Agile Learning Centers and Cooperative Platforms

I will be going to a conference this weekend called Platform Cooperativism. Here is the introduction from their website:

The seeds are being planted for a new kind of online economy. For all the wonders the Internet brings us, it is dominated by an economics of monopoly, extraction, and surveillance. Ordinary users retain little control over their personal data, and the digital workplace is creeping into every corner of workers’ lives. Online platforms often exploit and exacerbate existing inequalities in society, even while promising to be the great equalizers. Could the Internet be owned and governed differently?

Aside from my history of techno activism and love for cooperative platforms I see this conference as an opportunity to share Agile Learning Centers (ALC) to an audience that would really “get” it. This post aims to be a brain dump for my ideas around how ALC and cooperative online platforms, as a movement, intersect and overlap. This will probably be a rambling mess, you’ve been warned.

New Terms for a New World

What follows are my interpretations of some of the vocabulary surrounding the Platform Coop event and Agile Learning Centers. By unpacking these terms I hope to highlight how ALC supports these ideas and how these ideas support ALC.

The New Economy

This is what we are preparing kids for in Agile Learning Centers. The new economy is based not on extracting energy and resources from the earth and it’s people. It is an economy that values the sustained healthy existence of the earth as a whole, including (but not limited to) people. This new economy understands the value of all natural systems and social systems on our planet.

The old models of business are already done for and largely only exist through the force of inertia. Top down systems are the way of the past. Command and control, or more simply put, having someone telling you what to do and when to do it are antiquated. ALCs are built around this truth. We have done away with teachers—with it’s implicit hierarchy—and replaced them with facilitators. Children aren’t told what to do but given autonomy and freedom to find their own path, a skill necessary in the New Economy.


A cooperative structure, or coop, in this context refers to a business that is owned and operated cooperatively. These organizations are quite old and were probably the norm by another age before the great experiment of capital and corporations. Simply put, the people doing the work run the business.

In the context of ALCs the people doing the learning (work) run the learning center (business). The cultural tool we use in ALCs are perfectly suited for coops. I feel that the children raised through ALCs are going to be so far out ahead of their “competitors” in state schools, which by and large teach toward the old economy.

Cooperation is a skill like any other. It’s something that must be learned and practiced. In our old paradigm most of us never really get to flex our cooperation muscle and thus when we find ourselves in situations where we must cooperate we are weak and feeble. Consider how cooperation is viewed in most institutions: as cheating.

The Problem with Platforms

I like to equate platforms to fields of play. When one enters into a field of play they are expected to play by a set of rules. These rules and the method for how one plays are typically dictated by the configuration of the field of play. It’s hard to play handball on a football field, there is no wall to bounce the ball off, the ball in play is the wrong shape, and the other players are running around tackling each other.

In most cases someone has set up the field of play before hand. We can draw a parallel here to online platforms. Someone, typically the developers (let’s call them game masters), set up a field of play and then invites players into it. Often the players have no say in how the game is played. The players can not change the rules or how the field is configured.

This isn’t such a problem when we are playing simple games like football and soccer. As we step out of this metaphor it becomes much more limiting. Online platforms can limit the type of interactions through their design. Twitter is a great example with it’s 140 character limit. There is, of course, nothing wrong with that! It’s the game that’s being played and you agree to play it by stepping onto the “Twitter Field”. Things get sticky when the rules change mid play. For example, Twitter has a great way of democratically promoting content through the use of the “re-tweet”. The best content rises to the top and lots of people see it. All fine, but, it costs a lot of money to run all those servers so Twitter has to earn money and they do this by changing the rules of the game in the form of sponsored tweets. These are tweets that get promoted not though democracy but by the influence of money.

The players on Twitter get no say, even though it is them who produce the value. No one would participate in the game of Twitter were it not for the players on the field. Imagine a football game that attracted millions of spectators but the players were not paid (no need, that describes college sports, see John Oliver explain how those players(workers) are being exploited).

Twitter is profiting off the work of it’s “players” yet giving them no way to change the game they are playing.

Enter Platform Coops

So we need to co-own our platforms. If the players owned the field they are playing on then they can change it to suit their play. They can change the game to make it work better for everyone, rather than the owners of the field. That is to say, if the users own the platform they can make it work for them rather than work for the platform.

Imagine this in the game analogy again. Most of us play on these platforms because we love the game. We aren’t playing to win we are playing to play. If we have control we can change the rules to keep the game going.

A small but telling example is that of Google Reader. This RSS reading platform was shut down by Google a few years ago and left all the people using it high and dry. Google didn’t want to support the platform and the people using it couldn’t play there anymore because it belonged to someone other than them.

Cooperation is(n’t) Hard

This weekend’s conference is going to talk about how we can collaboratively own platforms. How we can democratically control them.

Digital Technology

Cooperation is hard.There will surly be talk of other platforms like Loomio or ideologies for managing platforms, like free/open source software. I believe that most people will look to digital technology for the answer. If only we had the open source Facebook or the right voting tool. We need digital technology to make cooperation easy some will say.

This isn’t the answer and it strikes at the very heart of why I’m involved with ALC.

Cultural Technology

Cooperation is easy when you have the skills and tools to do it well. At ALC we are developing cultural technology which makes cooperation easy by teaching the skills needed to do it. Borrowing from ideas old (Quaker meetings) and new (Agile project management) we are adapting tools and practices which don’t need digital technology to operate. Our culture is created, adapted, and changed with not much more than a white board and sticky notes!

This is what we have to offer.

Digital Technology is necessary, it is the difference between trying to do this 20 years ago and doing it today. It is the power multiplier that will free us from the old economy. My point is that we must ground the digital technology in a foundation of good cultural technology.

ALC needs help building the digital technology over our open source tools and practices. We need to do so in a way that doesn’t create another platform that might die with our brand!

I look forward to figuring out how we are going to do this.

The post Agile Learning Centers and Cooperative Platforms appeared first on Drew the ALF's blog.

Website Discovery: Moving Web Sites Forward

Last year I spent a week out at a commune in Central Tennessee called The Farm. I was there visiting The Farm School at the request of the director Peter Kindfield who connected with me because he was looking for wagn developers (an open source wiki project that is awesome!) what he didn’t know was that I was in the middle of going to ALF Summer 2014, a training event from Agile Learning Centers. Along with web help he was also looking to move toward a self directed learning style at the Farm School, it was very serendipitous!


In exchange for a place to stay and food I offered to do a discovery process. I have become very fond of discovery, which is a sort of like a first date for freelance web development projects. Discovery has a clear outcome, a document that describes what a client needs and suggestions for how to achieve that. It allows a consultant (me) to better understand the needs of the client by working together to create this valuable outcome. I use it as a way to start projects and get a feel for the working relationship with a client.

For the farm school I wrote a 13 page discovery document which can be viewed here. It outlined the current technological situation of the school, it’s existing websites, and recommendations for moving forward.

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 6.01.53 PM

I was able to leave this document in the hands of the Farm School and they were able to pass it on to contractors who could then act on it.


After handing off the document I left and didn’t think much of it. A year later I went back to The Farm and stayed with Peter. I mentioned it and to my surprise he said that it had worked! Two things happened according to Peter:

We used your discovery document in two ways:
1) To support our shared decision making process. The three people most involved (Satellite Campus program coordinator, Solar Campus program coordinator and Principal) and a website developer/parent of satellite campus students all read document and basically decided to follow your advice and do what Drew said. This got us out of a stuck place we had been in for years about how to use wagn.
2) The website developer/parent of satellite campus students used your discovery document as her initial design specifications.
we’d been stuck for years and you got us unstuck!
Great success! The discovery document gave them a foundation to build from.

Challenge: Publish Everyday of November

So it’s National Novel Writing Month and as is my way I am not writing a novel but instead committing to publish one blog post per day. This intention setting post is a meta level (and cheap) first post.

Another thing I’ve started to do is track my time, like I did when I was doing more paid work. I use a tool called slim timer to track time. So far it’s working pretty good.

This week I was out at Acorn community where I taught a few people about using Kanbans and then created these two one-pager documents about Gameshifting and Kanbans.

You can get the most up-to-date PDF version here
You can get the most up-to-date PDF version here
You can get the most up-to-date PDF version here
You can get the most up-to-date PDF version here

I’ll give these their own post soon.

The post Challenge: Publish Everyday of November appeared first on Drew the ALF's blog.

Mapping my ALF Accountability: What I do and want to do

Last fall at ALF Weekend 2014 we participated in a game where we wrote out what we did, what we have “juice” for, what we want to be doing, and what action we are taking to get there. We wrote these down then went around the room and spoke them out to our peers, then everyone would suggest additions. It was a super powerful process an

It’s a year later and prompted by @abbyo post and @ryanshollenberger post I’ve decided to update my ALF Accountability information. If any ALFs out there want to do the same I’ll leave instructions at the bottom of this post.

The following is taken from the Mapping ALF Accountabilities Doc, updates are sub bulleted, additions are italic, while subtractions are strike throughNote: Some of these bullet points were added by me, others were added by my fellow ALFs, that should explain the change in tense.

What I do

  • Facilitate ALC in Everett
  • Consult with Everett board
  • Train other Everett ALFs (parents for now)
    • This didn’t ever happen, because there wasn’t a clear vision for the school we never could onboard more people and the parents didn’t have time/energy to become facilitators
  • Manage/Administer ALC web sites
    • This has been going well.
  • Administer Google Apps
    • Still doing this, over the summer we moved to a network account away from the NYC Google Apps account. Still need to get down clear procedures around this as well as:
    • Train new Google Apps admin
  • Consult on Tech Questions / IT Support for network
  • Do designy things
  • Get things done without being a busybody
    • My work/life balance has been really good recently, I do spend a whole lot of time on ALC stuff, but I just love working on it!
  • Bring experience of successes & failures from other social orgs and efforts
  • Bring balance of cynicism, sarcasm & hopefulness
  • Such a graceful fuck up!
  • Narrate destruction of wood this was tongue in cheek from the weekend in 2014
  • Help the group move to creative space even on challenging issues
  • Says yes when asked to play… with a seemingly infinite comfort-zone
    • Still saying yes!
  • Offer support to kids in other ALCs
    • Now that’s I’ve stepped out of a facilitation role I haven’t been doing this as much, but am still available!
  • Readily stepping into accountability
  • Bringing “medium as the message” to doing important work in the world
    • I blog to inspire others to create shareable value!
  • Makes us laugh, brings joy & lightness
  • Builder of internet infrastructure for reaching humanity
  • Watch and answer startup/membership emails
  • Be available to new ALC members for Office Hours
  • Create documentation to orient new ALFs and New Member ALCs
  • Support and encourage other ALFs to step into higher levels of responsibility and take ownership over roles in the network
  • Support other ALFs in their practice
  • Share ALC with people and create promotional propaganda
  • Consulting with public schools!
  • Continue to get better at the Ukulele!

What gives me Juice

  • A loving and supportive community
  • Interesting people
  • Earth-shattering ideas
  • ALC fits my theory of change
  • Motivate others to document/share stuff
  • When people use tools I built
    • Check out the awesome websites that are being created on the platform I created!
  • Sharing knowledge and learning from others
  • When I can receive emotional support
  • Seeing others working effectively / achieving their goals
  • Seeing people have realistic analysis of the world recognizing opportunities ahead
  • Getting to do things outside of normal skill sets

What I Want to be Doing

  • Support kids on other ALCs
    • It’s not that I don’t want to do this, but it’s less of a focus for me. I’d rather support ALFs who then support kids!
  • Introducing new schools, indoctrinating them
    • I’m starting to do this!
  • Recruiting facilitators, freeing prison teachers
    • Currently working on ALF membrane and ALF pipeline to achieve this goal!
  • Want to be developing entrepreneurial aspiration of people and students in the network
  • Connecting ALCs to other orgs, like intentional communities, homeschooling, counter cultural groups
  • Create docs around ALC methods that apply to other educational contexts
  • Evangelizing for ALCs
  • Create a worker-owner cooperative that provides Agile consulting services and employees ALFs

Next Actions

  • Practicing ALFness in Everett success!
  • Building Everett to build skills to do it again/more/consult success!
  • Abnormal travel post-Everett, ingratiatingly
  • Train another Everett ALF failure!
  • Motivate Everett parents to engage more actively failure!
  • Connect with indigenous groups & activists in Seattle area and share ALC failure!
  • Connect past friends/connections to ALC
    • Getting the ALF pipeline worked out brings me closer to this goal
  • Clearly define ALF integration workflow
  • Create by-laws for ALF consulting coop
  • Hire an intern to work on web development stuff
  • Uplift more ALFs into network roles
  • Support @sarataleff, @rochellehudson, @abram, and others in creating a vision for the ALC Network

Overall I see my role in this network to make it easy for people to accomplish what they want to do. Be that existing ALFs or people out in the world who want to create a better future for children. I feel that the more I define and document how we do things the easier it will be for people to engage with our network or create their own complementary networks.

It is through my work helping other people achieve their goals that I am fulfilled. Every time I see someone use a process or tool I’ve developed (or better, helped them develop) I am inspired to do more.

My time in this organization has been a great one, truly an upward spiral ?

Just like the last time we did this, if you see anything I’ve missed please comment below.

Write your own accountability post!

If you wish to participate please write a blog post with the tag:


Answer the following questions:

  • What I do: (for the network and in your local ALC community)
  • Juice: What gives you juice (what about the community or your work powers you up?)
  • Want: What do you want to do (in an ideal world)
  • Action: What actions are you taking or will you take to do this

You can see everyone’s post on the network feed site (this is a thing!) under the alfaccountability tag:

The post Mapping my ALF Accountability: What I do and want to do appeared first on Drew the ALF's blog.