UK Local Exchange Trading and Complementary Currencies
Development Agency

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TECHNICAL SUPPORT for running LETS Schemes

Once characteristic of the kind of people who run LETS is that they often like to do things "their own way", which has led to a great deal of creativity in developing LETS schemes, both socially and as regards administration. Whilst some groups operate quite satisfactorily with manual systems, such as card indexes, or account ledgers - a recent development is the pass-book where the member carries around their record of transaction so that computer systems are not required - others are happy to run on simple computerised systems, such as spreadsheets or the database the administrator happens to be used to - the basic requirement is simply to transfer the amount for a particular transaction from one member account to another - but those who are computer-literate have developed customised programmes to tackle the long-term challenge of maintaining a LETS scheme elegantly.

A good system will record "offers" and "want"s efficiently and enable them to be updated frequently; it will also automatically credit the system account with transaction charges, produce statistics on credit/debit levels and turnover so that LETS organisers can see what is happening in the group, and will even mechanically carry out credit control. Such are the varied talents of LETS organisers that a number of different well-functioning systems have been produced, but our communication structures as an organisation have previously not been good enough at spreading the word efficiently, with the result that earlier dos-based systems are surprisingly still in use by some schemes, whilst many others have worked in parallel to customised standard pc-databases unaware that the job has already been done by others several times over and that the systems are freely available. Other programmers ask for a reasonable fee for their software but provide ongoing support. Meanwhile the whole scenario has shifted with the advent of the internet. Information can now be presented attractively in web-magazine format, and/or can be searched. In some, transactions can be operated by the users, lightening the administrative workload. So we have an extraordinary variety of approaches being used concurrently by LETS organisers.

An group of programmers has recently come together with intention of co-operatively producing state-of-the-art software and making it freely available. With most groups still remaining unfunded and therefore operating on a voluntary basis, administrators need the best possible support, to enable them to channel their available energies towards outreach instead of becoming exhausted by humdrum tasks. One of our surveys will poll LETS organisers in detail as to the state of their administrative systems. Software is a highly delicate matter: it may have been written to reflect policy, but a new programme may impose procedures different from how things were done before. Possibly a group has developed erroneous practices, and adopting a new computer programme, or even thinking about designing one, will point up certain issues.

To raise the standard generally therefore requires not just the software but awareness of why it has been written that way, and training to enable organisers and users to accept and learn to operate more efficiently and uniformly with new tools. None of this can be done overnight - it is one step at a time. Every step towards automation helps a group to streamline its data so that it can be transferred later into a more sophisticated system. So it is always worth taking the first step along the road towards greater efficiency. In the long run, adopting efficient systems will lead to sustainable LETS schemes which are capable of either multiplying laterally or scaling up over larger populations, giving more people the chance to join in. Therefore, we are asking programmers to give us details of what is currently on offer and here is the list - replies will be logged into our members' area.

 

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