Punk Elegance: How Guerrilla Translation reimagined itself for Open Cooperativism

Who we’ve been, who we are becoming

If you’re not familiar with Guerrilla Translation (GT), here is what you should know. Founded in Madrid in 2013 and inspired by the 15M and Occupy movements, GT is a P2P and commons-oriented translation collective. It was conceived as a new kind of livelihood vehicle for activist translators that combines two compatible functions: a voluntary translation collective working for activist causes (eg. social, environmental, etc.) and an agency providing translation and general communication services on a paid contract basis. The proceeds from this paid commissioned work go, in part,  toward financing the social mission by retroactively paying translators for their voluntary (aka ‘pro-bono’) work. Sounds simple, right? But, as we soon found out, when trying to do something from scratch that’s radically new and commons-oriented, the devil is in the details.

The first thing we realized back in 2014 was that we needed a better system to organize the paid and pro-bono work.  We decided to adapt an abandoned open-source governance model and orient it towards our ideology and needs (the original had a strongly traditional “startup” flavor). We discussed it for more than a year but, due to lack of engagement, we never arrived at a final version. Meanwhile, GT was thriving: we were well regarded in our community, our translations were reaching more people than ever and we had an increasing stream of work offers. At the same time there was an imbalance between readily recognized productive labour, and all the invisible, reproductive work required to keep the project healthy.

Frustrated with this imbalance, some of us decided to take an extended sabbatical from the project. An exception to this pause was our very successful crowdfund campaign to translate and publish David Bollier’s Think Like a Commoner, a Short Introduction to the Life of the Commons. The campaign was important in several aspects, including the use of the Peer Production License and an innovative, distributed publishing model dubbed “Think Global, Print Local”. The lead-up to the campaign saw renewed activity on the pro-bono side, and the crowdfund succeeded in its objectives, leading to a book launch in the fall of 2016.

But after the crowdfund, GT still suffered from the same mixed condition: solid social capital, continued offers of paid work, but no clear governance structures to ensure a fair distribution of work and rewards whilst maintaining its social mission.

By 2017, the remaining team had achieved a very high level of interpersonal trust. It seemed like the right time to clarify our goals and values, revisit the unfinished governance model, and review nearly 5 years of lessons learned. To “reload” GT in an organised and sustainable way, we clearly needed an in-person meeting. We began to shape our ideal meeting, determining our goals and target invitees. Next, we got in touch with friendly experts in fields including tech, decentralised/non-hierarchical organizations, facilitation, and governance, inviting them to help us develop the governance model and a long-term survival strategy for GT.

For the financial support we needed to host the meeting, we turned to Fundaction, a Europe-wide participatory grantmaking platform focused on social transformation. Fundaction offers several types of grants, among them Rethink, directed at exchange — and capacity building — activities and networking. We applied for the Renew grant in November of 2017. In late December 2017, the first round of voting for Rethink proposals was closed, and in January 2018, there was an official announcement of the Rethink grant awardees, with Guerrilla Translation as one of the 8 winning applications. We felt humble and grateful to have received this support and validation (highest number of votes received!), and remain thankful to Fundaction.

Rethinking among mountains and rivers

Hervás is a small mountain village in Extremadura, western Spain, where Ann Marie Utratel and Stacco Troncoso (Guerrilla Translation’s cofounders) reside. Declared as an anarchist canton in the 1st Spanish Revolution and surrounded by beautiful nature, it seemed like the perfect (and cheapest!) place to host an fruitful encounter among the Guerrilla Translators and friends.

Prior to the encounter, we drafted a first version 0 of  “The Open Cooperative Cooperative Governance model”, inspired by the original, but tailored to fit the ideals of Open Cooperativism — a method combining the ideas of the Commons and Free Culture with the rich social tradition of the Cooperative movement. We wanted to provide a “graspable object for the workshop participants to engage with, critique and develop.

We created a project budget and an ideal guest list, and after many conversations and calendar reviews, we invited seven people external to the collective, including:

These invited mentors were selected not only for their professional affiliation and relevant knowledge, but also for some of their personal qualities. We imagined how these people could interact as a group, and also serve as allies to the collective ongoing. The final composition of the workshop had a female-male ratio of 10 to 3, which reflects Guerrilla Translation’s own gender ratio.

Five of the six currently active members (Mercè Moreno Tarrés, Susa Oñate, Lara San Mamés, Stacco Troncoso, and Ann Marie Utratel) represented GT in the meeting. Finally, Lucas Tello from Zemos98 was hired for workshop methodology and facilitation.

Clockwise from the top left: Carmen Lozano Bright, Stacco Troncoso, Natalia Lombardo, Bronagh Gallagher, Lucas Tello, Susa Oñate, Virginia Díez, Mercè Moreno Tarrés, Richard D. Bartlett, Ann Marie Utratel, Lara San Mamés, Sarah De Heusch, Emaline Friedman.

A most convivial workshop

From May 22nd to 24th, 2018, we worked together on Guerrilla Translation’s goals, values and future directions, while also building connections, mutual support and a convivial atmosphere.

Zemos 98 designed a methodology, in collaboration with GT, supporting inclusive collaborative processes, trusting peer to peer knowledge and accepting diversity as an intellectual basis for collective work.

On day one, participants split into two groups and began to define GT’s values and goals. Values included peer to peer learning, clarity, diversity, resilience connected to systemic self-reflection, fairness, adaptability, commoning, equity, intimacy, high quality crafted work, and being prefigurative while aspiring to political transformation through relationships within and beyond the collective.

Some fun portmanteaus and ideas emerged out of this exercise, including “Trustparency” (blend of trust and transparency) and “Simplexity” (acknowledging the need for a balance of complexity and simplicity). Another idea which struck a chord with everyone was the idea of “Punk Elegance”. It reflects that GT comes from a non-conformist, DIY/DIWO culture but still seeks high quality, aesthetic style and communicational mastery.

“My main reflection from the event is that we went to work on one collective but in the process, it felt like we were all working on all of our collectives all at once. ” – Richard D. Bartlett

Turning to the Goals, the teams saw GT as a space to concentrate on mentorship and peer to peer learning. Obviously this applies to mentorship in creating high quality, handcrafted translations and other communication strategies, but also to fostering collaborative culture. As a project, GT demonstrates that an alternative, post-capitalist economy is possible and can thrive on several levels. A first step is to offer translators (and other media workers) a way to do paid work apart from capitalist structures, and simultaneously create a translingual knowledge commons. GT also has the potential to encourage personal transformation towards commons-oriented futures based on concrete, daily practices (not theoretical frameworks), especially with its focus on the recognition of carework and power. As such, it could be an exemplary project for Open Cooperativism, and a transnationally oriented, multi-constituent space to do socially and ecologically valuable work while also creating commons.

How could we achieve these ambitious goals and hold true to the values? Over the following two and a half days, each group developed distinct prototypes and timelines for GT’s near- and mid-term future. This would help us plan a functioning model and lived practice.

On the third day, the teams presented a summary of their discussions, and their timelines for possible futures. Each team treated the same targets (community, governance, platform and financial), and presented cohesive yet contrasting visions of suggested near-term GT actions. The differences in each team’s results indicate a fundamental balance in all commons: the dialectic between culture (that which defines the group’s shared motivations and visions for the future) and structure (that which formalizes the group culture into recognizable legal/procedural forms). Culture and structure are codependent in a commons: you can’t have one without the other, and their artful balance can create resilient, self-organized communities.

You can read our in-depth workshop report for details of each team’s prototype, but here are some of the main takeaways:

During their presentation, Group 2 (comprised of Richard D. Bartlett, Virginia Díez, Carmen Lozano Bright, Lara San Mamés, Sarah de Heusch and Ann Marie Utratel) focused on group culture, human relationships and trust. The group suggested many strategies based around designing for commitment and valuing reproductive work as equal to productive work. The group argued that a resilient, matured culture needs to be in place to design structures to augment existing, practised values, instead of enforcing them technically.

In discussing business structures and priorities, Group 2 emphasized structural flexibility according to the collective’s needs. Concurrency was introduced, a computational principle describing work that happens not only in parallel (people doing different things), but also in different order (not a chain of dependencies). This concept would prove essential in combining both models. 1

While Group 2 focused on culture, Group 1 (comprised of Emaline Friedman, Bronagh Gallagher, Natalia Lombardo, Mercè Moreno Tarrés, Susa Oñate and Stacco Troncoso) co-designed a possible structure to make GT’s community culture thrive.

The group imagined a free software digital platform to handle all accounting and transactional aspects and to clarify the governance agreements forged at the cultural layer. Similar to how a Community Land Trust perpetuates specific social values in a shared ownership structure, the platform represents the collective’s consent to a set of voluntary self-organised rules, while being responsible for overseeing and carrying them out. It transcends the role of a digital “bad cop” often seen in DAOs by functioning as an on-chain core to facilitate continual care-oriented discussions about the collective’s off-chain values. Using easily visualized value streams, Guerrilla Translators would be able to discuss and reprogram the platform to ensure that everyone is heard, and maintain fairness within the collective.

The group also envisioned GT as an educational opportunity for those interested in translation, open cooperativism and non hierarchical organising in digital spaces. The group also worked on the recognition of reproductive work and onboarding strategies for new members. 2

Each group identified qualities already present in the collective: multi-skilled team, peer recognition, established network, good reputation, offers of work, investment potential, attractive branding and an innovative economic/governance model. Historically, the collective has also had a high proportion of female members (75-85%), and has been committed to keeping real-life needs and realities in focus, creating better conditions for digital work.

The needs included a new legal structure and invoicing/payment systems compatible with the model; seed funding for two years to develop both the cultural (community/governance) and structural (platform and legal/financial) aspects of the collective (and open source them to a wider community); the need to incorporate and train new, committed members (to a total between 10 and 15); and adapting the structure to support new spin off collectives of illustrators, coders, designers, etc. Everyone agreed that the GT core team needed a follow up meeting to process the outputs of this workshop and make decisions.

“What a great personal and professional experience GT was. It really made it tangible how strong, efficient, and fun it is to collaborate with people who are professional in what they do, and have different points of view and experiences. That makes collective intelligence really work. It also made clear for me what a woman’s way of dealing with things is; that is, letting emotions and personal aspects come into consideration, in listening and not being an “authority” kind of organization. It was great.” – Sarah de Heusch

The two groups then presented their proposed timelines, and offered mutual feedback. These details aren’t described here 3, but (spoiler alert!) we will recount how the proposed timelines would eventually be merged during the follow-up meeting.

On the final day we met to hold a closing circle. Two questions were asked:

  1. What are you taking home from this encounter?
  2. Would you like to engage with GT ongoing (and how)?

Everyone expressed gratitude about the workshop and towards the production team, especially Lucas Tello, whose unobtrusive yet deeply effective moderation created a solid support and also allowed for plenty of space for a convivial atmosphere. Everyone felt that they had learned a lot — not just about GT or the project, but about themselves and their own groups and collectives. Some people expressed that it was the best workshop event they had ever attended. Everyone was enthusiastic about the social occasions, the sharing of food, being out and about in Hervás, as a part of the bonding and motivating experience.

Vulnerability, transparency and the willingness to explore apparent contradictions and tensions were qualities also appreciated by the group, as well as the cultivation of intimacy as a precondition for creating alternatives to more typically hierarchical or patriarchal relations. Finally, the female to male ratio was also highlighted as a unique feature of the gathering, with the three men present expressing deep gratitude for being in such a space — something they don’t often find available.

The participants agreed to help GT become a flagship project for Open Cooperativism, and the members of GT committed to a follow up meeting to treat the results of the workshop “while the iron was hot”. (This meeting would take place in Hervás in late June, exactly one month after the initial workshop).

Cultivating Culture, Building Structure

The Guerrilla Translation Reloaded workshop was acknowledged by all attendees as a success. GT members and invitees created a spectrum of possibilities, colourful yet tempered by reality and experience. But how could GT make a coherent framework of the suggestions?

To answer this, Guerrilla Translation’s core team (Mercè Moreno Tarrés, Susa Oñate, Lara San Mamés, Stacco Troncoso, and Ann Marie Utratel), met once more in Hervás for a three-day follow-up meeting.

After a review of the prototypes, the team decided to hold a series of thematic conversations to reach agreements in key areas. These included how to bring in new members; our community; communication rhythms and tools; our availability and chosen areas of work; how to track and value carework; ways of mentoring and mutually supporting each other; and how to publicly relaunch the project during September 2018.

The core team also agreed to adopt and develop the patterns described in Richard Bartlett’s Patterns for Decentralised Organising. Richard passionately defended the need for more intimacy and group culture during the workshop, and the patterns provide an excellent starting point 4. They are:

  • Intentionally Produce (Counter) Culture
  • Systematically Distribute Care Labour
  • Make Explicit Norms and Boundaries
  • Keep Talking About Power
  • Navigating the Communication Landscape
  • Introduce New Tools With Care
  • Make Decisions Asynchronously
  • A Toolbox For Decision-Making
  • Use Rhythms to Address Information Overload
  • Generate New Patterns Together
  • Get Unstuck With An External Peer

Concurrency: A Shared Timeline

Having reached an agreement in most issues, the core group proceeded to create a timeline reflecting the best elements of each prototype. This was no easy task but an overall narrative framework was proposed to help us make sense of what was on the table.

“Concurrency”, seen above, was one of the main features of this framework. As a reminder, this was a concept brought up by Richard Bartlett describing “a computational term that’s a useful management principle: not just that your work can happen in parallel (people doing different things), but in different order (not a chain of dependencies).

The team was eager to work through the apparent contradictions and form resilient systems, so the timeline was divided into two main sections:

  • STAGE ONE: Minimum Viable Model (assumed to end between 6 and 12 months)
  • STAGE TWO: Lucas 9000 (assumed to begin between 6 and 18 months)

The flexibility in how these relative stages begin and end is due to the unpredictable nature of concurrent events. Stage One has many of the Culture fostering ideas expressed by Group 2. Most of the Structural ideas proposed by Group 1 start concurrently in this first Stage but more slowly, maturing further in Stage 2. Each stage has its characteristic features:

Stage One

Stage One is characterized by the use of a Minimum Viable (MVM) Economic/ Governance model. This is based on immediate implementation (if not full execution) of the Open Coop Governance Model, including changes agreed on post-meeting. Stage One would prioritize three lines of work:

  • Research and implementation of MVM legal structure: Including options such as: an association in Spain, the “group hub” equivalent of SMart, Open Collective, or an Estonian e-company, as possible ways for the collective to invoice and receive funding.
  • Community Building: Applies to the existing community (and its tools and processes), and additional community members via a handbook, selected outreach, etc. This includes prospective work circles.
  • Project Funding: Seeds funds are required to support the first two main goals and other specifics for GT to mature into Commons-oriented Open Coop. This targeted work involves detailed project proposals, budgeting and alliances.

During Stage One, the team would use their existing communication and workflow tools as a sandbox for Stage Two.

Stage Two

Stage Two is characterized by the implementation of Lucas 9000, the “One Stop Shop”, all-in-one tool for Guerrilla Translation’s needs.

Conceived as being built “with, and on” Holo, following Emaline Friedman’s suggestions in Group 1, Stage Two sees GT as a DCO or “Distributed, Cooperative Organization”, a spin/critique of Ethereum-based “Decentralized, Autonomous Organizations” (DAOs). The latter are code-based entities capable of executing payments, levying penalties, and enforcing terms and contracts without human interaction. Lucas 9000 will be agent-centric, serving the ideas and core values of the human Guerrilla Translators.

With Lucas 9000 implemented as an Open Cooperative DCO, Guerrilla Translation will use this Holo-based platform to process financial transactions (external invoicing, pro-bono work, hours-based carework metrics). The legal structure would be built around this distributed cooperative framework, based on Holo’s emergent network and with HoloFuel (Holo’s recently created non volatile and asset backed cryptocurrency) as a medium of exchange. Lucas 9000 would also provide clear, visual, information about the health of the collective, facilitating community conversations, and a suite of open source tools (dApps) to manage workflow and collaborations.

All community work during Stage One is further developed in Stage Two, where the collective foresees a multi-lingual, globally distributed team working through the platform, informing its community-centered development as well as fluid working circles attending to the collective’s needs.

“The future of the project seems really bright because of the clarity of vision. Doing meaningful social and political work for groups and projects isn’t just an afterthought. The determination to build that into the org structure speaks volumes to the wisdom of the group: that investment of time is powerful, that translators and editors should be able to openly do passion work, following their hearts together, and that collective prioritization teaches everyone involved, and nurtures and hones shared values. And I can’t leave out something about prototyping alongside sheeps playfully chasing each other and goats bleating…” – Emaline Friedman

The Lucas Plan: A Synthesized Timeline

The synthesized timeline was named “The Lucas Plan” 5. The team scheduled all agreed tasks from each timeline over a two year period, following the general framework described above.

The synthesized timeline can also be consulted ongoing as a spreadsheet here.

What now for Guerrilla Translation?

At the time of writing (late August 2018), the Guerrilla Translation gang is feeling energized and inspired to carry out our tasks.

  • As a Community, we are mapping our capacities, setting our community rhythms, reclaiming GT’s social capital, stating our commitments, and mentoring and supporting each other. We are drafting a first version of the Guerrilla Translation handbook and contacting specific translators.
  • In Governance, we are researching legal structures in Stage 1 of the timeline. We are also updating the governance model with all the knowledge and decisions made after GT Reloaded. We are also beginning to gradually implement it.
  • Financial tasks include creating both project budgets according to our timeline and detailed funding proposals, and sharing these with prospective partners. We are also exploring new income streams.
  • In Tech, we are clarifying and training in our workflow/ communication tools, updating the websites, and collaborating closely with Holo for future implementation of Lucas 9000.

If you want to know more, the full workshop report detailing our conversations and decisions is accessible. If you’re interested in collaborating with us as an individual or organization, we recommend you read the full report.

Left to Right: Mercè Moreno Tarrés, Lara San Mamés, Georgina Reparado (in spirit), Ann Marie Utratel, Susa Oñate, Stacco Troncoso

We are excited and ready for this journey. Guerrilla Translation has gone through many iterations, changes, disappointments and successes since its founding in 2013. We are all older, wiser, and hopefully also humbler and kinder. As we write these words, Guerrilla Translation feels reloaded and ready to dance. Please join us!


This post was written by Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel based on the collectively written Guerrilla Translation Reloaded Full Report. All images (except the “Rethink” screenshot) are by the Guerrilla Translation team and licensed under a Peer Production, P2P Attribution-ConditionalNonCommercial-ShareAlikeLicense. The Fundaction “Rethink” image was created by Sylvain Mazas and licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA licence.

Produced by Guerrilla Translation under a Peer Production License.


Footnotes

0. [The updated version of the Open Coop Governance Model (V 2.0) has been drafted. It is a dramatic overhaul from version 1.0 and can be read here. Complimentary, the version history is listed here]
1. [For a full account of Group 2’s findings, read the relevant section of the Guerrilla Translation Full Report in our wiki.]
2. [As with Group 2, a full account of Group 1’s presentations can be found here.]
3. [Once again, for full details on each group’s procedures and proposals, read our full workshop report.]
4. [If you’re interested in Richard D. Barttlet’s and Natalia Lombardo’s excellent work on decentralized, non-hierarchical organizing check out their website: The Hum. We highly recommend their workshops.]
5. [This is also a reference to the inspiring British design/technological sovereignty movement in the late seventies]

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