Deliberate Dancing: A Critical Investigation of DisCOs’ Potential to Re-Politicize the Economy

Deliberate Dancing: A Critical Investigation of DisCOs’ Potential to Re-Politicize the Economy, August 26, 2020

We are honored to present Deliberate Dancing: A Critical Investigation of DisCOs’ Potential to Re-Politicize the Economy, as Social Entrepreneurship & Management Masters Thesis authored by Danny Nielsen and Olivia Grazzini for Roskilde University. The thesis analyses DisCO’s from a political economy perspective and a Polanyian framing.

You can read or download the PDF here. In this post we’ve extracted the Abstract and part of the Introduction. For commentary on the paper from members and the authors, scroll down to the comments section.




Over the last decade, capitalism has received widespread criticism due both to its inability to meet humanity’s basic needs and its inability to mitigate detrimental effects. Consider both the widening wealth gap and the climate crisis. Indeed, there seems to be a growing consensus that as an economic system, capitalism is grossly unsustainable-socially, environmentally, even economically. In our view, one of the biggest drawbacks of capitalism is that it separates issues of politics from the economic sphere, in other words, subjugating society to the market, which has thus created the hegemonic market society we live in today. Since any reform attempted through the political sphere (i.e., regulation) seems to be thoroughly ineffective in addressing this issue, this paper instead focuses on alternatives on the organizational level to re-politicize the economy.

This paper then introduces Distributed Cooperative Organizations (DisCOs), a relatively new, innovative organizational model, with potential to re-politicize the economy. In order to critically analyze this potential we draw on the DisCO Framework, or governance model, to determine whether or not it recognizes alternative values and motives, employs alternative mechanisms of economic activity, and embeds democratic norms and institutions. While we do find evidence of this within the DisCO Framework, we also provide some critique of the model, especially it’s orientation towards deliberative democracy, which we find an unsuitable model of democracy given their claim to promote radical workplace democracy. We conclude that the DisCO Framework indeed holds potential to re- politicize the economy. However, the extent to which this holds true is very much dependent on further developments of the framework, if any, and whether new DisCOs emerge, as well as how the model is then adapted by these future DisCOs.



The purpose of this thesis is to explore the role of social entrepreneurial organizations (SEO’s) in re-politicizing our present-day economy. Drawing on Distributed Cooperative Organizations (DisCOs), we seek to understand the ways in which this specific organizational model challenges dominant norms through more democratic forms of organization and governance.

Our interest in politicizing the economy is primarily driven by our belief that raising the question of politics inherent in the capitalistic economy, such as the assumed primacy of financial capital over all other concerns, is necessary for achieving a more sustainable economy, in environmental, social and ultimately, also in economic terms. Our choice to focus on the DisCO Framework is partly a practical concern. While we believe that policy is important for the long-term goal of achieving a more democratic and sustainable economy, we also believe that this is a second-order concern. Put simply, we believe that if we build the right organizations, the right policies will come. However, this choice also reflects what we hope to contribute to the field of social entrepreneurship and social sciences in general. How governance models such as DisCO, which explicitly call for a more democratic economy, can re-politicize the economy is, we believe, both central to the framework’s aims and a question that merits further research.

Problem Area

There is growing consensus that capitalism is unsustainable and that something simply must change. It is not hard to point to the various reasons for this critique; from growing fears about the status quo’s inability to tackle climate change, to rising inequality on a global level, to the continual failure to achieve acceptable living standards in the Global South, and to the pressure of an insurmountable wealth gap between the elites and the working classes in advanced economies.

However, actually achieving a change to the status quo requires dismantling entrenched interests and taking on a system apt at perpetuating itself. Since regulatory and policy approaches have largely failed to achieve this change, we contend that it is time to identify, research, and implement alternative methods and strategies that may better drive systemic change.

Given that one of the central arguments for the status quo is that “There is no alternative”, a phrase adopted by Margaret Thatcher as a justification for her agenda of neoliberalism and deregulation, we see it as paramount to challenge this supposed truism, if any real change is to occur. This more so than anything lies behind our interest in the question of alternative governance models’ ability to re- politicize the economy. This is, to us, not a question of increased legislation or regulation, though both have a role play, rather we are interested in alternative governance models’ ability to raise questions of the politics inherent in the economy; its power structures, who benefits from its current form and whether this, in a normative sense, is right.

Economic matters have for far too long been isolated from politically charged questions by a technocratic belief in economics as a value-free field, the notion of so-called “positive economics”, by an insistence on a narrow definition of economic liberty as the foundation of all liberty and by a dominance of financial capital as the sole measure of economic success. It is these notions that we wish to call into question, not so much because we believe that we hold the answers, but rather to demonstrate that alternative economic systems can exist, and that these alternatives may be the solution to the problems listed above. At the very least, we believe these alternatives deserve a fair hearing, currently being denied them by the insistence that there are no alternatives.

Problem Formulation

In what ways can organizational models such as the DisCO Framework re-politicize the economy?

      • In what ways does the DisCO Framework recognize alternative values and motives?

      • How are alternative mechanisms of economic activity incorporated into the DisCO Framework?

      • What democratic institutions and norms are evident in the DisCO Framework?

Contribution to the Field

Our central interest in this paper is to investigate the capability of the DisCO Framework to re-politicize the economy. As such, we hope that our work will be of interest not only to academics within the field of social entrepreneurship, but also social entrepreneurs and innovators who wish to pursue similar goals or develop

similar organizational structures that can look beyond the monolithic focus on financial wealth and personal gain that characterizes the market economy.

Therefore, this paper is primarily aimed at organizational actors interested in re- politicizing the economy through the promotion of more democratic and inclusive organizational frameworks, thereby actively challenging the hegemony of capitalism. However we also wish to engage with and add to the ongoing academic debate surrounding social entrepreneurial organizations (SEOs) and their potential for radically transforming our global economy, on the basis that this noble goal requires a strong collaboration between theoretical and practical experiences and knowledge.

Additionally, we hope that our work encourages an interest in the more radical side of social entrepreneurship and social innovation, both among academics and practitioners. While we ardently advocate for diverse perspectives in the field of social entrepreneurship, we believe that as the field has developed, it has been far more focused on approaches that either seek to reform or adapt to the status quo, to the detriment of approaches that directly challenge the status quo.

While the term ‘innovation’ today is more closely associated with technological developments, the term first found wide usage as a descriptor of radical religious and social doctrines, similarly the first to wear the label of ‘social innovators’ were radicals like Saint-Simon, Blanc and Proudhon (Moulaert & MacCallum, 2019). It is our hope that our work here can help rekindle interest in this radical side of social entrepreneurship.

Finally we do believe our inquiry here has the potential to add a few key insights to our field. While we have drawn inspiration from a number of thinkers, both within and outside the field of social entrepreneurship, we are, to our knowledge, the first to address the question of re-politicizing the economy through organizational structures. In addition, the object of our inquiry, the DisCO Framework is both a novel organizational model, and a relatively recent development that has yet to receive serious scholarly attention, which we thoroughly believe it deserves.

Read Deliberate Dancing: A Critical Investigation of DisCOs’ Potential to Re-Politicize the Economy


1 thought on “Deliberate Dancing: A Critical Investigation of DisCOs’ Potential to Re-Politicize the Economy

  • Stacco Troncoso

    August 26, 2020

    [Research] Deliberate Dancing: A Critical Investigation of DisCOs’ Potential to Re-Politicize the Economy


    Welcome! This thread is for discussing Deliberate Dancing. A Critical Investigation of DisCOs’ Potential to Re-Politicize the Economy a research paper on Guerrilla Media Collective and DisCO’s more generally authored by Danny Nielsen and Olivia (liv) Grazzini. The paper is attached to this post.

    Danny and Liv interviewed @Sara Escribano @Silvia and I for the paper. We really liked it and also wanted to give some feedback and open the discussion. @Bob Haugen had some comments lined up. We’re also inviting other researchers that have been involved around DisCO to this thread to join the discussion, if they want, as well as the authors. 

    We can follow our usual Loomio methodology of posing some guiding questions (which you can follow, add-to or skip) and then summarizing the conversation at the end.


    What are your general impressions on the paper?

    What feedback would you give to the authors?

    What other aspects of DisCO would you like to see tackled in future research?

    Last: We’ve talked about publishing an abstract + link to the paper on How should we present the feedback and ideas created in this thread?




    Liv Mon 27 Jul

    Hi there!

    This is Liv and Danny. We just wanted to quickly introduce ourselves as we open up this thread. We are eager to discuss our paper with everyone here and look forward to any feedback you may have for us. We appreciate your time and participation-thank you! 🙂


    Liv & Danny


    Bob Haugen Thu 30 Jul

    This is just a marker. I am late to the party, but am actively studying the paper now, and will provide feedback when I have some to offer. And thanks for the opportunity for some dialog, @Liv and @Danny Nielsen – I quoted from your paper in the first post in my new Economic Networks blog and want to use more in a subsequent post where I’ll examine some of the contradictions between DisCOs and their surrounding capitalist economies.

    P.S. I have wanted a public reference to your paper; is the link in this thread acceptable?


    Bob Haugen Fri 31 Jul

    Ok, some preliminary comments.

    What are your general impressions on the paper?

    Overall, I continue to like the paper.

    What feedback would you give to the authors?

    But have a question about what seems to be your main criticism of the DisCO model, which is about deliberative consensus vs “agonistic pluralism”. I looked up the reference, and started skimming the paper, so I might not understand it yet.

    But have you ever seen anything like that happen? A transition from deliberative democracy to agonistic pluralism (which I read as a lot of arguments)? Especially in a tight-knit small community like the Guerrilla Translators, which appears to seek harmony? While I agree that false unity can hide power imbalances, I’m wondering what the effects would be, and who would leave and start something more unified?

    Some open source software projects are debating societies where the strongest and most persistent voices prevail and anybody who dislikes debates gets out of there fast. (I may be reacting, because I personally hate debates…)

    But maybe the place for something like that is in a larger economic network: more of a whole economy? Maybe federations of DisCOs would have very different dynamics, especially if they got into provisioning more of their necessities of life?

    Or do I misunderstand “agonistic pluralism”?


    Danny Nielsen Mon 3 Aug

    Hey @Bob Haugen, thanks for your feedback.

    I have tried to divide my reply along the major themes I see. As Liv can tell you, being concise is not always my strong suit.


    I’m okay with you using the link here. However I think the idea put the thesis and some of feedback from here on the, so maybe you would rather use that once it is up? Either is fine by me. Also I took a look at blog post, very interesting reading.

    Agonistic Pluralism vs. Deliberative Consensus

    So I wouldn’t say agonistic pluralism necessarily leads to a lot of arguments, for three reasons:

    1. Conflict is seen as both inevitable and legitimate, so long as it is handled in a manner established and accepted as productively. This means that conflict itself ceases to be an issue.

    2. Loosing is temporary and over time expected. Because there is always conflict, sooner or later a decision is going to fall out against your favor. However because no matter is considered settled permanently, this can change the next time the matter is up for decision.

    3. Vetoes are rare. Because it is accepted that consensus won’t be reached on every issue, vetoes are reserved for the most fundamental issues, and there is generally a mechanism to avoid complete deadlock, such as overriding a veto by some qualified majority.

    In my experience, agnostic pluralism leads to less discussions, at least in unexceptional circumstances. It also, when well-functioning at least, foster a “win-some-loss-some” approach to conflict, which I personally believe is healthy.

    I do think you are right that a direct translation of agonistic pluralism would probably be more apt on the scale of a larger economic network. When we argue for adopting it on the organizational level, it is more its fundamental approach to conflict and decision-making, that we believe should be adopted than the exact mechanisms.

    I also want to re-iterate that when we suggest adopting “agonistic pluralism”, as opposed to deliberative consensus, it is directed toward DisCO as a model, not GT as an organization. It was a major theme in our writing process that we direct our analysis towards DisCO as a generic model, not GT as an organization for two reasons:

    1. While we certainly learned a lot from our experience, Liv & I were both very aware of the limits of what we could learn from the interview-based approach we ended up taking. How GT actually operates on daily basis, including all the nuances and implications is simply not something we felt confident to speak on without first hand experience.

    2. Relatedly, so much of organization governance is context dependent, doubly so for a model like DisCO, which aims to be democratic, as legitimacy among the members is essential. As such, we concede that it is perfectly possible that deliberative consensus functions in GT. However, again, you guys with more first hand experience are in a better position to judge that than us.


    I have been/am a member of various groups (somewhere around 20 total depending on what you wanna count as a “group”) that claim to be “democratic” on various levels of scale and formality, ranging from reading circles to political parties. Some have transitioned from a consensus-based model to a more conflict-oriented one, some the other way around, most have failed as a result of transitioning, though some still exist technically, but completely without their original purpose. The biggest issue is almost always path-dependency. Once habit sets in, it is incredibly hard to change, so it becomes a huge investment to transition.

    Another common problem, in my experience, is that there is no reasoning behind the transition, or the problem the transition is supposed to fix is completely imaginary. Often this leads to a vicious cycle of fiddling with decision-making procedures, voting rules, etc. wasting time and energy, while everybody gets more and more demoralized. So in general my advice on transitioning is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it“, and if you are going to commit to such fundamental changes, have a clear understanding of what you are trying to solve.

    However, and this is partly why I personally advocate for agonistic pluralism, the conditions for a functioning consensus-based model are, in my experience, incredibly rare. These includes:

    1. A small and tight-knit group. In my experience once a group hits more than 10-15 members, consensus-based decision making becomes too time-consuming and one of two things happen. Either consensus becomes a veneer, or establishing consensus overtakes the original purpose of the group. Furthermore, it’s my experience that for everybody to feel comfortable taking part in consensus-based decision-making there needs to be a pretty high level of intimacy and familiarity among the members of the group.

    2. No time-pressure. Consensus-based decision-making is always time-intensive, and in my experience one of the most likely scenarios for it to break down is when a decision is time-sensitive.

    3. A stable environment. Major shocks from the outside is another common reason I have seen consensus-based decision-making fail, as they have a tendency to expose the faultlines in the established consensus.

    Personality and Power Imbalances

    I do think you are right in that agonistic pluralism is more attractive to people that like to debate and argue, and I would be lying if I denied that part of my own attraction to the model is because it suits me very well on a personal level.

    I also think it is a completely correct criticism of agonistic pluralism that creates a power imbalance between those that like to debate, and have the political capital (for lack of a better term) to navigate the decision-making procedures and those that for whatever reason don’t. I don’t really think that this issue can be resolved. The best you can do is try to address it in how you approach conflict. Create a culture where it is understood as a requirement for “legitimate” conflict that everybody gets a say before the decision is made. This at least creates a basis for addressing the issue, though it would still be an ongoing issue.

    Once again thanks for your feedback.



    Bob Haugen Mon 3 Aug

    Thanks @Danny Nielsen

    Does agonistic pluralism operate by voting and something like political blocs with different positions on issues of the day?

    How does it compare to modular forms of organization like sociocracy or holocracy?


    Danny Nielsen Tue 4 Aug

    >Does agonistic pluralism operate by voting and something like political blocs with different positions on issues of the day?

    Because agonistic pluralism has traditionally been associated with parliamentary politics, that tends to be the assumption. However, I wouldn’t say it has to be so. I would say that agonistic pluralism is more characterized by its view of conflict as potentially productive and its acceptance that consensus cannot always be obtained than by voting as a specific procedure. Voting does tend to be the most common approach to resolving a conflict around decision-making under this model, at least in my experience, but it is not necessarily on a daily basis. Generally, I prefer an approach where daily decisions are made through informal conversation, with voting utilized for major decisions and when agreement cannot be reached, although this approach tends to work best when a lot of authority is delegated to the individual members of the group.

    Whether something akin to political blocs develop is in my experience mostly a question of the personality of the members and the culture of the group. If you have a group of very politically ambitious people and a culture without a strong emphasis on decency (for lack of a better term), you very quickly the worst kind of politics, rivalling Tammany Hall, complete with political blocs, usually based more on expediency than actually agreement. This has largely been my experience with youth groups in political parties.

    On the other hand, if the members are more purpose-driven and the group has a strong culture emphasizing a decent and respectful conduct, my experience is that alignments tend to be very fluid and temporary.

    >How does it compare to modular forms of organization like sociocracy or holocracy?

    So, I think it very much depend on what you want to compare them on and the context you want to compare them in. I also think it is a bit apples and oranges. Agonistic pluralism is not a full organizational framework as, for example, the Sociocratic Circle Method is. It is a normative model of democracy, more a model of some abstract notion of what makes for “democratic legitimacy” than a model of procedures for an operating organization. As such, you do not really have the equivalence between the models needed for a comparison.

    For example, while the decision-making procedures in the Sociocratic Circle Method does clash with the notions of agonistic pluralism, the modular structure does not, so there is nothing to say that you could not have a modular organization, also informed by agonistic pluralism.  



    Cindy Kohtala Mon 17 Aug

    following this, will try to read the paper and contribute to the discussion!


    Stacco Troncoso Mon 17 Aug

    Hi everyone. First of all thanks to Danny and Liv for their efforts in their paper. I think it’s a thought provoking piece that enriches the dialogue around DisCOs. I’ll follow the structure of questions above to share my impressions on the paper and the discussion so far.

    General Impressions on the paper

    I loved it! I really appreciate the Polayian approach, the intro and the overall framing. Can’t wait to share it!

    Feedback for the authors

    I jotted these as I was reading the paper a couple of months ago, so some of the things are not as fresh in my memory. In hindsight I should have included the page number I’m referring to in my notes. For now I’ll just compile them here under different subject headings. I’ll also quote the text when necessary

    Other DisCOs, what’s the focus?

    I agree in also factoring environmental value as part of the equation for future DisCOs doing more hands-on environmental work. We have a pilot in Amsterdam centered on circular textiles. We also have from permaculture communities etc. Here is a not updated list of orgs who’ve expressed interest in piloting DisCO.

    Value Flows is designed to accept these types of valuation, but of course, we need to co-design the recipes with the actual pilots and document them as modules for other DisCOs (or economic networks in general) to pick up on. On this subject, I really loved your ideas additional pricing structures:

    One possibility would be to use a pricing structure similar to the sliding scale developed by GT, but instead with a focus on clients’ environmental impact. This then would internalize the externality of environmental degradation, as clients would be charged according to their environmental impact, something that has often been met with stiff resistance when attempted through regulation (e.g., carbon-taxes). 

    Decision making in GT vs decisions in DisCOs

    Here I feel there has been a fundamental misunderstanding: The decision making process is primordially based on consent, not consensus

    Consensus is only used occasionally and certainly not as part of day to day operations. Here is a list of when we use consensus as opposed to consent. 

    Also, as you point out in the paper (and this applies to a lot of my feedback) this is the way we’ve chosen to address this particular challenge in GT/GMC. Other DisCOs may (and will) do so differently, which is great — it means more “recipes” to address common challenges. This is in fact one definition of the commons: kernel solutions to address common problems. That plural is important!

    We’re fine with deliberative democracy. I personally don’t see any advantages to agonistic pluralism over  what we’re already practising: we encourage dissenting opinions and dialogue but, in practice, we get to get along. This is not a random fluke, we’ve spent a lot of time building trust, confidence and care for each other. I’m not speaking on behalf of the collective, but my impression is that none of us are impressed by the (historical) toxic masculinity of dialectics as opposed to the care-oriented (and fun!) dialogues we already have. As Danny says, AP may be more suited to large economic networks and we can look into it for more intra-DisCO federation dialogue. But what we propose is what makes us so very happy at GMC — dialogues between a trusted group (who, in fact, have become good friends). This is worth highlighting and celebrating. This is what our Loomio discussions kinda look like (meme courtesy of @Timothy ). Vibe is not measurable per se, but very important.

    In any case, you also point out @dannynielsen1 that consensus is feasible in:

    A small and tight-knit group. In my experience once a group hits more than 10-15 members, consensus-based decision making becomes too time-consuming and one of two things happen.

    And this is the whole point of DisCO, esp the principle about Federation. We find that a lot of the time that it takes to have discussions is because this is still very experimental and we haven’t had much help. Newer DisCOs will have an easier time, as we’ll keep on producing resources, templates etc (which we’ll encourage them to co-create with us, of course!)

    Blocks and the voting process

    In our six years of using Loomio I don’t think there’s ever been a block. Loomio thread hosts put a lot of care in explaining the context for each decision and being inclusive of the practical and affective realities of the coop. Ie, we don’t just get together in the “boardroom” (one way to see Loomio) to make decisions context-less. We’re relating each day over our desks, in the watercooler, cafeteria etc. ?

    Dating member rights and time investment

    Dating members time investment is designed to be relatively lightweight compared to coop members. In reality the dating phase has been six months for all members who’ve joined since summer 2018 (6 in total). We’re also wrapping up discussing a much more precise model for carework compensation. This was left vague in version 3.0 of the governance model, but will soon be included in 3.5. Among other things it addresses dating members’ historical credits.

    Long term coop members have voided a substantial amount of care hours (2013-18) to diminish inequalities with dating members. Older, more “credited” members often choose to not divest so newer members can increase their remuneration. Also, as part of the discussion above, we’ve chosen to divest 50% of care credits from the current month (privileging newer members) and another 50% for accumulated care hours since January 2019 (as noted above, older members have basically “gifted” all the 2013-18 Care Hours to make it less of strain for new members).

    All of this is based on trust and mutual support. The governance model orients us, but it’s been designed to also operate by “feel” something we can only do due to the federation protocol.

    Whose governance model is this anyway? 

    The model we have online (3.0) is the de-facto governance model for Guerrilla Translation and an example model for DisCO. Our needs will be different from any other DisCO and each DisCO needs to create it’s own governance model. Sure, you can copy and paste as much as you want, but we don’t expect anyone to adopt “ours” blindly.

    While V 3.5 will include more detail on care work retribution, our goal with 4.0 is a substantial overhaul to “De-GT-fy” the model, making it more modular and adaptable. As we’re in the process of helping more pilots, these will come up with their forks and solutions for their own circumstances. All of these can be included as “drop down” examples or modules of kernel solutions. We’re in the design stage of how this would look like, but we want these “modules” to be offered through a drag and drop interface which, simultaneously assists each DisCO in crafting it’s specific governance model and also programs the value recipes for the paper. I realise that this is a lot of info at once, so watch out for our forthcoming DisCO PinkPaper (or have some fun by clicking on the “Whitepaper” tab in the DisCO website).

    This is also important: The model serves as a framework but we almost never use any of the more “punitive” measures. We talk things out.  As @Silvia says in the paper: “ So you’re probably bored by now because we’re just saying we talk a lot but this is what we actually do. We just talk all the time. It’s the way it works”.

    What’s algorithmically correct may not be culturally correct and we place heavy emphasis on the latter to temper the harshness of the former (thus our critique of DAO)

    Seniority and Commitment

    Picking up on this section of the paper (pg 86):

    Finally, while we understand the logic of entrusting members with the most

    historical credits accrued to hold true to the collective’s values, we question the underlying assumption, that there exists a direct and positive correlation between relative efforts and commitment to the collective purpose. After all, this ignores the fact that those who have been members for a longer period have a larger potential for accruing Historical Credits, than newer members and that differences in Historical Credits holdings among members just as well could be a reflection of seniority rather than commitment.

    IMO seniority IS commitment. Historical credits are not accrued passively, but based on tallied contributions (which are visible to all members). As expressed above, we’ve offset the distribution of past credits to be as financially incluse of new members as possible. I can safely say that those with the higher amount of historical credits have been more than committed to the building of the project. We are acutely aware of the asymmetries that can produce and this is an essential part of our dialogues. 

    At the same time, I feel that visualizing and recognizing this prior work is particularly important. Other DisCOs will face the same challenge but get this: In Mondragon, the pay ratio between lowest paid members and executives is 6:1. Not bad compared to corporations, but in the ratio in DisCO is 1:1. However this equivalency is not instantly awarded but built on trust over the dating phase. As far as I know, no coop onboards members and instantly awards these with the same rights, privileges and pay rates as long-standing members. In our case, actual hours put aside during the dating phase are much “cheaper” than a coop’s normal buy-in, which is usually monetary, not contribution (or sweat equity) based. 

    Finally, most of the dating phase is spent on receiving mentoring, getting to know the crew and playing around with tools and whatnot. It’s rare to ask for Livelihood work of a Dating member.

    Dating votes and the issue of  culture vs structure.

    From the paper (pgs 86-87)

    Another limitation of DisCO’s democracy is that members during the first 6 months of the dating phase have only an advisory vote, that is a vote that is non-binding or counted. Similarly, for the last three months of the dating phase, while votes of agreement or disagreement are binding, they are not granted a binding block vote (Ibid.) This means that for the first nine months of involvement, the so-called dating phase, members essentially do not have full voting rights on the level of committed members, despite that fact that Transition Translators sign the same Commitment Statement, and thus agree to a similar amount of responsibilities as do fully committed Guerilla Translators. While the DisCO Framework makes specific effort to mention that these votes are “… accounted for and taken very seriously” (Ibid. Type of Approval, Stakeholder Board), this nevertheless breaks with the democratic principle that authority is derived bottom-up from those subjected to that authority, as members in the dating phase are subject to the authority of the collective, but have no direct say in that authority.

    Furthermore, we find this voting scheme incongruent with the apparent interest in incorporating multiple constituencies into the decision-making structures of the DisCO Framework. After all, it seems, to us at least, that a relatively simple way to include “… the voices and opinions of its wider community” (Ibid. Type of Approval,Multi Constituent vote) would be to fully enfranchise members in the dating phase.

    It has however been the subject of some controversy among the authors how

    problematic this deviation from democratic principles is in the context of the DisCO Framework, with one arguing that it is only fair that members are asked to demonstrate a commitment before being granted full voting rights, while the other argues that a model that claims to stand for radical workplace democracy ought to fully commit to democratic principles, including the inconveniences and risks that it brings with it.

    In the “controversy” ? I agree with the position that calls for demonstrating commitment prior to full voting rights:

    These are safeguards for the collective while dating so everybody feels safe. No to overextend the analogy, but when you’re dating you’re usually checking in with how the relationship is going before you open up or make a strong commitment. Love at first sight sounds nice, but in general people tend to want to get to know each other!

    We need to establish trust before committing and not have fear of major disruptions to our emotional and economic well being. This has happened in practice: due to a big project we enfranchised a member two members full rights and privileges and no dating process. One of these persons caused huge disruption, economic loss and emotional pain to everyone else in the collective. (The other turned out great, but we all agree that a more DisCO-like onboarding would have been preferable).

    I haven’t gone through the dating phase myself, so it’d be better to ask those who have gone through it whether they actually felt disenfranchised or excluded from decision making. As we say, Dating Phase member’s votes are “… accounted for and taken very seriously”. This isn’t a throwaway line to justify the model, we really do take them seriously and, in practice, haven’t had a problem with this. It is understood that GT (or any DisCO) has its own cultural idiosyncrasies and, if you’re invited, you will learn them through conversation and practice (Dating), but this will never be instant, it takes time (and care)

    I feel that fully enfranchising members from the beginning disrespects trust building as a process (see the problem described above). It also disrespects older members having gone through that process. I also feel that this type of gradual approach isn’t incongruent at all. To me it’s cautious but also welcoming. Others may opine differently, but to my knowledge there’s never been a problem with these conditions for dating members. Again, this is for them to chime in on.


    Can DisCO be co opted? The 7 DisCO principles are in a sense a reaction to the arguably already co opted regular DisCO principles. The DisCO principles place higher value on follow-through and we’re building the tools to ensure it. The principles are also a  springboard for forking and creativity (and governance modules, as discussed above). The DisCO project can assist and advise the development of future DisCOs but, as you well say, this “…very much depends on the future trajectory of the framework.”

    Our approach is commons and patterns based (drawn from Free, Fair and Alive). It has to include explicit membranes between DisCO and non DisCO economic entities (platform coops for example, this draws on your comments off a broad coalition). The model encourages forking within the particular solutions to the seven principles. 3 flows of value are required within principle 5, but ratios and measurement mechanisms are up to individual DisCOs.

    Yes, the framework IS a series of nested solidarity economies. Value Flows is designed to connect this. Ultimately I think that any organizations wishing to “…signal alternative value without compromising the ethos of the framework” (or DisCO washing) will have much easier options (other than DisCO) to acomplish such a feat. (B Corps, Bottom Triple Line bullshit etc). I think that DisCO, even if popular, would prove too complex for anyone trying to fake it and, again, we want to see a diversity of patterns around the principles.

    Other aspects of DisCOs for future research

    More interested in the researchers in this thread weighing in. We listed some directions here, but are eager to hear more ideas (or a critique of those already listed).

    How/where to publish the paper and feedback

    You got me! We’ve just finished a paper for and we want to reference Deliberate Dancing. I think that the easiest option is to present it as a blog post in and make a new category for “Research”. Once we have more research to share we can make a nice menu etc.

    I’d use the text of the Abstract to introduce the blog post and upload the PDF so folks can access it.

    As far as this discussion is concerned, I’d love to have these points publicly available to contrast the thesis. Not sure if we should reformat them as comments on the post, or just make this thread public (we’d need a vote for that). We have been wanting to make a public Loomio DisCO group ( so maybe this is a way to kick it off? Let’s see what other folks think. 

    For now if @Liv and @Danny Nielsen are fine with us making the blog post, we can allude to “Discussion on the paper coming soon” or something like that.


    Danny Nielsen Mon 24 Aug

    Just a few comments on your feedback Stacco, I have reused your headlines to organize them.

    Decision making in GT vs decisions in DisCOs

    Not much I wish to add here. However, I do not think that there has been a misunderstanding here, rather I think that we (me and Liv) failed in making it clear why we classified decision-making as consensus-based.

    It’s an extension of us classifying DisCO as deliberative democracy, partly on the basis of its decision-making procedures, which traditionally, in the context of deliberative democracy, has been described as consensus-based. However, like with AP and sociocracy/Holacracy, there is a difference in the level abstraction between this and the various models of “consensus-based decision-making” that has been developed on the organizational level.

    I would like to add that, for me personally, consent- and consensus-based decision-making has always felt functionally equivalent, when I have been in contact with it, and I can’t deny that this may have biased at least myself in this regard. There is certainly an argument that we misclassified decision-making here and probably a good paper somebody could write on the relationship between consent-based decision-making and consensus-based decision-making as understood in deliberative democracy.

    Seniority and Commitment

    I think it is somewhat problematic to equate seniority and commitment, because of the asymmetries it creates. Rather I would suggest that seniority is simply one way that commitment can manifest itself. However, I will also concede that this is a bit more philosophical than practical, given the efforts you mentioned to be inclusive of new members.

    I also like to say that, upon reflection, I do not think that we gave proper dues to the inclusivity of your onboarding process in the paper. This deserved to be highlighted, as it is far more inclusive than most coops. I am only aware of two (relatively small) cooperatives which have contribution-based onboarding (I collaborated with them on a previous project on self-management and emancipation). In both cases new members are fully enfranchised from the start, though still operating with a trial period similar to the dating period, just with members fully enfranchised during this period.

    Dating votes and the issue of culture vs structure

    So, I would be the one that argued for a commitment to the “subjected-to” norm based on democratic principle. I will however readily acknowledge that yes this involves significant risks to both the economic and emotional wellbeing of the collective and that it is a lot easier for me to take this stance on principle as someone that is not directly affected by these risks, than if I was.  

    Regardless, I don’t think that fully enfranchising new members is necessarily detrimental to trust-building. Actually, I think it is just as likely to be beneficial. I don’t know if you are familiar with the work of Carole Pateman, but one of her most important contributions to democratic theory is the notion of the “educating effect of participation”, basically she saw democratic processes as educational and argued, based on a number of empirical studies, that people become more capable of participating in these by participating and that fuller participation increases this effect (Pateman, Participation and Democratic Theory 1970). While I’m not aware of any research on the subject, and don’t wish to draw conclusions out of thin air, I don’t think it unreasonable to suggest on this basis that allowing new members full participation, on par with committed members, may well be beneficial from a trust-building perspective.


    I would caution again the assumption that DisCO is “too complex for anyone trying to fake it”. It is probably a lot easier to fake the ethos of something like B Corp, but if people start eying a profit in DisCOwashing, they will try and I’m firmly of the belief that one should never discount the ingenuity of greed. That said, as we noted in the paper, this risk is largely contingent on the future of DisCO, so I wouldn’t loose any sleep over it, just not completely discount the risk either.

    Other aspects of DisCOs for future research

    Personally, I find the notion of further research on commons-public partnerships very interesting, though I’m not planning on staying in academia now that I graduated. I do think that developing policy recommendation for supporting DisCOs, and more generally solidarity-based organizations and economic networks, would be a valuable avenue to pursue, certainly on the local level. Public procurement is something I think could be especially interesting here, partly because the public purse is the strongest tool available to local government in much cases, partly because there is a real need to challenge the neoliberal orthodoxy of “cheapest is best” in public procurement.

    How/where to publish the paper and feedback

    Publishing the paper now and alluding to feedback coming is alright with me. I also wouldn’t have anything against making this thread public, if you guys prefer going that route.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *