Over the past year I’ve been struggling with the future of FuturesLab. I started FuturesLab in 2015 as a new approach and strategy to getting ideas out of my head and allowing them to play within the field of collective social intelligence. The experience was amazing and life changing, leading me into new domains of practice. At the same time, by the middle of 2017, I had reached the end of a certain phase of the journey. I had become overwhelmed with the quantity and intensity of the projects. FuturesLab seemed to have become a treadmill of ideas, design processes and experiments, all wonderful, but missing strategic clarity, coherence and a supportive structure. I needed to do a stock take of what FuturesLab has been and could be.

The problems and challenges that I have felt have been:

  • A need for a problem and vision context for the work. A comment Jim Dator made to me (at the Gaming the Future conference) that (paraphrasing) “the world does not need innovation for innovation’s sake, we are all tired and fatigued from an innovation world, disruptive innovation…” a great comment pointing toward the question ‘innovation for what’?
  • A useful structure for people to be members of FuturesLab – how might this work?
  • A collaboration context for FuturesLab, how can FuturesLab partner with organizations to support experimentation for transformation?
  • The question of intellectual property – it does not feel tenable to have no policy in respect to the ideas that people put up on FuturesLab, so some framework that is both aligned with supporting the ‘commons economy’ and which also protects ideators is needed.
  • How might governance and equity work in FuturesLab? If people support it and contribute to it, how does it do justice to these people’s needs, rather than merely capturing value, as so many platforms do?

Over the past year I’ve been struggling with these and other challenges. It has felt at times as if I’m wading through a fog like process of figuring these things out.

As has happened quite a few times before, it was during a 30 min meditation that the idea came to me to subject FuturesLab to the exact same process I have subjected all the ideas within FuturesLab. What does this mean?

For an explanation of how FuturesLab ideas have been run over the past few years, this micro-story provides a good starting point. To summarise, ideas have moved through four phases:

  1. Anticipate
  2. Design
  3. Connect
  4. Evolve


Things start with a vision or an image of how the future could be. This is the seed of an idea. This then gets fleshed out in a design process (usually through co-design conversations). The design is then ‘connected’ through some test. Evolve is the adaptation  of the idea/design, which can entail extinction, mutation, proliferation, replication, etc.

This post launches FuturesLab into a second “2.0” iteration. The 1.0 iteration is documented in the essay. This 2.0 iteration begins with this post, as an anticipation of the future of FuturesLab with the seeds of some ideas. As with all other FuturesLab ideas, this is made public, disseminated and shared across social media. We will also have some kind of public meetings in Melbourne (at the 888 co-working space which is FuturesLab’s current home). This will transition this FuturesLab 2.0 Enterprise Model from an anticipation phase to more fleshed out designs, as people have an opportunity to provide feedback and ideas. This will eventually lead into a ‘connect’ phase, likely through the middle of 2018, where it is hoped the design will lead to an actual enterprise model that will be enacted through law, and through the community (whoever that is at the time), that want to create it.

The context for FuturesLab – a “Thing from the Future” 

I have recently articulated an approach which I call the Anticipatory Experimentation Method (AEM for short).  I see FuturesLab 2.0 as an example of what might be called “vision driven experimentation”. This means that experiments are the way in which we instantiate and bring into the present the preferred future (our vision). In this way FuturesLab is a “thing from the future”, brought into the present in the form of an experiment (with due acknowledgment of Stuart Candy and Jeff Watson’s “Thing From the Future” game).

AF core method - bridge labels - oct 2017

FuturesLab is an experiment for bold experimentation. It is an experiment that comes from the vision of a transformed world. In this case it is experiment through an enterprise model.

In the rest of this post are two key dimensions to consider.

The first is the preferred future that this enterprise is a small piece of (an example of). This provides the guidance and compass for the experiment. As a summary this includes: 

  • A Commons Transition
  • Collaborative Urban Governance
  • Platform Cooperativism
  • Open Cooperativism
  • CBRL / copyfair
  • Cosmo-localization
  • Transnational production networks and a global co-op credit system
  • To Be Wise Technological Beings

Secondly, the actual design elements that comprise the experiment that instantiate the vision at a small scale – the enterprise. Overall, how might the vision be instantiated through small experiments than can scale? 

The overall (summary) design of the enterprise, using the Futures Action Model scaffold of 1) purpose, 2) resources, 3) governance and 4) ecosystem is thus:

FuturesLab’s purpose is to bring together an ecosystem of organisations (gov, business, universities, civil society), with citizen ideators, innovators and experimenters, to generate cross sector partnerships for the ideation and implementation of bold experiments (pieces of the commons transition future), which can be scaled for social impact. FuturesLab is established as a platform cooperative, with sweat / bootstrap equity going to the organisers, with subsidiary decision making by two other classes of members: organisational members and citizen innovators. Futureslab uses membership money to run events that link people and organisations, and gets paid for projects by key partners and clients to facilitate the development of collaborative experimentation.        

The Vision that Drives the FuturesLab Experiment

There are a number of intersecting elements to the vision that inform FuturesLab. These have mostly been implicit over the past 2 years. However over time they have become more explicit and coherent. Here is a brief overview of some of these elements.

Commons Transition

Commons Transition describes a number of shifts. At one level it envisions a society wide commitment to protect our shared ‘commons’, from the atmosphere, oceans, to digital commons, and all the other things that we mutually depend on for our survival and well being. At another level it denotes a transformation in governance, typified by a new political contract where citizens and the state become equal partners in steering polities toward wise transitions (equitable, sustainable), and a new political culture of citizen led leadership and social innovation. At yet a deeper level it envisions a transformation of society, the core operating principles and the paradigmatic boundaries by which we ‘do society’. The best website that spells much of this out is http://commonstransition.org.  Darren Sharp and I recently wrote up a commons transition vision and pathway for the Victorian Eco Innovation Lab’s Pathways 2040 project. A summary video was produced depicting it.

Here is a sample:

“The City is a network of ‘Commons’ where local communities organise themselves to manage key resources and systems of provision,120 in collaboration with business and government. The pervasive ideas, models and technologies of P2P—collaboration ‘peer-to-peer’ or ‘personto- person’—have evolved to transform how decisions are made and who is involved. The will of the ‘people’ has been clearly and loudly expressed in actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 80%, as the focus on creation of common value for everyone has trumped creation of private value for a few. The City is ‘post-growth’, ‘post-smart’, ‘post-hierarchy’ and ‘post-pollution’—with the new structures and institutions that make sense for this new world continuing to emerge. People consume less, work for themselves and their communities, and use much use less energy.” From Pathways 2040.

Collaborative Urban Governance for the Commons

Our cities are understood as urban commons. A cross sector collaboration approach allows cities to develop many pathways to creating the common good. A “quintuple helix” model of collaboration is what creates value, nuanced and complex configurations of people, groups and institutions come together to solve problems and find ways to “common”. As Christian Iaione writes:

“…collaborative governance of the commons could be conceptualized as a “quintuple helix.” This is an iteration and expansion of the proposal by Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff (1998) that we are engaged in a transition away from an industrial society ruled by a partnership between industry and government towards a “triple helix” relationship between universities, industry, and government: a “knowledge society.” In order to spur innovation and development in this knowledge society, universities must not only work with industry and government, but also take on a more significant role in this relationship. While universities have always focused on teaching and research, the Triple Helix Research Group (2014) argues that universities must take on a “third mission” by actively engaging in socio-economic development to “generate new institutional and social formats for the production, transfer, and application of knowledge.”

With this triple helix in mind a “quintuple helix” approach adds a fourth mission for not only universities but all knowledge institutions to take on roles as members of the community and public-private- community/commons partnerships. This reconceptualized “university” works with government, industry, nonprofits, social innovators, and citizens in order to mobilize knowledge and create impact (Bauwens 2015). Collaborative governance of the urban commons requires relation- ships among citizens, knowledge institutions, civil society organizations, private businesses, and other groups.” From “The CO-City: Sharing, Collaborating, Cooperating, and Commoning in the City“.

Platform Cooperativism

A world where platform cooperativism is the norm. Platform Cooperativism is an approach to enterprise ownership and decision making. When people contribute to the development of a community or enterprise, they are decision makers and co-owners. Mutualism is a central philosophy of the new economy – to create value for each other, organizationally and socially. 

“a vision for online platforms that share democratic ownership and governance among the people who rely on them, especially those who contribute their labor and personal data.” (From the Internet of Ownership).

Open Cooperativism

Open Cooperativism is a deep solidarity approach to cooperative enterprise. It means that cooperative enterprises are not just profit oriented toward members, but form transnational chains of solidarity and support within a broader economic and political project for commoning.

“1. coops need to be statutorily (internally) oriented towards the common good

2. coops need to have governance models including all stakeholders

3. coops need to actively co-produce the creation of immaterial and material commons

4. coops need to be organized socially and politically on a global basis, even as they produce locally.” P2P Foundation

CBRL / copyfair

CBRL / copy fair intellectual property systems are commonplace and operational. There is an internal value exchange globally that potentiates commons based enterprises. Revenue comes in for ideators and designers when commercial entities want to use something.

“a type of licensing or agreement that aims to re-introduce the principle and practice of reciprocity in markets that use mutualized knowledge (commons), by regulating contributions to these commons for those that commercialize it.” P2P Foundation


Cosmo-localization and the circular economy are quickly advancing and maturing – becoming dominant and driving down energy use, resource impacts, costs – providing millions of opportunities for people and enterprises to create value. Cities are scaled incubators of Cosmo-localization.

“cosmo-localism describes the dynamic potentials of our emerging globally distributed knowledge and design commons in conjunction with the emerging (high and low tech) capacity for localized production of value. It exists today in many quickly maturing forms such as FarmHack and L’Atelier Paysans, communities that manufacture their own farm equipment, AbilityMate, a company that supports people with disabilities to design and manufacture their own prosthetics and assistive devices, Wikihouse, a foundation which supports people to design and build sustainable housing, RepRap, an open source organization that designs 3D printers designed to replicate themselves, and OSvehicle, a company that supports the open source manufacture of vehicles. Cosmo-localism takes place when easily accessible designs are paired with localized and distributed production capabilities using new breakthrough technologies that facilitate local manufacture / production.” From “Cosmo-localization and leadership for the future


Transnational production networks and a global co-op credit system

A co-op credit system straddles the planet – with co-ops trading value both locally and globally, that drives the endogenization of the exchange of value. The credit system gives bonuses for those that help to run and expand the system. The system helps to build and drive a commons economy that is equitable and ecologically in balance. 

“A phyle is a confederation — which is to say, a network with no higher structure — of conversational communities with their own companies, which share a series of common funds in a transnational space: basically, “social security” and mutual economic support systems.” From David de Ugarte 

“As the cooperative and platform cooperative movements matured, they became more profitable for member-workers, and a strong competitor to the corporate-capitalist incumbents. With the crisis, people flock to the cooperative form. Alternative currencies had developed, increasingly high tech, leveraging block chain and other technologies. The global knowledge and design commons had matured even more. Through open cooperativism strategies a resurgent transnational sector called ‘The Global Coop’ emerges. It helps to transnationalize value exchange. Coop currencies trade across the globe, creating a planetary sub-economy that flourishes amid the economic mess left over by neo-liberalisms GFC wreck. Institutions that support Commons Based Reciprocity Licenses (CopyFair) provide ways to maintain the strength of design and knowledge commons that underpin The Global Coop. The Global Coop, by virtue of capturing and circulating value, is able to increasingly build and maintain the open global design commons that increasingly potentiates distributed localized production.” From “Cosmo-Localization for the Anthropocene Transition

Wise Technological Beings

I recently wrote an article in The Conversation where I argued that, despite the various anxieties and challenges with technology, we must not reject technology, but rather mature in our capacity as technological beings.

we need to ask the question: what does it mean to be a responsible, mature and wise technological being? 


The Design Elements of the Experiment

Given the vision for the future, the challenge is then to bring this future into the present –  at a very small scale – through an experiment, in this case the FuturesLab 2.0 Enterprise Model.

Design Elements

FuturesLab as a Platform Cooperative

  • For the people who build the co-op, it is a platform cooperative, using a contributory system to allocate value. When people make contributions for things the community / organization needs, and when there is an agreement on the value of a work, e.g. project, task etc. – there is a reciprocation. As people fulfil tasks, project and roles, they are rewarded proportionally as owners. Basically, people are rewarded for building the enterprise. Therefore the first membership type would be member-owners

FuturesLab as Platform for Collaborative Urban Governance

  • A second type of member would specifically be to generate cross sector partnerships and meant for supporting collaborative urban governance processes (university, gov, community, business etc). The point of having this membership class is to bring organizations together that would not ordinarily come together to discuss commons transitions and experiments. These members would not be “owners”, however, they would have some decision making capacity in terms of the direction of the enterprise focus. The might be called member-collaborators.    

FuturesLab Empowers the Citizen Innovator  

  • To realise Iaione’s vision of quintuple helix urban commoning, citizen innovators  must have a foundational role. This third class of membership would be citizen innovators who drive particular social innovation processes. They are the active ingredient, the catalysts. They are also content contributors, that add to the cosmo-local body of knowledge. These members are able to contribute ideas and run experiments via FuturesLab, however they do not own any part of FuturesLab. They would however hold the license for their ideas as a CBRL/copyfair. This means that other co-ops can use their IP, but commercial entities must pay. The majority payment goes to the ideator and the minority payment goes to FuturesLab. FuturesLab acts as the steward of the ideas, designs and experiments, promoting the ideas and protecting the ideas if the need arises. These would not be member owners, but would have some decision making power for their membership group.   




Democratic Decision Making, The Global Co-op, and FuturesLab as part of Phyle  

  • These three classes of membership would use an online democratic system of governance. However, it is possible that the systems would be separate, have sub-governance capabilities, as each of them would deal with different issues. A governance board could be created that brought together representatives from all three. 
  • FuturesLab would need to explore the broader co-operative ecosystem distributed globally, that can form part of a co-op currency or credit or value exchange system. In this sense FuturesLab becomes a member of a transnational value exchange system, and able to use a coin or credit method to provide and purchase services from other co-ops around the world, forming a solidarity economy system.
  • FuturesLab as a transnational “phyle” would explore what other organizations around the world have similar and overlapping commitments and values and where complementarity is needed. FuturesLab might fit within a broader umbrella phyle – the members of FuturesLab may be distributed globally, but held together in a phyle like transnational solidarity co-op enterprise system of membership.


So what would FuturesLab actually do?

So we have all kinds of visions and design elements floating about, what would FuturesLab be designed to actually do?

FuturesLab’s purpose would be to bring together an ecosystem of organisations (gov, business, universities, civil society), with citizen ideators, innovators and experimenters, to generate cross sector partnerships for the ideation and implementation of bold experiments (pieces of the commons transition future), which can be scaled for social impact. While urban settings are an ideal place for this to happen, because of proximity, the same can happen for projects for the global commons. For example, the Pax Pacifica project was conceptualised for a commons which can be understood as peace between nations (e.g. USA and China). Cross sector partnerships for the ideation and implementation of bold experiments for the protection and production of commons is needed at many scales.

FuturesLab would be established as a platform cooperative, with sweat / bootstrap equity going to the organisers, with subsidiary decision making by two other classes of members: organisational members and citizen innovators. It is envisioned that a core group of establishers would bootstrap the enterprise and gain some sweat equity in the process. This core group, once project work began coming in, would also run project for partners and clients.

Futureslab would use membership money to run a lean organisation and host events and processes that link people and organisations. Money would come in through projects generated by the labour of the platform coop members, by key partners and clients to facilitate the development of collaborative experimentation.

Futures lab started off as a personal journey and personal process of applying principles of open innovation and open foresight. The results of this experiment with my life were incredibly positive. And yet, I found myself on on ideas and prototyping treadmill,  requiring a context and a support system, and wanting to cultivate a community of co-innovators.

Futures lab 2.0  provides context and organisational grounding to what it means to do ideation, design and experimentation. The purpose of futures lab thus becomes

To cultivate communities of co-creators who can launch bold experiments in transformation for the commons, that are aligned to visions of deep ecological sustainability and social justice. 


Published by jramos

José Ramos is a researcher, writer and advocate for commons-based social change. He focuses on such areas as future political economy, planetary stewardship, innovations in democracy and governance, the conjunction of foresight and action research, and transformative social innovation.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: