Design for Collective Decision-making

Exploring Quadratic Voting as a Tool for Deliberation and Decision Making in the Be-Commoning Process

The past two decades have seen a resurgence in interest in the (urban) commons. Examples include initiatives such as energy cooperatives, neighbourhood gardens, local transportation schemes (e.g. car-sharing), collective housing, open-source software, community-run libraries, and organizations managing care for neighbours.

These commons – sometimes called resource communities – are presented as collective modes of economic and social organization that could function as alternatives or complements to the market and the state. Their goal is not profit or mere efficiency. Rather they aim to contribute to the collective well-being of the community, strengthen social relations, and give members collective ownership and sovereignty over their resources. They also aim for the prolonged sustainability of local and global social-natural ecosystems, contributing to a more just, socially inclusive, and sustainable society.

Managing these commons is complex and they do not manifest out of thin air. Before they are up and running, many things must be put in place. A community of prospective members needs to come together to discuss their motives and values. These need to be translated into the architecture of the resource (e.g. a shared apartment building) and a formal governance structure, including rules about members’ rights and duties. In turn, these need to comply with (local) regulations and be integrated into existing social and economic contexts.

We have coined the term be-commoning for this process: the various tasks that must be thought through and carried out to develop a new commons. This process often involves professionals with expertise in law, architecture, construction, finance, and technology. It also requires skills in project management and orchestration to guide a community through the various steps needed for them to become a commons.

An important part of be-commoning is the process of value articulation and the making of various decisions about the structure of the commons, including its physical appearance, rules of engagement and governance structure. In our research project Charging the Commons we explored tools that commons professionals and communities could use in this process. We took a situated design approach, and worked in collaboration with the House of Hope housing cooperative, in the Amsterdam Bijlmer-neighbourhood. Here, we observed that the tools and procedures used to make decisions during be-commoning at times fell short, and failed to accommodate the complexity of an issue, and/ or include the diversity of opinions connected to it. The communities and commons professionals we interviewed also expressed a desire for means of decision-making that can help streamline deliberation during lengthy decision-making processes, and more righteously and harmoniously achieve a collective common good.

This led us to investigate if/how a decision-making method called Quadratic Voting[1] (QV) could be of affordance to a budding commons. We designed a new QV-prototype and piloted it during a workshop with House of Hope, who are in the process of be-commoning. In the following report, we will share the insights gained from this workshop, reflect on them and draw conclusions on the use of QV in the context of be-commoning.

For more on our situated research using Quadratic Voting please watch our short film documenting the workshop Design for Collective Decision-making, in cooperation with House of Hope. It includes various facets of the workshop, including our voting tool in action, voting outcomes and the resulting discussions, and interviews in which wooncoop members reflect upon using QV during be-commoning.