On the Institutions of Convivial Governance

This is the third of four essays outlining my system of minimal governance, which I call convivial governance. Today, I’m going to take a look at some of the institutions, which I think are likely to make up convivial governance.

This essay will be far more speculative than my norm. This is because what I am describing will be a bottom-up system, growing organically and adapting, as all organisms do. I believe that I have correctly diagnosed many of the reasons for the failure of current political systems, which is leading to the need for this new approach. So, it’s likely that I will be along the right lines in many of my suggestions; but the details may turn out to be very different.

The structure of convivial governance

Convivial governance will be a bottom-up system. It will focus on the individual, and on small communities of people. It will be networked; closer in concept and structure to the Internet than to a top-down hierarchy. Thus, convivial governance will be organized to serve a network of individuals and small communities.

I foresee, most likely, just two levels of community. One, sufficiently small that those in the community can know each other personally. The other, sufficiently large to be viable as an economic unit in a free market; but not significantly larger. Only when absolutely necessary will these communities make alliances on a larger scale.

The functions of convivial governance

For completeness, I’ll repeat the list of the six valid functions of convivial governance, which I identified earlier.

First comes the maintenance of peace, corresponding roughly to military defence in existing political systems. Second, the provision of objective, common sense justice to every individual; equivalent to a justice and arbitration system, both civil and criminal. Third, the defence of the rights of those who respect others’ rights. The nearest equivalent today would be an honest and non-politicized police force. These three are the core functions of convivial governance.

Three further functions are needed to support this core. Fourth, co-ordinating provision and maintenance of infrastructure in the public space – that is, in places freely accessible to all – as necessary. (But not supplying it; that’s a matter for private industry). Fifth, maintaining good relations with other communities. And last, quality control on all the functions of convivial governance.

Local and distributed services

Some of the functions of convivial governance are, at their roots, local. Part, at least, of each of these services must be delivered in the immediate vicinity of those who need them. Others can, and indeed should, be supplied over a wider area than simply a single small community. Thus, convivial governance will deliver two types of service; the local and the distributed.

This will lead to two main kinds of institution within convivial governance. The first will be local, at either the neighbourhood or community level. The second will be distributed, supplying its services to the governance market in general, potentially across many different communities.


The human resources, which the institutions of convivial governance require from time to time in order to do their work, will be taken from what I call “pools.” The members of such pools are individuals and groups of suitably skilled people, for example arbitrators, quality auditors or detectives, who can be called upon as needed.

These will be business people, who offer services valuable to governance in return for payment. Some will be one-person independents. Others will band together into, generally small, companies; likely using a partnership model. They will not need to be local to the communities they serve. And many of them will also do business with other customers beyond governance.

The Neighbourhood of Convivial Governance (NCG)

Now, to the institutions of convivial governance at the local level.

I expect there will be two levels of local community. The first, which I call the Neighbourhood of Convivial Governance (NCG), will be small enough that everyone in it can know everyone else. I would envisage its size, perhaps, as between the maximum size of a group who can function as a unit (generally regarded as 150 or so), and the number of people the average individual can know and interact with at any one time (perhaps 250 to 300). But there will be no hard limits.

While an NCG will broadly coincide with the people who reside in a small geographical area, the link need not be exact. Some in the area may choose to belong to a different NCG. And some, particularly before full roll-out of convivial governance, will not be part of an NCG at all.

The main functions of the NCG I expect to be as follows. One, to assess proposed changes to the character of the area. Two, to assess the suitability of potential incoming migrants. Three, to represent the people of the NCG in the next higher level of community, the CCG.

I imagine that the people of an NCG would meet regularly to discuss matters affecting them. Thus, they would make communal decisions by a form of “direct democracy.” The NCG as an institution would probably be a society of the normal kind, staffed by volunteers.

The Community of Convivial Governance (CCG)

At the second level is what I call the Community of Convivial Governance (CCG). This aims to be a unit large enough to be economically viable in a free market. (This is not the same thing as being self-sufficient without outside trade; that would require a far larger unit.) I would expect its size to be something like 22,500 to 90,000 people, the squares of the likely NCG size range.

I would expect the CCG, as an institution, to be a non-profit company, and to perform the following functions. One, to organize those functions of convivial governance which must be delivered at the local level, such as local military defence, and first response to incidents. Two, to make “local rules” which are appropriate to the area. Three, to maintain the local infrastructure. And four, to select those who will represent the CCG in any alliances or negotiations with other CCGs which might be necessary. Perhaps through a ballot of all those in NCGs in the CCG, or perhaps through a “town meeting” of representatives from the NCGs.

A brief clarification about local rules. These are sane, sensible, non-politicized conventions for the benefit of all users of the public space in the local area. For example, rules of priority for traffic junctions. But local rules must be kept to a minimum. They must be clearly publicized and signed, and should not vary unreasonably between neighbouring locations.

A CCG will also require a quality control operation, to vet its suppliers and audit its own processes. Most of the people, who actually perform these exercises, are likely to be sourced from a pool of independent quality auditors.

As with NCGs, the correspondence between CCGs and people in a geographical area will not be exact. Particularly near the edges, people may belong to different CCGs. But I envisage that an NCG will belong at any one time to one, and only one, CCG.

Friendly secession and friendly union

I expect that at any time, subject to reasonable notice, NCGs and CCGs will be able to split or join as they see fit. In a friendly secession, an NCG might leave a CCG, and either join another CCG, or form a new “friendly union” CCG with other neighbour or near-neighbour NCGs. In an extreme case, where they are dissatisfied with the performance of a CCG, the representatives of the NCGs can agree to dissolve it and form a new CCG to succeed it.

Similarly, CCGs can agree to split – for example, if their population has grown sufficiently that two or more parts can be independently viable. Or they can agree to join, for example if the population has declined to the point where the CCG is no longer viable as an economic unit.

Similar things may happen at the lower level, too. Individual households can leave an NCG and join another, or choose to join together to form a new NCG. All this will result in the match between neighbourhoods, communities and geographical areas becoming less exact with time. However, it will provide a vital (and peaceful) safety valve for those who at any time are unhappy with the set-up they are currently living in.

The Society for Convivial Governance (SCG)

An SCG is a non-profit company, whose remit is to provide those functions of convivial governance which can be managed and delivered from outside any particular CCG. The SCG is the nearest equivalent in convivial governance to a government today. It is a project management and contracting organization, using externally sourced skills, such as detectives, judges and diplomats, to do the work. It will operate in a free market.

At any time, an SCG will govern one or more CCGs. A CCG will be able to switch SCGs at need, subject to reasonable notice. In the future, individual NCGs, and eventually even individual households, will be able to select which SCG they prefer. Just as people today can pick their preferred supplier for their home contents insurance.

It is important to note that SCGs do not have to be territorial. In that sense, they are like insurance companies, not like political states.

Functions and scopes

At this point, I will classify the functions of convivial governance into the two kinds or scopes I identified above: local and distributed.

Since its primary function is to defend a local area and the people in it, a Militia for Convivial Governance (MCG) will be organized at the local CCG level. Most of its members will live in the CCG. In a war or potential war situation, CCGs will ally and pool their militias as may be necessary. In a war situation, MCGs may be significantly expanded, though I would expect them to remain voluntary.

The First Responders for Convivial Governance (FRCG) – first-contact police, firemen, paramedics and the like – also must provide quick response in a local area. Thus they, too, will be organized at the CCG level.

The detective function of police, on the other hand, does not have to be performed by people from where the incident took place. I envisage that the SCG will manage this function, by contracting the services of individual detectives and teams of detectives as needed.

The justice system, too, will be primarily distributed; in the same way as, in times gone by, judges used to travel from assize to assize. I envisage that the SCG will contract individual judges or arbitrators, or teams of such individuals, as tasks suitable for them come up. However, the CCG will also be involved, providing suitable accommodation for the court, and probably local court officials such as ushers. Prisons could be managed in a similar way, using a pool of prison service providers.

I envisage that the “diplomats,” who maintain relations between an CCG and other CCGs and (for a time) legacy political states, would also be independents. They would be contracted in the same way as judges, but would be required to have their main residence in the CCG. I expect that many of these diplomats would be only part time in that role; their main business would be using their knowledge of different cultures to advise people wishing to trade with those cultures.

The co-ordination of infrastructure development is a CCG level function, to be negotiated by representatives from each of the CCGs involved. As this might involve CCGs which are governed by different SCGs, or even (for a time) representatives from legacy political states or sub-states, the diplomats would need to be included in the process.

Lastly, I envisage there would be a quality control department within the SCG. Like the corresponding function in a CCG, it would vet suppliers and audit the SCG’s performance.

Any group of people may also crowd-source an audit of their SCG, or CCG, or both. This can provide good reasons for, or against, a proposal for a change of SCG, or for friendly secession from a CCG.

The Area of Convivial Governance (ACG)

An Area of Convivial Governance (ACG) is an area in which convivial governance is in operation. It is little more than an area on the map.

In concept, the ACG as an institution consists of a number of allied CCGs. But in practice, I envisage that an ACG will not have any institutional existence at all; except, possibly, a financial function, which I’ll discuss in the last essay in this set.

I expect that, in time, many areas which are currently nation-states will become ACGs. But when areas on both sides of a former border have become ACGs, there should be little difference apart from cultural flavour and possibly some detailed justice procedures between the ACGs on the two sides. In this way, convivial governance will eventually expand world-wide.

To sum up

I have sketched in this essay an outline of how convivial governance might look in practice. I see the following main institutional components:

  1. The Neighbourhood of Convivial Governance (NCG), at the very local level, staffed by volunteers.
  2. The Community of Convivial Governance (CCG), a non-profit company at the level of the town or small city. It is at this level that services such as military defence and first responders (e.g. police) will be delivered.
  3. The Society for Convivial Governance (SCG), a non-profit company not tied to any one geographical location. It is at this level that services such as detectives and the justice system will be provided.

The portion of the world under convivial governance will form a number of Areas of Convivial Governance (ACGs). Individually, they will have little or no existence as institutions. But, in due time, they will expand the scope of convivial governance world-wide.

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