OneAction NZ

Democracy Co-operative

The Impossible Task of Building a Democracy Co-op

Posted by Rhys Goodwin on July 31, 2021 · 8 mins read

Kia ora folks! At our monthly zoom catch-up we discussed the approach for getting OneAction off the ground, so I thought I’d take a few minutes to share some of the thinking behind our roadmap.

Given that OneAction aims to build an online platform where our members share the views and values they want for Aotearoa New Zealand which then goes into building policy, one of the questions we asked at the Zoom catch-up was – could we just make a start? Could we start with some basic online systems where people can discuss these topics and then grow things from there. The point was made that many businesses start with a few people in a garage building something. I absolutely understand this point of view, and I can see why the approach that we’ve described in the roadmap might seem overly ambitious, unrealistic or perhaps downright delusional.

However, we need to put into perspective what we’re setting out to create – that is, a new way of leveraging our democracy, allowing participation at massive scale which can drive the direction of Aotearoa from the ground up. If I compare it to constructing a building, we’d be setting out to build a tower that can comfortably house 10,000 people. Now we could start out with a trip to Bunnings for some concrete, timber, nails etc. but at best we’d probably only be able to build a modest house. There’s nothing wrong with that but if we’ve got 10,000 people to house, we’d have missed the target.

Constructing such a tower would require us to start with a solid foundation and build up the layers. We need to look at building a Democracy Co-op in the same way. The best way to explain this is to start from the vision of the finished product and work backwards to understand the architecture. By finished product I really mean the first functioning version of the product, so in some ways the finished product is really the start! So, what does it look like?

A functioning Democracy Co-op in New Zeeland has a membership of 200,000+ members. It has a secure online participation platform, and it has MPs in parliament.

Of the 200,000 members most of them don’t participate beyond showing their support for the co-op through the monthly TallyUp. It’s something that takes less than two minutes a month but provides a kind of political fuel to the co-op. For those people, just knowing that policy is being driven from the ground up by everyday New Zealanders and knowing that they have the option to participate if they want to is enough. They might be on the bench but they’re cheering and they’re ready to jump into the game if need be. Let’s assume that this group makes up 150,000 of the 200,000 members.

The remaining 50,000 are more active, they share their views and values about what they want for Aotearoa through the online participation platform. It’s easy and only takes 10-90 minutes per month depending on how involved they want to get.

A smaller group still, gets right into the heavy lifting, taking the input from the 50,000 and building the policy which is ultimately presented back to the co-op to accept or reject.

The key point here is that for the co-op to have legitimacy it needs to have input from a large diverse group that is as representative as possible of the people of Aotearoa. If we were to take the approach of starting with some basic online tools and seeing how we go, I’d argue that we’d be nothing but a few hobbyists playing around. The views and values that we’d input wouldn’t be from a large, wide range of people and so we’d have no legitimacy whatsoever. Eventually we’d lose interest and give up. This is why in the roadmap we’ve said that we need to reach a ‘quorum’ stage of 150,000 members before we start making collective decisions and 200,000 members before we register as an official New Zealand political party. A functioning democracy co-op needs to have legitimacy at launch time.

We’ve stated what a functioning Democracy Co-op with genuine legitimacy looks like and its not quick, easy or cheap to build. The effort and cost of building the online platform for massive scale participation is huge. To complicate things further we’ve said we want the co-op to be truly owned by its members without any external influencers. No fat cats. No sugar daddies. No corporate sponsors. That means money can only come from individual co-op members. Further, there is a limit on how much any one member can give per month. Right away there’s a sticking point, when the co-op is new and only has a small number of members as it does today it’s not reasonable to ask for donations. Likewise, micro-donations from a small number of people wouldn’t be sufficient to achieve very much. This is where the TallyUp and the layers of the roadmap come in.

The TallyUp is a way to pull the OneAction organisation up by its own bootstraps. The monthly contribution of checking-in via TallyUp> and confirming that you still support the idea is far more powerful than a one-off ‘Like’ of a Facebook page. You can view the roadmap here but briefly, the layers of OneAction look like this: Once we have 25,000 members who TallyUp each month it’s safe to say that the idea has legs. At that point we’ll build a platform to accept micro-donations. Using the donations, we’ll begin building out the foundations of the organisation. Once we reach 50,000 members, we’ll begin building the participation platform. At 150,000 members we’ll reach ‘Quorum’ stage and online participation will begin. At the 200,000 mark we will register as a political party, ready to take seats at the first election we compete in.

I’ve tried to envision a way to build a new, more effective appraoch to ‘doing politics’, from the ground up without big funders. OneAction is the culmination of that vision. Little by little it’s coming together. Whether it’s successful depends on whether there is enough support for the idea and enough people willing to take this long-range view. Is it possible? We won’t know unless we try, and it’s hard to argue that we don’t need a better way of doing politics. You can accelerate the progress of OneAction by sharing the idea with a friend and asking them in earnest to TallyUp each month.

Please considering joining up if you haven’t already.

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Ngā mihi Rhys