The Handbook of Handbooks for Decentralised Organising

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The Handbook of Handbooks for Decentralised Organising

a mega list of handbooks and toolkits
for groups working without top-down management
from social movements to workplaces
open source for anyone to read, update, share


🐒 Hi I’m Richard D. Bartlett! I’m writing a book about decentralised organising, finding lessons across diverse contexts, from social movements to workplaces.

I recently asked on Twitter and on a mailing list for examples of decentralised organisations that have a public, transparent, well-documented handbook that explains how they work (e.g. decision making, roles, communications tools, etc). The response was overwhelming so I’ve digested it into this page.

If you have more to add, please edit this page or contribute on Twitter :heart_eyes:

Specific examples of organisational handbooks

Permanent (e.g. workplaces, businesses, NGOs)

  • Most of my organising experience is in Loomio, a software co-op with a great handbook.
  • Loomio is one of many social enterprises in the Enspiral network. The Enspiral Handbook explains how we self-govern with around 200 people.
  • Crisp DNA is the handbook from a self-organising company of 35+ autonomous consultants. They do cool things with money and ownership!
  • Gini is a tech company in Germany. The Gini Handbook is particularly strong on decision-making, with useful sections on communication skills, personal growth, and feedback.
  • The GitLab Handbook is especially relevant for people working in remote teams — they have more than 800 staff in 50+ countries, and no central location.
  • OuiShare Handbook – structures and practices for the distributed OuiShare network
  • Hanno Playbook – a self-managing team of 8 designers with excellent documentation about the internal operations of their company
  • Software Mill is a fully-remote company of 50+ people. Their handbook is particularly good on decision-making and communication in a remote team.
  • Alcoholics Anonymous operate as an “upside-down organisation”. Their manual is an up-to-date summary of 80+ years of decentralised organising at scale.
  • The IETF is the principal body governing the development of the Internet. Their open, voluntary, self-organising principles are documented in the Tao of the IETF.
  • A Feminist Organization’s Handbook is a beautiful resource from the Women’s Center for Creative Work in Los Angeles. They explain how they work, with the expressed intention of helping others to learn from their experience.
  • Public Interest Research Center is a thinktank for civil society, helping social movements tell better stories. They’ve recently transitioned to a flat organisational structure. No handbook yet, but they published this excellent story about the transition.
  • Platform is an arts /education / research /activism org. No public handbook, but their Social Justice Waging System is impressive.
  • How to Start a Tool Lending Library is a toolkit hosted by ShareStarter.org, a site which they are seeking to convene a “Lending Library Alliance”, to promote the establishment of new Libraries of Things and Tool Libraries across the country and around the world by spreading the idea, inspiring the creation of new tool lending libraries, and providing the information and assistance necessary…
  • Transition Towns’ Essential Guide to doing Transition is available in many languages.
  • Valve Employee Handbook – Valve is a software company that works without bosses. They published their handbook in 2012.
  • Edgeryders is a unique online community and company, a kind of thinktank and mutual aid network. A lot of their work is done in public, e.g. see their Principles for collaboration and operations in Edgeryders. “No plan is the plan.”
  • The Borderland a collaborative community organized around an annual participatory event. It organizes itself using two processes: Dream Prototyping and Consensual Do-ocracy, also known as the Advice Process, influenced by Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations.
  • Outseta Operating Agreement – Outseta is a SaaS company with a fully distributed team that has adopted self-management. We’ve made our operating agreement public: how we make functional and financial decisions. We also published an overview of what self-management is, an overview to folks new to the subject.
  • 350 Seattle – Structure resources for a campaigning org
  • Open Coop Governance Model designed for use in the Guerilla Translation co-op, as a model for others to remix
  • DisCO Co-op Manifesto and Governance Model – this site for learning all about Distributed Cooperative Organizations (which is an evolution of the Open Coop Goverance Model above)
  • Scaling Agile at Spotify: explaining how Spotify’s 250+ tech staff coordinate across tribes, squads, chapters and guilds.
  • Bridge Foundry – a network of self-organized free programming workshops for underrepresented folks in different cities and different languages/frameworks. How to Organize a Railsbridge Workshop encourages anybody to create a workshop, and the Workshop Cookbook contains detailed instructions.
  • Camplight – a digital cooperative that creates experiences for the web, mobile and beyond. In August 2019 they published their internal guideline. More stories can be found on Medium.
  • Root Systems – a small high-trust livelihood pod doing tech consulting and software development within the Enspiral network.
  • NeurodiVenture Operating Model – equipping autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people for collaboration for life. A NeurodiVenture is an inclusive non-hierarchical organisation operated by neurodivergent people that provides a safe and nurturing environment for divergent thinking, creativity, exploration, and collaborative niche construction.
  • Datopian – is a small digital company affiliated with Art / Earth / Tech. The culture section of their handbook is particularly distinctive.
  • CPI Playbook (Center For Public Impact). CPI is a public sector thinktank developing their own model of self-management. Found this resource via OpenTeams
  • Round Sky Solutions – a worker cooperative offering a framework for iterative and meaningful collaborative governance, “Collab”. Find step by step resources in the Collab Instructional E-book.
  • Hypha a Worker Co-operative rooted in Tkaronto (Toronto), Canada and who “help organizations and communities redesign their relationships with digital technology” have published their Handbook.
  • dOrg – a development collective that builds blockchain software for clients and cooperatively manages its own finances using blockchain software. Handbook
  • We Are Open coop – a member-owned consulting company in the UK

Temporary (e.g. campaigns, events)

Generalised lessons: toolkits, books, etc

More business like

More community like

Trainers

  • The Hum provides practical guidance for decentralised organisations. (Disclaimer: this is Richard Bartlett’s company, who started this libary.)
  • AORTA – The Anti-Oppression Resource and Training Alliance is a worker-owned co-op supporting grassroots and social justice groups to grow their capacity.
  • Ayni Institute – training for social movement organisers. A lot of their training content is available as online videos, e.g. see the Momentum Webinar Series on the science of social movements, and the SWARM Training on decentralised organising.
  • Momentum “gives grassroots organizers the tools to build massive, decentralized social movements that aim to shift the terrain under policymakers’ feet”
  • Ulex Project – a residential training centre in Catalunya. They practice “integral activist training”, addressing the interdependent links between individuals, organisations, and cultures.
  • Organisational Misbehaviourists – corporate trainers focussed on psychological safety and collective wisdom
  • PowerLabs campaigning trainers
  • RAD.cat – Research Action Design (RAD) uses community-led research, collaborative design of technology and media, and secure digital strategies to build the power of grassroots social movements.
  • NetChange – distributed organising campaign trainers
  • Tripod Training – Training, meeting facilitation and conflict mediation to support groups to work in better alignment with their visions and values.
  • Round Sky Solutions – a worker owned cooperative offering online or in-person training and support for collaborative meetings, decision-making, clarifying roles, strategic planning, and innovative solutions to the challenges of self-organization.
  • Evolutesix – Programmes for startups and established companies on deploying an integrated legal + roles and tasks + developmental practices, based on the book Rebuild above. Focus on regenerative startups.

Why

I think the best structure for any organising effort must be custom-fit to its local context. I don’t believe in “one size fits all” solutions, but we don’t need to start from a blank slate either. My book is a collection of “patterns”, experiences that are common in all collaborative groups. Each pattern names a common dysfunction (e.g. unfair distribution of care labour), and a response (e.g. account for care work the same way you treat other work).

My approach to organisational development:

  1. 🏠 understand the local context for this org: history, relationships, intentions, strengths, obstacles, etc.
  2. 🌏 zoom out to a global view to find an appropriate frame of reference (e.g. #agile, #teal, #sociocracy, #coops, #designthinking, #artofhosting)
  3. 🔎 zoom in to an adjacent local context (i.e. another organisation that shares something in common with this one)
  4. 🏡 return home with lessons to inform the next experiment we’ll try

So the “handbooks” listed here are examples of local context (with much gratitude to the authors who make their experience transparent for others to learn from). The “toolkits and books” are global lessons extracted from local experience.


Contributors

@richdecibels @patconnolly @toddhoskins @shareable @JPatrickDunn @patriciarealini @WCCWLA @adriennemaree @AyniTeam @UlexProject @pircuk @NEON_UK @jaimeyann @feminineist @staccoP2P @bcnencomu @mrchrisadams @350 @rhizomecoop @jdaviescoates @PlatformLondon @CFTransition @transitiontowns @awesomefound @sam5 @radicalthnktnk @Jas_Tribe @Sam_Applebee @randallito @CosechaMovement @roguesofa @Owoy @douginamug @neil @mattcropp @wearehanno @flpvsk @CfFominaya @disruptandlearn @jornbettin @yanche @AmyCEdmondson @JohnDobbin @theready @aarondignan @fred_laloux @ChuckBlakeman @guff_se @hyperisland @KeithMcCandless @Redshifter3 @b_bockelbrink @jamespriest_S3 @lilidavidis @CoopsMark @netchange @getpowerlabs @Price_J_Matt @MobilisationLab @hugi @outseta @valeriecosta @TheSELC @FairSharesAssoc @joost_minnaar @deewhock @kolind @ricardosemler @StanMcChrystal @isaacgetz @profhamel @GuerrillaTrans @daspitzberg @m8rt @crispsweden @rkasper @henrikkniberg @theQCommunity @douginamug @MatthewMezey @zaunders @worknobl @villum @designcentret @samspurlin @coopchange @nmaljkovic @soprasotto @toolbox_toolbox @toupeira @SchurUlrich @rufuspollock @nesta_uk @rolandharwood @we_are_liminal @peerdomorg @themarcusnewton @ntnsndr @RoundSkys @uniteddiversity @grahamboydphd @dajbelshaw @Sociocracy4All
@TroysNoize@AmanEid

If you have more to add, please edit this page or contribute on Twitter :heart_eyes:


Free Culture License

This work is licensed CC0, meaning you can use it in any way you like. If you want to be friendly you can credit Richard D. Bartlett from richdecibels.com


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