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Reasoning Behind the European SSB Collective's Rules

In order to function as an organization, we need some rules that lay the foundation for how we work. In our experience on Scuttlebutt, we've learned that a central question about making decisions is who gets to have a say. On Scuttlebutt, this is very difficult to answer, because "the community" is an amorphos blob, so there is no such thing as a clear consensus.

To resolve that question in the collective, we introduce membership. Only members can shape the collective through its decision-making process. But what does it mean to be a member, and what and who decides whether one becomes a member?

To find good answers to these questions - or rather, to define what "good" means - we first specify our goals. A good answer achieves these goals more than others. Our goals are:

  1. that membership is based on trust of other collective members
  2. that memberships are active

To achieve the first goal we use a vouching-based process for admitting new members and keeping existing members. This both allows unbureaucrating admission of new members and a baseline level of transitive trust. To achieve the second goal we require frequent collaboration and engagement.

Trust-Based and Care-based Membership

To achieve a balance between low bureaucracy and admission hurdles, and a good level of baseline trust within the collective, new members need to be vouched for by at least three existing (active) members. This way we can avoid both low-trust situations between collective members due to an influx of randos ("rando" is a technical Scuttlebutt term describing someone who entered the scuttleverse with no prior trust relations to anyone else on the network) as well as a high barrier to entry, e.g. if we would be voting on admitting new members.

The vouching system remains important after admission: If someone misbehaves and vouchers decide to revoke their trust, a member can be ejected from the collective if their number of vouchers drops below three. Should a minority stick to vouching for someone, the other members may choose to revoke their trust as well, in which case the minority would fork off from the collective. In a way, this system generalizes over kicking someone out and forking off the collective. Note that having a clear protocol for forks is not only be helpful in the case of individual misbehaviour, but also when differences in vision crop up.

The quality of the membership depends on the judgement of vouchers. Vouchers are encouraged to assess whether new potential members have compatible values, relevant skills, and sufficient motivation to actually contribute. One possible way is to review past contributions to the larger SSB project: e.g. tools built with or for SSB, artwork created, volunteering in maintaining the code base or helping with community gardening, etc. Other ways are also possible and encouraged.

Vouching also means to care for another member. That includes helping them integrate well into the collective when they join initially, including explaining why things work a certain way and clarifying how to participate. Importantly, it also means helping dealing with conflicts or tensions that result from a member participation, if they are unable to do so themselves. In this way, the responsibility of dealing with potential conflicts is spread throughout the collective and the risk of bringing a new member is carried by those that invited them.

Active Membership

We believe active membership is important as it brings a host of other benefits besides just getting work done. It is important that active membership is applied to all members, as it helps balance workloads and not center around a few individuals. It also means that everyone gets to have a say in what gets done and how it is done.

Active membership entails voting (democracy) and meetings as a base, but importantly involves recognized volunteering work that helps the collective function and thus spreads the administrative work to all. An important reason this should be recognized is that it brings about transparency that motivates others to chip in as well. A financial stake of recurring payment is also a form of active membership, and in order for it not to be excluding, as the financial situation can vary a lot between the different members, the amount is kept flexible. Lastly, face-to-face meetings are an important part of being an active member as there is little substitute for physical gatherings.

One important side-effect of being an active member is that it fosters trust through active collaboration. Both for the parties involved in the collaboration but also for other members trusting in a good outcome. Furthermore, face-to-face gatherings over a weekend allows members to see each others as humans, laying the foundation for a culture of care. When nurtured this should expand into positive feedback loops that strengthens the collective.

The actual tasks required to maintain the collective will evolve over time, therefore members are expected to actively keep informed on those. The actual processes used to ensure load-balancing will be experimented with and established over time.

Handling Conflicts

As much as possible, we try to view conflicts as opportunities for growth, both in members and for the collective: members have an opportunity to better understand the values and experiences they bring with them; the collective gets an opportunity to revise its practices and documents. We therefore encourage members involved in a conflict to reflect and articulate their underlying personal needs and previous experiences that support their viewpoint. A clear understanding of both needs and past experiences, from all sides of a conflict, can make it easier to resolve, with, for example, voluntary behaviour changes from parties or revised practices in the collective. This in turn leads to an increase in the level of trust and collaboration betwen members. This is the best case and preferred scenario.

Sometimes, even with the best intentions from all sides, conflicts may be recurrent because, for example, of persisting personal habits or communication patterns. It may also happen that the group is not able to resolve a conflict at all. In both cases, the trust-based membership allows members to remove their individual vouches for the other member(s) they perceive as problematic. This provides concrete consequences for problematic behaviour, providing an additional incentive for change.

References

Diana Leaf Christian, Creating a Life Together: Practical Tools to Grow Ecovillages and Intentional Communities