Digidem Lab is a worker cooperative based in Gothenburg, Sweden. We had the chance to sit down with Petter Joelson, Co-founder and current Director, who shared with us their story.
Originally established in 2016 as a non-profit, and officially founded as a cooperative in 2019, Digidem Lab focuses on offering services that design inclusive processes for citizen participation.
The idea comes from wanting to find online tools for cities to support participatory decision-making processes or implementation processes, tailored to the need of the community. As Petter recounts it, they already had expertise in the technical side, however they wanted to make it more inclusive, enabling them to reach disadvantaged groups through participation. They soon started exploring new ways on digital participation and how they could fit in the digital parts, they looked at wider scopes of participation methods through digital platforms, including trainings. People need to be able to trust that their voice will be heard, and this demands a lot of preparatory training with the different actors involved in order to set up the digital platform that better answer to the specific needs of the community.
Eventually, they saw demands from cities and decided to start consulting, selling specific digital products, and turned the non-profit organization into a fully fletched worker coop. “The idea was to be a democratic workplace and a cooperative was a natural feeling” says Petter. The cooperative avenue felt like the logical way to go for its founders, with previous experiences in associationism and in other cooperatives.
“After the market crash of 2008 there was a huge demand for tools to support more transparent and democratic participation. With our combined backgrounds in social movements, local politics, youth organizations, and tech, we got together and had a common vision to make inclusive participation happen for everyone” explains Petter Joelson, Co-founder and Director.
The cooperative currently has clients of all types such as cities, governments, and organizations, including the European Commission, the city of New York, and the city of Chicago. They have local projects in Sweden, and they are also part of consortiums in larger projects worldwide.
“The ‘startup model’ is very dominant in the Swedish tech sector, as everyone wants to be the next Spotify, however that does not fit in the civic tech sector, where you work with open source and sustainable models, local communities of developers. We see a clear connection between open data and transparency, and a strong cooperative model”, explains Petter.
When it comes to the governance of the coop, they run the day-to-day activities on weekly meetings. They of course also have project meetings to plan their respective deliverables. The worker cooperative employs 8 people, of which 4 are worker members.
When asked what he likes the most about of working in a cooperative, Petter explains how he appreciates that they have a clear focus on what they want. While it took some time to understand what the market was interested in, the cooperative form allowed them to evolve in different ways and directions, until they fund the right one, and it is all coming together quite well, confirms Petter.
Digidem Lab is a fortunate example of the effect of the pandemic in some sectors of the economy. COVID has made a lot of people realize that they need digital tools to run their decision-making processes. They see more and more the case of this becoming the norm in everyday decision making and implementation, it will most likely be in parallel with physical methods and meetings, but it has certainly advanced gigantic steps for the better.
“Before there was not much interest in digital platforms, however when the crisis started the interest really began. Even in a post-COVID world, I think the interest will stay. This has been a tipping point for a lot of countries, and an interesting opportunity for digital development.” says Petter.
Overall, their main goal is to bring into the community new ways of participatory democracy. To be inclusive and have diversity in the people that engage in the digital participation processes. All of it being secure, simple, and inclusive. What more could someone ask for in a twenty first century democracy?
Digidem Lab is a member of Coompanion, our Swedish member.