Tue 30 Dec 2014

Alternative uses for proposals - examples in the wild

Alanna Irving Public Seen by 606

I have noticed in Loomio groups I'm a part of that people use the proposal feature for some alternative use cases besides a deliberative decision. I'm wondering if this is happening in other groups and what we can learn from it.

Here are some examples:

  • the "roll call" - asking people to green thumb to confirm they have received some important information, like "yes I understand we now must submit invoices using this new process"
  • the "engagement check" - often seen with posting documents, as in "green thumb if you have read the minutes from the last meeting" or "green thumb when you've completed this request"
  • the "RSVP" - posting an event and seeing who us coming, as in "I am coming to the planning session on Wednesday"
  • the "poll" - redefining the meaning of the thumbs in the text, as in "What should we name the new meeting room? Green = X, Yellow = Y, Red = Z"

I am the first person to defend the :"purity" of the statements of position and the need to keep Loomio focused on the problem we're here to solve - online decision-making. But obviously the wider needs of group collaboration are showing here. I wonder what we can do to provide alternatives so that when a real decision is on the table, that space has been kept for that purpose, and people aren't creating a lot of noise by "hacking" the proposal system to generate a lot of notifications that drown out the important ones (i.e. decisions).

Have you observed this in your groups? Do you think that different options for the proposal area (eg, you could change to "roll call" or "event RSVP") would be a good thing, or would we lose the focus on decision-making? We have discussed many related topics, like polls and being able to customise the thumb labels... but I've always worried that this will lead to groups slipping into simply using majority-rules decision-making, which kind of defeats the whole purpose.


Greg Cassel Tue 30 Dec 2014

I see several basic issues here. Perhaps the key fact is that proposals are supposed to be 'one-dimensional' propositions, suggesting a range of opinions along a single axis from positive to negative (full agreement to full disagreement.) I think that that basically gets to the heart of decision-making. Roll calls, engagement checks and RSVPs are basically one-dimensional, too, but polls are not. I don't know if we can have a reasonably focused discussion on all of these subjects in the same thread, but I'll share some of my thoughts.

Roll calls and engagement checks seem pretty similar. I suggest that the green thumb may be the only good 'clickable' answer for these subjects. It's possible for people to state other things, of course, such as "No", "I'll get to it ASAP" or "Sorry, I suck" (lol)-- but people can express such things personally in the topic's discussion/comments section. If a person does has some 'excuse' or explanation--or, if they were unaware of something which others expected-- it should probably be personalized interaction, instead of a 'carbon copy' answer. I think this facilitates efficient focus on getting stuff done.

With RSVPs, by contrast, there are three normal positions: Yes/No/Maybe. It's a different kind of interaction. Problems can arise if people use an RSVP as a decision-making tool: for instance, by creating the RSVP just to see if someone's suggested meeting is okay (or tolerable) for others. If the person making such suggestions is an official coordinator or facilitator, they may hold much informal power by controlling the options (or lack of options) which a group is presented with. That's a very deep tendency in group process. I think there are ways to distribute such power. Generally speaking, I think it's better for coordinators of meetings to use a relatively open tool such as Doodle, which enables a group to collectively see which options look best-- regardless of who ultimately decides on a specific meeting time.

So, I think that roll calls, engagement checks and RSVPs are all basically one-dimensional interactions, but perhaps another type of interaction (such as Doodle) should precede an RSVP. Also, none of these processes literally supports all of Agree/Abstain/Disagree/Block. I don't think that that's a big problem. Ideally however, I would indeed favor different options for the "Create a Proposal" field, such as Roll Call and possibly RSVP as well.

Polling is another story. I doubt I've read all of the extensive Loomio Community discussions on such matters. I understand that the upcoming "Ideas" feature will provide some informal 'temperature check" functionality which is, I think, softly and organically analogous to polling. Many complex concepts relate to the difference between one-dimensional proposals and polling. I echo @alanna 's concerns about polls, but I'm interested in current views among the community and the development team.


Alanna Irving Tue 30 Dec 2014

Thanks @gregorycassel - I think you've captured it pretty well.

I guess what's I'm sensing is people might want to use the current decision pane for various other functions. For example, embedding a Cobudget, Doodle, or collaborative document. We're going to start looking at how plugins could work with Loomio, and I'm still not clear about my own thoughts on if it's a good idea to have that flexibility, or if that will take Loomio away from being a tool purely focused on collaborative decision-making.

I don't want us to try to become a tool for every kind of collaboration, because there are many other platforms that do that already, and no one focusing really clearly on decision-making in the same way. At the same time, there are all kinds of collaborative engagement that go into supporting good decision-making as a group.


Greg Cassel Tue 30 Dec 2014

I wish I could 'like' this part twenty times, @alanna : "I don’t want us to try to become a tool for every kind of collaboration, because there are many other platforms that do that already, and no one focusing really clearly on decision-making in the same way."

Perhaps we should step back for a 'macro' look here. Is there an unidentified elephant in the roomio? Do many people desire for Loomio to be the online organizational tool for a given group? (I'll admit that I considered it myself, at times.) If not, then how could or should Loomio integrate with stuff such as Trello, BigMarker, dedicated websites, and other software?

I still feel kind of new to Loomio, but in addition to using it for informal groups, I'm thinking that any significant ongoing organization--which accumulates its own culture-- will find it advantageous to have at least one other online hub. In my case, I desire for Loomio to be the main center of online dialogue and action, but to generate content for a website, which will become an organized repository and also a portal for public engagement.

Perhaps that is enough, for many organizations: Loomio + a reasonably well-organized website. Loomio Cooperative seems to make good use of Trello, and probably other stuff too. Doodle's a fine tool, and I think Cobudget will probably be huge. (Thanks Enspiral!)

Many software tools, including wordpress and facebook groups, already offer polling features (either natively or through plug-ins.) If polling is to be thought of as a very informal thing for genuinely consensus-based decision-making, then perhaps the "Ideas" feature is just about as close to polling as Loomio should get. For instance, I could easily make a poll elsewhere and introduce the results to a Loomio discussion. Right now, that seems like a reasonably appropriate division of software labor to me.


Alanna Irving Wed 31 Dec 2014

These kinds of issues emerge when groups make Loomio their main online home as a community. I'm part of several groups where this is the case. In order to make communications accessible, groups naturally want to use the fewest tools and channels to serve their purpose. Perhaps the most important aspect of collaborative group comms is having critical mass on at least one channel so you have a reliable way to reach everyone. Loomio isn't really built for this (so far) and groups tend to get overwhelmed by noise because notifications are tuned for most Loomio comms being for decision-making (such as sending out an email for each proposal, the power of which is abrogated by people raising non-decision proposals to hack the system).

Of course we need to remain laser-focused on facilitating decision-making, since that's why Loomio exists. But at the same time, we want groups to be able to make Loomio their online community home, and have it become a critical collaboration channel for them. I think Loomio actually needs to serve both purposes well, and doing one well without tripping up the other is a design challenge.

I think the best way we can serve decision-making remaining focused, and avoid information overload, is not to try to stamp out the creative ways users are hacking the current features to meet their needs, but proactively provide them useful alternatives that don't, for example, trigger massive amounts of notifications for non-decision events, or muddy the meaning of the statement of position buttons by making people redefine them in an awkward way.


Greg Cassel Wed 31 Dec 2014

I think it would be fantastic if Loomio can evolve to be the main interactive communications tool for a robust and resilient organization, even if that organization uses other hubs (such as a website, Trello etc) for other purposes.


Carlos Gallo Garavano Thu 1 Jan 2015

I feel great that exist and be taken to the practice, alternative options for the use of the proposals because they make more practical use of Loomio without other tools and possibly enhance the participation of group members, to the expand functions.

On slide 49 and 50 Loomio tutorial that I made, I refer to two of the options discussed by Alanna

I consider that expanding the functions of the proposal is not being diverted initial and primary purpose of the proposal as it is deliberative decision, the work group members is facilitated without changing tools

There may be mistakes in my interpretation of the theme, is by translations


Presley Fri 30 Jan 2015

I noticed the roll call usage while I was browsing discussions and I thought it was pretty cool, because I've used Trello for that and it was a little bit of a pain. I'd assign everyone to a card and tell them to unassign themselves when they've done it, which has the upside that only the ones who need to hear it get notified when we comment on the card, and the downsides that someone has to assign every relevant person and then check that they unassign themselves, which in my experience they didn't.

Loomio could be better for this if there was a type of discussion that stops notifying you once you've decided. I think allowing arbitrary relabeling of the colors would let people use majority rules voting instead of learning the value "block," but allowing decisions vs roll calls might be ok. I thought it was cool how people used a non-green color to say "I tried to do this but couldn't, help." Like "block" in voting, "I'm stuck" is a response to a roll call that is important but usually not formally available.


Alanna Irving Fri 30 Jan 2015

Great insight @presley ! Thanks for sharing that.

Hilariously, I just had a conversation with @mixirving about how he's tired of using Loomio's for role calls and decided to move to Trello with a system of assigning everyone to a card and telling them to unassign themselves when they'd done the thing.

Arg! I guess a lot of people are facing the same problem.


Matthew Bartlett Sat 31 Jan 2015

I have mixed feelings about a razor-sharp focus on decision making. The vast majority of our long-term (6 months+) successful groups have used the proposal feature fewer than 10 times (!).

I'm wondering whether it would make sense to slightly broaden our focus — I think of Loomio as a way of helping groups act together. Sometimes that will involve something that feels like a decision, sometimes not.


Greg Cassel Sat 31 Jan 2015

@matthewbartlett can you please indicate if column #1 there indicates groups which have had 0-9 proposals? (Is that exactly how the 0/10/20 divisions work in this chart?)


Matthew Bartlett Sat 31 Jan 2015

Unsure but I guess it is 0–9. Does it matter?


Greg Cassel Sat 31 Jan 2015

Well yeah I think that 8-9 proposals is a world away from 0, but that really depends on how active a group is.

My personal experience, as someone who's known Loomio for less than four months, is that the ability to create proposals has a really 'shaping' effect on conversations. People talk things out to see whether or not a proposal is viable. I think that's great. A conversation which results in no proposal can contain great communication and learning.

I've also come to think of Loomio very much in relation to Cobudget, even though I haven't used Cobudget yet. They're soooo complementary. Cobudget is a great way to 'gamify' the collective proportions of interest in different ideas. Loomio is the best way I know to create non-coercive "yes/no" propositional agreements, which have their place.


Presley Sat 31 Jan 2015

@matthewbartlett do you know the criteria for "success" used for that data set?


Matthew Bartlett Sat 31 Jan 2015

I'd guess it just means a group member has visited the group in the last 30 days.


Derek Razo Sun 1 Feb 2015

@matthewbartlett - can you let us know what "active" means in this context?

It would be great to see this graph compared to corresponding group's number of discussions.

I you have 10 decisions and 10 discussions that's pretty good :)


Matthew Bartlett Sun 1 Feb 2015

@derekrazo active = visited at least once in the last 30 days. I've mucked around with various charts but I think this is the most helpful one. It's a really interesting distribution.


mix irving Sun 1 Feb 2015

@matthewbartlett that's a sweet sweet graph. Look at that juicy outlier ..
Can you do that thing where you slap an arrow on showing some groups we're in / know