In this episode, we catch up with Sophie Varlow about how her Commons Platform at taking part in MozFest in London in October 2018.
Commons Platform Collaboration Zone at Mozfest 2018 – by Sophie Varlow, founder of Commons Platform
What the Commons Platform is
What Mozfest is
What we are doing at Mozfest
Collaboration Zone – wall to arrange collaborations on a timeline/roadmap, meet new people, connect networks…
Sat 11 am: Collaborations and interoperability with existing tools: with Ruth Catlow Furtherfield,
LimeSlice local marketplace
Sat 3 pm: creating the conditions for collaboration: with Indra Adnan, Ruth Catlow
Sunday 11 am Distributed Ledger, Cryptocurrency and the concept of Proof of Collaboration/Stewardship:
With Lauren Moore-Nignon, and Faircoin (TBC)
Sunday 3 pm: Using platforms to join together movements, activism and solidarity
With the Women’s March Global organisers
Alda Terracciano who is developing a platform for women in Rojava
How you can help
How it all began…
The last time I went to Mozfest in October 2017, the Commons Platform was an idea I had had in January 2017 while I was at home helping my daughter teach herself GCSEs after she had decided to leave school, or ‘de-school’ herself.
I guess the idea of parallel systems that work better for people and planet was in my mind, and I had also spent a lot of time over the last 10 years or so learning about personal, interpersonal, community and systemic factors that cause inequality and suffering and affect the ability for all of us – as well as the planet – to thrive.
Through years of study about comparative religion, philosophy, psychology, yoga and meditation, indigenous cultures and our existing systems, different ways of dealing with conflict/relationships through training in Non-violent communication, and learning about boundaries and systems that can work.
Nick Wood and I developed a series of workshops in 2016 aimed and finding solutions and helped people find personal freedom, but rather than just for the individual it covered the personal, interpersonal, community and systemic – and how people can benefit the systems around them in their choices.
However, at the back of our minds, we were looking for something that could help people to find this on a larger scale – because systems can’t be changed purely at the level of the individual, and something that can only be accessed by those with means does not create change for everyone.
I had had ideas before about ethical commerce and corporate accountability portals/apps, but it was around the time that social media was being used to manipulate millions during elections that I realised the way to get the scale needed to create real change was through building a social media platform – but one based on values that doesn’t extract data or profit, one that fosters understanding and healthy engagement with content and each other, and one that creates the conditions for collaboration so that people can build solutions together.
After a few months of going to every relevant event I could find and filling an entire notebook so full of notes that there was no space between the lines and some pages had 3 extra lines written down the margin, I had a fully formed idea in my head – and before my head exploded I went through it all with Nick over the spring and summer, filling vast sheets of paper with things like values, ways of working, issues to solve, things the platform could do, how to build it by creating a diverse, accessible community and making sure that people who are often marginalised were centred right from the start
By September we were running our first Commons Platform Co-creation workshop, facilitated by the brilliant Andy Paice, where we defined what the platform would be and created our Commons Platform Co-Creation Group on Facebook.
Mozfest was a few weeks after that, and when I told Mark Surman (CEO Mozilla) about it he immediately said “That’s a great idea! What help do you need? Since then we have had lots of support from Mozilla in the form of their Open Leaders Programme at the end of 2017, culminating in our Global Sprint event in May where we had a beautiful two days at the Redmond Community Centre in North London eating community meals, and developing prototypes.
We have had many other workshops covering the values, creating a culture of consent, ways of working, technologies, design and functionality.
We have crowdsourced everything so far from venues for workshops, to our time, and people have been incredibly generous with the time and skills they have offered.
We are now ready to show that to the world.
What we are doing now
We described this Mozfest Commons Platform space as a launch, but not in the traditional sense – it is not a technology we are launching but a vision, values, conditions for collaboration, ways of working, creating a diverse and accessible community, consentful tech and design, a model for decentralised organising (which is like a jellyfish!), and joining up orgs, people, communities, movements, media & content, artists, existing apps and tools, platforms, protocols.
This is new for us because we have never had a public-facing event before, (apart from doing a couple of short talks/panels at other events) or even a social media presence (our Co-creation group on Facebook is private, but anyone can ask to join) This is because we wanted to make sure that the community is safe for everyone, including those that may be marginalised or vulnerable in other groups, and we wanted to make sure that we have ways to deal with issues that arise at scale before we open the doors wide.
We have a community of over 800 people involved in some way in the platform, and over 100 collaborations/relationships with orgs from peace-keeping in Kenya to democratic free schools in Texas, activist groups like the Women’s March to infrastructure providers like the Phone Coop, and many independent media organisations
If we added up the number of people that those organisations could bring to the platform, it would be in the millions.
It is very clear that every time we have had a conversation with anyone they not only say ‘wow, yes, how can I help?’ but they bring contacts and communities.
We know that there is a hunger for this concept and that it can really be something that makes a huge difference – and is so needed right now to give a sense of hope, community, meaning and purpose.
We do have a prototype website with a forum that we will be testing out to help us create an online space where we can organise in ways that match the values of the Commons Platform – but this is not the platform itself, and it is by no means finished!
From here we need to create something that is secure enough for at-risk indigenous activists to use to protect their land rights, scalable, interoperable and decentralised, and that allows people to join easily, state their skills and interests, and find groups to work together with in a decentralised, semi-autonomous way, and that embeds the ways of working and culture of consent into every part of the design.
What we need
We know that we can’t do all of this on our own, and we also know that the existing model of venture capitalism isn’t the way to create a decentralised global community where everyone can develop solutions for themselves.
The key to this is interoperability with other existing organisations, tools and technologies – both in terms of technology and values/ways of working together to achieve common aims and a parallel model that does not replicate the problems of the existing model (As Ruth Potts says, ‘the soft stuff is the hard stuff’) and that is what we have been working on most of all.
We need you to bring yourselves, your skills, your enthusiasm for a better world and your friends.
We need you to bring your organisations and communities to let us know what your needs are and to try out the community forum so collectively we can create something your community can be at home in.
We need you to join our groups and workshops to develop the next aspects of the Commons Platform whether that is tech or legal framework, design or moderation.
We need you to bring your technologies and figure out with us how to make them interoperable so that they can be shared across the whole network.
Having crowd-sourced everything so far, and worked tirelessly for over 18 months we have all achieved a considerable amount, but to do the next phase it will be an enormous amount of work and it’s so important that we don’t want to lose momentum when key people are busy with other work and priorities in their lives.
Therefore we think we will need to create some paid roles for things like the coordination of community, tech, design, development, events, website, blogs etc.
We weren’t sure at first if bringing money into it was a good idea, as it can create power imbalances and replicate existing structures, and often comes with so many strings attached that it can send the vision off course. It’s also essential to us that we keep the promise that the Commons Platform will always be a Commons – that it will never be bought or sold in part or whole by any person, group or organisation.
However we would like to bring everything we have learned about running an organisation that is different, that will create a new model.
We have realised that we would love for the Commons Platform to give people employment that they enjoy, that is meaningful, exciting, connecting and that helps to create the world we want to live in.
We know there are so many amazing people out there who can do different parts of this project so much better than Nick or I could, and who we can learn so much from.
We’d love to hear from anyone who would want to do one of those roles, and anyone who could fund this next stage.