DOKK Library

Community Rules

Authors Media Enterprise Design Lab

License CC-BY-SA-4.0


    Simple Templates
            for Great
A project of the Media Enterprise Design Lab at the
University of Colorado Boulder

Created by Cassandra Dana, Drew Hornbein,
Vincent Russell, Nathan Schneider

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This means
you’re welcome to share it as you wish, as long as you credit
the original source and use an equivalent license.

Published summer 2021
Creating communities has never been easier.
Online social networks enable groups to
form among people who might never oth-
erwise meet—across borders, even within
neighborhoods, and around common causes
that might otherwise remain isolated and
underground. Getting involved in a commu-
nity can be as easy as pressing “join.” But
the technology can make community appear
easier than it really is. Groups form, grow,
and begin to thrive before they can consider
how they will share power and deal with the
conflicts that inevitably arise. Because many
corporate social media platforms benefit
from bottomless argument and conflict—it
feeds more data about us to advertisers,
after all—they are not designed to support
problem solving and good governance.

Community Rules is a simple tool to help
make great communities even better and
healthier. It includes nine templates for or-
ganizational structures that communities can
choose from, combine, or react against. The
templates here are not meant to represent
a complete set of possible arrangements.
They are a provisional set to help spur much
broader explorations, and to invite critique.
Each of the templates includes example prac-
titioners to illustrate how groups use that
organizational structure. These templates are
also available through a Web app we have
created at, where you
can customize them according to the needs
of your group.
                    Why rules?
The feminist scholar and           into cults of personality or sti-
activist Jo Freeman wrote          fling polarization, rather than
a famous essay in the early        empowering democracies. For
1970s about a pattern she          groups that want to avoid this,
saw forming among fellow           Community Rules offers some
activists at the time: “The        options for where to begin.
Tyranny of Structurelessness.”
She warned that in groups          But rules should not be an end
that purport to be leaderless      in themselves. The health of
and non-hierarchical, leaders      any community depends above
and hierarchies emerge any-        all on the culture and relation-
way, usually among socially        ships it cultivates. Rules can
privileged participants. These     serve as a foundation, which
shadow structures can be           keep a house from sliding
nearly impossible to remove.       into the mud, but the house
Freeman encouraged fellow          itself is made of other things.
activists to adopt simple,         Rules inevitably constrain our
explicit forms of “democratic      actions and our possibilities.
structuring.” Bring the power      They are important to have for
structure into the light of        when they’re needed, but they
day, so participants know          do not produce great commu-
how to use and challenge it.       nities all on their own.

Tyrannies of structurelessness
seem to recur online with par-
ticular frequency. This is aided
and abetted by the “implicit
feudalism” of social-media
software; our technology
assumes that there should be
admins or mods with nearly
absolute power, that the best
ways of dealing with conflict
are through censorship or
exile. Despite the democratiz-
ing potential of the Internet,
online communities can turn
          Points of inspiration
The templates presented            arose during the Covid-19 pan-
herein have long histories, only   demic. One of those groups,
some of which are well-under-      the Rocky Mountain Mutual
stood today. The name of the       Aid Network, has been an
CommunityRule app comes            ongoing partner.
from what archaeologists
                                   Any attempt to draw from such
call a two thousand-year-old
                                   diverse sources runs the risk of
document found in Israel-
                                   appropriation—of taking com-
Palestine, describing the rules
                                   munities’ cultural heritage
of a utopian community. The
                                   without permission or due re-
use of “rule” as the name of
                                   spect. This is what happened,
a community’s constitution
                                   for instance, when the “fram-
comes from the Latin regula,
                                   ers” of the US Constitution
such as the sixth-century Rule
                                   drew selective inspiration from
of St. Benedict, a guidebook for
                                   Haudenosaunee peoples (or
monasteries still in use today.
                                   Iroquois Confederacy), to cre-
Council structures, such as in
                                   ate a government that would
the Circles template, can be
                                   rob Native land and devastate
found in Indigenous commu-
                                   Native people. As you develop
nities the world over. Random
                                   rules for your communities,
selection of decision-makers,
                                   please be aware of the cultural
which you will find in the Jury
                                   contexts you might draw from
template in this booklet, was
                                   for inspiration. To build a
used in ancient Athens for
                                   shared future of societies that
many kinds of government ser-
                                   are accountable and participa-
vice. The Benevolent Dictator
                                   tory, the world needs shared
structure is widespread, from
                                   repositories of rules that
tribal chiefs to business own-
                                   enable communities to adopt,
ers, but the term comes to us
                                   modify, and share improve-
through the culture of open-
                                   ments on rules from other
source software.
                                   communities. But this should
These templates have emerged       happen as much as possible
through non-scientific experi-     in a spirit of attribution and
ence, online and off. They were    respect.
road-tested through collabora-
tions in the summer of 2020
with mutual aid groups that
         How to use this book
You can use this book in many ways. Reading it from start to
finish is probably not the best one. Skip around and explore
the templates and their practitioners. If your community
resonates strongly with one, open the book to it and attach it
to the wall where you meet. You can use the blank patterns at
the front and back of this book to create your own rule icons.
You can also download printable, poster-sized versions at

Which template is the right         graphical interface. When it
starting point for your commu-      is ready, you can publish your
nity? Flip through them, and        rule to the platform’s public
look for words that resonate.       library, or export it privately
Where you find words you            for you and your fellow com-
like, try on the template: Read     munity members.
through it, imagining what it
                                    May the pages to come help
would look like if your commu-
                                    strengthen your community
nity adopted it. Does it fit? Try
                                    and prepare it for the challeng-
another template, perhaps one
                                    es ahead. May they also lead
that doesn’t resonate at all ini-
                                    you into invention, creativity,
tially. How does that one fit?
                                    and communion with the many,
One template might describe
                                    many ways people throughout
roughly where your communi-
                                    history have come together for
ty is now, while another might
                                    their common good.
point toward where you want
it to become—be sure to rec-
ognize the difference.
If you want to customize a tem-
plate for the specific needs of
your group, scan the QR code
on that template or visit the
associated CommunityRule.
info Web address. There, you
can click “customize” and
adapt the template however
you like using the platform’s



Elected board



                          The benevolent dictator holds ultimate
                          decision-making power, until the group is
                          ready for a more inclusive structure.

• Servant leadership
• Singular vision
• Voluntarism

Participation is open to anyone who
wants to join, but the benevolent dicta-
tor can remove participants at will.

The benevolent dictator has authority
and can change the group’s governance
as necessary. The benevolent dictator
can invite participants to help with
managing the group. When the group
is sufficiently mature, the benevolent
dictator will establish a more inclusive

The benevolent dictator is responsible
for implementing—or delegating imple-
mentation of—policies and other deci-
sions. If participants are not happy with
the benevolent dictator’s leadership,
they may voice their concerns or leave
the group.

              Customize at

Black Lives Matter
Global Network
Black Lives Matter Global Network
Foundation is a decentralized organiza-
tion with multiple chapters in various
cities that organize to build local
power to intervene in violence inflicted
on Black communities. Although it is
not the sole organization in the Black
Lives Matter movement, it is one of
the most prominent and serves as the
fundraising body, grantmaking entity,
and action-oriented think tank of the

Originally founded in 2013 by Alicia
Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal
Tometi, as of 2020, the organization
is led solely by Cullors, who is the only
board member and executive director.

Learn More
Python                                   Contributor Covenant

Python is a popular, open-source pro-    Coraline Ada Ehmke developed
gramming language that emphasizes        Contributor Covenant in 2014 as a
code readability to aid programmers in   code of conduct for open-source soft-
writing clear, logical code.             ware projects at a time when there was
                                         widespread resistance to such agree-
Governance                               ments. Within several years, many of
Guido van Rossum created Python,         the most prominent software projects
and served as the benevolent dicta-      had adopted it, including Linux, Node.
tor before stepping down from the        js, and thousands more.
position in 2018. Upon van Rossum’s
resignation, the Python Software
Foundation adopted an elected board      In 2020, Ehmke used an early ver-
model of governance. The new model       sion of CommunityRule to create
employs a five-person steering com-      a file in the
mittee elected by core developers that   Contributor        Covenant’s     GitHub
determines standardized practices for    repository, naming her “benevolent
the programming language.                dictator for life.” But the following year,
                                         she migrated Contributor Covenant to
                                         the Organization for Ethical Source,
                                         a democratically member-governed
                                         organization that she co-founded.

Learn More                               Learn more        
                           Units called circles have the ability to decide
                           and act on matters in their domains, which
                           their members agree on through a council.

• Decentralization
• Delegation
• Trust

To join, a person must be welcomed
into a particular circle according to its

Representatives of circles regularly meet
in a council to coordinate efforts and
determine the domains of each circle,
as well as to add or remove circles from
the council. A circle can create roles for
its members and assign authority over
specified sub-domains.

Circles and the council use consent to
make decisions. Consent means that
nobody presents a serious objection to
a proposal.

               Customize at

Sustainable Economies
Law Center

Sustainable Economies Law Center
(SELC) supports community resilience
and economic empowerment through
essential legal tools. They provide
education, research, advice, and
advocacy that promote sustainable

SELC operates with a system of
distributed decision-making. Semi-
autonomous circles of staff and
volunteers are responsible for SELC
programs. These program circles
are situated within larger circles of

Learn More
Meerkat Media                          Resist

Meerkat Media is a cooperatively       Based in Boston, Resist redistributes
owned production company and artist    resources to support communities and
collective based in New York. The      movements working for justice and lib-
organization consists of independent   eration. Through radical philanthropy,
artists who share resources, provide   Resist provides critical early funding to
mutual aid, and collaborate for the    those on the forefront of change.
purposes of artistic development.
Governance                             Resist is comprised of a board of
Artists associated with the Meerkat    directors, a staff collective, and three
Media Collective receive a monthly     decision-making bodies. Each deci-
stipend to pursue independent or       sion-making body has specific func-
collaborative projects. Commissioned   tions and authorities as dictated by the
projects are democratically run        board of directors. Overlap and collab-
through the Meerkat Media Workers      oration between the decision-making
Cooperative.                           bodies ensures cohesion within the

Learn More                             Learn More             
                           Decisions that affect the group collectively
                           should involve participation of all

• Creativity
• Empathy
• Solidarity

New participants may join as long as
no others object. Participants may be
removed if a proposal to do so passes
the consensus process.

People who make proposals that the
group agrees on is responsible for its
implementation, delegating as necessary
and as participants are willing to help.

Any participant may make a proposal at
any group meeting to which all partici-
pants are invited. The proposal should
be discussed and modified through
open conversation in order to address all
concerns. A decision is made only if there
are no serious objections remaining.

               Customize at

Caribbean pirates

During the Golden Age of Piracy (circa
1650–1730), many Caribbean pirate
crews of European descent operated as
limited democracies. Pirate communi-
ties were some of the first settler-col-
onizer groups to institute a system of
checks and balances for governance in
the Caribbean and North America.

While pirate captains frequently pos-
sessed decision-making power during
an expedition, they were appointed
and deposed with a mandate from the
crew. Articles of agreement among
a crew typically required unanimous

Learn More
Indaba                                    CECOSESOLA

Pronounced IN-DAR-BA, Indaba              Founded in 1967 CECOSESOLA is
is a form of community gathering          one of Venezuela’s oldest and most
developed among the Zulu and Xhosa        widely recognized worker cooperatives.
peoples in southern Africa. It has been   The organization currently serves as a
adopted in international delibera-        non-hierarchal, participatory network
tions such as the 2015 Paris climate      for associated grassroots cooperatives
agreement.                                and community groups.

Governance                                Governance
In an Indaba process, participants        CECOSESOLA is a consensus-based
avoid lengthy debate by stating at the    cooperative based on mutual trust
outset what outcomes they cannot ac-      and respect. Everyday decisions can
cept, and then suggesting proposals for   be made by individuals or subgroups,
common ground. The process encour-        but must adhere to a common criteria
ages listening, relationship-building,    that is established and revised through
and mutual respect.                       member consensus.

                                          Learn More
Learn more                                    are-one-big-conversation
                           Those who take initiative to do something in
                           the group can decide how they do it.

• Bias for action
• Consultation
• Decentralization

New participants may join as long as
no others object. Participants may be
removed if a proposal to do so passes
the consensus process.

People who make proposals that the
group agrees on is responsible for its
implementation, delegating as necessary
and as participants are willing to help.

Any participant may make a proposal at
any group meeting to which all partici-
pants are invited. The proposal should
be discussed and modified through
open conversation in order to address all
concerns. A decision is made only if there
are no serious objections remaining.

               Customize at

Word Up Community

Word Up is a multi-lingual community
bookshop in New York. Members are
committed to cultivating a space for
art, education, and empowerment that
benefits individuals and the communi-
ty at large.

Word Up is a collective run by over 60
neighborhood residents. They strive
for consensus in decision making but
ultimately provide weighted power to
those able to execute the work.

Learn More

Edgeryders is a think tank and online      As an alternative to corporate-owned
social network working to create widely    social media networks,,
beneficial and self-sustaining projects.   part of the “fediverse” social network,
This means projects are able to gener-     pioneers an open approach to co-own-
ate enough value to compensate those       ing and co-operating our online plat-
working on them.                           forms. Governance takes place through
                                           the decision-making platform Loomio.
Any member with the interest and re-
sources to pursue a project may do so      Tasks are done through voluntary
without permission. Members check in       committees, although some roles come
on each other’s projects to ensure they    with small stipends. Any member may
are legal and do not pose a threat to      make a proposal for a policy, which
Edgeryders’ infrastructure.                can be passed through a vote of the
                                           membership. All financial transactions
                                           are public.

Learn More
                                           Learn more
                          An elected board determines policies and
                          organizes their implementation.

• Delegation
• Representation
• Servant leadership

The board sets policies for membership
and removal.

A board is responsible for making deci-
sions and implementing them, including
by delegating necessary work to others.

Any community participant can be a
nominee for board positions. In regularly
scheduled elections, the nominees with
the largest number of votes become
board members. The board makes deci-
sions by majority vote.

              Customize at

Budgeting Greensboro
Participatory     Budgeting       (PB)
Greensboro is a democratic process
whereby residents of Greensboro,
North Carolina, decide how to spend
$500,000 of city funds. Each PB cycle
lasts 2 years. During that time, resi-
dents submit ideas, and PB volunteers
vet those submissions and turn them
into project proposals. Residents then
vote on which projects to fund.

The Greensboro PB Commission
is comprised of eleven volunteer
community members, including two
people from each of Greensboro’s
five city council districts and one at-
large member. The commissioners are
appointed by city council members to
recommend PB projects, funding, and
program guidelines. The commission
approves decisions through a majority
vote of commissioners.

Learn More
Usha Multipurpose                            SEWA Cooperative
Cooperative Society                          Federation

Usha      Multipurpose       Cooperative     Descended from the Self-Employed
Society is a cooperatively managed           Women’s Association, founded in the
financial institution that strives to pro-   state of Gujarat in 1971, the SEWA
vide economic stability for sex workers      Cooperative Federation supports
in West Bengal, India. The organization      women-led businesses. It represents
is managed by and exclusively serves         several hundred thousand women
sex workers.                                 workers in over one hundred coopera-
                                             tives, supporting member businesses’
Governance                                   collective power and local autonomy.
Usha is governed by a nine-person
board of directors. Directors are
elected through a two phase system.          The federation’s members, which are
Members nominate and elect forty five        themselves cooperatives governed by
representatives. These representatives       their worker-members, elect a board
then elect individuals to serve on the       of nine to fifteen members. This board
board of directors.                          governs the federation and elects its

Learn More                                   Learn more                       
                          Proposals are shaped and decided on by
                          randomly selected juries.

• Equality
• Participation
• Study

Juries set policies for membership
and removal.

Temporary juries form by a random

All participants have the right
to initiate proposals, sign them,
and serve on juries. If a certain
percentage of participants signs
a proposal, a jury is formed to study it,
revise it, and agree on it unanimously.
A proposal agreed on by a jury becomes
binding for the group.

              Customize at

Australian Citizens’

Australia’s first Citizens’ Parliament
was held for three days in 2009
and consisted of ordinary citizens
from across the country who gath-
ered to deliberate about how to
improve Australia’s political system.
Participants identified fundamental
characteristics of a healthy democratic
political system, and then generated
thirteen recommendations that the
national government could implement
to improve democratic governance in

Nine thousand Australians were ran-
domly selected and invited to partici-
pate in the Citizens’ Parliament, with
30% expressing a desire to participate.
From that pool of 30%, organizers ran-
domly selected 150 people to join the
parliament. All citizen parliamentarians
had the ability to propose policies and
the right to vote on all proposals, with
majority voting determining whether
the proposal would move forward.

Learn More
Ancient Athens                             Forest of Dean District
                                           Citizen Jury

Ancient Athens is widely associated        In 2018 two major hospitals in South
with democratic processes. Although        West England were slated to close.
it was not the only or the first ancient   The Gloucestershire Care Services
Greek city-state to employ democratic      National Health Trust sought to re-
means of governance, robust record         place the two hospitals with one new,
keeping has enabled the study and          strategically placed, facility.
influence of Athenian democracy
(circa 600-300 BCE).                       Governance
                                           A group of eighteen residents were
Governance                                 selected to form the jury responsible
Officials were selected at random          for determining the location of the new
from male citizens who had served in       hospital. The jury considered demo-
the military. Officials were randomly      graphics, potential population growth,
rotated and served a limited term to       and transportation before voting on a
ensure the continuation of a citizen-led   final location.

Learn More
                                           Learn More
                           All participants can propose and vote on
                           proposals for the group.

• Equality
• Initiative
• Majority rule

Petitions set policies for membership
and removal.

Any structures must be established by

All participants have the right to initiate
proposals, sign them, and vote in result-
ing referendums. If a certain percentage
of participants signs a proposal, it
goes to a referendum. If a majority of
participants vote for it within a certain
period of time, it becomes binding for
the group.

               Customize at

Decide Madrid

Decide Madrid is a citizen participation
platform that enables residents to col-
lectively draft and vote on legislation.

The Madrid City Council encourages
citizen involvement in governance
through the use of Decide Madrid.
Citizens work together to produce
and ratify legislation that benefits the
entire community

Learn More
Rochester-Monroe                          Citizen Petitions
Anti-Poverty Initiative                   of South African
The Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty         In South Africa, any citizen can submit
Initiative is a community collaboration   a petition to Parliament as a form of
that seeks to foster systemic change,     public participation in law-making.
address structural racism, and reduce     Citizen-initiated petitions can be
poverty in Rochester, New York.           approved or denied by Parliament,
                                          offering opportunities for the direct
Governance                                involvement of citizens in crafting laws.
Rochester-Monroe           Anti-Poverty
Initiative centers self-sufficiency and
participatory budgeting. Anyone in the    All citizen-initiated petitions must
community can propose a project. The      be sponsored by at least one member
community votes on proposed projects      of Parliament (MP) to be considered
to determine which are most beneficial    in Parliament, and petitioners can
and fundable.                             approach any MP for sponsorship. The
                                          sponsoring MP formally presents the
                                          petition to Parliament, and the peti-
                                          tion proceeds through the law-making
                                          process like any other bill.

                                          Learn more
Learn More                                            how-to-petition-parliament
                         A board that selects its own members
                         determines policies and organizes their

• Delegation
• Meritocracy
• Servant leadership

The board sets policies for membership
and removal.

A board is responsible for making deci-
sions and implementing them, including
by delegating necessary work to others.
The board elects its own members.

The board makes decisions by majority

             Customize at

People Powered

People Powered is a non-governmental
organization that serves as a global
hub for participatory democracy. It fo-
cuses on supporting leaders in Africa,
Eastern Europe, and Latin America by
sharing resources, providing training,
offering fundraising support, and
creating networking opportunities for
participatory democracy organizations
and advocates.

Local, regional, and national organiza-
tions can apply to become an affiliated
member with People Powered and ben-
efit from that organization’s resources.
Membership applications are reviewed
and approved by People Powered’s
staff. People Powered is governed by an
eight-member board of directors, with
existing board members collectively
deciding when to appoint new board
members and who those members will

Learn more
The Elders                                  Facebook Oversight

The Elders is an international nongov-      The Facebook Oversight Board is a
ernmental organization of public fig-       body of twenty members that makes
ures, including senior politicians, peace   consequential content moderation de-
activists, and human rights advocates,      cisions on the social media platforms
originally brought together by Nelson       Facebook and Instagram. It is the final
Mandela. The Elders work to develop         arbiter of whether to allow or remove
solutions for seemingly insurmount-         content that has been posted on those
able social problems, such as climate       platforms, including account suspen-
change, HIV/AIDS, and poverty.              sions and bans.

Governance                                  Governance
Membership in The Elders is obtained        The initial board members were
through invitation from current mem-        chosen by Facebook in collaboration
bers, with sitting members deciding         with consulting firms and executive
when to appoint new members, and            search firms. Facebook interviewed
who those new members will be.              nominees and selected four co-chairs
                                            for the board who then helped choose
                                            the remaining sixteen board members.
                                            Although anyone can be nominated
                                            to serve as a board member, Facebook
                                            and the board approve new board

Learn more                                  Learn More          



      Create your own at



      Create your own at