​Strengthening the Movement for a Cooperative Digital Economy Through The Platform Co-op Development Kit

What is the Kit?

The Platform Co-op Development Kit is a multi-year project that advances the cooperative digital economy.

Almost daily, the PCC is approached by individuals and groups from around the globe who want to start a platform co-op. The purpose of this Kit is to respond to their needs directly, and make the process of launching a platform co-op easier: by sharing stories, new resources, learning materials, and open source tools, and by connecting likeminded entrepreneurs, researchers, and policymakers interested in joining the movement.

The Kit is a multi-year project initiated by the Platform Cooperativism Consortium, homed at The New School in New York City, in collaboration with the Inclusive Design Research Centre at OCAD University in Toronto. Its success relies on platform co-op communities worldwide contributing their knowledge and sharing their work.

Over the next several years, we will provide a range of resources that make it easier to start a co-op, specifically a platform co-op. We will offer tools not simply to improve co-op technology, but to enhance platform co-ops worldwide through technology built on key principles: open source, co-design, worker-ownership, and democratic governance. We have started the co-design process by engaging five initial pilot platform co-ops. These pilot groups include:

3,000 child care professionals in Illinois organized by the Service Workers Union looking for an onboarding, labor, and purchasing platform;

young urban women in Ahmedabad, India who are part of the SEWA Federation of co-ops bringing beauty services to people’s homes through an app;

trash pickers currently operating in Sao Paolo and Recife, Brazil, whose work recycling trash makes up more than 90 percent of Brazil’s entire recycling capacity;

refugee women in Germany, starting in Hamburg with Syrian, Albanian, and Iranian women, who plan to offer a platform co-op for child care services and elder care;

• homecare workers in Australia, the only worker co-op in social care in Australia, that is seeking to build a governance tool for its remote rural members.

All open source tools that we will design with these groups will be customizable for a range of platform co-ops in various sectors and countries.

Initiated with a $1,000,000 grant from Google.org, this project seeks to raise a total of $10,000,000.

By building a broad coalition, our team will engage people around the globe who are seeking to learn about and then build platform co-ops with their communities.

By working with pilot groups in various sectors — from home services, garbage-recycling and beauty services, to child and elder care — we will demonstrate how the cooperative approach plays out in the digital economy. We will work with co-ops, technologists, policy facilitators, researchers, and freelancers to advance the movement for a cooperative digital economy. Watch an video introduction about this work here.

Read the press releases about the Kit from the Platform Cooperativism Consortium, The New School, and OCAD University. Explore how this work connects with Google.org’s “Future of Work” Initiative here. Read media coverage about the project with recent articles from Fast Company (also discussing the question of accepting Google funding), Shareable, and Philanthropy News Digest.

Goals of the Kit

Over the next two years, with the support of the platform co-op community, we will develop open source tools for use worldwide; and provide various resources such as essential legal, intellectual, and entrepreneurial resources that make it easier to start a platform co-op. This work depends on collaborations with cooperators around the world coming together to support one another and advance this movement.

These goals will be met through the following deliverables:

Creation of open source labor platforms and online governance tools through co-design processes with five pilot groups, tailored to be extensible and customizable for other platform co-ops with similar needs;

• Development of an online wikipedia-style learning commons, activated by informal as well as institutional online learning groups in several countries;

• Development of a curriculum about the cooperative digital economy to be distributed with undergraduate and graduate programs in business schools and law schools as well as acceleratorator programs;

• Creation of a data-rich, interactive map of platform co-ops, and supporting organizations and individuals;

• Development of an international network of lawyers to provide legal resources to assist the launch of (platform) co-ops;

• Development of a global narrative co-written by co-op workers, researchers, unionistas, technologists, and policymakers.

• Ongoing reports and analysis about work in progress made available to the public online, and regular calls for community engagement and input

Strategy for Achieving Goals

The design and development of the tools will be guided by the platform co-op communities themselves. Full cycles of co-design, prototyping, implementation & evaluation will ensure that the tools fulfill the needs of the community. Additionally, by working with diverse pilot organizations and populations, our team will provide essential assistance to platform coops of all stripes, and to workers with many socioeconomic backgrounds. This reverses the dominant pattern of platform development which typically excludes marginalized groups, contributing to greater economic and social inequities. The project places vulnerable and marginalized workers at the center.

Creating a supporting infrastructure for platform co-ops through a learning commons, interactive map, cooperative curriculum development, and legal resources will launch simultaneously with pilot group work. Website development will be lead by the IDRC team, and we continue to engage with a number of collaborators to generate the various components that will eventually make up the online ecosystem. To achieve both goals, time and resources will be split over the next two years, with 70% of efforts going towards the pilot groups, and 30% towards the projects’s online learning components.

Finally, the project will run as an open and transparent community. All resources and updates will be available online to any prospective or existing co-op, and all interested persons. Explore recent updates, for example, from the IDRC on the Kit and our work with the pilot groups thus far. And review our blog updates documenting recent visits with our Hamburg and SEWA pilot groups.

Through collaboration with pilot groups and by engaging individuals committed to the movement, the toolkit grows from small successes. As our work progresses, we will engage other cooperative ventures, organizations, and individuals who can contribute different resources and services to advance this critical project. Stay up to date on our work so that now or in the near future, we can draw on the expertise of the community and find ways of collaborating.

How We Will Measure Success

Grant activities started on July 1, 2018 and will conclude with Google on July 2020. Iterations of the deliverables and prototypes will be freely available and open to critique and input as our work advances. A broader measurement of the project’s impact, however, will not be available until completion.

We will consider the project a success if the Kit was implemented by low income workers in at least three pilot groups & successfully transferred to at least one other labor market. Success would be based on the evidence of higher wages, better working conditions, democratic governance within the enterprise, & potential for scaling this work to more workers. Due to the nature of this work, these metrics can only be measured upon the completion of the project. In the same way a highway’s efficacy cannot be measured while it is still under construction, so too can the pilot groups’ effects not be known until full completion and implementation.

During the project, the Platform Cooperativism Consortium will provide qualitative research investigations and progress reports on the pilot groups. Written reports will provide big-picture analysis, and highlight successes, failures, best practices, and other findings from the pilot groups. These reports will also discuss the feasibility of these models applying to other industries or regions, and when applicable, offer policy recommendations.

For strengthening the platform co-op economic movement and building an online infrastructure of support, we will fulfill these objectives:

• Engage a variety of unique platform co-ops in distinct countries to facilitate the scaling of our labor platform and distributed governance tools

•Establish active learning groups engaged with our content online in at various countries

• Deliver high profile talks and media publications about Kit work

• Create a global narrative co-written by stakeholders and make it available for translation in different languages.

• Create and distribute a curriculum to shared with business schools, law schools, undergraduate or graduate programs at universities.

• Develop policy briefs and engage different political parties to consider

• Develop and share platform co-op worker testimonials to be hosted online

• Generate traffic to the platform.coop website with blogs and a new site design

We will also use non-parametric methodologies of measurement so that we do not impose a particular notion of success onto groups that are marginalized and have already suffered from the effects of traditional “successful” interventions.

The outcomes of the Kit will be diverse and variable, but collectively the change will be significant. We hope to reach the most marginalized of platform workers and build our work from their perspective. To achieve this we need to look beyond predetermined measures of success. If we only concern ourselves with measuring success through quantitative metrics, then we would be forced to develop quick interventions that scale quickly. We would be merely recreating the platforms of the past that have contributed to existing economic and social inequities and further marginalization. That is a strategy of the exploitative, extractive companies we hope not to emulate.

Instead, the project will demonstrate that we have only scratched the surface of imagining the possibilities for the cooperative digital economy. While our work over the next two years can begin to address the urgent needs for more organized research and infrastructure to support platform co-ops, more importantly, it will lay the foundation for future researchers, entrepreneurs, policymakers, co-op workers, technologists, and many others to pick-up this work and carry it forward in new directions.

Please consider joining us in this critical work. We need the time and energy of many people for this work to succeed. If you think you can help, please write to us at info@platform.coop and we can share more on how to get involved.