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Brian Spurling
06 Dec 2016

How Outlandish uses CoBudget

We always harp on about doing tech for good projects, working with nice people to do good things, but what does that actually mean? How do we decide what projects we do? If you were working with us, how would you get involved with the tech for good work?

The answer is, we all choose what projects we want to fund by using Enspiral’s tool CoBudget (open sourced on github).

Outlandish’s business model is, we hope, an exciting experiment in combining worker cooperativism and tech-for-good.

We make a surplus, to give us job security and robust finances. And we maximise that surplus by not paying ourselves (what we consider to be) ridiculous day rates. After all, there are plenty of people who need the money much more than we do.  

In 2015 we kicked off The Outlandish Fellowship, sponsoring ten external tech-for-good projects. Some of those project teams have been absorbed into Outlandish; others are still running free. It was a huge success and a steep learning curve.

In 2016 we’ve stepped it up a level. We’re trying to create true democratic autonomy over our own surpluses. The way we see it, if your personal labour produces a surplus, then that surplus belongs to you. Anything less is exploitation. We could choose to simply pay ourselves more, but where’s the cooperativist love in that?!

So this is what we do now…

At the end of each month we identify the surplus we’ve made, distribute it proportionally across the team in CoBudget based on how many hours we’ve all worked.

This is what we all got in our first trial run in September:

  • Alex: £4,834
  • Amil: £2,771
  • Brian: £3,592
  • Ellie: £2,204
  • Jannik: £4,982
  • Joaquim: £2,442
  • Kayleigh: £3,238
  • Laurence: £3,710
  • Mateus: £4,500
  • MattK: £2,669
  • MattP: £1,542
  • MattS: £2,844
  • Oskar: £1,564
  • Rasmus: £5,333
  • Sam: £4,272
  • Harry: £5,333
  • Abi: zip (maternity leave)

In parallel, everybody is free to create project proposals in CoBudget. This is like crowd funding: you specify a project and a budget and people can choose to fund it. You can choose to completely fund your own project if you want, essentially paying yourself to work on whatever you like. But in the spirit of CoBudgeting, it’s great to give your “vote” to multiple projects – and get a stake in the delivery.

Here’s the projects we funded in this trial round of CoBudgeting…

  • Papua New Guinea Corruption Portal – document upload – £2000
  • Support Momentum’s voting platform £1650
  • Migrate the International State Crime Initiative’s website to new infrastructure  – £5000
  • Create new website for Cooperative Technologists network – £5000
  • Create new website for Outlandish* – £9925
  • Hold an Outlandish hack retreat – £9100
  • Sponsor ten rooms for female tech professionals at the Cooperative Technologists kick off event – £3500
  • Improve our Kasia framework – £5000
  • Sponsor a stand at the Open Co-op Conference – £1325
  • Get Outlandish a year’s supply of biscuits – £250
  • Build a proof of concept for Social Monitor 2 – £6300
  • Improve CoPitch [an original Fellowship project] – £600
  • Deploy and support “society” (working title), a platform for young people to discuss prejudice, discrimination and privilege – £1500

So how are we getting on?

The good stuff

  • All projects were fully funded, and people spread their funds across multiple projects
  • CoBudget was easy to use and did what it said on the tin
  • We learnt a LOT about what it takes to “do” Tech for Good

The bad stuff

  • All projects were fully funded – as in, we didn’t have enough projects for there to be all that much choice in what was funded.
  • We’re only delivering about half of the projects – we don’t have enough people to do them all! Why don’t you come work with us, help us spend all this cash (and make some more)
  • Some projects aren’t really ‘tech for good’ (Our website, biscuit fund), we need to refine how best we encourage people to suggest internal projects that meet our internal objectives, rather than use Cobudgeting to achieve them

We learnt a LOT about what it takes to “do” Tech for Good: and it’s hard! If we want our list of projects to look a little more like we’re changing the world, we need to step up our game. You can come help us with that too, if you want

[*]For all you eagle eyed lot, yes, rebuilding the Outlandish website has a (very) tenuous ‘tech for good’ link. The Cobudget pot is there to help achieve all of Outlandish’ objectives – one of which is to work with great people and find great projects, an effective website helps us to achieve this. But truly, this sort of work shouldn’t be included in Cobudgeting, and should be part of our internal ongoing budgets. This was a first round, and highlighted an issue around how people can suggest internal projects.