People everywhere have been organizing a more ethical economy, but they work in relative isolation, fragmented by geography, sector, and even organizational form.

Many organizations collect information about a small piece of these efforts. In every situation, there is another organization for which that information overlaps. In every case there is an opportunity to share that will strengthen all the organizations participating.

Sharing requires effort, it requires trust, and it requires infrastructure. The Data Commons is a cooperative of organizations that are sharing – sharing the costs of this effort, trusting each other with their information, and building infrastructure to make sharing is easy.

Members of the Data Commons Cooperative are principled economic organizations that want it to be easy to share with each other, and with the world, in the movement for a more ethical economy.

Examples of information overlap

Uniting the movements

The Data Commons Cooperative is a movement-building organization, owned and controlled by cooperative development centers, federations, solidarity economy groups, and others, who want to maintain robust, accurate, useful platforms for sharing information. The cooperative gathers information and creates tools that make it easy for members to access each others’ data, and broadcast information to the public.

Pooling our information will enable the movement’s size and economic significance to be measured. Contributing information to the Data Commons will allow us to amplify the scope and impact of our activities.

An accurate, current, durable database

The cooperative’s first major initiative is to create a decentralized database of entities working toward an ethical economy. This database is a commons, a shared resource that members contribute to, glean from, and help maintain. Updates made to the Data Commons at any time, by any organization, are sent throughout the cooperative, creating the most accurate and up-to-date directory the movement has seen. Contributions to the directory are decentralized with a wiki interface. You can make the updates, or email to your constituency to request they update their listing, decreasing your labor time.

www.find.coop hosts one of several online directories that the Data Commons supports

Planning for resilience

Movement directories have a weakness: despite great effort to create them, they steadily lose freshness and data quality. GEO’s An Economy of Hope: Annotated national directory of worker co-ops, democratic ESOPs, sustainable enterprises, support organizations & resources, was an impressive collection when printed in 2000, but 10 years later is closer to movement ephemera than resource. A similar thing could be said of the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives’ 2008 Democracy at Work Directory – by 2011, half of the bookstores listed were no longer operating. Even the University of Wisconsin’s Research into the Economic Impact of Cooperative’s data from 2009 is beginning to lose data quality. A lot has happened since 2009. Right now, there is a tremendous amount of mapping and directory-making – we want to make sure that energy is not made irrelevant in a few years. Unlike other directories, the Data Commons will be resilient, always improving in accuracy as the movement grows and changes. Contributors may come and go, but there is resilience in the shared task of maintaining the information. However, this means that it will be more complex to build.

Sharing also means reduced labor redundancy and reduced labor costs. The Data Commons can send automatic reminders to your constituency to update their information, and alert you if they do – a simple way to keep up-to-date with changes in your membership. Alerts can be send to you if new initiatives in your area are added, no matter who adds them, allowing you to reach out quickly to integrate them into your efforts.

Building for long term resilience can look excessive in the short term - but it is still a good idea. (From http://xkcd.com/974)

Member-directed features and tools

Being a Data Commons Cooperative member means directing the development of the most useful tools for your organization and for the movement. Features will expand over time and with the growth of the membership. In addition to several active online directories at www.find.coop, the founding members have chosen four key projects to develop in 2012, detailed later in this document.

Database management and software development are challenging, and sometimes prohibitively expensive activities for small organizations working toward social change. The critical mass of regional organizations that have begun to pursue cooperatives and principled economic initiatives, and new-found cross sector alliances make it a unique moment to work together. The cooperative cannot flourish without a broad membership, but can reduce costs and make an impact if we work together.

How shared data and governance flow through the cooperative

Sharing data

Members of the Data Commons contribute their organizational listings to the cooperative in whatever format they are using – spreadsheets, database programs, mailing lists. The cooperative then formats it for the commons, assessing the data for both technical and legal concerns, and gets clarity on what the member wants shared and what they do not. Then infrastructure is set up for the data to be shared among the membership and, if the member desires, for the data to be given an open license and made public.

Creating tools for the movement and the memberships

The Commons takes all the contributed data and generates useful features for the movement and the public – directories, guides, maps, marketplaces – whatever the cooperative has built. In addition, it alerts individual businesses by email that they are being listed and offers them a chance to update their information. Any time an individual organization makes an update, the umbrella organization for their region or sector is alerted. Members can also opt in to receive updates from any new listing in their region or sector, or from any other member or source. These tools are made open source for other groups to develop and improve.

Governance

Members govern the maintenance of the Commons, oversee administrative staff and contracted programmers, and direct the development of new features. This means deciding on and funding the most useful tools for the movement and for the members and their mission.

Share information

The Data Commons Cooperative is made up of organizations building the cooperative and solidarity economy. The organizations believe in sharing information with each other - membership lists, measurements, opportunities - to give greater strength and resilience to all participating. Much of the information shared is also openly shared with the public.

Create tools

Data Commons members are creating tools to most effectively use shared information. These include common directories, maps, and databases as well as membership engagement platforms, marketplaces, and tools to embed shared information around the internet. Tools are licensed as open source, available for anyone to use and improve.

Empower members

Sharing helps the memberships of our organizations make the most of the information concentrated. Whether they be businesses, consumers, professionals, or activists, information is easier to access, relationships are easier to build, and presence within the movement is easier to maintain.

Build the movement

The Data Commons Cooperative membership is made up of mission-driven organizations that are organizing toward a more just and equitable economy. The movement has passion and reason, but it needs infrastructure. The shared tools created by the cooperative will make sharing, communicating, and empowering the movement easier, by working together.