we've observed

I’m just going to keep a list here of the tech/workflow related problems that I’ve observed. No proposals yet but it may turn into one. Feel free to add more or ask me for more details.


#1 Random documents abound

Having random Google docs, One drive docs, spreadsheets, protocols floating around is very confusing. There is not central list of them. They are only mentioned in passing in chats and difficult to find again.

Perhaps we could use a wiki on the forum to list the public info and a private wiki for the private info. We have to observe data protection with this though. People’s personal info should be locked down to only those who need it.

One solution is to use one single that would store Google docs if that is the system we are settling. Then we would have a folder structure where all the docs would be stored. Where possible non-sensitive data such as protocols should be publicly released on the website.

#2 A deluge of chats

Currently our real time chats are spread across Signal and WhatsApp. People are added to chats add-hoc and there no way to join a chat without being an admin.

Also, some of these chats are busy and difficult to keep up with. They also mix the organising of the kitchen/coop with personal chats with family and friends contributes to message fatigue. I don’t necessarily want to be available to be messaged by the coop chat at any time of the day/night. It contributes to burnout.

One possible solution is to use Rocketchat hosted by Autonomic (like this forum). This would allow different channels for different topics. Sign ups could be open so volunteers can create an account themselves and choose what channels they are interested in and are free to move between different working groups.

This would also mean that you don’t need to have a smartphone or the proprietary WhatsApp to access the chat as it can also be done in the web browser. There are workable mobile apps for Android and iOS.

There would be an open channel for each working group and then operational channels for various tasks in the organisation.

#3 Decision making is synchronous and non-transparent

Near the start of co-op brum, a decision was made that decisions would be made in open meetings on Jitsi Meet conferencing software.

In my opinion this contribute to a lack of transparency and reversibility to decisions. Because of the need for regular meetings to evaluate the kitchen project, only the most dedicated cadre are making the meetings.

Decisions are being made without a standardised way and the results of decisions are buried in meeting minutes of varying formats. There isn’t one place to see which decisions have been made and by whom they were made. Therefore there isn’t a way for people to propose to reverse a decision which places even more power into the cadre who attend meetings.

With this reality, however unintentional, we are not recreating the assemblies of the people or the tekmil’s of Rojava but instead the backroom pub conversation, behind closed doors with only the word of those who there to define what was discussed.

This contributes to lack of engagement with democratic decision making process. We are creating a hierarchy of power being placed into the hands of those that are the most dedicated rather than expanding democratic franchise to all of those involved in the project where possible.

I am thinking of proposing that we use the forum for voting. Discussing proposals can still be done in the meeting but the actual decision should made are recorded using the polls feature on the forum and the actual laying out of the proposal needs to happen there for those unable to make meetings.

For complex decisions, a period of 5 days days could be set. For quick decisions, the time before the poll closes can be set to a short period like 24 hours. For urgent decisions, they can just be made and then recorded on the forum (which opens up the option of them being reversed later).

It wouldn’t be completely majority voting as there could be a third option on polls that reads “More discussion needed” which implore the proposers to justify the proposal more and invite discussion in that thread itself. After this discussion, a new poll could be created on the thread to solidify the proposal once more.

During these times of social distancing, I believe this online decision making process is necessary and appropriate to our situation.

#4 Move towards monthly financial sustainers

Our fundraising drive was based on GoFundme which is for one off donations. We should also create an option for people to give a little bit of money monthly rather than making a one off donation.


Note that this is also a good place for people to let me know if they need tech support/training or help with their own workflows.

I think I more or less agree with all of this. For documentation I’ve tried to do some things on the forum but have lapsed back into using Google docs here and there without any real rationale. The only thing I can think of that wouldn’t work on the forum wiki platform would be spreadsheets but perhaps we could use an ethercalc instance if people feel very bad about Google Sheets.

It would be the work of an hour or so converting all the existing docs into wikis on here, and I think I could probably volunteer for that.

I’ve never used Rocketchat but it sounds slacklike which would be better in terms of channels etc than the current flood of chats, some on signal, some whatsapp, some lasting only a day etc…

In principle I would support a proposal to vote on the forum but the lack of engagement with meetings is an additional issue - for some discussions we can’t do them asynchronously and if democratic participation in voting is going to be considered and meaningful then we need to support meeting attendance more. Probably just reducing the headspace taken up by mentally managing numerous chats and docs would help with this alone.

I also think we need to build practices of flexible mandates and rotating executive roles to reduce the volume of meetings needed and also empower people/WGs to act quickly with a democratic backing. For a specific example take the PPE discussions; if a mass meeting had mandated a WG to define a standard that would bind the whole organisation (perhaps subject to ratification by a vote) then we wouldn’t have the confusion over whether it had been agreed yet and who had to conform to it.


In terms of decision-making, I agree with your observation Leo. However, I don’t think that online polls is a desirable situation either, and it actually makes us very vulnerable. I agree with Ben that it’s crucial to encourage attendance to meetings, and we actually just decided to reduce frequency to once per week, in order to avoid meeting overload. I’m also with Ben when it comes to rotation of roles and flexibility. However, this just means extending the cadre that Leo was referring to…

I am thinking that we could organise open assemblies once or twice per month where we encourage all volunteers and people who receives food to attend, and we take important decisions on those meetings. We would still keep weekly meetings more focused on operational procedures, coordination and smaller decisions.

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My thoughts on this are that we moved very quickly into this project because it was necessary at the time. This meant we didn’t come up with a decent way to make decisions nor a plan for how to do this once we expanded beyond ourselves. There is a problem with on-boarding when things move so quickly and grow exponentially.

I think there is never an easy answer to these things. I’ve been in organisations for years where this issue comes up again and again without resolution. It is a question of engagement vs the need to make quick decisions. If we want high engagement we must do things more slowly. If we want decisions made within a reasonable time frame we have to sacrifice some engagement. The trick is to find an acceptable compromise between the two.

To me, the more obvious solution is to try to find some criteria for deciding which decisions need input from multiple parties and which can be trusted to a few individuals. We have to make a call on some things e.g. what to do about issues arising with operations on the day and that is inevitable. However, there are many other things that could be discussed at greater length such as future directions of the project, how to improve things that are already somewhat functional (so don’t need immediate action) but not efficient, how we engage with the public, how we engage with our members, how meetings should be called, what messages we want to put out etc.

I think it is possible to use other methods for less urgent decisions - forum could be one way used in combination with the open assembly meetings perhaps? Things could be discussed first of all in the meeting and then people are given some time to reflect and vote on the forum. We could also mention the operational meetings in this format so people know they’re welcome to come to them.

Here are my two cents as a tech professional…

In my experience, a great factor on making the decision making process accessible is using technologies that people are already familiar with.

I know WhatsApp is proprietary, but it is also the most widely used chat platform for smartphones and most of the people are used to its UI and have it installed (this might seem trivial, but a lot of people with old smartphones cannot install new software as they lack space).

For instance, in Spain within the 15M movement/Podemos, I saw how many “open” solutions were championed for the sake of transparency and what ended up happening is that only most tech-savy or involved people would access those platforms. I think there is a difficult balance there.

In my opinion people should be prioritised over process and process should be prioritised over tools, following an agile-ish way of thinking (especially considering the speed of movement of all this).

We should be trying to use any tools that are already available for people that are usable and fit for purpose, and try to overcome its shortcomings through adequate process.

Again, this is just an opinion. But even me, being tech-savy and kind of involved, would be reluctant to get familiar with yet another chat platform when I already have WhatsApp, Telegram, Discord, Slack, Teams, etc…

Also, please think always smartphones first. Penetration and use of smartphones these days is way greater than desktops and laptops.

I hope this is useful… I am happy to provide any help with all the tech-side of things.



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There’s some good stuff here!

Vulnerable to what @Sergio ?

@Dylan currently we are missing one property as an organisation. Recording the decisions in a accessible manner.

It’s not so much that decisions should never be made amongst a smaller group in meetings, it’s that those decisions need to be transparent and consequentially accountable and reversal-able by the rest of the group.

Perhaps a measure for implementation now is a new category could being made on the forum called “Decisions” where decisions made in meetings can be posted in whatever format appropriate. This would be quite a big improvement on stuff being buried in the minutes. What do folks think?

@Carlos I disagree with some of your points there. But for sure there is for sure a difficult balance to be struck.

However, making decisions through WhatsApp groups is a nightmare. It also excludes people without a smartphone. We should also be using free software wherever practical.

Also, please think always smartphones first. Penetration and use of smartphones these days is way greater than desktops and laptops.

Discourse works well in the browser on mobile. No need to install anything. There are wrapped web apps in the app stores if needed also.

I hope this is useful… I am happy to provide any help with all the tech-side of things.

That would be so awesome! I’ll PM you. Great to have you around :heart:

Hey @Leo Leo, I’m sorry I don’t know how to make quotations, but in reference to the vulnerability issue. I think online polls are dangerous in two possible ways.

First, we would be vulnerable to intentional disruption by any group or individual. If someone wanted to hijack our decision making process, or even affect the whole direction of the project, it would be pretty easy. They could do it by creating a few forum users and voting in the polls.

Second, it is dangerous because it’s not a consensus-based dialectical process of decision-making. It’s actually closer to referendums in representative democracy. It would still be the cadre of organisers who set up the options that people can vote for, and they could easily manipulate decisions by releasing or keeping information.

I am not sure if these were issues that you had already considered, and maybe there are ways of going around them. I’m happy to keep thinking about it.

I totally agree that transparency in the making of decisions should be one of our top priorities. The main problem, though, is that we are not making decisions in a thoughtful way, but mostly led by operational need. So maybe we should first rethink the decision-making process. But then we are in a meta-problem… how do we make the decision of how to make decisions? hahaha

Anyway, I still think we should encourage attendance to meetings. I think I may try to make a doodle poll for the next organising meeting.

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Quick question, why are we assuming that there is people without a smartphone that could otherwise access a laptop or desktop computer? I am afraid that this is rarely the case these days, the opposite is way more common.

In any case, I understand the concerns around WhatsApp and I agree with them and are completely valid, but there are other factors to consider when people are asked to use “something else” that they are not familiar with.