NewsSocial, a multi-stakeholder co-op based in the UK, is aspiring to be the go-to social platform for co-operatives, change makers and citizens’ assemblies.
Available on the Apple and Google Play stores, the NewsSocial app enables users to exchange news, ideas and opinions. They can join different circles and sub circles and access information related to specific topics. The stories provide an incentive for evidence-based discussions among users, says founder Ali Shakir Al-Assam.
“NewsSocial is built to provide a safe environment for evidence-based rational discussions and debates,” he adds, “with two main benefits: positive outcomes and good democratic governance supporting sociocracy, and an ecosystem for inter-co-operation with other users of the platform and community wealth building.
“Shared power and effective governance are enhanced by facilitating evidence-based rational discussions and debates in circles and sub-circles, moderated for positive results. NewsSocial ensures an information flow within organisations and networks, building a knowledge repository of people’s activities – a dynamic community asset mapping environment.”
He says the discussions, debates and outcomes, with links to associated documents, will form a valuable knowledge base that can be built on and used for community wealth building.
Al-Assam has extensive experience in electronic publishing. In 1982 he set up Diwan-Science and Information technology, a tech social enterprise adhering to co-op principles that pioneered desktop publishing in Arabic. He left the company in 1995 to establish KnowledgeView, an enterprise focused on cross-media publishing, news management and editorial sharing systems. In 2014 along with other colleagues he set up Mushtarek C.I.C Social Enterprise to leverage methods and technologies to accelerate socio-economic change in Iraq, his country of birth. Mushtarek was the first to pilot the NewsSocial platform, and has attracted 500 users to date.
“Society was completely fractured,” he says. “We wanted to bring people together through rational discussions.”
Following the pilot project in Iraq, Al-Assam and other NewsSocial founding members talked to colleagues in Preston and discovered the platform could help to further the city council’s community wealth building initiative – commonly known as the Preston model. In 2019 NewsSocial signed a memorandum of understanding with Preston Council and University of Central Lancashire to support their efforts to design a co-operative entrepreneurial ecosystem for Preston.
Sub-groups working on the project can use NewsSocial to exchange information, strategy, development, and planning in any way that suits them, as a tool for discussion and decision-making, internally and with the broader community. All members have access to the platform.
NewsSocial has also converted to a multi-stakeholder co-op, with 50% of the vote belonging to employees of NewsSocial and the other half to users.
The aim is to create an ecosystem for co-operation, says Al-Assam, explaining that any user can create their own circles. But he adds: “There is an implicit contract between us and them because in order to have these circles, they have to adhere to their co-operative principles. Specifically, in our case, the Mondragon 10 co-operative principles because it has to be a safe environment for people discussing.”
For now, NewsSocial will focus on its initial co-op members and driving community asset mapping. But it has big plans for the future.
“It’s an ambitious idea,” says Al-Assam. “We think it’s important to create this ecosystem. Although having a co-op is a fantastic model of work, we think that more important than this is these co-ops working together, creating this ecosystem, sharing.”
He hopes NewsSocial can enable communities to generate news content, creating the foundation for “people’s media”. The model can be used in other countries and be made available as a white label version for different communities.
The app is currently free to use but users could be charged a monthly fee of £2 per user in the future.
“NewsSocial is happy to help co-operatives create their own circles, learn how to use sociocracy and try it for free for a few months,” says Al-Assam.