What were your main objectives during this reporting period?
- Launch the new Platform Cooperative website
- Co-design with partner cooperatives
- Design and develop the Labour Platform architecture
- Design and prototype the Learning Commons
Please summarize the progress you made on those objectives. If there are any milestone for the grant, please highlight progress you made on each benchmark.
The needs of our participating cooperatives are incredibly diverse, and their readiness to adopt new technologies and platforms differs greatly. Our project's goals are ambitious, complex, and highly dependent on recruiting a community of contributors to help grow and sustain the effort. As a result, we are working very closely with our partner cooperatives and the larger platform co-op community throughout the design and development process, using iterative and open source methods. Our design process typically starts with the creation of the simplest possible intervention into the problem space—a sketch, a prototype, a workflow or journey—which we then share openly with co-designers and the co-op community to critique, help refine, and transform our initial assumptions. We build from small successes, and aim to design simple, constantly-evolving artifacts whose provisionality invites greater feedback and improvement from our community. Over the course of many iterations throughout the project's timeline, these designs are extended to provide new features, greater robustness, and to respond to emerging needs.
During this reporting period, we:
- Designed, developed, and launched an entirely new version of the platform.coop website, which serves as the starting point for accessing all of the features of the Development Kit
- Specified the technical architecture and approach for the Learning Commons
- Designed and prototyped several prospective user experiences for the Learning Commons
- Designed and prototyped several approaches for the Labour Platform
- Planned, developed activities for, and supported embedded co-design sessions led by partner cooperatives
- Worked closely with platform cooperative community members to solicit ideas, advice, feedback, and support for the new website, learning commons, and labour platform
A completely re-designed and re-developed platform.coop website was recently launched. This new website provides a starting point for people to find more information about platform cooperativism, including the tools and resources being created for the Development Kit. Significant effort was invested in designing an information architecture that will allow the site to grow over time, and that can be most easily used by the primary audiences for the information it provides. For example, the How Platform Co-ops Can Benefit You page, which provides information and starting points tailored to specific stakeholders such as unions, business owners, policy makers, and technologists.
The platform.coop website was re-implemented entirely using free software (WordPress, Composer, Sage, etc.), and is openly distributed via the Platform Cooperative Development Kit project's Github organization (https://github.com/platform-coop-toolkit), where others can reuse parts of it or contribute to its ongoing development. The site is now hosted by a worker-owned cooperative hosting company, and can be more easily updated and maintained by non-developers.
The Learning Commons will provide a diverse array of resources to support current and prospective platform cooperatives. Reflecting the international scope of our project, it will aggregate material in multiple languages and allow others to contribute localizations and region/context-specific variations of the material.
An overall software architecture and technical approach for the Learning Commons has been designed and documented openly. We have elaborated an architecture for a taxonomy of types of resources (based on WordPress' Content Types architecture), which will allow users to find, organize, and collect resources in a way that suits their needs best. The scope of this architecture is currently being discussed with technologists within the broader platform cooperative community, and will be implemented in the next several months after our partner cooperatives have had an opportunity to weigh in with their priorities as well. This architecture has also been designed to support the use of the Learning Commons as a reusable component within the Labour Platform, so that cooperatives can deploy and integrate a private version of the Learning Commons software to share cooperative-internal documentation and training materials.
Several prototypes of the Learning Commons user experience have been designed, at varying levels of fidelity and functionality. These prototypes will be used as part of the co-design process with participating cooperatives, and our co-designers will have the opportunity to adapt and create their own prototypes prior to our implementing the full Learning Commons software. An interactive Learning Commons prototype is available on the web, and a collection of different experimental paper prototypes, which were elaborated with members of the platform cooperative community, have been posted as well.
The Labour Platform will consist of a series of reusable software components and a "Hub," or integration framework, which will support the development of critical technologies for cooperatives—potentially including governance, financial, and scheduling tools. The aim of the Labour Platform is not to provide a turn-key, monolithic application that tries to shoehorn everything any cooperative could need, but rather to provide the shared technical starting points and UX building blocks that will enable cooperatives to develop their own platform that suits their unique needs and workflows best, while reducing the cost, complexity, and redundancy of building the underlying software infrastructure as much as possible.
An architecture for the Labour Platform has been specified and shared openly. It outlines the key technical components of the Labour Platform, and will be implemented using open source web technologies such as Progressive Web Applications (PWAs) that can work in cases where unreliable connectivity is common or offline support is needed. The Labour Platform architecture is designed to make it easier to integrate existing tools created by others into a common user experience—by providing infrastructure such as accounts, authentication and authorization, localization, data aggregation and display, and a shared scheme for navigating and connecting otherwise disparate tools.
Throughout the process of creating the Platform Cooperative Development Kit, we are engaging our partner cooperatives to help us co-design each of the project's deliverables. This process takes different forms, from periodic brainstorming sessions and crits over video conferencing to more formal in-person activities and workshops. Over the last six months, we have developed an embedded co-design kit that is intended to provide cooperatives with the tools and activities to organize and run their own internal co-design workshops.
Our Platform Cooperative Development embedded co-design kit includes a collection of activities, worksheets, facilitation advice, and a suggested structure that cooperatives can use to help identify and concretize their highest priority needs for the Learning Commons and Labour platform. The CoRise cooperative has scheduled their first co-design session for later this summer, and other partners such as Cataki and SEWA will organize their events later this year. The results of these embedded co-design sessions will be shared back, synthesized, and used to drive the development prioritization for the project.
Do you anticipate any major changes in the next phase of the project?
In general, our approach is to make frequent, small, incremental changes to our processes and project roadmap after each iteration milestone (based on the results of team retrospectives and assessment of our collective progress), rather than implementing major, sudden changes in direction. In keeping with this, in the second year of the project we will focus more on encouraging greater participation by the platform cooperative community, and on recruiting other open source developers and designers to adopt and help build upon our tools. In particular, we have developed a co-design kit that will support cooperatives in self-identifying their priorities and needs for the Learning Commons and Labour Platform, including activities they can use to create prototypes and sketches of these tools. We have also recently adopted an ongoing series of informal conversations, critiques, and feedback sessions with the broader platform cooperative community, and will continue this practice next year.
Additionally, now that the new platform.coop website has been launched, our focus will increasingly shift towards designing and developing the shared technology and user experience building blocks—via the Learning Commons and Labour Platform technologies—that have been identified by our participating cooperatives as most important to helping them build their own platforms.
We believe in learning from failure. Did you encounter any challenges or make any mistakes during the reporting period? How did you address them?
A primary challenge during this reporting period, once again, was in recruiting team members to the project. We experienced delays in hiring a Senior Inclusive Developer to work on the project. Toronto is a highly competitive tech market, and we needed someone with experience working in our unique context—particularly with experience building open source software and contributing to open communities. Hiring takes time. We were lucky enough to hire Ned Zimmerman, an experienced open source developer who is a well-respected contributor to WordPress, Pressbooks, and other projects. This hiring delay resulted in a slower than anticipated start to the implementation of the new Platform Cooperative website, which has now been launched. As a result of this delay, we had to push back the start of the Learning Commons and Labour Platform implementation by two months, and we anticipate having to reduce the scope somewhat and recruit outside help for the Cooperative Map deliverable scheduled later in the project timeline. We have also brought on an additional developer from the IDRC to help with the backlog. Further, as discussed above, we will continue to address the larger gap between our capacity and the vast needs of the community by focusing on developing the technological infrastructure most needed and most in common amongst our co-designers, and placing greater emphasis, as described above, on recruiting contributors and catalyzing an open source project.
Another challenge we faced was the lack of readiness by some partner cooperatives, at this stage in the project, to contribute significant time to help us co-design the project's tools. This is due to the fact that some of our partner cooperatives (such as Rethink) are in the early stages of building up their organizations from scratch, and have limited time and resources to participate in the project even when we compensate them for their time. Expectations were perhaps set too high, and we are adapting to this by concentrating on the cooperatives that are ready to contribute immediately (such as CoRise), and to create more informal partnerships with other cooperatives in the larger community.
A final challenge that we faced while developing the platform.coop website was in balancing and addressing the needs of so many different prospective audiences. It can be very challenging to design a single user experience and information architecture for such diverse stakeholders as in our case—academic researchers or idealistic technologists have very different interests and focal points than do, for example, worker/owners or labour unions. Designing for one may confuse or drive off others. As a result, it took us longer than originally anticipated to design for this requirement. In response, we specifically designed a section of the new site, How Platform Co-ops Can Benefit You, that provides personalized information and starting points for each of our primary audience demographics.