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
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.
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)
- Barcelona en Comú published How To Win Back The City, one year after a coallition of grassroots activists won the municipal elections.
- How We Organize the Allied Media Conference (2017 edition). This zine was organized in 2013 by the Allied Media Projects to open source their methodology for convening what is now, in its 20th year, more than a 3,000 person conference themed around “media-based organizing” in Detroit, USA. The content of the conference is generated, coordinated, and selected in an impressively decentralized manner.
- HOFFNUNG 3000 – a self-organized festival. How do we organize ourselves in our social, artistic & theoretical communities? HOFFNUNG 3000 was not simply a festival but more of a process of organizing a festival, a festival that creates itself. Through each and every participant.
- How to Create a Rent Strike
- Repair Cafe is a place to meet and fix things together. Their handbook is available on a ‘pay what you want’ basis.
- TEDx organisers guide
- Awesome Foundation Wiki. Awesome Foundation is a network of autonomous groups who make micro-grants to people working on awesome projects.
- How to start a SOUP: a microgranting dinner celebrating and supporting creative projects.
- How to start a Food Not Bombs chapter: decentralised grassroots peace movement sharing free (vegan) food with hungry people.
- Cosecha is a movement for US immigrants. They operate with a transparent strategy & structure.
- Swarmwise by Rick Falkvinge, the tactical guide from the Swedish Pirate Party
- Ouishare Fest Toolkit– a guide to organizing a participatory festival.
- Guide to the Extinction Rebellion UK self-organising system
Generalised lessons: toolkits, books, etc
More business like
- Better Work Together – stories and tools from Enspiral (network of self-managing social enterprises)
- The Toolbox Toolbox: a curated list of the best analogue and digital toolboxes and methods from companies, institutions and thinkers.
- Reinventing Organisations by Frederic Laloux is a really influential book sharing case studies of large organisations in different sectors, successfully operating without centralised management systems. Good wiki too.
- Insights for the Journey – video series to accompany the Reinventing Organizations book by Laloux
- Rebuild: the Economy, Leadership, and You – book and toolkit for builders of a better world integrating legal incorporation, roles and tasks, developmental practices, and how to build a new economics
- Going Horizontal by Samantha Slade: practices for flattening organisational hierarchies
- Repsonsive Org Playbook from Ed Elements – mashup of Holacracy, Design Thinking, Lean, Agile, etc. Includes “practice” templates.
- 12 Principles for Prototyping a Feminist Business
- Remote Only manifesto for companies that work without a central office.
- Remote Starter Kit – digital tools to support remote collaboration
- Atlassian Team Playbook – toolkit for effective self-managed teams, by the makers of Trello.
- Self-managing organizations: Exploring the limits of less-hierarchical organizing – research paper by Amy C. Edmondson and Michael Y. Lee
- Teaming by Amy C. Edmondson
- Google’s Team Effectiveness Guide Psychological safety > dependability > structural clarity > meaning > impact
- Corporate org dev consultants The Ready published their OS Canvas – a tool for mapping the present state of your org and planning future changes.
- Why Employees are Always a Bad Idea – business book by Chuck Blakeman
- HyperIsland Toolbox – a collaboration toolkit for innovation, team development
- Liberating Structures – 33 meeting formats for inclusion and creativity
- The Future of Work is Human – practices for holistic meetings, collective learning, innovation.
- Core Protocols for Effective Communication
- Beyond Empowerment: the Age of Self-Managed Organization business book by Doug Kirkpatrick from Morningstar: a pioneering self-managing company & the world’s largest tomato processers
- One from many by Dee Hock (VISA)
- Joy at work by Dennis Bakke (coined the Advice Process at AES)
- Eckart’s notes by Wintzen (BSO) – Dutch
- La belle histoire de FAVI by Zobrist
- The second cycle by Lars Kolind
- Maverick by Ricardo Semler
- Team of Teams by General Stanley McChrsytal – how the US Army developed a networked management structure to respond to urban warfare in Iraq
- A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business series by Ari Weinzweig at Zingermans
- The Haier Model by Yangfeng Cao
- Freedom, Inc.: How Corporate Liberation Unleashes Employee Potential and Business by Brian M Carney & Isaac Getz
- Future of Management by Gary Hamel
- The Holacracy Constitution 4.1
- Greater Than’s Guide to Collaborative Funding
- The Decider App: compares 9 different group decision-making methods, by NOBL Collective
- Brave New Work a book by Aaron Dignan from The Ready about how to change your organisational operating system (coming soon)
- Remodel: a free toolkit that helps you explore and develop new business models for physical products – based on open source principles.
- Transformative Scenario Planning by Adam Kahane
- Creating Breakthrough Innovation (framework) distills five practices for breakthrough innovation, with an overarching theme of bringing “cocreation” into nonprofits, philanthropy, and community groups.
- Autonomist Leadership (framework) – Autonomist Leadership is the name given to the non-hierarchical, informal and distributed forms of leadership found in emancipatory social movements, and, in particular, in networked social movements. This paper… sets out five principles that make it a distinct form of leadership.
- BOSSA nova: Company-wide Agility with Beyond Budgeting, Open Space and Sociocracy
- Inviting Leadership: Invitation-Based Change in The New World of Work
- Open Space Beta: Beta transformation just got a hell of a lot less complicated
- Team Tempo: book by NOBL Collective
- Prototyping.Work: Collaborative platform full of practices, tips and guides to reinvent the way we work.
- Reinventing Work – resources guide: articles, videos, books, podcasts and tools for self-organised workplaces. See also their Reinventing Work: Handbook
- Advice Process Playbook from Equal Experts
- Membership Puzzle Project
- Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Building Leaders by Breaking the Rules. by L. David Marquet – the power of servant leadership
- Peerdom Showcase: Learn from companies’ transformational journey through their organisational design map which they agreed to share.
- Future Togetherness Handbook – a wiki full of Practices for Community Resilience and Vision curated by Human Systems
- Reinvent organization map – a tool for assessing organizational teal consciounness level
- Planet Centric Design Toolkit – A toolkit for creating sustainable and responsible products and services that do good for both the planet and business
- Community Building Canvas– Since many organizations are moving towards a network-like style in the new work era, this tool could be of help on how to design a community around your ideas
More community like
- The Empowerment Manual: A guide for collaborative groups – excellent book by ecofeminist organiser Starhawk
- New Economy Organisers Network share their toolkit for campaigners, activists & organisers.
- Code for Canada’s Civic Tech Community Organizer Toolkit contains advice on how to start, sustain and grow a civic tech community group in your area.
- Post Consensus Cooperative Decision-making, an excellent slidedeck from Doug Webb explaining some of the limits of consensus and where you can go instead
- Rules for Radicals is the last book written by legendary community activist and writer Saul D. Alinsky about how to successfully run a movement for change.
- Horizontalism: Voices of popular power in Argentina, an oral history compiled by Marina Sitrin, told by people in the autonomous social movements, occupied factories, neighborhood assemblies, arts and independent media collectives, to the indigenous communities and unemployed workers movements.
- My book Patterns for Decentralised Organising.
- Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown: “radical self-help, society-help, and planet-help designed to shape the futures we want to live”
- The Tyranny of Structurelessness – classic essay from Jo Freeman explaining why organising with “no structure” can be more abusive than the worst boss.
- Beautiful Trouble creative tactics for nonviolent direct action
- 350.org’s Trainings site includes resources for organisers
- Networked Change report “strategies and practices that made 47 of today’s most successful advocacy campaigns work… because of their ability to open up to the new cultural forces which favor open-ness and grassroots power.”
- Campaign Bootcamp Resources for campaigners
- Jackson Rising: The Struggle for Economic Democracy and Black Self-Determination in Jackson, Mississippi. A chronicle of one of the most interesting social transformations in contemporary USA.
- Earth First! Direct Action Manual (also available in print)
- Email Etiquette for Virtual Collectives
- Sociocracy 3.0 – a free & open guide to developing agile, resilient, consent-based orgs
- How To: Distributed Organizing guide for campaigners
- Mobilisation Lab resources: online courses, articles, videos, podcasts, reports & guides for campaigners
- How to Welcome & Engage People in Community Spaces by Danny Spitzberg
- Skessa: Collaborative Toolkit for Diverse and Inclusive Organisations
- Art of Hosting (Conversations That Matter)
- The Viable System Model, Jon Walker. How to design a healthy business: The use of the Viable System Model in the diagnosis and design of organisational structures in co-operatives and other social economy enterprises
- Many Voices One Song introduction, learned lessons and implementation assistance for sociocracy basics from Sociocracy for All
- The Essentials of Theory U: Core Principles and Applications by Otto Scharmer
- It’s vacant, take it! (zine) – 3rd edition (Fall 2013) of the Homes Not Jails squatting zine. While the guide comes from a group based in San Francisco, many of the tips would be helpful for anyone squatting regardless of their location. It includes tips on finding comrades/friends to squat with, finding a building, securing a squat, dealing with the law and/or property owners, and more.
- How to organize a pirate kindergarten in your neighborhood. A little manual on collective care and parenting, starting from the specific experience of the self-managed nest Soprasotto in Milan.
- Patterns for cooperative networks and associations. A typology of structures for cooperative association.
- P2P Foundation Wiki. An international organization focused on studying, researching, documenting and promoting peer to peer practices in a very broad sense.
- Nesta Collective Intelligence Design Playbook – tools, tactics and methods to harness the power of people, data and technology to solve global challenges.
- Recipes for Wellbeing – massive collection of practices to cultivate wellbeing on your own and in working teams
- CommunityRule – a governance toolkit for great communities, featuring templates for many different approaches to decision-making.
- Wise Democracy Patterns – a list of design principles for collective wisdom and healthy living systems, both human and natural.
- Planning from Below: A Decentralized Participatory Planning Proposal – by Marta Harnecker. Set out in two parts; this book first demonstrates the importance of community participants working outside a hierarchy, to allow as much decentralization as possible. The second part of the book centers on the methodology of this process: the various tasks taken on by participants and how, in planning processes over years, they are carried out.
- The Do-Ocracy Handbook: organisational types and legal structures by Mark Simmonds (UK legal focus)
- Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC)
- Purpose Economy: Steward Ownership model. See Sharetribe for example
- FairShares model articles for multi-stakeholder limited companies, coops, and associations
- FairShares Commons Extension of FairShares to full Stewardship based multi-capital commons company for regenerative ecosystems.
- 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.
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:
- 🏠 understand the local context for this org: history, relationships, intentions, strengths, obstacles, etc.
- 🌏 zoom out to a global view to find an appropriate frame of reference (e.g. #agile, #teal, #sociocracy, #coops, #designthinking, #artofhosting)
- 🔎 zoom in to an adjacent local context (i.e. another organisation that shares something in common with this one)
- 🏡 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.
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