Exploring Collaborative Funding Platforms for Community Wealth Building

Curious about how Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) intersects with platform cooperatives? In this blog post, I explore the intersection of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and platform cooperatives, leveraging insights from my research on collaborative funding tools for community wealth building. As an innovative, interdisciplinary, multimedia artist, and educator, I aim to shed light on this relationship and its implications.

In the spring of 2017, after a year-long dialogue with Alexei Blinov, a London-based electronic engineer and new media artist working out of Raylab in Hackney, a diverse group of new media artists, technologists, academics, and activists convened in London. We explored innovative governance tools leveraging blockchain technology, leading to the inception of Local&&Ledger. This distributed ledger technology (DLT) platform aimed to enable direct citizen participation in local authority budget distribution, fostering a more inclusive decision-making process. These discussions spurred my interest in examining the interplay between HCI, DLTs, and economic justice.

My research, conducted between October 2021 and early December 2023, involved interviews with representatives from Freecoin, Faircoin, Culture Stake, Open Collective, and Circles UBI, along with design workshops initiated during the COOP UK Hackathon. HCI has transitioned from focusing solely on enhancing computer system usability and efficiency in the 1970s to addressing broader societal implications in the digital age. Despite blockchain technology’s extensive exploration, HCI research has shown limited interest in its potential for creating a more equitable economic system.

My research contextualizes community wealth building, a 20-year-old local economic development strategy, as a long-term, place-based approach to economic development, rooted in the solidarity economy framework. It emphasizes sustainable, equitable, and democratic local economies, prioritizing participatory and cooperative processes. Yet, exploring grassroots involvement in designing transparent, distributed digital infrastructures remains largely unexplored.

The City of Preston in the United Kingdom is frequently cited as a model for successful community wealth building practices. While literature suggests that the successes and challenges of implementing these strategies in Preston and other regions include negotiating the planning process, ensuring long-term financial viability, and implementing broad-based ownership models, there has been little effort to investigate grassroots participation in the design for transparent, distributed digital infrastructures.

While the successes and challenges of community wealth building practices, exemplified by the City of Preston in the United Kingdom, have been extensively discussed, there remains a notable gap in understanding grassroots involvement in the design of transparent, distributed digital infrastructures. However, emerging collaborative funding platforms leveraging Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLTs), such as Freecoin, Faircoin, Culture Stake, Open Collective, and Circles UBI, present promising opportunities for a more equitable economic landscape.

Examples of Collaborative Funding Platforms:

  • Freecoin
    A collaborative funding platform that utilizes blockchain technology to foster collaborative economies, participatory budgeting, and decentralized investment.
  • Faircoin
    FairCoin is a digital currency fueled by a grassroots cooperative movement, aiming to establish a global, stable, and democratic means of exchange, with a focus on ecological sustainability and community-driven values.
  • Culture Stake
    This project employs blockchain-based quadratic voting to involve the public in selecting and producing public art, addressing issues within deliberative democratic participation.
  • Open Collective
    Provides a model based on solidarity economy infrastructure through transparent documentation and presentation of financial transactions. It empowers communities to collectively fund projects and initiatives, fostering collaboration and mutual aid for sustainable and equitable economic systems.
  • Circles UBI
    A project that promotes wage labor freedom through blockchain-based currency self-issuance, contributing to economic stability and allowing for increased community engagement. Moreover, it generates evidence of blockchain-based universal basic income’s role in establishing and sustaining a hyper-local economy.

These platforms employ innovative approaches, like blockchain-based quadratic voting and self-issuance of currency, to empower communities and promote economic inclusivity. Through proposing design methods subversion, there’s a clear pathway for community involvement in shaping and governing these transformative technologies.

Call to Action Extreme economic inequality demands urgent action and exploration of how compelling but under-explored solidarity economy practices may help establish and sustain local economic development. Digital technology in this context may play a pivotal role in addressing the asymmetry of power to collect, exchange, distribute, and redistribute funds by those who seldom have the opportunity to do so. But access to making, designing and developing, maintaining, controlling and governing technology and its impact is rarely brought up to be investigated at a grassroots level.

Therefore, I urge the IDCE and PCC community to join me in reshaping design methods to reshape the outcomes, fostering broader economic justice efforts. It is an open invitation to initiate more conversations and take action towards aligning cooperative digital economy, platform coops, and HCI, thus supporting broader economic justice efforts. Additionally, we must not overlook the complexity of this task and the existing digital divide, the lack of design confidence, and the absence of a sense of entitlement and agency at the grassroots level that hinder involvement in collaborative processes.

To address these challenges, I am currently testing a two-fold approach rooted in community organizing, digital skill development, and capacity building. Inspired by The Theatre of The Oppressed, a set of methods developed by Augusto Boal during the 1960s in Brazil, influenced by the political theorist and educator Paolo Freire, and Radical game design, we aim to engage all members of the community in the analysis of power and governance in society. These methods seek to engage all members of the public in the analysis of power and governance in society, regardless of participants’ prior experiences with formal education or the political process. Additionally, direct software design methods like subversion enable grassroots exploration of collaboration pathways with developers and tech experts. Join me in reshaping design methods to reshape outcomes.