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A data sharing idea for cooperatives

A data sharing idea for cooperatives

Some days the new world order just plumps itself down in front of you like an overweight chook…  So today while scraping Tim Mazzarol’s fabulous co-operative and mutual database (here), I got to thinking about what was going on here.

The website gives access to the most complete list of co-operatives and mutuals in the country. It is all publicly available. And yet, the developers didn’t make it easy to download the database.

Why create the artificial barrier? Perhaps there is some residual sense of ownership of the data. Perhaps it’s an attempt to make the site a destination for accessing the data. It’s a little hard to know.

The thing is that this approach is all back-to-front. It’s the kind of thinking that gave us CRM’s that pretend that customer data is something you own. It is not the way the emerging data-driven culture works.

We are moving to a world where we choose to share data. It becomes an asset that we control – we need to be motivated to share it (even if it means agreeing to your capricious terms of service Mr Zuckerberg).

There is an opportunity in this. At incubator.coop, we have been working on developing a co-operative operating system. A software-as-a-service model that will enable coops of whatever size to access an integrated website, member engagement app, and share registry. It’s intended to be a co-operatively owned solution for the co-operative sector.

Now here’s the thing. Very much like painting the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the CEMI database is out-of-date by the time it is finished. It relies on the collection of static data. At its simplest however the coop mgt system offers a way for coops to share their data. They can choose what data they share to create a dynamically updating database that is truly open for anyone to use. And open, accessible data – that is shared by those that control it – is the way value can be created in the new world order.

 


 

Of loose cannons on the world’s deck

Of loose cannons on the world’s deck

Back in 1998 as a part of a Masters in International Politics, I wrote an essay on monetary unions and the future of the Euro. At the time convergence trades were all the rage and the soon-to-be members were busy pretending they were complying with their Maastricht treaty obligations. The essay’s conclusion was that the Euro would not long survive its first test.

History clearly demonstrates that a monetary union will fail without a common political will. The Euro has never achieved political union.

So the Euro stumbled through the private debt crisis of 2008 on the back of central bank largesse. This lead to a global socialisation of the massive debt binge that had accumulated through the mortgage and credit markets. But while the ECB. like most its central banking peers, was busy engorging its balance sheet there was still no consolidation of debts, each nation-state remained it own issuer.

So now we are approaching the next debt crisis – a result of 10 years of zero interest rates where the private sector has been encouraged to re-leverage, valuation multiples are back to all-time highs, and now the central banks are carrying impossibly large balance sheets. The sensitivity of the system to rising interest rates is acute.

And we have a Euro-land dominated by one very large creditor and quite a few large debtors. To date, the creditor has won out, forcing ‘internal devaluation’ on their partners. But the next stage of the sovereign debt crisis is unlikely to play to that script. You can already see capital flight out of Italy through the Target2 balances. The only palatable way out of this mess is to inflate your way out of debt – and the Italians have the keys to that locker. Beware the vagaries of capital in a hurry to find an exit…

During this new stage of the depression, the refugee gold and the foreign government reserve deposits were constantly driven by fear hither and yon over the world. We were to see currencies demoralized and governments embarrassed as fear drove the gold from one country to another. In fact, there was a mass of gold and short-term credit which behaved like a loose cannon on the deck of the world in a tempest-tossed era.

Herbert Hoover, Memoirs, Volume II, Chapter 7, page 67

My cooperative is ikigai

My cooperative is ikigai

So I’m in the ‘other’ demographic – the over-50 category – the one that has only one book-end. My teenage son offered some consolation, “No dad – you are in the 40 to 65 bracket, next comes the Integrity or Despair stage…”

I was introduced to the concept of Ikigai this week. It’s our reason for being.

It’s not a big word. It’s used in everyday conversation in Japan. “My dog is ikigai”, or “Mini-me you-complete-me” (if you are an Austin Powers fan). It is understood as a lived experience where the strands of your being are in harmony.

Being a little prone to extremes, I’ve explored the outer edges of my venn diagram. The “What you can be PAID FOR” is the trickiest to navigate. Money can confuse things.

One of the challenges with a coop is that the mission can dominate. This creates an unsustainable model for many a coop as it assumes that those involved can survive without compensation.

We need our cooperatives to be ikigai.


 

 

 

Governance with a token

So bringing some recent threads together – this video includes a discussion about crypto currencies and governance:

  • Taking a lead from game theory – let’s say that the rules of the game define how economic value is shared across participants, and that governance defines the way these rules can be changed.
  • In the capitalist economy – money facilitates the transfer of value, the profit motive determines how value is distributed, while the power to change the rules resides with capital (ie. shareholders).
  • In the crypto-space – we can have tokens that combine value transfer with governance such that the more people that use a system, the wider the distribution of tokens and the more people that have a say in governance.

Suggests a value-in-use approach to governance where you can “distribute power more evenly across the network because everyone is sharing the same asset” – as currency and capital are combined. Power is distributed based on how everyone is contributing to the network.

Under this model, the aim is to reward participation with the power to govern. Governance becomes a mechanism to protect against being “forked to death” as the value to govern accretes to those that work within the structure. A well designed governance mechanism will therefore better enable a network to evolve over time.

Also, suggests that models that reward participation are likely to be more robust than ICO’s where external capital gets to buy power up-front – which just internalises the governance problems that exist with proportional shareholder models elsewhere.

Got me wondering how a currency & capital token simplifies the management of a mutual…


 

Co-operatively solving the prisoner’s dilemma

Co-operatively solving the prisoner’s dilemma

Listening to a back edition of Seth Godin’s Akimbo podcast “Game Theory & the Infinite Game”, it struck me that a co-operative is, by design, an attempt to collectively escape the prisoner’s dilemma.

To recap the parameters of the ‘game’, two people are caught red-handed for a crime. They are going to serve a year’s jail-time for this. But they are wanted for a bigger crime too. So they are each offered a way out of jail-time, rat on your partner for the bigger crime and you will go free but your partner will get 50 years. The trouble is that if they both sing, then they will both get 5 years.

The expectation is that the rational selfish response will be to rat on the other. In practice, humans have demonstrated a systemic bias to co-operate – we seem to understand that the pursuit of single-minded self-interest can lead to a bad outcome for all.

So now I have added The Evolution of Cooperation by Robert Axelrod to my reading list (here for the abridged version). This book reports on a Prisoner’s Dilemma tournament where he invited game theory experts to submit programs that would be paired off against each other to see which did best over repeated interactions.

“Amazingly enough, the winner was the simplest of all candidates submitted.
This was a strategy of simple reciprocity which cooperates on the
first move and then does whatever the other player did on the previous
move.”

He called it the Tit-for-Tat strategy.

By analysing the top-scoring strategies, Axelrod stated several conditions necessary for a strategy to be successful:

  • Nice – Almost all of the top-scoring strategies were nice, that is, it will not defect before its opponent does.
  • Retaliating – A successful strategy must not be a blind optimist. It must sometimes retaliate to avoid being exploited by others..
  • Forgiving – Though players will retaliate, a successful strategy will once again fall back to cooperating if the opponent does not continue to defect. This stops long runs of revenge and counter-revenge.
  • Non-envious – The best strategies did not strive to score more than the opponent.

Whether the players trust each other or not is less important in the long run than whether the conditions are ripe for them to build a stable pattern of cooperation with each other. The successful strategy learns through trial-and-error that it is better to co-operate than not.

Some lessons here for co-operative design!

What is good data governance?

What is good data governance?

Governance is a hashtag that has been growing in popularity.  So it’s great to see the coop sector responding with the BCCM’s impending release of Co-operative and Mutual Enterprise Governance Principles for the Australian co-op and mutual sector. And folk like Coop News dedicating a Governance Edition to analyse the subject.

We’re interested in how this emerging thinking applies to data.

Data governance is the mechanism through which values and expectations with respect to data can be translated into effective management practices.

Good governance is a function of the clarity of shared intent and trust in expected behavior. As Dee Hock writes: “This is not to say that contracts, laws, and regulations do not serve a purpose. Rather it is to point out that…rules and regulations, laws and contracts, can never replace clarity of shared purpose and clear, deeply held principles about conduct in pursuit of that purpose.”

By these definitions, good data governance is broader than legal frameworks or codes of practice – it bridges the gap between the expectations and values that folk have with respect to their data, and the mechanisms by which these are made tangible. It encompasses legal documentation and decision-making protocols that are agreed between the actors involved. And it includes the social interactions that enable these to be made real.

The Cambridge Analytics seraglio exposed the under-belly of the market that preys on our data. And the GDPR has done wonders for focussing attention on data management practices. Next step is to get some clarity around the governance practices that will lay the foundation for better matching of expectations with practice.

PS – An example of a emerging model for personal data, Sovrin have a pretty comprehensive Trust Framework

 


 

My non-fungible token is my home

Tokens are migrating to the mainstream. CryptoKitties has demonstrated how the blockchain can extend beyond money into real-world ‘things’. it doesn’t sound like a big leap to enable me to own my own digital cat, but it has the potential to be a whole lot more useful than digital currencies alone.

With CryptoKitties, I can have a cat and that cat belongs to me. If the developers stop supporting the front-end that enables me to look after my cat, it doesn’t change the immutable fact that the cat exists and is mine. I can use someone else’s front-end and my cat will waiting for me. Even better other developers can build other ways of interacting with my cat – my cat can have a hat and that hat belongs to the cat and not me – and the original developers can’t stop this from happening.

This conversation with one of the creators of CryptoKitties Dieter Shirley is good – he is a lucid thinker. Really liked the way he described the potential future for ‘non-fungible tokens’ (and his self-confessed struggle with coming up for a new word for ‘thing’ which must be one of the oldest word in any language).

Once we have things that can exist in their own right on a blockchain, then we have the basis for a whole heap of applications. Dieter talks about something that you earn that contributes to your status – for example, only people who attended a Kanye concert can get a certain token. Collect 10 of these tokens and you graduate to a gold token. This mechanism can send a strong social signal – it’s a form a digital self-expression the way our vinyl record collection used to be. This is exactly the type of mechanism that we are hunting for in regards to ‘reward-for-effort’ tokens in the cooperative space.

The biggest hurdles to mass market solutions are solving the currently very high technical barriers around on-boarding and know-your-customer compliance. And beyond that the scaling problems with ethereum. As Dieter explains ‘we’re running the network on the equivalent of an Apple IIe’… Ah, brings back memories, I loved my IIe.

A coop’s competitive advantage

A coop’s competitive advantage

We’ve been using this diagram to help people understand where coops fit in the world as we know it. It neatly describes how coops slip in between your run-of-the-mill-profit-driven-firm and not-for-profits.

There is often a light-bulb moment around what this is really describing – that there are three different ways that value can be distributed:

  1. In a for-profit company, return-on-shareholders-capital is the sole focus
  2. In a not-for-profit, the division of value is determined by its pre-ordained mandate
  3. In a cooperative, it’s the members who decide how value is distributed

It also helps to makes sense of why coops are democratic organisations, where every member gets one vote, as opposed to for-profits where decisions are based on proportionate holdings of voting shares, and NFP’s where the beneficiaries typically have very little control.

We particularly like the implication that coops take the best out of both worlds!

 

Tech and design workers making moves

Tech and design workers making moves

A surprisingly well attended meeting at the Trades Hall last night given the low key publicity. Developers, designers and folk from 5 different trade unions were there. Interesting perspective on the potential power of developers to influence the shape of new tech to meet privacy-by-design and other yet-to-be-defined principles. Only one developer raising the blockchain flag as a solution in waiting. But perhaps most encouraging, the trade unions showed real willingness to engage on the issue and explore how things like platform coops can help change the balance in favour of workers from all industries – particularly designers.

When tech meets organised labour then the pendulum starts its swing back from current economic extremes.

A meeting for workers interested in collective action & unionism

We believe in workers’ rights, social justice, diversity and equality. We want to challenge corporate control over our technology.

We share a vision for an inclusive & equitable technology industry. We want to collaborate with workers and friends to build tech worker power, organise on workplace issues and create a space for educating ourselves and exchanging ideas.

Technology for the many, not the few!

 


 

When algorithms rule the world

When will homo sapiens be usurped at the top of the food chain? Or has it already happened?

The transition from big data to algorithm-driven AI is happening frightening quickly. In fields from medicine to movies to mass surveillance, smart machines have already proven to be quicker and more reliable than their human peers. It won’t be long before they know us better than we know ourselves…

The need to align data management with our collective and individual interests is urgent. Left to their own devices, government and private capital are ill-equipped to balance the common good with individual agency. We need to take ownership. Co-operative governance and ownership of the technologies that underpin the algorithm economy are key…