Values and Principles governing Communication Platform Design

One of the common goals for Cooperative Housing Initiatives undoubtedly is to provide alternatives for the so called ‘broken housing market’. But it is not only housing that needs fixing, the world wide web is also in need of repair.

We often are inclined to make use of well known collaboration tools like the free services from google and facebook because they provide convenient and cheep means for communication and because large part of the population is already registered on, and familiar with, their platforms. But at the same time there is also quite a lot of discontent among members of the cooperative community about the way big commercial tech companies seem to think about privacy policy, governance policy, tax policy, etc.

So we’re looking for alternatives and luckily there also are many web applications around striving for a more responsible, equitable and secure internet, that especially when combined, could provide quite a compelling digital space. But how to identify and combine them into a seamless digital ecosystem like those big tech companies are doing? One thing is for sure: we need to combine our forces and resources to do so. But to do some cloudbusting might also be far less complicated than most people think: consider this site as an experimental setup to exemplify what might be possible and to make this idea a little more concrete.

While selecting and configuring functional components, I obviously focused on products and services deemed useful to facilitate the efforts of the international community of cooperative housing organisations and their respective members. I admit that this is also mixed up with personal preferences, so I suggest to open a separate forum topic where the community will be able to discuss all essential and desirable functional features.

In this topic I would like to focus on the identification and discussion of ethical considerations about the way internet is working and how to provide more control and agency to internet users and better align the development of applications with their goals and with the public interest. So, here is the current set of social considerations and principles that govern the selection of organisations, products and services used in the construction of this digital platform.

The starting point within the cooperative movement quite obviously would be the internationally agreed cooperative values and principles. They also seem to provide a good conceptual underlay for the development and ownership of internet services. Cooperatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, cooperative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.


  • The first principle states that Cooperatives are voluntary organisations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination. To make use of all the services of a cooperative, they normally do require membership though. This membership also provides voting rights in organizational policies and strategic direction. Membership preferably is distributed among nummerous self-organising entities, each one small enough for their members to experience a sufficient level of voice and agency within the cooperative body where they are part of.

  • Wherever viable it would be great to see those small scale entities emerging with community-led ownership and control over data, control over the implementation of functional software components, control over (virtual)infrastructure in combination with techniques to integrate local nodes into a global system and with voice and commissioning rights of the users with respect to platform development. Actually within the early days of the internet the situation didn’t differ that much from this principle, but our digital realm has developed in way that made us overly dependent on just a handful of corporations. So the effort should clearly not be restricted to technological innovation, but also take into account the governance structures capable of preventing mission drift and ensuring that technological innovations will be used in ways that promotes the well-being of all of us without compromising the well-being of future generations.

  • When outsourcing services it would be preferable do so collectively in customer cooperatives and establish transparent, democratically led umbrella organisations where the interested parties in a governing body are composed in such a way that together they are well aligned with the public interest, implementing transparent and auditable business models where earnings are proportional to personal effort instead of capital investments or any type of marketable legal ownership or exclusive right. The proposed ownership structure for this Internet domain is an example of this.

  • We should refuse to work with organisations with poor environmental and social policies or with organisations practicing or pre-empting monopolistic corporate strategies.

  • The digital platform should be trustworthy. Users must be confident that the information they provide will be used only for the purpose and within the context for which it was made available by them. Users should have control over the range in which information will be shared and need not only be able to rely, but also should be able to audit and verify that the information they provide is in good hands. At minimum, this means that we should only work with organisations, services and facilities abiding General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), implementing and promoting transparent and auditable security policies.

  • The information on the digital platform should also be trustworthy. For example, data in a user profile that advertises affiliation with an associative body must be correct, easily verifiable and, if necessary, validatable by the relevant associative body. When a subscriber indicates that his personal telephone number may be shared with all members of all cooperative housing initiatives affiliated with his respective national federative body, then the digital platform must be able to somehow verify whether a new subscriber who also claims to be affiliated with this body is indeed right in doing so. Verifiable credentials are particularly important when linked to elevated permissions or roles that relate to or affect other users on the digital platform.

  • An ongoing effort will be made to implement common schemes for disclosable information that allow for 1) a decentralised and sovereign administration and curation of data and 2) the exchange and automated aggregation of information in an open or federated cloud. This is a necessity for communication beyond the boundaries of a particular cloud instance or technological framework and is also useful for example for the construction of federated directories and maps and the collection of statistics about all affiliated organisations together. This could also help to increase the visibility and to quantify the societal contribution of small scale cooperatives and mutuals, for which it now often appears quite difficult to collect statistical information.

  • Make use of open-source software released under a license in which the copyright holder grants users the rights to use, study, change, and distribute the software and its source code to anyone and for any purpose.

  • Make use of applications, protocols and practices enabling inclusion of the widest range of people within a diverse user community. With a special focus on accessibility for people with disabilities in accordance with the principles defined in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and also with a special effort to reduce the effects of existing language barriers.

  • Make use of multi-modal communication applications that allow users to individually choose their preferred means of communication (like email, website or app) to engage in online discussions.

  • Make use of modular, plug-able and interchangeable components and applications, using open standards, that are well integrate-able with other software packages through API’s allowing good functional co-operation of various packages and preventing the vendor, or network, lock in of end users.

  • Make use of applications that support and enable data commons and data sovereignty for end users.

  • Make use of applications that already can or possibly can be made to work as a federated cloud consisting of multiple distributed instances.

  • Giving preference to technologies with are both reliable and future proof, backed up by an active and skilled community of developers.

  • Giving preference to technologies able to scale as needed and that avoid unnecessary or disproportionate use of energy and resources as much as possible.

  • Make use of applications compatible with fully automated deployment techniques like helm charts or jelastic packages. Bolstering accurate documentation, easy reproduction, scaling and staging of deployments. These techniques drastically reduce the time and cost of implementation and enable the distributed implementation of multiple self-governed instances in a federated platform.

Subscribers are encouraged to elaborate further on the values and principles that should be respected in a community platform being ethical by design. The list above still is but the product of a single person’s brainstorming about this subject, it needs to be confronted with other viewpoints and community debate in order to arrive at a widely held set of principles. It’s probably a good idea to eventually condense the ideas for the next generation Internet in a development manifest. Based on the tentative considerations above I have begun to configure this digital platform. Investigating, justifying, configuring and exemplifying readily existing solutions I came up with the following technical design for a platform capable of serving a large and branched international community.