The LETSystem Design Manual

5.0 System Development

William Ophuls points out that planning and design both attempt to achieve real world outcomes by influencing nature. The subtle but important distinction is that:

"planning refers to the attempt to produce the outcome by actively managing the process, whereas design refers to the attempt to produce the outcome by establishing criteria to govern the process so that the desired result will occur more or less automatically without further human intervention."

Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity, W.H. Freeman & Co., 1977 (our emphasis)

The essence of a really good system is that it really develops itself - that is, it doesn't really matter much what you do, this will work out.

Nonetheless, it will work out better in some ways than others.

Value in development

Good design eliminates the need for development intervention in a system once it is in a mature state. However, a small amount of development input in the earlier stages can lead to smoother growth and earlier maturity than would take place otherwise.

The value in the development process lies mainly in:

  • getting things going locally

  • creating an expanded local economic base

  • establishing community loan funds, projects, charities

  • providing direction to others in and outside the community.

Should I get involved in development?

There is no need to get involved in development unless you feel it is really appropriate for you.. If you open a registry, and it is run effectively, it will evolve more or less on its own in any case. Either because others will get interested, or parallel events in other commmunities will percolate through.

Furthermore, development work is something of a gamble, in that you are paid by results, probably in the course of time, rather than by the hour as in running a registry or acting as a recorder.

It is, above all, a speculative venture and that does not suit everyone. Volunteer input is subject to burn-out and is unlikely to be effective. You will need some rewards to keep you going and pay the bills. The problem is that there is no simple way to charge people for their own money and get away with it for long.

So there is no point unless you are keen. And, as far as we are concerned, you should only be keen if you are comfortable that:

  • businesses will join

  • every business worth considering will be using local money

  • each business will use several systems (typically, business will use a minimum of 5 local money accounts).

Ignore the time-scales for now, and think about the implications. It means:

  • many accounting services will be cheaply available

  • everyone will want this, and it can be made available,

  • so there will be lots of supply, and essentially no market.

Thus there is, in the end, no way to "charge" an entry fee, so:

  • you cannot expect to finance LETSystem development that way

  • investing energy, or money, in such directions could be costly

  • there is need for care: its like trying to tap into a high tension line to power up your computer, or like hanging a bucket in Niagara Falls to fill it with water.

Contribution to community

However, the cost-of-service principle suggests that we can attempt to obtain the cost of development from those who receive the benefit. We cannot ask for those costs directly, for the reasons outlined above. But when businesses want to become involved, they will be prepared to make a small monetary contribution if it is used to support the local community.

This contribution to community can become the customary way to open an account. For instance, £50 plus £50 local would be a small payment for a local business to make. This can be established as an acceptable indication of commitment to the community which provides the business with a market.

The contribution should be donor directed. Donors can choose a local charity, a community project or a loan fund.

Because these funds are being raised as the result of the existence of a LETSystem, it seems fair to ask for a small proportion of the money to be allocated to LETSystem development, in the form of a fund-raising fee. These fees, when accumulated, should be enough to cover development costs. The process is straightforward and is likely to be widely adopted, provided that:

  • it is seen to be a community process, which is

  • ethically and effectively organised, where the

  • focus lies in support for community development.

Basic strategy for system development

We do not have a lot of scope if we are to maintain our ethical approach. In essence the requirements are:

  • a co-ordinated approach

  • working at the appropriate scale - regional clusters of registries, sharing successes and benefits

  • separate funding of development and registry operation

  • development funding from "contribution to community".

Anything outside of this is not recommended. We would be in danger of failing to establish an ethical imperative, we could lose the benefits of co- operative working and we could get sucked into a trade war with the "get- rich-quick” brigade. This is why development is not for the faint-hearted. It's uncharted territory, and as the old maps describe it: here be tygers, and dragons, and snakes.

So you may decide that the best place for you is operating a registry and there is much good work that you can do. In fact the first thing to do is to start a registry and get it going. But alongside that, we can continue to map out the development task.

Landsman Community Services Ltd Paper No.5.0 Version No 1.3 17 August 94
Written by Michael Linton of Landsman Community Services Ltd. and Angus Soutar of Robert Soutar Ltd.
Compiled 10-01-95 by Andy Blunt and Adrian Steele of LETSgo Manchester
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