We did another NLnet funding application! Here’s our application.
Karrot is a community led open-source project supported by a team of regular contributors; Karrot-team. It is used by 30-40 groups and around 1300 people on a monthly basis who participate in local initiatives. Except for facilitating sharing resources, Karrot supports groups’ self-organisation and community building.
Through this R&D project,
based on ongoing engagements with Karrot users we will work on improving Karrot’s features designed to support the democratic operation of groups, we will improve existing mechanisms that can foster groups’ engagement in political work and grassroots citizen science, we will work on simplifying data interoperability between Karrot and other tools.
focusing on data sovereignty, will we work on facilitating local instances and groups’ federation, develop features that align with users’ requests on what Karrot datafies and develop features that can improve data portability
inspired by Community-Supported Agriculture, through a series of engagements and participatory design sessions we will explore how Karrot can be governed as a commons; a Community-Supported Software project
All five of us who are involved in writing this applications are regular contributors in Karrot and members of the so-called Karrot team. Having various backgrounds, we create an interdisciplinary team collaborating on sustaining and further designing Karrot. Our focus is on making Karrot more accessible and efficient but we also focus on the social values its design entails and promotes. The latter is central for Karrot specifically since it is developed to support grassroots communities in their sharing practices and their organising in democratic and participatory ways.
The application we submit for this call builds on our previous experience working as a team and mirrors our understanding of technology as something that is value-laden. In this regard, we suggest working on the development of a series of features and processes that will improve Karrot’s general performance, will better support the needs of the communities that use it and that will bring up new commons-oriented ownership and governance models around software, data, design etc.
Vasilis is a PhD student in Newcastle University. His research centres around the design of digital technologies for collaborative, solidarity and gift economies. He is an amateur gardener, a member of a community rural makerspace. He is generally interested in community supported and commons oriented governance models.
Nick is a full stack software developer focusing on grassroots community projects, exploring the potential for technology to improve co-ordination and governance. He was previously involved in development for foodsharing.de and trustroots.org where he expanded his skills beyond software development to the many other aspects of open source community tech: facilitating meetings, task planning, communications, and speaking at conferences.
Nathalie holds an academic background in biochemical engineering, dedicated her energy to grassroots movements and social change being involved in Karrot and foodsharing.de. Her topics are sociocracy, food systems, commons & open-source and personal growth. She is a sociocracy practitioner certified by Sociocracy for All.
Tilmann used his experience with foodsharing.de to kick-start the development of Karrot in 2016. He is a long-time member of the Kanthaus project, a physical space dedicated to promoting sharing and pursuing social-ecological transformation.
Bruno is a co-founder of a foodsharing initiative based in Gothenburg, Sweden and local community organiser. He is an enthusiast of free and open-source software to support communities and groups in their activities.
Historically we operated as a voluntary project embedded within a moneyless culture. As the moneyless revolution failed to materialize, the Karrot contributors have increasing financial needs. We have been careful to introduce money to the project slowly so as not to disrupt the culture we have built up.
The first funding we received was around 8kEUR in 2019 from the city of Gothenburg, which we distributed to contributors in small payments over a few years. In 2021 we received 20kEUR from NLnet NGI Zero Discovery fund. We applied with that amount to keep within the spirit of only incrementally introducing money to the project. That was successful, and all the contributors from that time have remained active.
We receive 30EUR/month voluntary donation from one of the groups, and in this proposal we seek to explore a community-supported model, which might lead us to seek further voluntary donations from the groups to support the software and data commons of Karrot.
We have no other funding sources.
Currently, our only costs are labour, and within the team we have an agreed flat rate of 33EUR/hour for work, open to further discussion. Attached is a detailed preliminary budget, broken down by task across our 5 core contributors. We may also start to incur server-related costs if we proceed with a potential milestone to migrate to a new server.
Karrot is one of the few open-source and non-commercial tools which despite them being underfunded and “undermanned/womanned” is developed to a level that is used by grassroots communities on a daily basis; the number of which keeps growing. Today the great majority of communities which are using Karrot are initiatives created to tackle foodwaste on a local level, saving over 3 tonnes per day (2022-2023) across the groups. However through the years, other communities have also used Karrot, for example a bioregional group, a free shop, a repair cafe etc. Our recent work and future developments are towards making Karrot a more general purpose tool that can be used in the context of the sharing of other resources (i.e. tools, seeds) or grassroots organising around a locale (e.g. neighboourhood, community garden, a solidarity centre etc).
In the context of saving and sharing food specifically, contrary to commercial or charity-led projects developed to manage foodwaste, Karrot offers an alternative for foodsavers to self-organise and collectively manage foodwaste on a local level. Due to its features Karrot has simplified the logistics of saving and sharing food but also supports communities to organise under their own terms that serve their needs and local contexts. In comparison to the commercial and charity model, self-organisation implies organising in less hierarchical or in other ways (e.g. sociocracy), building relational trust, participating in democratic decision making processes and a transition from a model based on volunteers who usually follow top down guidelines (either imposed by a charity or a piece of technology) to one where local ‘citizens’ actively collaborate over a common cause and engage in shaping local politics.
Due to grassroots communities non-commercial, occasionally anti- and post-capitalist values and very local needs there are few readily available digital tools that can support their operation. As a result such initiatives resort to appropriating commercial tools, which do not fully serve their needs, often restrict their evolution and occasionally entail commercial and individualistic values that such communities oppose through their practices. We see Karrot as an alternative to such commercial platforms -that fills this gap- which along with other software projects that share a similar culture can create a digital ecology of building blocks that can boost communities self-organisation on a local level but also support their federation.
Since its early days, Karrot has been designed in participatory ways. A great number of features have been created not in a top down way but as a result of ongoing discussions between the Karrot-team and the communities active on the ground. We have been working on developing various socio-technical processes to support a ‘design with’ rather a ‘design for’ model. We believe that those processes that make Karrot a community-led tool have paved the way for exploring how Karrot could in the future be managed and run as a digital commons.
Adding ActivityPub to Karrot is the most notable challenge, as this brings a whole new aspect to the flow of data within the application, and would benefit from an existing high quality python library. Additionally, we would be connecting with the event-oriented, and possibly group-supporting, part of the fediverse which is less well established than the twitter-like microblogging part. This will need careful handling and participation in the wider community to ensure compatibility with existing implementations and any relevant specifications or standards. Nick has already been making connections within this community for a while which should help with that effort.
Additionally, our concept of interoperability is not solely about implementing data-level protocols, but broader concepts that groups have demonstrated a need for. Many of the platforms users wish to “interoperate” with do not support federated protocols as they are data silos (e.g. WhatsApp groups). So interoperation for us is a wider concept, of how to support a more seamless flow between the different platforms that groups actually use today, whilst simultaneously venturing towards emerging technologies and practises (e.g. ActivityPub).
Another ever-present technical challenge is how to evolve and generalize the feature set without either confusing users by changing things they have got used to, or needing to keep legacy versions of features around forever, which would incur maintenance burdens. So far though, we have been able to reimagine core aspects of Karrot in order to support emerging use cases (e.g. supporting community organising not just for food saving use cases), so we feel confident here.
Finally, our democratic governance and co-ordination features within Karrot have to work across a wide range of groups, each with their own governance structures and ways of organising, so designing and evolving these features needs careful work to ensure they make sense across a range of contexts. This is part of why we put a lot of emphasis on our relationship and engagement with the groups, and seek to bring them closer through a community-supported model. Translating these varying needs into the technical features to implement is a challenge sometimes!
As we describe already in this application we constantly work on improving the channels and processes so that the so called ‘experts from the ground’ -those that use Karrot on a daily basis- regularly share their feedback and requests to the Karrot-team.
The groups using Karrot and the Karrot-team make the core of Karrot’s ecosystem. Today there are 5 regular contributors who participate in the Karrot-team and 30-40 groups using the platform. Groups’ size varies. Smaller groups have 5-10 members while some big ones have more than 200.
Some of features and processes we plan on testing and implementing during this round, have been informed by past synchronous (interviews, informal gatherings, community events etc.) and asynchronous engagements (forum posts, questionnaires) we had with Karrot users. These we can start developing right away.
For some other features and processes we include in this application, we plan on engaging with Karrot groups’ members (e.g.interviews, workshops, community gatherings, forum posts etc.) to co-design prototypes which we can then test and finally develop.
We will document such co-design and prototype testing sessions which we will make available to all Karrot members and to the broader community as well.
The broader community includes actors found around the core Karrot ecosystem of which practice and theory have been inspiring for our endeavour. Those include other software projects that share similar values (e.g. bonfire, inventaire etc), organisations focusing on the Commons (e.g. Sociocracy For All, the CSx Network, the CommonsNetwork, Community Economies network etc.) and academic institutions (e.g. P2PLab, OpenLabNewcastle, Institute for the Cooperative Digital Economy etc.). On developing some of our features and processes we will ask for their support and advice and we will accordingly share our progress and ‘findings’ with them.