Bloom Network is a decentralized network, where local groups as well as international collaborative groups have autonomy to create the structures they need to achieve their goals and support the health of their communities.
History + Theory:
When local Bloom organizers began producing events and building communities in 2009 as Evolver Network, we experienced a number of problems with having a hierarchical corporate leadership body in New York City. They ultimately had different values than the local communities that sprang up around its vision, and there was no structure built into the company for us to steer the brand and influence decisions about media content, technology, and so forth.
That’s half the backstory of why we decided to base our leadership on a more bottom-up and lateral vision. The other half is that as we face environmental, economic, and social collapse in many parts of the world right now and in the coming decades, there is a need for more resilient alternatives to the large, brittle, and 17th-century systems that most state governments are running today. Add to that the systemic hurdles to high-level leadership positions among women, people of color, and other marginalized people, we believe there is a need for radical alternatives that can run in parallel, hopefully fast enough to support a relatively peaceful transition away from extractive power dynamics.
What Does Decentralization Look Like in Practice?
If you were to visualize Bloom’s working groups and our programs, it would look like a mesh, more than a pyramid or a hub and spoke model.
That said, decentralization does not mean no hierarchy. Hierarchy is often useful for efficiency. The Tyranny of Structureless, coined by feminist Jo Freeman, is real! One way we solve for the slowness that you might imagine (or have experienced) comes with nonhierchical groups, is that we divide responsibility into small groups of people, from two to at most six.
Most of our working groups have a Lead person who helps anchor that team’s process. Leads tend to have the most knowledge of that group, its goals, its history and what tends to work best within it.
Often we find that co-leads are needed, because we simply need two diverse brains to understand what we’re doing! Divvying up responsibilities usually happens organically, based on each person’s strengths, capacity, and interests for growth and personal development.
Another example of how we work in a decentralized fashion is that often our working groups are comprised of the leads of several different companies all together. For example, the Pollination Production Team who makes our annual conference happen, is made up of Bloom leads as well as directors from ImagineX and AVM Events & Retreats. Those companies coordinate teams for many other events not affiliated with Bloom Network. This is also how our marketing and finance groups work. As of 2019, this collaborative way of working is partly out of necessity as we are bootstrapping Bloom Network into having stable revenue flows. However, it is also strategic, as it allows us to cross-pollinate regenerative wisdom and tools that are normally used in large hierarchical corporations, while informing our work from each of our experiences across different sectors and communities. Once we have stable finances, we’re considering making our standard work week 20 or at most 30 hours, so that our staff and contractors can continue to work on multiple projects (professional and creative), but we pay people enough that they don’t necessarily have to work multiple gigs if they don’t want to.
Bloom Network mostly operates on a collaborative, open basis: most of our events both locally and online are produced in collaboration with other organizations. Most of our local and international leadership are members and leaders of multiple communities and professional associations. That’s part of what makes us a special community, as we really do serve a mycelial, cross-network, multi-community nourishing role. “Participatory” is another relevant word for how we work. Sometimes I like to tell people we have a “Do-It-Together” ethos.
Currently several local Bloom chapters don’t even primarily organize under the name Bloom, mostly because they had previously formed under a different name but want to be part of Bloom Network to share, learn, and contribute. We call them a Bloom on our website so it’s easy for people to find the people doing Bloom stuff in their towns in connection with the international network.
Bloom Network’s organizational structure was built to model how mushrooms work in nature – they ferry information and resources across different species throughout a forest. We also looked to Indigenous communities for guidance on healthy leadership. There is one decision-making body in Bloom Network called the Wisdom Council – it’s more like a council of elders than a conventional board, but it carries out many of the functions a board normally would. This also minimizes common problems that arise in boards, by limiting the responsibilities of the legal board. (Common problems in a normal nonprofit board structure can include abuse of power/authority, and disconnection from the day-to-day activities of the organization).
We are still working out the legal details of how all this works, and formalizing it more. At our conference, Pollination, in San Francisco this August 16-18, we will be hosting a governance hackathon to code this all out more clearly.
While some formalization will be helpful, I hope we retain somewhat of an anarchic way of leading, where we respect each other’s wisdom and experience, and support people to self-organize projects as long as they’re loosely based around regenerative actions.
This brings me to an important point about gatekeeping and community moderation. In our first ten years of organizing, we’ve experienced many different kinds of attacks and conflict, including the challenges that arose when we were formerly focused more heavily on psychedelics and there was absolutely no gatekeeping on who could lead a local chapter or join a crew. We’ve since learned a lot of things to screen for, and we carefully interview anyone who is starting a local chapter, make clear agreements, and we take our time with bringing anyone new into a position in the organization where they would have a lot of power and influence.
This brings us back full circle to the hierarchy question – choosing a structure that is not based primarily on hierarchy is a protective measure against power abuse. It also reduces stress among our team, as top level leadership positions in a huge international effort means a lot of responsibility and projections, which ultimately we don’t feel are healthy for our peeps.
There is a spiritual maturity we’ve found important for people holding major roles in Bloom Network – this has been one of the most difficult things for us to understand the dynamics of. Transpersonal psychology is a skillset that many local Bloom leaders have, and it’s something we’d like to share about more publicly together. Related to this, I think it’s really important that Bloom continues to invite leadership from diverse communities, worldviews, and elders so that we operate from a place of integrity with the Earth, the cosmos, and the many Nations that live here
Digital Decentralized Networks
Lastly, Bloom Network is a like a physically anchored version of what is happening today in online decentralized autonomous networks, or DAO’s. The blockchain and cryptocurrencies make possible a whole new bestiary of governance possibilities and rapid collaboration.
For the most up-to-date research on decentralized digital governance, check out Aragon’s forum. They are creating a digital jurisdiction for companies running on the blockchain.
New technologies enable more hi-fidelity decision making at scale than for example the current U.S.’s political representation system. A couple of interesting innovations to check out are Liquid Democracy and Futarchy. Two other organizations making blockchain governance platforms are Democracy Earth and DaoStack.
We estimate that Bloom will run most smoothly using a digital organization. For example, it’s far faster to send money internationally and manage complex contracts that way. We think of what we do like an international, decentralized cooperative. There is no such legal category, as cooperative laws differ from county to county. We think the world needs one, or several.
If you’re interested in diving more into this topic, please come to Pollination 2019 in San Francisco and participate in our Decentralized Governance Hackathon. We’ll be working on Bloom Network specifically, but there will also be many trainings and discussions focused on decentralized governance for any company or collaborative effort.
Magenta, Executive Creative Officer, Bloom Network