Governance by user groups

This article is part of a series: ‘Stigmergy: Systems of Mass Collaboration’.

Governments up till now have been run by hierarchical groups, which act as the final authority on all topics for an entire region for an arbitrarily specified length of time or until they are overthrown by another group. What these authorities govern is a series of systems, controlled by the state or corporations, and run as dictatorships where workers’ individual rights are exchanged for the basic necessities of life. These systems have profit and control for the top of the hierarchy as their objective; they are not set up to provide an efficient or superior service or product to the users.

If these systems were organized as autonomous, permeable, transparent user groups, they would be far better governed by themselves. The current political structure does not recognize that every system is not of concern or interest to everyone in the region or that many systems are of far wider concern than one state. We need responsibility and control to rest with the entire user group and functionality for the entire user group, not profit or power, should be the objective.


Each user group should consist of all people affected by the system and no people not affected by the system.

The debate around who the user group is would be the most challenging aspect of this type of governance. When the United States passes laws that allow them to indefinitely detain people around the world, or builds up a massive military, the user group allowed input ought obviously to include everyone with the potential to have their individual rights violated. The potential for hot debate occurs in situations such as abortion where some will argue that only the person pregnant is entitled to an opinion and others that the unborn child also has rights. Still others will argue the loss of a potential child in the future gives the father a vote as well. There are very convincing arguments for each of these positions, which will have to rely in large part on what the underlying principles of individual rights are accepted to be, but it would be impossible to argue that a state could require women to have an internal ultrasound prior to an abortion the state has already agreed the woman is entitled to.

In environmentally sensitive areas such as the Arctic, the few who live in the area must have their rights considered along with the rights of the planet. The global commons deserve an overriding bill of rights similar to the basic individual rights, which are always consulted before the rights of any other user group. Then a balance needs to be struck between the needs of the population, who may, for instance, require (or choose) a seal hunt to ensure the fish population or seal products they need to survive, and the rights of the planet which is not particularly affected by it. The opinion of the people in the rest of the world who may be revolted by the seal hunt must not be allowed to override the needs or wishes of those who live there unless they can prove actual longterm negative impact to the environment. The solution for those revolted will be discussed in Farmgate Importing.

Gun control laws in Arctic Canada dictated through democracy by people in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, would be illogical and unfair. The concerns of people in those cities would need to be considered regarding any weapons that were brought within range of causing harm to the people there, but communities should decide local matters for themselves. Drilling for oil in the Arctic is at the other end of the spectrum, and for one or a group of nations or corporations to assert a ‘right’ to drill for oil in the Arctic, dump iron fertilizer and radioactive material into the Pacific or oil and dispersants into the Atlantic is a violation of the rights of the global commons. Oceans do not even belong to one generation much less one species, one nation or one corporation.

The above examples are not presented as subjects for debate here, just to illustrate the obvious difficulties that will arise in defining user groups. These examples dramatically increase in complexity in the more densely populated and diverse parts of the world.

User groups are seldom simply entire nations and there are users of differing levels of involvement in each system. International systems would include things such as the internet, telecommunications and knowledge, local systems would include things such as transit, food production and social services, and in any situation where only one family or an individual is affected, the responsibility would lie with only them. Each local user group or individual should have access to outside user groups for trade, shared knowledge, disaster relief, etc., autonomous but networked into a larger society for mutual support.

Individual rights

While individual rights applied equally for all works in some cases, sometimes there are conflicting priorities and needs. Censorship on the internet interferes with freedom of speech, but hate speech primarily attacks only vulnerable groups. Invasion of privacy has been conveniently defined by groups such as reddit administrators and moderators to include the names of men posting creepshots but not the naked bodies of women and children posted to the site. The rights of paparazzi to freedom of speech have been allowed to completely overwhelm the rights of women with public jobs to privacy or security which then infringes on their freedom of speech. The right to information about actions which affect the public has been transformed to the right to invade the privacy of any person the media deems newsworthy. The right to produce and broadcast violence has been allowed to overwhelm the right of vulnerable populations to feel secure.

Individual rights need to ensure consideration and respect for all; those that are decrepit or ill, those that are not fully matured, those that can give birth, those that are raising children or are in other ways directly responsible for the wellbeing of others, as well as the general population, without special interest groups having to form and lobby for their voices to be amplified. In defining all rights, special care must be taken that those rights will not infringe on the rights of others. In this way systems which respect individual rights can operate autonomously knowing they are infringing on no others.

Global commons

Anything which is not only of global interest but also does not belong to any one generation cannot be destroyed and cannot be claimed as the property of any individual, group, corporation or government. Global commons would include space, the atmosphere and electromagnetic field, deep sea ocean, land and water masses of sufficient size to have global impact, areas of the biosphere which are rare or important enough to be of global concern, and knowledge. Knowledge includes discoveries, history, creative works, and the information people require in order to govern themselves and excludes personal information regarding individuals. If society is to progress, there should be no restriction on the use of ideas, although creativity needs to be compensated and credited.

Anything belonging to the global commons must be held under stewardship of a porous and transparent organization set up for the purpose, and the mandate for all global commons must include the protection and preservation of the commons. Like individual rights, the needs of the global commons must take precedence over all user groups.


Contribution at all levels of each user group must be open to all users. Expertise can be assessed and acquired in concentric user groups, and work can be contributed and accepted or rejected by stigmergy. Having all German federal law and regulations on github is a great idea, but only if pull requests are allowed from the people affected by the laws of Germany. An open meritocratic working group provides workers with autonomy, mastery and purpose. People can work on anything they like, they are not required to submit resumes, acquire accreditation, seniority, or approval from an individual authority. If their work is good enough it will be accepted by the user group. Everyone can work on the system that interests them, doing the jobs at the level they are capable of, with as much or as little involvement as they choose. If the worker is also part of the user group, the benefits to themselves are immediate and obvious. The most effective way to prevent producer and consumer conflict of interests is to eliminate separation between the two. The farmer who eats their own food has an interest in producing healthy food.


All information related to the system must be fully transparent in order for users to participate in tasks or auditing and to learn how to contribute to the system. Transparency allows every user of the system to explain to anyone interested what is being developed and why, why the structure is the way it is and any other information new users require. Transparency allows users to act as the knowledge bridges to train new users.

If individual rights and the rights of global commons are accepted as being paramount, every user group should, subject only to these conditions, be entitled to govern themselves.

4 thoughts on “Governance by user groups

  1. Pingback: The problems with democracy | GeorgieBC's Blog

  2. Pingback: P2P Foundation » Blog Archive » A proposal for Governance by User Groups

  3. Pingback: My favorite book | adamkendall2

  4. Pingback: Stigmergy in Bloodchild – (Im)Possibilities

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