Understanding the communities that use Karrot
Connecting with the experts from the ground
A few words about Karrot
(PDF version available here:
‘Understanding the communities that use Karrot’.pdf (5.7 MB)
Karrot is a cooperatively managed and designed digital infrastructure that aims at supporting communities and initiatives to organise their activities or some of their activities at least in collaborative and participatory ways.
To this day, it has been mostly used by initiatives related to foodsaving and sharing active in different places in Europe. Throughout the years Karrot has been alive, various contributors have been supporting the project and the community in different ways. Nowadays, there is a group of people who comprise the so-called ‘Karrot-team’ who put time and effort to keep Karrot running and support the infrastructure’s development in ways that can better serve the needs of the communities that use it.
(We are the ones writing this text)
Karrot can be thought of as a ‘working site’, an ever-evolving project where new ideas are constantly shared, new features are implemented, some existing ones are tinkered. Karrot is open-source of course. But open goes beyond lines of codes that can be copied and forked. Open applies to decision making, designing-together, but also to sharing emotions and dreams while in an impromptu ‘therapy’ session, ‘loitering’ while on a video call, collaboratively managing any sort of financial resources that the project receives etc.
Nick, Nathalie, Vasilis, Dave, Bruno during the ‘late night Tuesdays call’: every Tuesday late afternoon we meet and usually sketch or make mockups for new features to come. Sometimes we just chill and end up contemplating about life while drinking beer.
Reviewing last week’s actions: ‘Vasilis books a vacation’. Vasils (me) expressed his (my) getting close to a burnout. Among the persons active in the ‘Karrot-team’ such occasions and feelings are equally important as Action/Outcomes like creating an issue on github, fixing a bug, writing an e-mail or applying for some funding
We recently got fascinated by the sound reactions on Jitsi which we have been using ever since. It would be nice if we could create our own library of sounds as well.
Since September 2021 we, the so-called ‘Karrot team’ who have been working on this text, have been exploring ways to come closer to the initiatives that use Karrot. Our aim has been to build relationships with the ‘experts from the ground’ while understanding the ecologies within which they are active. Since we have adopted a collaborative and participatory approach in managing and further developing Karrot it felt very natural and also ‘urgent’ to better connect with the people on the ground who have been using Karrot to support their daily activities, listen to theirs stories and learn from their experiences with the ultimate goal to foster ‘designing with’ rather than ‘for’ them.
In this process and as we acknowledge that Karrot is only one small piece of infrastructure (a small compartment of the broader socio-technical infrastructures that different groups use) our focus has been to get the bigger picture and get a more holistic understanding of the versatile ecologies within which groups live. Our aim has been to understand how communities use Karrot but also learn how they use other digital tools, what physical infrastructures they have access to, how they organise and take decisions, what their vision(s) have been, how they relate with other projects, initiatives, institutions etc.
In this document we present our ‘findings’ and interpretations of. ‘Findings’ derive from a series of engagements we had with various persons involved in different initiatives that use Karrot. During the last 8-10 months, we have been inviting people from groups to share with us their experiences and expertise, their histories, ideas, concerns etc. All active groups on Karrot have been invited to have a discussion with some of us. Since there was no direct way to approach the different groups on Karrot we had to ‘appropriate’ the application process via which we shared our invitation that technically is visible to all members of a group.
A snippet of the invitation we shared with some groups (Foodsharing Stockholm in this case) by ‘appropriating’ the application process
For the synchronous (live) discussions we prepared an interview-guide with open ended questions which we used to facilitate the meetings. Until now we met online and hold discussions with people from 7 groups (table 1); all related to foodsaving and sharing. Since language can sometimes work as a communication barrier we did also prepare an open questionnaire to share with people from groups not confident in English. We shared this questionnaire with two groups using Karrot that accepted our invitation. In July 2022 we also organised ‘Karrot Days 2022’ a two-day community gathering and thinking-together event. Alongside the discussions and questionnaires, Karrot days has been a unique opportunity to connect with groups active on Karrot. Some of our findings also derive from researching Karrot groups online; by browsing their social media pages, their Karrot group (we have been accepted as members in some of them), by exploring their website (if they have one), by reading and listening to interviews members have given to the press etc. Finally some of our findings come from asynchronous discussions that we had either on Karrot (in the ‘Karrot team and Feedback group and the Karrot days 2022 group), via e-mails, on Karrot’s community forum and on Karrot’s github page.
This document serves as a summary of what we have learned from the ‘experts from the ground’. Bringing together the findings which came out of the various engagements we described above we have created (we hope) a valuable resource to inform the development of new features on Karrot or the tinkering of existing ones. Since experiences and ideas from different groups are brought together in this ‘report’, this document can also serve as a first step towards intergroup learning.
As groups are not static but constantly evolving we recognise the need to continue checking-in with groups and thus the need to create more ways to support intertemporal interactions and the sharing of ideas, feedback, concerns etc. We also need to note at this point that the majority of the live discussions we had with members of different groups were held during covid which has disrupted the ‘normal’ ways of operating for the majority of the groups; the ways members meet, do pickups, run events etc.
The groups that use Karrot we have engaged with during the last months and the different type of engagements
In order to better organise our ‘findings’ and hopefully make it easier for readers to skim through, we created a series of themes which are informed by the data we have been collecting. (We tried to avoid cherry picking). We, by no means, claim any neutrality on the information we present here. Our biases, aspirations, fears, anxieties, good and bad moments, laziness and stubbornness have influenced all stages of our attempt to ‘Understand the communities that use Karrot’. In the ways we approached the communities, the interview guide(s) we have prepared and the ways we engaged in the various discussions, the ways we designed Karrot days and our interpretations of the ‘data’ we have been collecting.
Also, we have to note that the people we have been engaged with did not ever claim to be representatives of the groups but only shared their own personal understandings, beliefs, ideas and experiences.
History and Vision(s): An introduction
Since our approach has not been to focus on one thing (which in our case would be Karrot) but learn how things relate to each other, how different compartments tie together or sometimes clash and compete, and form different constellations, learning about the past of the groups and their vision(s) has been very central but also an‘ ice-breaking’ exercise.
The foodsaving and sharing movement in Germany has been an inspiration for a few groups that have been on Karrot. For Solikyl in Goteborg which stands for ‘solidarity fridge’, for the Foodsharing Warsaw, for Arnhem foodsharing as well.
Solikyl started in 2016 among some friends who wanted to start their own fight against foodwaste. They started by dumpster diving and setting up a community fridge. At the beginning it was a flat organisation and since they started facing some issues, some rules have been introduced. Today, Solikyl is a registered organisation, the group has a legal status and has a board of which presence and activities have created some levels of hierarchy in the decision making process. Having a legal status as we were told made the group eligible to accept funding but also made the group look more reliable especially when creating new collaborations with stores.
Today, Solikyl members focus more on distributing the food they collect as fast as possible instead of storing food in community fridges so as to prevent possible food spoilage. The group has been growing bigger in relation to co-operations with stores and the amounts of food saved but as one of the members of the group put it, the group might need to take a step back, look inwards and focus on the community’s values, agreements and relations.
Beyond foodsaving, Solikyl members are engaged in raising awareness activities about foodwaste and have been (some of its members) interacting with the city’s officials on issues related to foodwaste and climate change in general.
Foodsharing Warszawa was also created in 2016 and also started as a dumpster diving project. Two friends came together at the beginning and via FB invited other people to join the movement. Some 10 people were involved at the beginning who would meet in different houses to discuss the next moves for the project. Today, Foodsharing Warszawa is a big group in terms of members, collaborations with shops and distribution points. It is organised in committees and is operating in a non-hierarchical way. Similarly to Soliky it has been one the very first initiatives using Karrot and a few features have been initially designed in a close collaboration between Foodsharing Warszawa and the people designing Karrot. The group does not have any legal status at the moment but lately and due to various reasons the idea of setting up an NGO has been discussed. We were told that being an NGO would possibly improve handling with the administrative tasks the group has to deal with but would also possibly mean that other more strict rules related to picking up food have to be followed.
As the two members of the group we engaged with mentioned, today most of the energy goes in saving food which has turned up to be the main activity of Foodsharing Warszawa but noted that the vision is more than that: being ‘pickup machines’. Energy should be put (that cannot be measured in kilos saved) on talking with the local authorities, lobbying against foodwaste on a higher level and creating a more resilient community.
Foodsharing Luxembourg (FSL) started in 2018 and acquired a legal status (association) from the very beginning. However the first collaborations with shops were only established by August 2019. Having an association meant for the group that is easier to accept some donations and hold a bank account. In addition, being an association works as a protective layer in case someone (e.g. a supermarket or someone who received food) turns against one or some members of the group. The general vision of the initiative is that all edible food is consumed. Respect, reliability and responsibility are the core values the members agree on respecting when joining the community. The group is organised in a sociocatic way, in circles that comprise different committees. Thus decision making processes are following the sociocratic rationale based on consent. One of the circles is the board of the association which is a legal requirement to have. The person we talked to from Foodsharing Luxembourg (FSL) commented that the idea is that in the future there should be no need for such a group to exist since foodwaste will no longer be an issue. Of course this might take years so until then as the FSL member suggested, similarly to what we heard from the Warsaw group, energy must be also put beyond direct foodsaving; in political work, in Luxemburg and on an EU level in general. Political work that brings up the issue of waste and pushes towards new pieces of legislation that can contribute towards a more sustainable energy and food management. Members of FSL have been interacting with the local municipality and have engaged in raising awareness/educational activities, for example by visiting and running workshops in schools.
Arnhem Foodsharing is the smallest group in terms of members we have reached out to, which did suffer a lot during covid and is slowly coming back. For the time being they are more or less 7-8 members that comprise the core of the group. The group came together to form a counter-culture initiative after realising how much food ends up wasted in a system, as described by one of the members we chatted with, where the rationale of ‘always available and fresh on shelves’ leads to excessive waste of food and energy. They plan on slowly opening the group and letting others in but for now creating some cohesion and establishing some agreements/rules is the priority. For now, the existing members of the group have agreed on trying to consume with respect the food saved so as to prevent ‘household-level’ waste by educating their senses and using their creativity in doing so, and have also agreed that each one takes on responsibility when consuming food that has been saved. The group has not a legal status at the moment and has one collaboration with one shop.
Food has been one reason that connects the members of this group so far but building a regenerative community is one of the visions of the group. Some members of the group are also involved in other projects (e.g. extinction rebelion, a community centre) and had also shared saved food in events/festivals run by other groups active in the city.
Food saving Lund was created by a few students some 6 years ago. They have a few collaborations with stores from where members pickup food otherwise to be binned. The general aim of the group is to prevent food waste while also building a community. As one member put it the idea is not to get/save as much food as possible but also meet nice people and nurture a generative sharing culture. Accountability, fair-share, community building are some of the values that characterise the initiative.
Beyond direct foodsaving, the group is involved in other activities. When we met for example they referred to a lecture on sustainable food production that they have been organising and hosting on campus, a clothes and food swap they have been planning on doing, a crowdfunding event ‘Stand with Ukraine’ they will be joining where they would make and sell sandwiches using food saved. Raising awareness and sharing knowledge on foodwaste prevention is also a part of the group’s vision. As a group they belong to a bigger ‘umbrella organisation’ which gives them access to funding and legal protection without having to deal with the bureaucracy that would possibly come if they were totally independent. Being a part of an ‘umbrella organisation’ also gives them access to a bigger network of initiatives with which they can collaborate. Also to physical spaces managed by other initiatives connected with the same umbrella organisation.
As they told us they have recently been approached to share their advice and experience by someone trying to build an app of a ‘can you still eat your food’ style that would support people in preventing food waste on a household level.
The members of the group we chatted with despite referring to the ‘green’ bubble that they are living in, appeared positive and optimistic for the future since more awareness around the issue is built.
Food saving Leuven is a foodsaving and sharing group mainly composed of students. As a group they do not have a legal status yet but they use a document which is not binding however when establishing new collaborations with stores. It was born after a film night where a documentary on food waste was shown. The film and the discussion afterwards have been the impetus for creating a group against food waste, food that oftentimes is imported by places that suffer from food insecurity as one of the group’s members mentioned.
Being a group mainly membered by students that go and come or only stay for short periods makes it hard to sustain a critical mass. As we were told, the initiative has been quite popular among students in Leuven who attend a Masters programme on Sustainability.
To get the chance to meet and chat with some of the initiative’s members, we joined one of their monthly meetings where members of a subcommittee were discussing ways to establish new collaborations with stores. They already have 5-6 collaborations and a few hubs where food savers can drop-off excess saved food. Hubs are located in outsides spaces (protected by the rain) and they also run a few indoors hubs (e.g. in the university hub). First step after joining the community is being able to do pickups and drop off food in hubs. The ideal second step is to participate more actively in the community and take more responsibilities to support the bigger plans and visions of the project. As they told us, community vibes should be revived somehow since during and after corona less activities that bring together members in person (e.g. potluck dinners) have been organised. ‘We should have more drinks/beers together’ as one person in our meeting mentioned.
Robin Foods is a group active in Vienna and one of the oldest groups on Karrot. Similarly to the Foodsaving Warsaw and the initiative in Luxembourg, Robin Foods has been a group quite close to Karrot and in constant communication with the people sustaining and developing Karrot; sharing ideas, experiences from the ground, joining Karrot meetings and events. As an initiative is affiliated with another group also using Karrot called Gärten für Alle! which is used by people to organise community gardening activities. Robin Foods members practice dumpster diving and foodsaving from stores and have in general a more holistic approach on food. Foraging and collecting fruit from trees found in the urban areas are part of their activities. Cargo bikes are an important part of the group’s infrastructure since they are used to transfer food in different places (distribution points) or as kitchens on wheels which are used to cook saved food in demonstrations or other events.
In Copenhagen there are two foodsaving and sharing projects that are also using Karrot. Fællesskabet KBH- Free fridge in Copenhagen and Foodsharing Copenhagen
The main infrastructure/place of interaction in Fællesskabet KBH is a community fridge that was set up in 2020. As a project it has been inspired by a dumpster diving cafe in Aarhus (DK) and also started as a dumpster diving project which had to evolve due to legal reasons. Today the people running the project have access to other food resources before they end up in bins. Food comes from 8-9 donors and the fridge is supported by 20 or so volunteers. Sharing is unconditional; everyone has access to the fridge. We were told that recently new laws have been enforced that might end up ‘killing’ the project. For example there is a possibility that to be legit there should always be someone present and responsible in the space where the fridge is located when it is used by the general public.
Foodsharing Copenhagen is an older project that started in 2016 by a group of anarchists activists interested in exploring unconditional ways of sharing resources. We were told that the majority of the persons involved in the group’s very first steps are not part of the project anymore and that the group has gone through various transitions through the years and that a lot of people stopped contributing during the pandemic, something that has affected the project sustainability. At its peak, it would offer food otherwise wasted to some 300 people per day.
Both projects are registered organisations, meaning they have legal status. Foodsharing Copenhagen has a board while Fællesskabet KBH- Free fridge in Copenhagen not and is mainly supported by 4-5 core volunteers.
Onboarding refers to the processes of ‘recruiting’/letting in new members. All the groups we engaged with are related in one way or another to food but differ in their visions, structures and decision making process and the processes in place for newcomers to join in. The groups we engaged with use various forms of physical and digital infrastructures to support new members joining their initiative.
Solikyl has today some 130 members on Karrot. For Solikyl Karrot is the main digital infrastructure used to organise the community.
As in all groups it is hard to define the exact number of active members (people doing pickups, drop-offs, joining activities), since in groups there are people that might join in a few pickups from a store per month and others that will also engage in more activities (e.g. organising a workshop, joining board’s meetings)
One of the members of Solikyl we talked with learned about the initiative by an article published in a local newspaper. In the beginning and for some time he was only involved with the group through a collaboration he managed to establish with one restaurant closeby the area he would live at the time. He would pick up the food from there, keep some for himself and then drive to a distribution point where he could leave the rest for others to pick. He gradually met more and more people from the community by visiting a physical space Solikyl members used to meet. He has also been part of the board, today he is the accountant and the responsible person for cooperating with one of the stores and recently took up the role of the mediator; one of the persons that deal with conflicts that might arise. When he joined some 5 years ago there was no ‘fixed’ onboarding process. Someone could gradually become more active in the community by spending more time with other members, connecting with them and joining meetings/activities/events.
Today, people find about Solikyl in various ways. WOM plays an important role but people also learn about the initiative for example through FB, through the community’s website or through other forms of WOMouse. For becoming a member of the community one has to create an account on Karrot and apply to join the Solikyl group. When applying a newcomer is prompted to answer some questions (see image below). After one is accepted in the group they can start by joining a series of trial/introductory pickups. Having to go through a series (usually 3) introductory pickups before becoming a ‘fully-fledged’ member is a process that a lot of foodsharing groups have been adopting. The idea behind, is that a newcomer joins a few different pickups accompanied by more experienced members which share some advice and/or present in action the existing rules related to picking up and/or dropping off food. Since on Karrot there is not yet (soon to be released though ;D) such a feature that can be used for trial/introductory pickups groups are using different tools to coordinate. The person from Arnhem Foodsharing we met with also shared the idea of being able to use Karrot to coordinate trial pickups, a process that they have not adopted as a group so far but have been thinking of trying out in the future.
In FSL before one goes in an introductory pickup has to sign up through the group’s website by filling in a membership form. In this form one has to put the essentials (name, surname, email etc) consent on the group’s agreement and also answer to one ‘quiz’ question that can be answered correctly after reading the group’s agreement (e.g. One question to check that you have looked into the group agreement: Above which body temperature in °C are you not allowed to handle food?). After signing up, the person interested in joining should come to one of the group’s so-called ‘information meetings’ within six months after applying. Then the person is invited to join Mattermost via which can participate in a series of introductory pickups. Organising introductory pick-ups includes a lot of manual work. Already members of the group, when signing up for a pickup on Karrot if there are empty slots, can then announce that on the Mattermost chat where non-full members have access to. Through Mattermost non-full members can express their interest to join a trial pickup. The experienced member that gives an introductory pickup has then to use the feedback on Karrot and write there the name of the person(s) that joined as newcomers and mention for each person how many trial-pickups they have joined so far. In FSL there is one person at the moment going through all this manual work of reading feedback, storing information in an excel sheet and counting trail pickups before someone is officially accepted as a member. Then they are official members of the group, they can create an account on Karrot and sign up for activities on their own.
Members of FSL also have a FSL card which they need to carry with them and show to the stores (in some cases). One of the group’s members, Daniel, the IT person of the group, used Karrots API to create a programme that gets a person’s digital ID on Karrot and puts them in a digital mockup for FSL members card that can be also printed. In the case of FSL the ID is used to create some ‘professionalism’ as we were told but also prevent non-members using FSL name to pickup food from stores, something that has happened in the past. In that way, and by scanning a QR code found on the members FSL card shops can actually check if someone is a member of FSL or pretends to be.
FSL runs two groups on Karrot. One called Foodsaving by Foodsharing Luxembourg where only members that have been through the trial-pickups can join and also another group called Foodsharing Points by Foodsharing Luxembourg which all members can join including those not yet pickers who however want to get involved in the management of the foodsharing points/hubs that FSL is managing.
There have been long discussions and more than a few design sessions around creating a series of features on Karrot that can support groups run such trial pickups with less manual work needed outside Karrot. FSL put the first seeds back in November of 2020 on a forum post on Karrot’s community forum and its first iteration will be very soon available for groups to try it out!
In the case of Food saving Lund, people interested in joining the group have to participate in one of the introductory meetings. We joined one of those meetings some months go (online). A 25-30 mins introduction was given by one of the group’s board members who went through the essentials about the project. The participants were asked to give a short presentation of themselves (say hi and who they are and why there are interested to join) and also write their full name on the chat. They were also prompted to have their cameras on during the call. The host then would make a list of the names which would then share with another person (also member of the group’s board) responsible for the onboarding of new members. This other person, having the list of the names would then accept in the Lund’s Karrot group,the still interested ones to join. The participants in the meeting were also suggested to upload a photo of themselves on Karrot and use their full name. In Food saving Lund every person cannot join more than two pickups per month, except of course if slots are empty until the very last moment or in some periods of the year that some members of the group are away (e.g. Christmas, Summer). If someone signs up more than 2 times during a month then the person responsible for Karrot under the ‘Food Saving Admin’ Karrot account contacts the person asking to remove their interest for a pickup. As they told us they didn’t have a ‘Karrot Admin’ account from the very beginning but some issues led them to proceed in this way. Having a ‘Karrot Admin’ felt for the group as a necessary option especially during and after Covid which affected in person meetings and the chance to build trust. For some time and for the same reason, not being able to meet in person, the group also decided to not to accept new members.