Swarm As Strategy

I will preface this rant by saying that this is compatible with @adam’s post.

I thought it would be useful to write a lengthy post about swarms. Apologies for the length, but I want to make sure we are all on the same page.

This is a way to facilitate people doing things and how to manage party activities. We have competing needs to get Pirates active in a much bigger way than we currently are and to fulfill AEC requirements of a registered party. We can’t purely use swarm organising for everything, but need a hybrid organisational structure to manage our obligations.

The Swarm

Swarmwise was a book written by Pirate Party Sweden (and global movement founder) Rick Falkvinge. It details how he set up the Pirate Party as an instruction manual on how to set up and run an organisation.

The basic idea of swarms is to allow members to decide the activities that they undertake. The party lays out a basic structure and some activities that need doing and when members come along wanting to get involved, they can take on a tasks or role that they think is most important for them to undertake. This method of organisation gives maximum freedom to members to pursue the causes that most interest them and for each person to put energy into where they feel it is best spent.

Unlike traditional top down, command and control organising, swarm organising means the agenda is set by member activity. Debates over where to put resources become less relevant because that decision is made organically (it is still relevant where money and authorisation is concerned, more on that later).

There are a few aspects to how this is better for the Pirate Party than top down command and control.

  1. We are volunteers, getting people campaigning on what they think is most important helps keep them motivated. This is quite literally voting with your feet.

  2. Many debates become moot points because our members will decide what is most important by doing it. Arguing over scarce resources uses those resources for the argument.

  3. Empowering members to make their own decisions not only gives them ‘a sense’ of ownership over the party, it gives them actual ownership over it’s activities.

We have way more tasks that need completing than people volunteering to help, the exact activities that people involve themselves with is not anywhere near as important as getting members to do something productive.

How Would This Work?

Assuming everyone agrees with us adopting swarm organising as part of out strategy, we would use the strategy process to create tasks or roles that we would point our members at, then encourage activity. The NC would be responsible for managing the structure, distributing party funds and keeping a general eye on things. Members would participate in the campaigns, roles or activities that they feel most comfortable undertaking. The campaigns that matter most to our members would get the highest participation, and unpopular campaigns would get nowhere, such is the will of our members.

To make something happen, we will need to institute the three pirate rule. This states simply, if three pirates agree to an activity then it is an approved activity. A really stupid idea could get the support of one member, they might be able to convince a second member, but getting three members to agree to something crazy is highly unlikely. Just in case, we expect to know who the three pirates who put their name to an idea are, so should there be some catastrophic backlash, the NC knows who to yell at / explain why they did the wrong thing.

There are exceptions to this rule:

  1. When people want party funds for their activity, the NC will need to approve it.

  2. When something needs authorisation under the electoral act and you don’t want to authorise it yourself. You will need to get the Secretary to sign off on it as it is in his name.

  3. When campaigning outside of the platform in any significant way using the Pirate name. We don’t want to suddenly find our name on ‘Return to Absolute Monarchy’ flyers as a bad example.

Part of the beauty of swarm organising is that pirates can propose their own tasks too, they just need to be added to the Tasks for Pirates page. So people who have more ideas than time can propose tasks and the tasks are any good, they will get completed without your help.

The Ideas Behind Swarm Organising

Be the change you wish to see in the world -Mahatma Gandhi

The medium is the message -Marshall McLuhan

A big part of what we are trying to do as a movement is to empower ordinary people to be able to better control their lives. The swarm method of organising embodies that principle. There are many examples of this sort of organising that pirates have likely participated in. If the swarm is the medium for our activity, the message is we trust the community to organise it it’s own best interest. I think it is the organisational structure that best embodies our principles.

This sort of organising has been used for centuries in different forms, so it isn’t brand new. The Internet makes it especially effective and was used to create us. Rick Falkvinge founded the original Swedish Pirate Party, and used his knowledge of getting that going to help Roderick (Rodney @serkowski) found Pirate Party Australia. I will keep to modern examples to illustrate, because they are of most use to us.

It parallels organising gaming communities in many ways, with the formation and self organisation of gamers into clans (I haven’t read that link yet, couldn’t find the article I was looking for, but it seemed alright from a quick scan). We can use the skills people have from organising gaming to help organise our own swarm. The skills are transferable.

Valve famously use a flat organisational structure to run the company, the swarm is essentially the same principle being deployed for political purposes rather than economic.

Swarms accurately describe pretty much any time anarchists actually organise something as a large group. They organise into affinity groups (roughly the equivalent of a pirate crew) and then organise larger actions through spokescouncils (the link is a guide to direct action from Occupy). I participated in this form of oganisation before the Pirate Party existed as part of a local Wollongong anarchist crew, so I know this version of swarm organising well.


Another local example with, at the very least, some similarities to this loose structure would be CryptoParty, though we didn’t explicitly model it on these things. On the other hand Asher obviously had a lot of experience with Occupy and there were enough people throughout that movement picking it up and running with it based on what we did and planned in Melbourne.


Occupy was an incredible experience to see direct democracy in action and how effective it could be. It had pitfalls which were partially due to individual or implementation issues, but there were interesting parallels and deviations with swarmwise organising.

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In the lead-up to last Monday’s Strategy Meeting I developed a more detailed plan for using swarm organising within the party. I will outline it here as clearly as I can, I know @miles_w has criticisms of the roles which will need to be sorted out, but I think the basic premise is good.

Crews and Squads

These two types of sub-groups will be the basic organisational units for campaigning. Crews are geography based and act as the local branches of the party. Squads are issue based and will work on specific campaigns despite geography. The idea is for active members to be in both crews and squads as their interest and activity inspires them.

Meetings of both Crews and Squads need to be focused. In order to ensure time isn’t wasted debating irrelevant minutiae, time limits need to be set for the meetings. I suggest a maximum length of an hour and a half for important discussions, an hour for normal discussions. Socialising etc can always happen after the important stuff is hammered out.


As outlined in this post and subsequent discussion, we need a scalable model to direct local campaigning. To save repeating myself with different words (and diverting everyone to a different thread) the main idea is here:


Squads are issue based campaign groups within the party. They are not divided by geography, but by campaign focus. Proposed roles:

Captain- Spokesperson, needs to be across the issue better than everyone else. Their job is to front the media, be available for interviews and help prepare press releases etc…

Navigator- Responsible for organising meetings, discussions etc. Need to make sure interested Pirates can access the Squad and have input.

Bureaucrat- Responsible for reporting to the party and ensuring minutes are kept. Role can be fulfilled by the Navigator in smaller Squads.

How will these work?

Crews and Squads are the most basic organisational unit within the party. They should range from three members to about fifteen. They need to be small enough that everyone gets to know everyone else fairly well. This ensures that discussion can be more focused as everyone has some idea where the others are coming from.

Once a Crew grows beyond fifteen it should be split in two. For example, the NSW meetings include people traveling from Wollongong. Once we have the capacity, we should start Sydney crew meetings, as well as Wollongong crew meetings. Alternatively, they could be East Sydney crew and West Sydney crew etc. Each time a group grows too big, a new split should occur.

One of the more obvious Squads that we should form is an Education Squad, to help coordinate University activism particularly around University funding, HECS etc. They need to be across the politics and campaigning, and where there is the space, initiate our own actions.

Where campaigns are happening, Squads should reach out to Crews to get involved in actions in their local areas. This can happen any number of ways, members of both the local Crew and the Squad can just explain what is happening, or if there is no cross-pollination, just ask for Crews to get involved however they can.

Dividing a Squad requires more care than dividing Crews because the issue as a whole needs to remain in focus. Issues can be divided into smaller parts, like Education could split with one group focusing on University funding and HECS and another group on Academic independence and access to knowledge.

Combining Crews and Squads

There are different ways that swarms can be managed when combining different constituent parts. I suspect we will have to use different methods at different times due to our need to comply with various AEC and public association rules as well as to help with tactical flexibility. There are three main ways I see this happening.

Open meetings- Just invite all interested pirates along and discuss the topic at hand. The monthly state meetings would be an obvious open meeting.

Committee meetings- For complex, whole party issues and campaigns there will remain a need for Committees. Federal election campaigns will require oversight from such a body because a lot of money needs to be spent and our actions need to comply with various electoral laws. This isn’t to say other types of meetings can happen in an election campaign, just that there needs to be oversight.

Spokes-Councils- These are meetings made up of delegates from each relevant Crew and/or Squad. Like Crew and Squad meetings, they need a time limit set to avoid wasting time on irrelevant minutiae.

Each Squad / Crew needs to discuss the issues beforehand and appoint / elect a delegate to represent the crew at the Spokes-Council. The delegate is the only person from each crew who is permitted to speak, if other members of the crew are present, they pass their messages through their delegate.

Spokes-Councils are more for coordination than decision making. There is no expectation that all constituent crews and squads will agree to everything that is decided and space needs to be given for different groups to do their own thing. If whole of group decisions need to be made, a spokes-Council may not be the right forum. Open meetings, Squad meetings or Committee meetings would serve as better decision making structures.


Referring to page 52 of http://falkvinge.net/files/2013/04/Swarmwise-2013-by-Rick-Falkvinge-v1.1-2013Sep01.pdf, there’s some good explanation of the rationale for limiting squad/crew sizes to 7. It’s about scaling of communication overheads inside teams.


That is a valid point. I have been part of an anarchist affinity group with about 15 members and we had no trouble making decisions, but most of us had known each other for years. We were the larger group split from a 22 member group, which was unwieldy. We split along tactical lines, so had agreed to a common position before forming our group.

With crew and squad meetings, the group has to have a minimum number of people turn up or it is demoralising for those who bother to show. It is probably a good idea to discuss splitting at seven, but see what commitment levels participants have before deciding if and how to split.


I’m concerned our local crews don’t have the member density to support even smaller groups that size. That’s my main criticism… that energy or effort spent on internal structure would be more productive being redirected to foundational outreach and recruiting. Good breakdown of the roles otherwise though.

As discussed in NC meeting, Crews are referred to as Cells while the formality of Captain/Navigator/Bureaucrat has not been put in place yet to make it an actual Crew.

We could drop the roles and replace them with tasks for the crews, which would be at the most basic:

  • Keep abreast of local politics (regular conversation topic)

  • Coordinating with the party (discussing current issues and the local response if any)

  • Actions and activities (what can we do to grow the crew and the party?)

  • Organising next meeting

  • Social media and publicity (making public the outcomes of the above conversations)

A similar breakdown of Squads could occur too, with the roles being turned into tasks.

I don’t think that was actually agreed to, there was a fair bit of skepticism of the name. What I suggest above is IMO a better solution to Crews not being big enough to fill roles. It may be a better way to manage Crews and Squads all-round. Thoughts?

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I think that’s exactly what I was angling for. A step by step guide of what needs to be done and can (conceivably) be done by 1-2 very enthusiastic people to provide the initial impetus which will draw others in.

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So were are we at now, with regard to this topic?

It may only take two to tango, but it takes quite a few more to swarm.
Having enough volunteers that you need to setup an organisational structure such as a swarm to accommodate it would be a good problem to have.

The nearest we got was having an excess of people wanting to produce posters and other media content during a campaign. We loosened up the process to the point where the only formal approvals necessary were those required by law (there a few - like the “Written and authorised by …” type notices on election posters etc.).

I do notice that most people that front up wanting to be involved tend to think they don’t know enough or need to be some kind of official to get stuck in. We should probably knock those ideas on the head, so people understand they can just pitch in, and we will treat that like a good problem to have.

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This is to report an effective analog swarm has resulted in Australia due to the institutionalised morale killing automated systems.

Four million people in Australia are not eating hence feeding an extra judicial system that doesn’t blink before dialing in to hurt other Australians without any knowledge of anything except their own abuse years. That too adult abuse years.

In addition these terrorising and societally damaging other people’s property is being painted as an attempt to wrest control and to try and arrest house prices.

Including the whole nation to unionise and not fix a tap of a pretty faces property to take away the property is plain traitor.

Not including opening the nation to become even more expensive in direct contradiction and open to rich outsiders.

Again traitor logic.

Simply put, ask anyone if they subscribe to the “do not roll school of thought”, you can rest assured that in his name the system will terrorise everyone in his name without him even authorising half the terrorising being conducted in his name.

Essentially you lot have to stop importing American models of judiciary and extra judiciary. Eg how many violence per capitas is OK and what should Australia ‘align’ their crime statistics to in order for the insurance models to fit.

The primary sponsor of terrorism in the west of any major city is the east of the city.

And they cannot even dance.

Errrrrrrrrr. Say what now?

Its hard to argue with that.