The Open Coop Governance Model in Guerrilla Translation: an Overview

Guerrilla Translation (GT) began its life as an activist translation collective of politicised, conscious translators. Our motivation is to create a plurilingual knowledge commons, accessible through GT’s websites (English and Spanish so far). But GT is also a translation/language agency offering a variety of communication services and its governance model ties these two facets together.

GT’s model is an extensive overhaul of an orphaned open source governance protocol [1], which we have been substantially overhauled to better fit our needs. The adapted model explicitly incorporates the key practices of Open Cooperativism (a method combining the ideas of the Commons and Free Culture with the social tradition of the cooperative movement), Contributive Accounting (a form of accounting where contributions to a shared project are logged to ensure fair distributions of income and livelihoods) and, uniquely in this space, feminist economics and care work as essential elements [2].

After years of discussing the model, we decided to collectively reimagine it by convening a group of experts on decentralised/non-hierarchical organizations, facilitation, peer governance, distributed tech and mutualized finance. We called this process “Guerrilla Translation Reloaded“, which culminated in a new version of the model: The Commons-Oriented Open Cooperative Governance and Economic Model (currently at version 2.0)

The full model can be read in the link above, but this article takes a narrative approach to answer two very simple questions: what is the model’s logic, and how does it work?

The best way to understand it may seem counterintuitive at first. If Guerrilla Translation is a co-op, think of the co-op members as shareholders. Okay, like in an evil corporation, but bear with us. Each member is an owner, holding different types of shares in the collective. These correspond to tracked “pro bono” (commons-oriented voluntary work chosen by the translators) and “livelihood” (paid) work, as well as reproductive or care work. Shares in these three types of work determine how much is paid on a monthly basis. Where does the money to pay shares come from, and how are they paid? From the productive work performed by the worker-owners — in GT’s case, that work is written and simultaneous translation, copyediting, subtitling, and related services. We will explain the “how” below.

In short, the more effort and care put into the collective, the larger the share. This is not a competitive, game-theory influenced scheme; it’s a solidarity based strategy for economic resistance that allows all members to contribute according to their capacity. All members create value; part of this value is processed through a market interface (the agency) and is converted into monetary value, which is then pooled and distributed to benefit all value streams. We call this value sovereignty. And, although the default decision making protocol is virtually identical to a traditional coop’s “one member, one vote” principle, your shares can influence decision making in critical situations, such as blocked proposal.

How is this type of share-holding a contrast to that found in a corporation? Let’s break down the differences. While shareholders in a corporation accrue power through money, in our model, power is treated differently. The descriptions are power-to and power-with, accrued via productive and reproductive work taken for the health of the collective and the Commons. A corporation (or a start-up, or any capitalist business) employs wage labor to produce profit-maximizing commodities though privately owned and managed productive infrastructures. By contrast, in an Open Coop, we work together for social and environmental purposes while also creating commons and building community, locally and/or globally. The model allows us to turn our talents to worthwhile, not dead-end, causes. This is how we are practicing economic resistance.

The Open Coop Governance Model in Guerrilla Translation: How does it work?

We have established that Guerrilla Translators perform two types of productive work: pro-bono and paid (more about reproductive or care work later). If we take written translation as an example, both types are essentially identical. They are performed by the same team, using the same methods, working collectively, and sharing both the work and the eventual rewards. So, what are the differences?

Pro-bono translations are the ones we choose to do ourselves, based on our enthusiasm for the original material and well aligned with our values. This doesn’t make us unpaid volunteers, though. It all boils down to the way we choose to distribute value. To us, a pro-bono or a paid translation has the same value – literally. We assign a (cost) value for all work we do, whether it’s a self-selected pro-bono piece for publication on our blog, or work contracted by a client. Our model of income distribution diverts a portion of every paid/contracted job towards fulfilling the value of the pro-bono work shares accrued by our members. This has several functions. First, it allows all members of the collective to gain an amount of income from their productive work, whether it was pro-bono or paid. Second, collective members are not put into competition among themselves for paid work, nor for the “best” paid work (based on the per-word rate). All work is valued internally at the same rate, regardless of the external prices which are variable.

We have several pricing tiers for our clients. Metaphorically, there’s a pay-it-forward spirit involved here on the client side, but it’s more like pay-it-backward-and-forward internally in the collective. Clients with the greatest financial means who are aligned with our principles and wish to provide support for our knowledge commons are offered the top tier rate – this is still quite competitive, in fact at the lower end of typical translation pricing. There will be a penny or two per word that these clients are directly donating to our pro-bono shares and also towards any contract jobs we accept for clients with minimal or bare-bones budgets (including small co-ops, activist collectives, non-VC startups, and others). This sliding scale helps us nurture relationships and help support collectives and initiatives with the least financial means so it is fair for everyone.

The soft stuff is the hard stuff: the importance of a care work

So far, we have mainly spoken about productive, tangible work: translations, editing, formatting. These tasks are mostly word-based and therefore, easy to quantify and assign credits. But what about everything that leads, directly or indirectly, to paid work? Searching for clients, project management, quality control, relationship and trust building, etc. – all the invisible work that goes into keeping afloat? This is reproductive work, or care work.

In GT. we distinguish between two types of care work: that for the health of the collective, and that for the living beings within.

When talking about caring for the health of the collective, we conceive it as a living entity or system, even a commons. The emergent values of this system are encoded in the governance model and embodied by the collective’s practices and legal-technical structures [3]. To maintain a healthy collective we choose to honour our collective agreements, maintain our communication rhythms, and distribute the care work needed to make the collective thrive. Other ways to care for the health of the collective include coop and business development, seeking and attending to clients, making sure our financials are up to date and everything is paid, maintaining active relationships with authors, publishers, following through on our commitments… everything that you’d consider as “admin” work in a traditional agency or co-op, and on top of that, everything else that’s easily forgotten if you’re not doing it yourself. It’s literally invisible work to those who don’t acknowledge it, and work that many feel unjustifiably obligated to take on.

The difference is that in Guerrilla Translation, these activities aren’t assigned to set roles. Instead, all “caring for the health of the collective” aka care work items are modular, easily visualized, and can be picked up by any collective member. In fact, those members may belong to one or more work circles, which steward certain areas, such as community, sustainability, networking, training, tech, etc.

Additionally, when we speak about care work for the living beings who make the collective, we refer to the individual Guerrilla Translators who mutually build trust and intimacy to care for and support each other. Our cooperative practices should never be solely dependent on technology or protocols, including the governance model. These are only tools to facilitate and strengthen our collaborative culture.

We believe that cooperative cohesion is primarily based on healthy, consent-based heterarchical relationships. To foster these we have committed to certain regular practices, such as mentoring — where we practice and document peer learning in the collective’s tools and practices — and mutual support — where we look after each other and care for our mutual well-being, attuned to everyone’s moods, needs and larger realities beyond the collective.

Every member, whether in training or longstanding, is supported by a specific person who has their back. Every member has someone else’s back. Supported members have a safe space to express themselves to be cared for and heard within the collective. In this relationship, they may also be reminded of their commitments, etc. Conflict resolution is handled through the mutual support system, ensuring the distribution of personal care work. This has been a very basic overview of the model’s structural (credits and shares) and cultural (care work) qualities. If it raises more questions than it answers, or if you’re simply curious, you can read the full model. In the following sections, we will visualize the ways in which the model can work.

What this looks like in practice

Meet “Jill”, a Guerrilla Translator. Today she’s got a little bit of a time and has chosen an article to be translated. Maybe she proposed it, or maybe she picked it up from an existing list of material waiting to be translated. She contacts the author to let her know that GT would like to translate and publish the article, and asks for any required permission if necessary, etc.

This describes a pro-bono translation. Jill will work alongside “María”, a copyeditor, and “Deb”, who’ll take care of the web formatting and social media promotion of the article.

The article is 1000 words long. This wordcount is processed through GT’s internal credits protocol, with this pro-bono translation valued at 0,16 credits per word. Once completed, 160 Love credits will be created. This is how they are split:

  • 80 for the translation (Jill)
  • 40 for the copyediting/proofreading (María)
  • 10 for pre production (Jill, as she chose the article and contacted the author)
  • 20 for formatting (Deb)
  • 10 for post production (Deb, as she will be promoting the translation doing social media, etc) [4]

Let’s imagine that this is the first time that Jill, Maria and Deb have done a pro-bono project for GT. Once the project is accounted for, their respective pro-bono shares will look like this:

  • Jill has accrued 90 Love Credits
  • María has accrued 40 Love Credits
  • Deb has accrued 30 Love Credits

A week passes, and an author or client wants to contract GT to translate an article. This is called livelihood work. The material is chosen by the client (obviously), and the deadline negotiated with the collective. Coincidentally, the text to be translated is also 1000 words long (amazing how our examples are identical!). GT’s agency side uses a sliding scale for prices. This client is a small, open source-oriented NGO, so the price is quoted at 0,12 € per word. The team will be Jill as the translator and María as the editor. Note that unlike the pro-bono translation above, there is no web formatting to be done. Once the translation is completed, the client owes GT 120 €, but this money will not be paid directly to Jill and María as income. This money will be held until the end of the month in a digital trust dedicated to maintaining health of the collective. Meanwhile, once the translation is complete and sent to the client, Jill and Maria will have accrued the following Livelihood Credits:

  • Jill has accrued 80 Livelihood Credits
  • María has accrued 40 Livelihood Credits

For the sake of simplicity, we’ll assume that these are the only pro bono and agency translations undertaken in the history of the collective. Now it’s getting toward the end of the month and the Guerilla Translators are ready to distribute! There are exactly 120 euros in the bank account [5]. This is how they will be distributed:

  • 75% of the funds will fulfill Livelihood credit shares
  • 25% will fulfill Pro-bono credit shares

These percentages have been chosen to balance the time needed for paid work while not forgetting to set aside some time for the vital pro-bono side. Now, we will divest those 120 € within the trust and into two “streams”:

  • The Livelihood Stream receives a total of 90,00 €
  • The Love Stream receives a total of 30,00 €

This is now divided among the member’s shares in the following way:

Livelihood Stream: Jill holds 67% of the “shares” (80 credits of 120 total), while María has 33% (40 credits of a 120 total). So out of 88,80 € allocated for the Livelihood Stream, Jill will receive 60,30 €. María receives 29,70 €.

Love Stream: Jill holds 56% of the shares (90 credits of 160 total). María has 25% (40 out of 160) and Deb has 19% (30 out of 160). So, out of 30 € allocated for the Love Stream, Jill will receive 16,80 €, María 7,50 € and Deb 5,70 €.

Totalled up, this is the money that gets paid to the three active members:

  • Jill receives 77,10 € (her Livelihood and Love work combined)
  • María receives 37,20 € (her Livelihood and Love work combined)
  • Deb receives 5,70 € (Just Love work, as Deb hasn’t performed any livelihood work this month)

This totals 120 €. Magic!

One example among many

This is one situation. During another month, María may have done much more editing work, which takes less time than translation. Deb may have done more care work (more on that later) in both the Love and Livelihood streams. New people may have come in, maybe there’s been a windfall! The model can account for all these and other possibilities while also being dynamic in changing circumstances. It’s a “Team Human” model where the technology is kept flexible, and updates to serve the qualitative experiences of the collective, not just the measurable ones.

The secret life of Livelihood, Love and the ways of measuring credits

As you may have noticed, if 1 love credit equals 1 euro, in the example above we’ve only paid down 30 Love credits (25% of distributed funds) in euros. As 160 Love credits were created with the pro-bono translation, this still leaves 130 which haven’t been paid in money.

The credits that have been converted into money and transferred to individual’s accounts are called Divested credits, ie: they’ve been paid down. The unpaid credits are considered Invested credits: active credits that have yet to be paid. If you think about it, on a month by month basis 75% of Love credits will be “invested” rather than divested/paid. In essence, the coop has an ongoing debt with its own pro-bono/Love stream which will be paid back on a rolling basis. [6]

The same situation is also applicable to Livelihood credits. As 75% of earned credits are divested, 25% will remain invested. Both types of credits (Love and Livelihood) can be divested or invested. Meanwhile, the sum of both are considered Historical credits.

“Why so many? So confusing!” Yeah okay, but complexity allows for dynamism, nuance and catering for the different life circumstances and preferences of Guerrilla Translators. Reality is complex, and we want this to work in many real situations.

For now, it’s important to make clear that the total amount of historical credits you have accrued reflect your investment in the organization. Whether it’s productive or reproductive work, it all gets tracked: this informs our governance.

While in typical daily situations, all Guerrilla Translators have what amounts to “one member one vote” rights, historical credits come into play when making critical decisions such as blocked discussions, large structural changes to the governance model, and legal structure changes. In these rare yet important situations, votes can be weighed against an individual’s historical credits.

Meanwhile, the invested/divested ratio helps clarify which members are prioritized for Livelihood work. Given that livelihood work gets divested at a 75% higher rate than Love work, we want to make sure that everyone has a chance to perform it, and that incoming work is offered to those with a higher invested ration first. Similarly, when measuring care work the invested/divested ratios helps clarify when individuals may be benefitting monetarily in lieu of caring for the collective (and its members). In these cases, the ratio is used to determine whether to divest less and agree to a renewed commitment to care work.

In essence, care work is measured in hours, not credits, but it is only entrusted to members who have already gone through a 9-month “dating” phase before becoming fully committed members. All care work hours are instantly turned into historical credits. The Governance Model also describes two scenarios for care work hours: one in which these are paid from an seed-funding pool and a second when once the Open Coop is stable, it is entirely demonetised, with members committing to a set amount of hours each month and adjusting accordingly when there are any discrepancies. [7]

Why have we chosen this model?

Imagine that María is single mother with two kids to take care of. She wants to do socially useful work, but her material realities don’t allow her that privilege. By working with Guerrilla Translation she a) can perform paid/livelihood work for causes that matter and b) will not “lose” income by doing pro-bono work – ie, translations that would not otherwise get funded, but which should still be translated.

In fact, she could spend most of her time just doing paid/livelihood work, and it would still benefit the pro-bono/love side (and vice versa). The model addresses the possibility of internal competition for “paid work” overshadowing the social/activist mission of the collective. In short, contributing to the Commons also makes your livelihood more resilient. In turn, you make the Commons more resilient by creating new commons and facilitating communications. The same can be said about care work. The more you demonstrate care for the collective, the more resilient and healthy it will be. If any member can’t contribute a similar proportion of care work as the rest, the member will simply have a proportional amount of their credits deducted and will be encouraged to compensate by committing to more care hours.

In summary, the model is designed to find an optimum balance between paid, pro bono and reproductive work, with equity and continued dialogue at the center.

And much, much more

Here we have touched on some of the characteristics of the model. The full version looks at every aspect in detail, including roles and responsibilitiesonboarding and mentoring, the legal/technical backdropcommunity rhythmsgraduated sanctionspayment mechanicsdecision making, and much more.

If you are interested in joining or collaborating with Guerrilla Translation, or are researching or writing about new forms of commons-oriented accounting (and accountability!), you are now much better prepared to grasp the model in its entirety:

Commons-Oriented Open Cooperative Governance Model V 2.0

Meanwhile, for easy reference we are providing below a summary of the model’s main featured and a list of the materials that influenced its creation.

Open Coop Governance Model TLDR

In short: Guerrilla Translators undertake both pro-bono and paid translation/editing work. These types of productive work are accounted for in internal credits (1 credit = 1 Euro), creating shares. Net funds held in GT’s account are then distributed on a monthly basis: 75% of these are used to pay down members’ agency (livelihood) shares. The remaining 25% is used to pay for pro bono (love) shares. Reproductive work is tallied in hours and distributed according to each members ratio of benefits vs. contributions.

Below is the protocol for the model’s main characteristics. These can be applied as a bare-bones formula for other commons-oriented service collectives. Hyperlinks direct to specific sections of the full governance model text or to the Guerrilla Media Collective Wiki.

Suggested Reading

First is a summary article of our GT Reloaded event, documenting the main discussions and takeaways from the encounter, where we picked apart and reimagined the governance model:

  • Punk Elegance: How Guerrilla Translation reimagined itself for Open Cooperativism (article) “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.” See also the Guerrilla Translation Reloaded Full Workshop Report for a more detailed account.

Following is a list of articles, papers, videos on things that have influenced our governance model and general philosophy. They also explore some of the tensions we have tried to reconcile: between metrics and the immeasurable, system design and lived experience, and productive and reproductive work.

  • Patterns for Decentralised Governance and why Blockchain Doesn’t Decentralise Power… Unless You Design It To (Video and article) “There is a lot of anticipation for how blockchain and other decentralising technologies are going to drastically reshape society, but do they address power? “If you take a step back from the technology, if you look at the challenges we face in wider society, and you look at the history of social change, if you step back and just consider for a minute: “how can we decentralise power?”, then “build a better database” feels like a pretty weak answer. To me, it seems obvious that some of the most urgent power imbalances fall on gender, race, and class lines.”
  • Patterns for Decentralised Organising (e-book) “I’m not so interested in what you’re working on together, I’m just going to focus on how you do it. To my way of thinking, it doesn’t matter if you’re trying to build a better electric vehicle, or develop government policy, or blockade a pipeline; whenever you work with a group of people on a shared objective, there’s some stuff you’re going to deal with, some challenges. How do we decide what we’re working on? who does what? who can join our team? what are our expectations for each other? what happens when someone doesn’t fulfill those expectations? what do we do with disagreement? how do decisions get made?” [8]
  • The Financialization of Life (article). “Do we want everything in life to be a transaction, as the market totalitarians propose? Or do we want to be citizen-commoners, co-creating shared value in freely associating communities? These differences matter, and Salvatore Iaconesi has written a brilliant analysis of the potential dangers of uncritically applying the blockchain to human life.”
  • Re-imagining Value: Insights from the Care Economy, Commons, Cyberspace and Nature (booklet). “What is “value” and how shall we protect it? It’s a simple question for which we don’t have a satisfactory answer. For conventional economists and politicians, the answer is simple: value is essentially the same as price. This report explains that how we define value says a lot about what we care about and how we make sense of things — and the political agendas we pursue.”
  • There is an alternative: participatory economics (interview) In this interview, Michael Albert — co-founder of Znet — reflects on the vision of participatory economics, and how it could take us beyond capitalism. “For the Occupy movements, and for other projects and movements which are rousing and continuing all around the world, to all together merge into a massive project that is truly oriented to engender a classless, feminist, inter-communalist, participatory future — I think their membership will have to be in command, not some elite at the helm. And I think those memberships will have to know the broad defining attributes of where they are trying to go, so they use tactics and strategies consistent with getting there.”
  • From Platform to Open Cooperativism (article) “Two cooperative movements are important in this discussion: Platform Cooperativism, and Open Cooperativism. One may be more publicly visible right now, but they have much in common. These movements marry the power of digital networks with the rich history of the cooperative movement. How do these approaches compare? Are they redundant, complementary, mutually exclusive? What exact problems do they solve, and what outcome do they seek? In this article, we explain their origins and characteristics, and see how the actions proposed by these movements can work together, helping us form resilient livelihoods in our networked age.”
  • Why do we need a contribution accounting system? (article) “With the advent of the Internet and the development of new digital technologies, the economy is following a trend of decentralization. The most innovative environments are open source communities and peer production is on the rise. The crowd innovates and produces. But the crowd is organized in loose networks, it is geographically dispersed, and contributions to projects follow a long tail distribution. What are the possible reward mechanisms in this new economy?”
  • Blockchain technology : toward a decentralized governance of digital platforms? (academic paper) “In the same way, blockchain technology has enabled the emergence of new projects and initiatives designed around to the principles of decentralization and disintermediation, providing a new platform for large-scale experimentation in the design of new economic and organisational structures. Yet, to be really transformative, these initiatives need to transcend the current models of protocol-based governance and game-theoretical incentives, which can easily be co-opted by powerful actors, and come up with new governance models combining both on-chain and off-chain governance rules. The former can be used to support new mechanisms of regulation by code, novel incentivization schemes and a new sense of ownership over digital assets, whereas the latter are necessary to promote the vision, and facilitate the interaction of commons-based projects and initiatives with the existing legal and societal framework.”
  • Holo: The evolution of cloud computing (article) “This is an attempt to communicate Holo in simple, clear language (with a bit of playfulness to keep it entertaining)” and A Futurist’s View on Holochain, The Evolution Of Blockchain(video). An easy to understand video walk-through on Holo’s architecture and potential.
  • Blockchain Just Isn’t As Radical As You Want It To Be (article). “Today, Silicon Valley appropriates so many of the ideas of the left —anarchism, mobility, and cooperation— even limited forms of welfare. This can create the sense that technical fixes like the blockchain are part of some broader shift to a post-capitalist society, when this shift has not taken place. Indeed, the blockchain applications that are really gaining traction are those developed by large banks in collaboration with tech startups — applications to build private blockchains for greater asset management or automatic credit clearing between banks, or to allow cultural industries to combat piracy in a distributed network and manage the sale and ownership of digital goods more efficiently.”

Footnotes

  1. Jump up The original Better Means Governance Model can be read here. The changes have been so substantial that it should not be taken as a reflection of our current governance model, but mainly an inspiration.
  2. Jump up From Wikipedia’s entry on Feminist Economics: “While economics traditionally focused on markets and masculine-associated ideas of autonomy, abstraction and logic, feminist economists call for a fuller exploration of economic life, including such “culturally feminine” topics such as family economics, and examining the importance of connections, concreteness, and emotion in explaining economic phenomena”
  3. Jump up These are currently in development. Read our 2018 reboot article or full report for more.
  4. Jump up To see how love credits are subdivided, please read the Credit Value for Love Work section of our model
  5. Jump up For the sake of simplicity we have made the amount in the bank identical to the invoiced amount (120 eu). Of course, in real life, part of the proceeds of livelihood work go toward paying taxes, fixed expenses and a community savings pool. You can read more about that in this section of the model: The Monthly Payment Pipeline
  6. Jump up There are, however, ways to accelerate the payment of Love credits, as detailed in this section of the governance model.
  7. Jump up For a full overview of how care work is tracked and valued read this section of the governance model.
  8. Jump up Guerrilla Translation has agreed to adapt and adopt all the patterns explained in this book. More information about this decision can be found here.

Original art by Mercè Moreno Tarrés.

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