We've looked at a lot of models--the one we're the most excited by is a cooperative. Why?
- Track record. There's a proven track record for cooperatives in the open source space and many successful examples to draw on--see the links below.
- Coop principles. The international cooperative identity, values, and principles provides a strong grounding for a shared technology project.
- International. The international nature of the coop movement means that cooperatives are recognized and share strong similarities around the world.
- Non-profit plus. Coops can operate on a non-profit basis and so have the advantages of a non-profit, plus the extra social and community commitments of coop principles.
- Historic role. The cooperative movement has played an important historic role in our home country of Canada as well as internationally.
- Community business model. For the same reasons that social movements have urged people to switch from commercial banks to credit unions, tech cooperatives put business in the hands of the community.
- Participatory structure. Too often, we as individuals and groups are passive recipients of technology. In contrast, a cooperative structure promotes participation, so that organizations can become active participants in shaping and sharing the web technologies they rely on.
- Coop members. On a personal note, Open Outreach founders Rosemary Mann and Nedjo Rogers have been active members of a housing cooperative for 14 years and so have direct experience in coop life.
There are four basic types of cooperatives: consumer, producer, worker, and blended (a combination of two or more of the first three types).
At the core, we see this as a consumer or user cooperative, bringing together organizations using Open Outreach. Through membership, organizations will be able to:
- Access dedicated support.
- Pool resources to fund new development.
- Access shared hosting solutions.
- Both provide and receive mentorship and in-kind support from other organizations using the software.
Other membership categories could include:
- Service providers.
- Institutional members (like university departments).
- Individuals supportive of the coop aims.
That leaves the question of where we as developers and contributors fit in. We could be staff or contractors. We could also consider a blended coop, with both consumer and worker membership categories. Examples of blended coops include health care coops in which both patients and health care providers are members.
Our first step will be forming a working group to advise and shape the research and founding of a coop. We're looking for interested members--if that's you, get in touch!
Existing coop models
There are lots of successful tech coops to learn from and connect with. There are free software cooperatives all over the world.
Several are Drupal-related workers coops, including:
- Annares worker co-operative.
- Cantrust hosting co-operative.
- Mirabot technology cooperative.
- Palante technology cooperative.
- Praxis Labs coop.
Other potential partners
And there are related nonprofits and university-based groups that we're already in communication with and would love to draw in, including:
- Koumbit, which hosts Open Outreach and other distributions on their Aegir platform.
- University of Victoria Community Mapping Collaboratory, who we've worked with to build out a community mapping platform.
There's a lot of good energy and connections to draw on here. Let us know who else we should be talking to!
And on a final note, in celebration of Co-op Week in Canada (October 13 - 18, 2013), you may be interested in Five Things You Didn't Know about Co-ops.