This profile is Part I of an interview with Alanna Krause, co-founder and worker-owner of Loomio, a online software worker cooperative based in Aotearoa New Zealand. Read Part II here. Join the conversation on Democracy at Work's Loomio page as well: democracyatwork.loomio.org
Industry: Online Open-Source Software
Could you provide some background on Loomio? What problem does your service/product solve?
Loomio is a decision-making tool for groups who want to collaborate democratically. It enables more transparency and inclusion, with fewer meetings and emails. Unlike a survey or poll, it facilitates a process of constructive deliberation, synthesising solutions from diverse viewpoints.
We created Loomio to solve a problem we ourselves were having, and then found a lot of other people need this tool, too. It can be very difficult to get everyone together for a meeting, and even then you often only hear from certain voices or you run out of time. Meanwhile, trying to make clear, well-documented decisions using mass reply-all emails or open-ended social media messaging is a mess.
With Loomio, it’s easy to include all the stakeholders, and converge on clear outcomes you can act on together.
Loomio originally grew out of the intersection of activists from the Occupy movement and entrepreneurs from Enspiral, a network of positive impact businesses. We realized we were trying to solve the same problem — fast, inclusive, effective decision-making — so we tackled it together.
What inspired you to found Loomio as a worker cooperative as opposed to a traditional model?
We’re a social enterprise, driven by our impact mission. We believe that more groups practicing effective, inclusive decision-making can change organizational dynamics at a global scale. In order to have that kind of impact externally, we have to authentically live it internally.
Equitable collaboration is in our DNA. For us, being a co-op was an easy choice, because it so closely fit with our most deeply-held values. Beyond that, it was a really effective way of clarifying stakeholding and sharing responsibility.
We want to have impact with our product, but we also think the way we’ve structured our company and how we work is part of our social mission. We want to show it’s possible to do a startup differently, with no bosses, driven by pro-social values, and with true collective ownership.
How have the worker-owners decided to share the responsibilities of running the business?
We open-source all our processes, structures, and policies in our Co-Op Handbook, which you can see at http://loomio.coop.
Collaboration and co-ownership doesn’t mean everyone is involved in every decision. That would be impractical. We work to strike a balance of empowered delegation and collective input. The ultimate mandate in the co-op traces back to the worker-owners as a group. From there we make a range of delegations such as the to the board of directors (governance) and coordinators (operational management).
The cooperative members agree the overall strategy annually, and get together once a quarter to set some high-level outcomes for the whole co-op. The team self-organizes into working groups (like product development or marketing) to achieve these outcomes. We are a fully agile organization, running two-week sprints and daily standups. Individuals have a lot of autonomy in their day to day work, and we emphasize good reporting and documentation so others can keep up to date.
Of course we’re heavy users of Loomio ourselves! We use it to make decisions among the members of a working group, and to widen out the stakeholding to the whole co-op if needed. We’ve made over 500 decisions together as a team on Loomio. It allows us to be dynamic and responsive in a fast-moving environment, breaking the trade-off between speed and inclusion, because we need both.