Group decision-making software ready to run

00:26, Aug 16 2013
INSPIRED: Vivien Maidaborn and Ben Knight are part of the team at Loomio.

A Wellington technology co-operative inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement says a social media tool it has developed to help organisations make group decisions is now ready for prime time.

Loomio, which is owned by nine of its 12 fulltime staff, has trialled its software with more than 1000 organisations, about half of them overseas, and has set its sights on getting its software used by 50 million people within five years.

The cloud-based software lets users put forward "proposals" that can then be discussed, modified, voted on and - if allowed by the organisation - vetoed, through an iterative process on an online forum.

Director Ben Knight, one of a few members of the co-operative involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, said that had been their first experience of "collective decision-making on a really large scale".

"It exposed us to the transformative potential of collaborative decision-making if it runs really well, but also to the practical constraints and pitfalls of face-to-face collective decision-making when it runs badly - the process falls apart, you are stuck in meetings forever and nothing gets decided."

Loomio has been translated into seven languages and was being used by sports clubs, community groups, businesses and social movements in 20 countries.


Up until last Friday's launch, use of the software had been by invitation only.

Ross Phillips, business improvement manager at Pathways, New Zealand's largest provider of community-based mental health services, said it had used Loomio to consult with an advisory board of youth on the purpose and branding of its youth-focused service, Real, and to assist with decision-making by its geographically dispersed leadership team.

"It is more useful than a long-flowing email train which can take off in different directions. It proved pretty useful in containing and focusing discussions."

Pathways was now considering using Loomio more commonly among its 60 to 70 leaders and frontline managers, and could later make it available to all its 700 staff, he said.

"This is different to other things we have seen, and we looked at the possibility of designing something ourselves as well. It is simple enough not to require a lot of investment in getting people up to speed with it, which is a big benefit. Most of our staff could adapt to it without too much trouble."

Wellington City Council employed Loomio earlier this year to manage consultations on its alcohol management strategy.

Another of Loomio's directors, Vivien Maidaborn, said the co-operative would love to think the tool would help organisations become more democratic.

Organisations could use Loomio in a password-protected mode either internally or to float discussions with partners, or open it up to manage consultations with the general public, she said.

Companies, local government organisations and large community groups pay a subscription of a few dollars per user per month. "Informal" organisations are invited to pay what they can.

Loomio's directors range in age between their early 20s and mid-50s. They and "friends and family" had put about $160,000 into the venture, the goal of which was to make a surplus, but not to be profit-maximising, Maidaborn said.

Knight said "social impact" came first for the co-operative, and revenue generation was a tool to achieve that.

"We have got pretty big aims for this to be a really widely used tool, accessible to as many people as possible for participatory decision-making at every level from workplaces and neighbourhoods to national government."

Introducing Loomio from Enspiral on Vimeo.

The Dominion Post