Assemblany: Towards Democratic Corporations

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Example #1: The Medieval Democratic Republic of Cyberspace

One example of an assemblany in practice:

A MMORPG created by a group of people, who agree to contribute equally towards the costs of servers, web hosting, admin time etc through monthly license fees. In return, they get a vote on all policies and policy changes [*]. This includes creating, modifying or deleting player abilities, items, quests, monsters (mobs) etc. Meta-rules would govern the voting on policy changes.

The base for the software could be an existing open-source project such as Arianne, Worldforge or even a graphical MUSH. New code, images and rules could be added by a subset of the players (as defined by the meta-rules) and/or by paid developers or artists - again, the salaries would come from the fees.

This should cut down on complaints about nerfing and what are perceived to be unilateral decisions, since any such rule-change would have to pass a vote ... Though depending on the voting meta-rules, it is still possible that minorities could feel victimised.

While it's unlikely that such a MMORPG would be as popular as existing MMORPGs in the short-term (since its graphics and content couldn't match the huge investments of mainstream MMORPGs), it should still be fun for its players; through its gradual change and development over time, it would also push the boundaries of player-led and designed online games ...

[*] To some extent, admin and development staff would still make some policy decisions by default or due to limited time available to consult, but these would be subject to review by the voters.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

So what is an Assemblany?

Q: So what is an assemblany?

A: The dictionary will say:
assemblany (n.): company governed by decisions made by (possibly virtual) assemblies of all employees (and/or stakeholders). see also "consensism". also known as "parliamentary corporation", "participatory co-operative".

Q: How does this differ from current co-operatives?

A: While all workers have a share in a co-operative, and thus (at least theoretically) a say in decisions, this may only occur at annual general meetings. Between times, decisions are taken by an executive committee or a board - senior management - whatever. Similarly it's difficult for the workers to set the agenda.

In an assemblany, company-wide decisions are voted on by all workers/stakeholders. Similarly all workers/stakeholders can make proposals for the actions that the assemblany shall take and the rules that shall be followed.

An assemblany would typically be a co-operative (and could also be a consensism).

Q: How can this possibly work?

A: How do parliaments work? They follow rules that they agree on and have rules to allow them to change the rules.

On a smaller scale, many games of Nomic (as defined here, with many examples here) have been successfully run. Any assemblany would probably start with rules ("seed rules") based on, or very similar to, Nomic (which is close to the minimal set of rules allowing self-modification).

The proposing and voting could take place either at weekly face-to-face meetings (if the assemblany is geographically compact so that this is feasible) or electronically via mailing lists, Web fora etc.

Q: Why do you think this would work?

A: Why do parliaments work? Because everyone has a say and is thus deeply involved and committed. An assemblany should be more focussed and also more fun to work in than a traditional company.

Q: What are the key values of a typical assemblany?

A: Transparency, integrity, and flexibility to extreme levels.

(Note: my apologies if I misrepresent co-operatives; I don't have inside knowledge of them. I'm trying to spark new ideas here, not debate the workings of existing organisations.)