Systematically Distribute Care Labour

Josh Pitzalis
2 min readApr 28, 2022
This came from a book called ‘Patterns for Decentralized Organizing’ by Richard D. Bartlett.

Care is the gravity that holds a group together.

It is the practical stuff of hospitality, like preparing for a meeting or cleaning up afterward. It’s also emotional work, like noticing that someone is not having a good time, and checking in with them.

Without care, a group falls apart.

It’s safe to assume that in most cases, one or two people are doing almost all of this “care” work: the person most sensitive to the needs of others ends up doing most of the work of caring for everybody.

Having people do a lot of extra labor, without being acknowledged, supported, or paid is totally unfair.

It also makes the group fragile. If they get overwhelmed or frustrated, they’ll stop, and the group will collapse.

The problem is that the work of caring for people is not acknowledged as “work”.

“Look after each other” doesn’t come up on the quarterly objectives.

The team at Loomio, a tool for collaborative decision-making, addresses this problem by systematically distributing the work of caring for each other.

They use a peer support system they call “stewardship”.

The idea is that everyone is a steward, and everyone has a steward.

Everyone cares for someone, and everyone is being cared for by someone else.

At a baseline, a steward is a reliable point of contact, someone who knows a little bit about what’s going on with you. Each steward meets their stewardee once a month.

Sometimes, it’s professional development: “I’m focussed on these goals, can you help me come up with a plan and check in on my progress?”. Other times, it’s closer to being a good friend, “I just need someone to listen to me rant about this thing that happened.”

Stewardships last for roughly one year, then they mix it up.

This came from the second chapter of a half-finished book called ‘Patterns for Decentralized Organizing’ by Richard D. Bartlett.

I read it a few years ago.

It’s brilliant.