Engagement Criteria

Goal anchors

These define our aims, hopes and dreams; and thus, the kinds of groups we are seeking to collaborate with. The guiding questions we used to light our way began simply:

  • What anchors or waypoints help us make coherent decisions about who to align with or what to work on?
  • What makes something a clear no?
  • What are the attractors we/you are looking for?
  • How do you know it when you see it?

What follows are some of our answers to these questions.

Uphold individual and collective sovereignty

We believe that both individual and collective sovereignty are necessary features of any generative system. We believe that technical infrastructure and data should be held both by individuals and groups, and that the needs of both must be weighted when deciding who holds which information. We believe that individualism is an illusion and that data is created in the relational space between people— data generated in a group context is less valuable when divorced from that context. We also believe that in most cases individuals should retain provenance of such data for their own records upon exiting a group.

We stand with Indigenous peoples in their fight for independence and acknowledge the centuries-old struggles for sovereignty and self-determination that are still ongoing. We acknowledge that their struggles are not our own, but are interrelated; and see that in a post-911, post-COVID world the harms of colonisation are becoming increasingly universal.

We endeavour to:

  • Design for personal data ownership and direct control over exposure and sharing.
  • Hold information collectively among groups of peers, rather than in trusted nodes with shared access.
  • Provide for individual control over the installation of software updates and changes.
  • Improve resilience in and agency over physical and digital infrastructure. Reduce dependency on external providers.
  • Facilitate the adoption of self-managed encryption keys, end-to-end encryption and access recovery without the involvement of custodial or central authorities.

We try not to:

  • Enable eavesdropping or monitoring of communications and data by external parties.

Facilitate agency and autonomy

We believe that many of the current injustices in the world emerge as a result of unequal power dynamics and access to information. We believe that every human being has the right to define and practise their own culture, and that such practises should be wholly held and operated under that group’s own authority. We believe that agency and Place are fundamentally interwoven, and that the possibility for autonomy in technological systems depends on local access to data, without intermediaries. We acknowledge the tension between self-monitoring of data to provide insight, and data as a panopticon when handled externally or without mutually enforced ethical agreements.

We endeavour to:

  • Clearly articulate organisational power dynamics and decision-making processes.1
  • Disperse power to those without it.
  • Work with those “on the ground” to understand their needs rather than designing models as an ‘architect’ of the system. Use “empowerment to” design patterns.
  • Design and deploy technological systems which involve the humans who interact with them in order to provide flexibility, nuance and room for manoeuvre.
  • Foster the creation of decision-making and governance processes that are retained within the communities affected by them.
  • Adopt and engage with member-directed governance models, rather than board-directed ones.
  • Build for human-scale reasoning and comprehension.

We try not to:

  • Defer decision-making processes to external forces (whether these be human, collective or AIs), especially those where power over many is aggregated into the hands of few.
  • Employ game-theoretic operational models.2
  • Use AI and Big Data to govern decisions.

Implement contextual solutions

We believe that universal solutions propagate monocultures which are oppressive and harmful to places and peoples whom are typically overlooked by mainstream Western thought. We also believe that such attempts at systems change are fundamentally unlikely to succeed, and that real progress emerges from the bottom upwards.

We believe that the needs and goals of communities differ, and that it is a mistake to attempt to service the needs of all. We aim to support the immediate needs of those we collaborate with whilst engendering a sensitivity to the needs of other beings and developing protocols for knowing and harmonising between different belief systems and ways of life.

We endeavour to:

  • Use existing protocols and create strong protocol designs. Focus on interoperability between technologies and communities.
  • Deploy constellations of targeted, special-purpose currencies rather than singular or monolithic economic models.
  • Engage with growth models and opportunities based on depth of utility over breadth of users.
  • Develop place-based platforms which aim to assist a single community and have no growth imperative beyond that.
  • Create and adopt adaptable systems with strong protocol designs.

We try not to:

  • Engage with utilitarian ethics or projects who believe that “everybody ought to” or “one size fits all”.
  • Act on techno-utopian belief systems which ignore or oversimplify the social dynamics of human beings.

Practise generative finance

We believe that money is an important flow among the many streams of value embedded in physical and social reality. We acknowledge it as a necessity for meeting our basic needs in Capitalist society, whilst also being mindful of its social consequences and the need to move beyond it. The financial models which we engage with, adopt and employ should thus prepare those they affect for exiting the Capitalist system.

We think of “deep wealth”3 as complementary to self-sufficiency, resilience and autonomy. We believe that money fundamentally causes inequity via extractive social consequences and cannot play any role other than a transitionary one in lasting solutions to ending poverty. We realise that the injection of capital also usually leads to the creation of hierarchy, and aim to move beyond this paradigm in how we aid and support others.

We endeavour to:

  • Acknowledge existing value and wealth. Embrace what is already working.
  • Make pluralistic value forms perceptual, meaningful and actionable.
  • Create self-generative wealth and life support systems.
  • Create recurring, localised income streams.
  • Create and deploy mutual & interest-free debt issuance systems.
  • Optimise for non-exploitative, non-extractive business models.
  • Accommodate and design for voluntary charitable contributions rather than charging licensing fees.
  • Use private equity as a way of nurturing communities of interest and engaging community members.
  • Transform the implied power relation of aid schemes to place those receiving capital in control of its distribution.
  • Cap returns on investment, and explicitly quantify the extracted value relative to the real (tangible) value generated.
  • Move towards a degrowth4 economy and de-complexify things, particularly where this goal involves production supply chains. Turn externalities into internalities.
  • Direct efforts towards sufficiency, resilience, abundance and thrivability5.

We try not to:

  • Think in individualist logics or subscribe to market-based solutionism.
  • Extract value from the natural environment, human interactions, data or licensing & service fees.
  • Engage with token-based thinking or rely on speculative value.
  • Allow external stakeholders to inject capital, create expectation of uncapped equity-based returns or make promises of “growth unto perpetuity”.
  • Engage with efforts which create short-term visibility or funding which do not have long-lasting applicability in lived practise.
  • Make moves which rely heavily on spending or generating money to succeed.

Reduce inequity

Our theory of change focuses on equity, not equality. You can imagine an invisible ‘Mountain of Privilege’ that all of us are climbing. With equality, we treat everybody the same— which often means that while our overall privileges and rights may have been raised, the gap between the haves and the have-nots does not change. The goal of equity is for those higher up the mountain to reach down and help those further down the hill to climb higher.

We endeavour to:

  • Collaborate with leadership and representation from those affected by the deployment of the systems we create. This includes the early consultation and design processes— “Nothing about us without us!"6
  • Elevate marginalised demographics to reduce gaps in empowerment.

We try not to:

  • Solely empower those already advantaged— especially in the socio-political context of the problem space, but more broadly as well.
  • Attempt to “elevate everybody” without defining exactly whom “everybody” is.

Build commons

We believe that survival of our species amidst the challenges of our time hinge upon our ability to responsibly and sustainably govern commons.7

We prioritise our efforts first toward those which sustain, steward and regenerate natural & environmental commons. In all work we also aim to build towards sustainability and commoning at the social layer, and finally the technological layer(s) deemed necessary to underpin this work. We believe this ordering is important, and that our deepest service as beings in this new phase of existence should be toward the ‘base layers’ on which our survival depends— geologies, water flows, soil, fungi, bacteria and eventually flora, fauna, other human beings and the invisible agreements we make when coordinating together.

We endeavour to:

  • Grow natural, knowledge, social & technological commons; where the outcomes have a collective benefit.
  • Preserve, share and elevate Indigenous knowledge systems and ways of knowing.
  • Employ bioregional-scale governance and stewardship efforts.
  • Build and use open-source software. Allow for open contributions. Provide and mandate codes of conduct.
  • Make quantifiable commitments about contributions to software and economic commons before embarking upon a set of work.
  • Ensure strong governance around the sharing of dividends and surplus.

We try not to:

  • “Wait until things are financially sustainable” before defining the commitments that groups will make to their commons.
  • Make people dependent on development teams and technical expertise to continue operating and innovating.

Create relationships

We see change as an emergent, accountable and collaborative process; not a destination. We believe that the best way to engender material resilience is in engendering social resilience, and that socio-economic dependencies between local groups can deepen trust and cross-cultural understanding.

We endeavour to:

  • Behave and create in ways which lead toward gratitude and generosity.
  • Implement localised and place-based solutions which connect people with others nearby.
  • Build bridges and facilitate compassion between communities; especially across production supply chains.
  • Facilitate human connection. Build mutual aid8 support systems.
  • Create integrated software interfaces: ‘non-sided marketplaces’ where participants can assume any role.
  • Build and collaborate with intergenerational, multi-racial, gender diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural teams and organisations.

We try not to:

  • Create ‘split’ interfaces which segregate participants of a system into different worldviews and experiences.

Hold awareness for subjectivity & diversity

Subjectivity is an ongoing creative struggle which we aim to continually and consciously explore. We welcome others looking to live into new possibilities for diversifying their relationships, increasing representation in their circles and widening their personal expressive capacity. We recognise the Invisibility of Race and celebrate all kinds of diversity, remembering that our physical characteristics do not show us the whole picture.

We believe that the forces of Capitalism and Imperialism require an active resistance in order to be overcome. We support and elevate the efforts of groups expressing Intersectional, Feminist and Anti-Colonial attitudes. We favour empowerment efforts which widen the availability and accessibility of different roles, rather than elevating “women’s work” or “soft skills” as a separate category of contribution.

Anti-capitalism without intersectionality is class reductionism.

Intersectionality without anti-capitalism is just liberal identity politics.

We endeavour to:

  • Engage with diverse stakeholders from a variety of cultural, racial, social & political backgrounds.
  • Use and engage with consent-based9 decision making (not consensus or control-based).
  • Employ non-violent communication techniques and dispute resolution practises.
  • Be humble and open in the way we express our opinions and handle feedback.

We try not to:

  • Normalise ‘maleness’ or ‘whiteness’ in the way that data is aggregated, labelled and understood.
  • Hurriedly move through conflict with the goal of “stopping” rather than “understanding” the problem.
  • Participate in or speak at events which under-represent non-male and non-White peoples.
  • Engage with racist, trans-phobic, misogynistic or chauvinistic attitudes and behaviour.

Constraint anchors

Our goals give us the ideal world, but this world is far from ideal. There are of course the standard pragmatic questions we must weigh and factor in whenever deciding on engaging with a new collaborator.

Briefly, these are—

Time available

Projects should be weighted against the market opportunity and time window available to maximise impact. Estimated time to delivery and the energy cost to our team need to be assessed, keeping in mind our available bandwidth over the projected time window.

Sustainability of the work

For us this involves a few straightforward questions:

  • Do we have the people-power?
  • Do we have the financial runway?
  • Will the outcome of this engagement be that we are more or less financially secure after engaging with it?

In other words: yes, we need funding in order to survive. We make the above ‘goal anchors’ visible to ensure that we do not take funding at the expense of our ethical & moral criteria.

To explore the ways in which we hope to make our work sustainable in the context of emerging post-capitalist organising principles, see the section on generative finance.

Space for reflection

Defining space for reflection at the start of a project is important in evolving our ongoing understanding of our work. In all efforts undertaken we endeavour to explicitly nominate a time for reflecting on what we have done together, learning from our experiences and improving our processes.

  1. The use of agent-centric technologies like Holochain actually necessitates such clarity in describing the power relations between peers, including those involved in the design & development process. ↩︎

  2. We see game-theoretic models as being primarily motivated by individualistic philosophies and “power over” design patterns, where architects create abstract models of a system and then force a “game” onto its participants. We see the value of game theory in understanding systems, but do not believe that this same logic should be applied to the daily activities of such systems. Rather, we believe that the best outcomes are facilitated by augmenting the sensemaking10 capacity of human beings in the network, in order to empower people to become informed, self-directed, interdependent agents. ↩︎

  3. “Deep wealth” as defined by Art Brock, Ferananda Ibarra, Eric Harris-Braun and Jean-François Noubel. ↩︎

  4. See What is Degrowth? ↩︎

  5. “Thrivability” (book) as explored in the research of Jean Russell. ↩︎

  6. See Mantra for a Movement. We also endeavour to adhere to the Design Justice Principles. ↩︎

  7. The phase transition to a Commons economy is already occurring. For more on our specific role as a collective involved in this process and the tools we aim to create, see P2P Accounting for Planetary Survival. ↩︎

  8. ‘Mutual Aid’ is what it sounds like: people caring for each other in genuine ways and helping each other when in need. ↩︎

  9. Consent is where our tolerances overlap. See infographic from Richard Bartlett. ↩︎

  10. “Sensemaking” as defined by Daniel Schmachtenberger. Our individual ability to discern truth. ↩︎