Enspiral Case Study 2016

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This is one of the pages on this wiki which came out of the Wortley Hall 2016
Co-operative Technologists First Annual Gathering at Wortley Hall, 14th - 17th November 2016.

Text copied from the Hackpad.

Enspiral Talk

300 people, all with different opinions on what Enspiral is

No “one vision” or manifesto that guides Enspiral

Myth: rich silicon-valley entrepreneurs set up Enspiral. They aren’t particularly involved, however they did invest.

Why We Exist

“More people working on stuff that matters”

Well paid developers can earn enough to live comfortably in a short period of time, and then focus their energy on good causes

Around 10 web developers who felt this way got together and worked in this way

After a year, diverse professionals joined (e.g. accountants, legal professionals)

After another year, around 2011, Enspiral felt that they should be having more of an impact. They were approached by activists to build Loomio.

Collaboration built into Enspiral from the beginning. Inspiration was took from many sources, including Sociocracy and Agile Development.

Face-to-face time incredibly important for Enspiral, so there are retreats twice a year that everyone involved goes to (if they can).

Usually remote collaborators are met face-to-face at least once.

There was originally a co-working space but it has dissolved.

How We Developed

Enspiral became a “collection of ventures”.

Enspiral is becoming a “collection of communities”.

Gender diversity is good, racial and class diversity not so good.

60% of ventures have come from within, 40% from without.

Use “cultural technology”, e.g. check-ins – radical honesty – “I’ve had a bad day and I don’t want to be in this meeting”.

Use external facilitators as much as possible.


15 ventures providing employment to people.

200 - 300 contributors.

50 members of the core foundation – a Limited Liability Company with a Not For Profit constitution.

Members have a decision making share, not a financial share.

To become a contributor, you have to be asked by a member.

Enspiral is a curated network – not anyone can join.

To become a member, you are “sensed” to be committed to Enspiral, and then there is a 75% quorum decision among members over whether you should become a member.

You can work on a venture without being a contributor.

The foundation is the “Minimum Viable Business” with a board – the “Minimum Viable Board” – for legal reasons


Ventures decide how much of their revenue goes back into the foundation.

“Enspiral Labs” gives 10% of their revenue.

Loomio is the “glue” that binds Enspiral together. As much as possible, all decisions are pushed out into the wide group of contributors + members.

Loomio recently got NZ$600,000 in investment in such a way that the investors are not able to influence the product.


Half of contributors money that they give back to Enspiral goes into their cobudget pot.

This pot is used to fund whatever project or idea you want.

How participatory are you?

Funding, budgeting, finance and decision making are key areas to look at.

How is funding allocated? Who has access to the information?

How does budgeting work? Who has access to the information?

How are financial matters managed? Who has access to the information?

How are decisions made? Who can be involved?


Currently Enspiral has focussed on figuring out a resilient and responsive process.

At Enspiral, you don’t consume the network, you create it – i.e. you don’t just consume what others have done before you, you create your own stuff – e.g. Loomio discussions and proposals.

Now Enspiral is seeking to open-source what they have learnt.

The Challenge of Leadership

When Enspiral was starting up, a lot of the heavy-lifting was done by a small number of people: “We need to do this work, we’re the only ones who can”. The network started relying on these people, until there was an “organisational refactor”.

There was pushback, for example on having to report on the projects that were co-budgeted: “This is top down management!” This argument was being had over Loomio, and potentially having it face-to-face would have helped.

Now Enspiral has “stewardship” – every member has a steward, and every member stewards another member.

Enspiral hoping to use stewardship as adult-to-adult relationships, not mentor-mentee/patriarchal relationships.

Enspiral is also trialling an idea called “Catalysts”. Four people share a leadership position, in a 2-week sprint, and the work that they do is decided on by the network. The only power the “leaders” have is to prioritise their backlog.


  • Q: There is no clear pathway to become a member of Enspiral. This is different to co-ops, as they must have this clear path. Is Enspiral an oligarchy?
  • A: This is an issue, we don’t want to make it too easy or clear how to become the right fit for Enspiral. We want people to take it into their own hands to prove their commitment. People need to figure it out for themselves – by figuring it out, you become ready.

  • Q: Too much jargon?
  • A: Potentially, yes.
  • Q: Given that to be able to find your way into Enspiral you must be privileged, isn’t Enspiral discriminatory?
  • A: Yes, but that is sector wide, and we are doing our best to tackle this. For example, we have “Enspiral Dev Academy” that helps less privileged people to be successful.
  • Q: I am very inspired! I work in a workers co-op, but there are too many members who are not cooperatively minded! How can we fix this?
  • A: To make a lot of room in the organisation for cooperation.
  • Q: Is the recruitment process of most worker coops is similar to that of Enspiral?
  • A: Enspiral is easy to join and hard to stay. People are very, very rarely let go, and only for very serious transgressions. People leave because they don’t want to deal with the “extra work” that goes along with working in Enspiral.
  • Q: Is instability a core part of Enspiral?
  • A: Enspiral was founded by people who were very politically alternative in their way of thinking. This “origin story” still has an impact, but is not reaching the full reaches of the network. Enspiral couldn’t have been started if it was all web developers – you need facilitators, managers, etc. who can’t earn as much all the time and should be supported. We would like Enspiral to be more stable – potentially by sharing income. One idea is to have “livelihood pods” where several people pay into and draw their income from the same pot, and the pot has a buffer to protect incomes.