Are we post-capitalism yet?

(originally posted in the We Are Open publication)

Every month, the We Are Open Co-op team spends the better part of a day co-working on video chat. The goal of this ‘co-op day’ is to spend time together, have deep discussions and get stuff done. Not only do we crank all the cranks, we connect as friends, peers, colleagues, intellectuals, nerds and engaged individuals.

We look like this:

Note Laura’s mood lighting and John’s absolute disdain for what Doug’s just said. Bryan was frozen in that position all day. Not really. But yes, really.

Our Co-op Day starts at 09:30 GMT. We all have a coffee, chat through our weekly (what happened since our last weekly meeting? who’s doing what?) and then we spend time reflecting and agenda building. This time around, we spent a bit of time talking about the types of work we offer and what we want to do more of.

We focused on two things:

  1. What do we produce? Articles, artwork, research, workshops, webinars, strategies, case studies and other bits and pieces
  2. What are our potential areas of interest/development? We already do open education, digital skills, open badges, open culture, leadership development, community building, open tech and more. What are more specific areas we would be interested in developing work around?

We talked a lot about privacy and security. We find ourselves making daily compromises in our own privacy and security for the sake of easy-to-use tools. So what is a “responsible compromise”? How do we have the conversation on privacy in today’s political, economic and social climate? How can we contribute to critical thinking around trusted intermediaries and brokers? We went deep on the idea that online privacy, or indeed the concept of privacy as a whole, is another idea that might be represented as a continuum.

We also talked about ethics and digital skills and how we feel about the work we do (er… we think it’s important!) We discussed the opportunity in contributing to conversations on the revival of worker-owned cooperatives, and how we might create a structure that becomes a template for knowledge workers who freelance.

Following this, we shifted gears for a moment to reflect on the first six months of the We Are Open Co-op. The four of us feel quite strongly that the mechanism of the Co-op has created a thread of solidarity between us. We know it hasn’t been a long time, but our appreciation for one another as colleagues has grown. We’re all looking at the Co-op as a vehicle into our professional futures. We’re learning so much about community, even though we are “experts” in communities! We’re also working through things we haven’t had to work through before (international invoicing! legal mumbo jumbo!), so we’re learning. Always learning.

A thread of solidarity

The idea of a Co-op is one of altruism and mutual respect. One of the things we talked about was the fact that western societies don’t tend to prepare us for a truly equal and equitable business. We’re conditioned to compete, which means that when it comes to things like money or status, altruism tends to fly out the door. But all boats rise with the rising tide, and our co-operative is committed to its members and its vision of a mutually beneficial future.

So we talked about money and status. We’re considering a flexible pricing grid. We understand that a “fair” pricing structure has to take into account a client’s privilege. We want our work and our relationships to be diverse and inclusive. We will decide on a case by case basis how our pricing structure needs to be modified based on an individual clients’ place in the world. An educational charity might receive a service for less than a corporation. A co-op might get a discount just because it’s a co-op. Or it might not. We cannot think of the work we do in terms of a “standard” rate because there are no “standard” circumstances. We will always put 25% of a client invoice into the co-op central pot for redistribution at the end of the year. That means that no matter what we quote, 25% of it will go to the We Are Open Coop itself.

We also talked about how we pay members. In the big scheme of things, we’re just getting started, but we want to make sure that members are paid fairly for the work they do. That means we intend to pay ourselves for planning days, admin tasks, and so on, before we divvy up surplus equally at the end of the year. In order of priority, we will pay:

  • travel expenses
  • day rates for in-person meet ups (every six months)
  • online monthly co-op days
  • webinars, work on the website, or other co-op related business

We’ll encourage and pay for members to go to stuff, like the recent Digital Co-op Retreat and other events/conferences. Sometimes it’s hard to quantify value of a particular action, so we will pay the travel costs for essential business and professional development as well. Then, at the end of our fiscal year, we’ll pay people for stuff they would have invoiced for at the time if money had been available (daily rate at conference for example) and then we’ll divide anything left equally.

As if that wasn’t enough to do on one day, we also started planning an in-person meet up happening in early December. We’ll all meet in London to move our work together forward. For Bryan and myself (Laura) it’s actually the first time we’ll have met in person! We’re planning on doing some serious 2017 roadmapping. And laughing. And jamming.

We’d also like to take some time to meet YOU as well. We’ll hang out at a pub on Thursday evening, December 8th at the Ivy House, 40 Stuart Rd, London SE15 3BE, UK.

Come meet us and let’s talk about education, technology, innovation, community, openness, and anything else you’d like. We Are Open, come on by!

We Are Open Co-op works to spread the culture, processes, and benefits of openness wherever we can.

Are we post-capitalism yet?

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