Distributed Tech, Commons, Coops and Feminist Economics: the DisCO Lowdown

Previously on the DisCO Elements…

In the last chapter (How to Account for the Future of Work: Automation, Blockchain, and the Knowledge Economy) we argued that technology is never neutral, it serves the interests of those who finance it. This is clearly illustrated by the problematic features of blockchain-based Distributed Autonomous Organizations  (DAOs), which DisCOs were designed to address.

The DisCO Lowdown

DisCO stands for Distributed Cooperative Organisations [1]. This is an accessible approach to people working together to create value in ways that are cooperative, commons-oriented and rooted in feminist economics. These values are nourished in small, federated communities. DisCOs harness the utility of tech without being completely tech-centric, emphasizing mutual trust and the need to have not only reliable but also enjoyable collaborative relationships. Distributed Ledger/Blockchain [2] technologies are only put to use when these values and their resulting human relationships have become strongly rooted. 

Trailer co-produced with our friends at the Transnational Institute (TNI) for If I Only Had a Heart: a DisCO Manifesto. The Manifesto is part one of the DisCO Trilogy. You’re currently reading a serialisation of part two: Groove is in the Heart: The DisCO Elements

DisCOs are a cultural and structural framework that combines influences from other forms and movements into a practical toolkit. The framework is based on existing, disruptive economic alternatives normally absent from the blockchain space. They are:

The Commons and P2P: Self-organized systems stewarding resources to meet human needs while leveraging the power of networks. [3]

•  Open Cooperativism: Combining Open Source and Commons principles with those of the cooperative and social solidarity movements. [4]

•  Open Value Accounting: Enables value sovereignty by rewarding meaningful contributions to projects, rather than wage labor. [5]

•  Feminist Economics: Challenges normative economic abstractions while factoring reproductive and care work. [6]

These influences, together with a strong focus on accessibility and social and economic justice, provide DisCOs with vastly different affordances to other available alternatives such as Decentralized Autonomous Organisations or DAOS (see last chapter).

Like a rehash of 90s Silicon Valley, DAO technology is often designed by white, western and, as explained before, tech-savvy “grand architects” [7] attracting communities of investors eager to reap the economic benefits of technological disruption and value distribution. A new status-quo in accounting emerges: it shifts the legitimation of value away from corruptible institutions toward technological, cryptographically secured ledgers. The problem is that this status-quo often leaves values based on self-interested accumulation wholly unchecked.

In contrast, DisCOs design their accounting and governance structures as convivial tools from the bottom up. These are developed through a process of community deliberation on how to best enact a series of co-operative values and principles. Shifting the design of technologies and their social impact away from grand architects and investors, DisCOs provide more democratic and ethical templates to build disruptive technologies actually focused on real disruption and social change. These, as we will see, provide different pathways to enact more desirable futures of work which are neither dependent on un-checked technological disruption or on top-down governmental interventions. 

Here’s your short video primer on the DisCO Elements by motion designer, art director, illustrator and DisCO friend Guilherme Maueler.

The Covid-19 crisis has been a bucket of cold water for many economic forecasts about the future of work. The abject failure of neoliberalism to provide urgently needed solutions for the crisis has exposed the structural inadequacies of the Market/State [8] and revealed the exponential rise of voluntary or otherwise typically undervalued work. Front-line workers and mutual aid practitioners are routinely hailed as heroes, yet economically sacrificed as martyrs. 

Meanwhile, some of the world’s richest companies, often in the tech sector, enjoy unprecedented growth. Many of these are willing partners in publicly-funded mass surveillance and citizen control programs. [9] The surge of online remote work is treated as a disembodied extension of office work, bypassing the human affective needs of digital teams in the rush to demand more invisibilized productivity. The uselessness of alienating, unnecessary jobs that exacerbate consumption in the name of growth becomes crystal clear, yet stimulus packages are directed towards propping up big business with corporate-level payouts, while artificial scarcity hampers urgent public health responses. 


Socio-economic instability can be a banquet for predators, especially when combined with promises of disruptive technology, but it also provides the opportunity for radical innovations and solutions based on human trust (not trustlessness). DisCOs can address the present Covid and looming future crises by creating bottom-up resilience and restoring our relationships – both to one another and the planet. [10]

More importantly, this capacity to handle crises toward better futures is not dependent on profit-oriented market solutions or slow, ineffectual and community disenfranchised government programs. DisCOs bring the self determination of technological disruption [11] and its affordances to the space where many are expected to spend a third of their life: the workplace. 

Rather than outsourcing our futures to automated systems easily locked-in to a self defeating profit motive or limiting pro-market solutions, we envision a new social-ecologically oriented federated workforce that lends its productive energies and creativity, toward
restorative ends. 

To answer the cliché question we posed in the first chapter: what is the future of work? To us, it’s restoration. We need to restore our relationships to our living planet and to each other. This is the work of our lifetimes, to carry forward in future generations. 

Next on the The DisCO Elements:

The next chapter (Principles and Values: DisCO 7-11) will summarize the main characteristics of DisCO organizations. Among other influences, The DisCO principles have been inspired by Ostrom’s eight principles of commons governance and the twelve Permaculture principles. In addition, DisCOs have 11 key values that help develop a healthy and thriving group culture.

About this article

This article is the second chapter of Groove is in the Heart: The DisCO Elements, which is currently being serialised here on stacco.works. The featured image is by snippets101. Click here for full image credits.

DisCO stands for “Distributed Cooperative Organization” and it is a feminist, cooperative and commons-oriented alternative to the mainstream DAOspace. The DisCO Elements is a non-linear introduction to the “hows” of DisCO. Click here to download the full PDF or EPub with extra content or visit DisCO.coop for more resources.


  1. Visit DisCO.coop or read The DisCO Manifesto for a more thorough overview.
  2. For an accessible yet thorough introduction to the Blockchain, we recommend this video course, as well as Daniel Drescher’s excellent book, Blockchain Basics.
  3. Read What are P2P and the Commons, and how do they relate?For more info.
  4. More information in What is Open Cooperativism?.
  5. More information in the P2P Foundation Wiki’s entry on P2P Accounting.
  6. For a layperson’s introduction to Feminist Economics, see the Women’s Budget Group’s excellent resources.
  7. The design of blockchain architectures strikes us as totes Masonic/Golden Dawn fodder. Not very compatible with our feminist anticapitalist beliefs. Somebody call the real Illuminati!
  8. When the Economist timidly begins to admit
    that capitalism doesn’t work you know you’re onto something. For realsies and to quote: “Now it seems that this dominant economic paradigm has reached its limit.
  9. Tréguer, Félix. “The State and Digital Surveillance in Times of the Covid-19 Pandemic.” SciencesPo Center for International Studies. CERI Unité Mixte de Recherche, June 1, 2020.
  10. Jose Mari Luzarraga adds: “DisCOs born to address a social imperative using economic means, vs conventional organizations & DAOs are rooted to address an economic imperative using social means”.
  11. And to be clear, NOT Silicon-branded, shareholder profit maximization version of “disruption”, but the real deal – i.e., questioning existing power structures and injustices.