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Archive for 'Politics'

Report: On Algorithmic Accountability and the Investigation of Black Boxes

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
28th November 2015

* Report: Nicholas Diakopoulos. Algorithmic Accountability: On the Investigation of Black Boxes. Knight Foundation and the Tow Center on Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School.

Here is an introduction to the thematic of the report:

“The past three years have seen a small profusion of websites, perhaps as many as 80, spring up to capitalize on the high interest that mug shot photos generate online. Mug shots are public record, artifacts of an arrest, and these websites collect, organize, and optimize the photos so that they’re found more easily online. Proponents of such sites argue that the public has a right to know if their neighbor, romantic date, or colleague has an arrest record. Still, mug shots are not proof of conviction; they don’t signal guilt. Having one online is likely to result in a reputational blemish; having that photo ranked as the first result when someone searches for your name on Google turns that blemish into a garish reputational wound, festering in facile accessibility. Some of these websites are exploiting this, charging people to remove their photo from the site so that it doesn’t appear in online searches.

It’s reputational blackmail. And remember, these people aren’t necessarily guilty of anything. To crack down on the practice, states like Oregon, Georgia, and Utah have passed laws requiring these sites to take down the photos if the person’s record has been cleared. Some credit card companies have stopped processing payments for the seediest of the sites. Clearly both legal and market forces can help curtail this activity, but there’s another way to deal with the issue too: algorithms. Indeed, Google recently launched updates to its ranking algorithm that down-weight results from mug shot websites, basically treating them more as spam than as legitimate information sources. With a single knock of the algorithmic gavel, Google declared such sites illegitimate. At the turn of the millennium, 14 years ago, Lawrence Lessig taught us that “code is law”—that the architecture of systems, and the code and algorithms that run them, can be powerful influences on liberty. We’re living in a world now where algorithms adjudicate more and more consequential decisions in our lives. It’s not just search engines either; it’s everything from online review systems to educational evaluations, the operation of markets to how political campaigns are run, and even how social services like welfare and public safety are managed. Algorithms, driven by vast troves of data, are the new power brokers in society. As the mug shots example suggests, algorithmic power isn’t necessarily detrimental to people; it can also act as a positive force. The intent here is not to demonize algorithms, but to recognize that they operate with biases like the rest of us. And they can make mistakes. What we generally lack as a public is clarity about how algorithms exercise their power over us. With that clarity comes an increased ability to publicly debate and dialogue the merits of any particular algorithmic power. While legal codes are available for us to read, algorithmic codes are more opaque, hidden behind layers of technical complexity. How can we characterize the power that various algorithms may exert on us? And how can we better understand when algorithms might be wronging us? What should be the role of journalists in holding that power to account? In the next section I discuss what algorithms are and how they encode power. I then describe the idea of algorithmic accountability, first examining how algorithms problematize and sometimes stand in tension with transparency. Next, I describe how reverse engineering can provide an alternative way to characterize algorithmic power by delineating a conceptual model that captures different investigative scenarios based on reverse engineering algorithms’ input-output relationships. I then provide a number of illustrative cases and methodological details on how algorithmic accountability reporting might be realized in practice. I conclude with a discussion about broader issues of human resources, legality, ethics, and transparency.”

Nicholas Diakopoulos also explains Algorithmic Power:

“An algorithm can be defined as a series of steps undertaken in order to solve a particular problem or accomplish a defined outcome. Algorithms can be carried out by people, by nature, or by machines. The way you learned to do long division in grade school or the recipe you followed last night to cook dinner are examples of people executing algorithms. You might also say that biologically governed algorithms describe how cells transcribe DNA to RNA and then produce proteins—it’s an information transformation process. While algorithms are everywhere around us, the focus of this paper are those algorithms that run on digital computers, since they have the most potential to scale and affect large swaths of people. Autonomous decision-making is the crux of algorithmic power. Algorithmic decisions can be based on rules about what should happen next in a process, given what’s already happened, or on calculations over massive amounts of data. The rules themselves can be articulated directly by programmers, or be dynamic and flexible based on the data. For instance, machine-learning algorithms enable other algorithms to make smarter decisions based on learned patterns in data. Sometimes, though, the outcomes are important (or messy and uncertain) enough that a human operator makes the final decision in a process. But even in this case the algorithm is biasing the operator, by directing his or her attention to a subset of information or recommended decision. Not all of these decisions are significant of course, but some of them certainly can be. We can start to assess algorithmic power by thinking about the atomic decisions that algorithms make, including prioritization, classification, association, and filtering.

Sometimes these decisions are chained in order to form higher-level decisions and information transformations. For instance, some set of objects might be classified and then subsequently ranked based on their classifications. Or, certain associations to an object could help classify it: Two eyes and a nose associated with a circular blob might help you determine the blob is actually a face. Another composite decision is summarization, which uses prioritization and then filtering operations to consolidate information while maintaining the interpretability of that information. Understanding the elemental decisions that algorithms make, including the compositions of those decisions, can help identify why a particular algorithm might warrant further investigation.”


Posted in P2P Governance, P2P Hierarchy Theory, Politics | No Comments »

P2P lectures in Australia 1: Disruption and the Digital Economy.

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
27th November 2015

Meet my friend and colleague, the hardest working man in Commons Oriented Peer Production, Michel Bauwens! This event will take place on Friday the 4th of December at the Melbourne School of Design.



Posted in Commons, Commons Transition, Culture & Ideas, Events, Open Innovation, Original Content, P2P Action Items, P2P Collaboration, P2P Foundation, P2P Theory, Peer Production | No Comments »

City as a Commons Conference Reimagines Cities, and in High Relief

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
26th November 2015

Bologna Commons

Neal Gorenflo shares his report on the recent The City as a Commons conference, held in Bologna, Italy. For more coverage on the conference, check out David Bollier’s take on the event.

The City as a Commons conference broke new ground earlier this month. As the first International Association of the Study of the Commons (IASC) conference on the urban commons, it urged that the historical focus of study and action on rural natural resource commons should shift, at least somewhat, to material and immaterial commons in cities. This is appropriate now that humans have become an urban species for the first time within the last decade.

However, the conference organizers, legal scholars Sheila Foster and Christian Iaione, took things even further. This was not just a call to shift the focus, but a call to recast the city in the image of the commons. The wording of the conference title was carefully considered. As co-organizer Sheila Foster has made clear, the city as a commons is a claim on the city by the people that calls for us to rethink how cities are governed and resources allocated and by whom. The city imagined as commons is a starting point that can lead to more fair, convivial and sustainable cities.

While a radical proposal for cities, one well aligned to Shareable’s vision, it was well grounded in theory and practice by scholars and commons practitioners alike in the conference’s dizzying number of panels (related papers available here until December 1, 2015). Moreover, one of the goals laid out by Foster in her welcome message — to create community around the urban commons — seemed work out too.  After two days of sessions and delicious Italian meals together, this diverse group seemed to jell.

The conference was hosted by LabGov, the International Association for the Study of the Commons, the Fordham Law School’s Urban Law Center and LUISS University in Rome. It was appropriately held in Bologna, Italy, a historical center of urban innovation which more recently celebrated the one year anniversary of its Regulation for the Care and Regeneration of the Urban Commons, a groundbreaking new law and process empowering citizens to be hands-on city makers.

The conference was bookended by two powerful keynotes, one about the past and one about the future. The opening keynote by Tine De Moor, President of the organization (IASC) Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom co-founded 1989, gave a short, insightful, and sobering history of the commons. Silke Helfrich, one of the world’s most astute commons activists, closed with a keynote imagining the urban commons in 2040.

De Moor’s speech outlined the long history of European commons, with a heyday starting in the 11th century and ending in the 19th when the commons were literally legislated out of existence. She warned that we should not place too high an expectation of the commons as they are revived or we risk repeating the mistake of the private property story as a one fits all solution. She urged attendees to be realistic about what can and can’t be governed by the commons.

She also highlighted the revolutionary nature of the commons. She reminded us that people lost their sense of collectivity with the rise of the individual and market paradigm, and that the commons re-introduces this sensibility and way of being. She put the urban commons in historical context noting that commons rise during economic crises. Urban commons like cooperatives, associations, and credit unions are all a product of such crises. She noted a similar dynamic at work today in the Netherlands, her home. There’s been a dramatic spike in the formation of cooperatives in the last decade.

Helfrich speech was the perfect closing to the conference. She prefaced her exploration of a future urban commons with this philosophical bottom line about the commons:

Human beings are free in relatedness but never free from relationships. That’s the ontological bottom line. Relation precedes the things being related to, i.e. the actual facts, objects, situations and circumstances. Just as physics and biology are coming to see that the critical factors in their fields are relationships, not things, so it is with commons.

Then took us on a walk of the 2040 version of the city as a commons exploring commons-based housing, food, workspaces, services, and more. She brought to life a total vision of the city as commons in 2040. She called this a “concrete utopia” because all the pieces of it already exist but have not been assembled yet. Then she told us how it came to be, or rather how we can get there. The key is to, “connect commons, confederate the hot spots of commoning, create commons-neighbourhoods, commonify the city.”

The conference was just such an effort. I agree with commons expert David Bollier that we’ll see increasing activity in this space. People may look back at this conference as the catalyst for a powerful movement.

Vision of a city as a commons from Helfrich’s presentation, created by N. Kichler und D. Steinwender. City of Workshops – green, Lizenz: CC BY SA


Posted in Collective Intelligence, Commons, Commons Transition, Conferences, Cooperatives, Culture & Ideas, Ethical Economy, Guest Post, Open Government, Open Models, P2P Architecture and Urbanism, P2P Collaboration, P2P Development, P2P Governance, P2P Public Policy, Peer Property, Sharing | No Comments »

unMonastery: The Year Ahead

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
26th November 2015

Unmonastery People

An update from our friends at the unMonastery in Matera, Italy and, as you’ll soon see, beyond.

Over the past 6 months the unMonastery has been going through a number of significant developments, explorations and experiments?—?these initiatives have had mixed results, some very successful and some borderline disastrous; the net effect has restricted our capacity to report back in our usual constant stream of communication (un)consciousness.

This post signals an initial effort towards opening out those activities by updating you on major developments, flagging plans for the year ahead and inviting people to play a greater role.

Key areas covered in this post are; the formation of a formal unMonastery organ(isnation), the ongoing development and creation of individual unMonastery nodes and our part in a very exciting H2020 consortium (focused on the development of localised community owned offline networks). Obviously there’s a lot to cover; so this post will for the most part serve as an index for a series of posts to be published over the next two months that go into greater detail on specific areas of exploration.

‘Waking the unMonastery Organ’

The flashy news is the formation of our formal organ: back in February of this year we hosted the first unMonastery unSummit in Berlin as part of Transmediale: Capture All (at which the majority of the core family were gathered). As part of this gathering we held a series of meetings and events, in which together we sought to identify what was essential to the ongoing development of unMonastery.

One of the central requirements identified during our circles, was the need to form an autonomous legal organ in order to establish clearer structures and models for participation, acknowledge the vast mix of contributions being made by individuals to unMonastery over time, decentralise tacit control within an accountable structure, and advance opportunities for resources to support the establishment of individual unMonastery nodes. This was particularly crucial given that over the past year the initiative and network had grown far beyond its early stage development within the EdgeRyders community.

During this meeting we hit upon an organisational model that we felt was both open and inclusive. Whilst light as a foundational starting point, the key invention for this was that membership can be claimed by all those who commit significant energy and time to the development of unMonastery. Thus The unMonastery Deep Time Bank was born.

The unMonastery Deep Time Bank

As a decentralised membership steered organisation, we needed a criteria for inclusion. We settled upon a membership ‘fee’ of 100 hours of unpaid unMonastery labour as the marker for meaningful commitment, and?—?we sent out an invite to all those that had contributed this level of time to the initiative up until then. We then got deliciously sidetracked by field level developments in Athens. Now, finally back on track, this organisational document should outline how we anticipate the organisational structure will work in practice as both a membership base, organisation forum and commitment management account. We are very happy to announce the composition of this new organisation of intrepid souls committed to the continuation of the unMonastery initiative:

If at this stage you would like to participate to a greater degree, or have been working in isolation on unMonastery related activity let us know (admin@unmonastery.org) and time permitting be sworn into the unOrder at the next annual general meeting.

If the model we’ve established is of interest to you and you’d like to help us to refine it further, use it for your own organisation or assist in the development of a complementary technology stack, drop into this thread on discourse.

Development of unMonastery Nodes

Since leaving Matera in October 2014 the majority of energy being injected into unMonastery activity has been focused on three key areas: the creation and release of a toolkit for establishing individual nodes (see unMonastery BIOS), scouting missions and site visits to offers of land and property for possible future unMonasteries, as well as supporting others who are interested to establish the model.

Image shared by BenB from a recent trip to a possible site in up state New York.

To give an overview of these activities, please find a brief list below.

  • New Lebanon, New York, USA?—?[In development]?—?Back in September BenB posted on the possibility of a unMonastery in upstate New York, in a very short time this has moved forward to sculpting a call for participants. (Point of contact is: BenB)
  • Athens, Greece? —?[In development]?—?Since March a mix of long time unMonasterians have been careening around Athens, building and supporting local projects, creating small scale shared living experiments with plans for a new test lab currently in development. (Points of contact: Katalin, Lauren and Jeff)
  • Berlin, Germany? —?[In development]?—?Amidst the city and greater Brandenburg area, distributed gathering sites will play host to the development of appropriate technology, resource distribution, and collective protocols, working towards the launch of an Open Source Observatory and a node of the Public School. (Point of contact: @keikreutler)
  • Alessandria, Italy? —?[Scoping]?—?Bembo and Kei recently embarked on a site visit to Alessandria to assess a reconfiguration of a mothballed municipal theatre as a community services hub, reported here. (Point of contact: Bembo)
  • Göhrde, Lower Saxony, Germany? —?[Scoping]?—?The unMonastery was contacted through several channels to investigate a unique resource in Lower Saxony. Göhrde. At the beginning of September Bembo, Katalin and Ben paid a site visit, loose plans are afoot for a potential summer school, site visit reported here. (Point of contact: Katalin)
  • Pessegueiro, Sines, Portugal?—?[Scoping]?—?An initial dialogue has revealed a promising possibility of a ‘creative immersion centre’ in a beautiful unFortress overlooking the sea 100 km south of Lisboa.

MAZI?—?Building offline networks together.

“We have ths mode of thinking outside of the internet, of local networks for local interactions, this is a specific technology very popular for many years but mostly between hackers and activists, but it has not yet arrived for the mainstream.”?—?Interview with Panayotis Antoniadis’ during CAPS2015.

Earlier this year in the run up to CCC and Transmediale a number of those involved in unMonastery began to participate in the offline networks community, as part of the Transmediale we deployed a localised network for the Alpha release of the unMonastery BIOS. Following this gathering, Nethood (Ileana Apostol and Panayotis Antoniadis) set about bringing together a group under the banner MAZI (meaning “together” in Greek) that could develop specific tools, platforms and contexts with the objective of making DIY network’s more widely available and useful to more people. As part of this a consortium formed to apply for CAPS, building upon existing initiatives in the creation of community owned local wireless networks.

a meeting of the MAZI earlier this year

From the MAZI website:

“MAZI wishes to invest in an alternative technology, what we call Do-It-Yourself networking, a combination of wireless technology, low-cost hardware, and free/libre/open source software (FLOSS) applications, for building local networks, mostly known today as community wireless networks. By making this technology better understood, easily deployed, and configured based on a rich set of customization options and interdisciplinary knowledge, compiled as a toolkit, MAZI will empower citizens to build their own local networks for facilitating hybrid, virtual and physical, interactions, in ways that are respectful to their rights to privacy, freedom of expression and self-determination”

In September it was announced that the bid was successful, and we’re very excited to get started working with the incredible combination of partner organisations that make up MAZI, which includes the NITlab at the University of Thessaly, the Zurich-based non-profit organization NetHood, the Edinburgh Napier University, the Design Research Lab at the Berlin University of the Arts, the Open University, the INURA Zurich Institute, SPC in London and Prinzessinnengarten in Berlin

Over the course of the last months we’ve already begun to participate in and contribute to a number of related workshops including Networked Social Responsibility (Brussels), 2nd International Conference on Internet Science (Brussels), From Smart Cities to Engaged Citizens (Volos) and Hybrid City (Athens), our core role in MAZI will be as a use case in the deployment of this localised technology at specific unMonastery sites, which Katalin discusses here.

Future Gathering Points

From the unMonastery Atlas, Designed by Luisa Lappaciana

We would like to meet with you and ourselves face to face more often.

Despite our very distributed nature, we’ve found in recent months that working remotely and online has produced significant difficulties in maintaining alignment and ensuring an accessible model of participation. This has been under much debate and in a move to learn from Robin Hood Co-op’s recent establishment of ‘Open Offices’ and ‘Labs’, we’ve begun to formulate our own iteration, whilst we’ve yet to christen this with its own conceptual framing (although we hear murmurs of ‘General Chapter’ ) we have begun to set a series of future dates for possible meeting places. In the new year we will put forward a schedule for the year.

  • PreSummit Athens?—?Next week several of us will be gathering in Athens to spend time together, focus energy on working structures and join Robin Hood Co-op for their Lab.
  • Workshops and Open Dinner Berlin?—?17th and 18th December?—?Kei, Ben and Ola will be workshopping the unMonastery BIOS and hosting dinner.
  • LOTE5: FAIL # UNFAIL?—?25–28th February 2016?—?Antiheroes and Edgeryders are teaming up to run this years annual Living on the Edge.
  • Nottingham Event?—?28th-30th April 2016?—?We’re currently plotting a collaborative event with Near Now in Nottingham, home of the luddites and robin hood which will be focused on civic tech, platform cooperativism and new organisational forms.
  • Annual unSummit, 2016? —?Whilst the location is still in discussion, we have zoned in on the dates June 19th to July 3rd, with the intentions of developing a new slower format for our annual gatherings, that will allow us to spend meaningful time together, coupled with a more intense few days of your average unConference setup?—?if you have ideas do post on discourse.

Things you might have missed:



Posted in Collective Intelligence, Commons, Commons Transition, Culture & Ideas, Ethical Economy, Featured Project, Networks, P2P Collaboration, P2P Development, P2P Governance, P2P Movements, Peer Property, Sharing | No Comments »

Robin Hood Coop, an Activist Hedge Fund

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
25th November 2015


Now here is an improbable idea:an activist hedge fund.Out of Tampere, Finland, comes the Robin Hood Asset Management Coop, which legally speaking, is an investment cooperative. It is designed to skim the cream off of frothy investments in the stock market to help support commoners. As the website for the coop describe it:

We use financial technologies to democratize finance, expand financial inclusion and generate new economic space.Robin Hood’s proposition is no different than it was 600 years ago in Sherwood: arbitrage the routes of wealth and distribute the loot as shared resources. Today we just use different methods to achieve the same:we analyze big data, write algorithms, deploy web-based technologies and engineer financial instruments to create and distribute surplus profits for all. Why?Simply, we believe a more equitable world is a better one.

The Robin Hood Coop currently has 808 members from some 15 countries, and manages about 651,000 euros in various stock market investments. Started in June 2012, the coop has generated over 100,000 euros for its members and to its common pool, which is used to support commons projects. Robin Hood reports that in its first year, it had “the third most profitable rate of return in the world of all the hedge funds.”

Anyone can join the coop for a 30€ membership fee, which entitles members to invest a minimum of 30€.Members can then choose eight different options for splitting any profits (after costs) among their own accounts, Robin Hood Projects and the general Robin Hood Fund. Most members choose a simple 50-50 split of profits to themselves and Robin Hood Projects. For the past two full years of its operations, the project has been profitable. (As of November 19, however, net asset value was down 6.38%.) Robin Hood says that its operating costs are quite low compared to normal asset management services provided by banks.

The enterprise is driven by Robin Hood’s “dynamic data-mining algorithm,” which it calls “Parasite,” because it tracks actual transactions in US stock markets and mimics the best market actors. The coop’s website explains:“The parasite listens to the feed of the NYSE, watching for traders and what they trade. Then it competency ranks traders, identifying ones that are constantly making money on specific stocks. When it sees that a consensus is forming among such competent traders, it follows.” Robin Hood appears to be out-performing many leading hedge funds and reaping impressive returns, and it provides a modest but welcome source of income for some commons projects.

I do have my doubts about the transformative impact of the project. Is it really changing the system, and is it “stealing” anything from the King’s forests? It seems to be playing by the King’s rules, albeit more successfully than many other players. What’s different is its channeling of its gains to commoners and commons-based projects rather than to the 1%. This has great value in its own right while bypassing the philanthropic or nonprofit intermediaries who often don’t really see or care about the commons.

As a financial enterprise, the Robin Hood Project has a rather unusual interest in “art, politics and finance” – and more broadly in subjective experience and cultural theory. The project’s website features a page for n-1 publications, a book publisher whose authors include Susan Sontag, Michel Foucault, Felix Guattari, and other cultural critics. In an interview on the website, Chairman of the Robin Hood Board, Akseli Virtanen, invokes Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, and Italian theorists such as Christian Marazzi and Maurizio Lazzarato. Not the usual bedtime reading of financiers.

Virtanen explains that the Robin Hood Coop is a cultural experiment in creating new forms and subjectivities by using the financial apparatus in paradoxical and “monstrous” ways. This has apparently prompted some reporters to question the very existence of the Robin Hood portfolio. Virtanen responds by citing audit reports from Ernst & Young, legal registration papers, and other such totems of trust. He adds:

“Robin Hood sounds like a ponzi scheme, a fake, or it could be a private group of aggressive entrepreneurs ready to take advantage of the naïve cultural people. It could be a hoax, a scam, or just an ‘art project’. It definitely parasites also the old ideal of community and cooperation. It is unallowable, impossible and disgusting… a monster… but it corresponds to our subjectivity.”

I confess that I had trouble following some of Virtanen’s reflections about the cultural significance of the Robin Hood Coop. Still, he makes some good points: The very idea of “value” IS a flimsy social construction, and Robin Hood is eager to provoke us to think about that. Why should we trust the official documentation about financial value when it is itself so abstract, arbitrary and almost theological?

The truth is, the meaning of value is elusive and socially contingent, and capitalist totems of value are in many respects laughable. No wonder conmen like Bernie Madoff could so easily exploit gullible investors. The trusted representations of “value” are so remote from the real economy and actual value that they can be easily manipulated to defraud people.

So Robin Hood has funded some worthy projects with the yields from its portfolio, and it has considered an impressive array of applicants. Its criteria: “Only projects that are bigger than only for themselves can be selected — projects that open up the common space, that produce the commons.”Projects must be “generative and expansive, generating growth in subjectivities, in possibilities, in organization, in sharing, in scale, in mobility, in access, in independence, in desire. They should make our existential territory more habitable.”

Among the recent projects funded are Casa Nuven, an autonomous, self-managed space in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with 5,000 euros, as well as the P2P Foundation’s project with the Catalan Integral Cooperative and Commons Transition in Spain, with 4,000 euros. Check out the many applicants for Robin Hood funding here.


Posted in Activism, Collective Intelligence, Cooperatives, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Featured Project, Original Content, P2P Business Models, P2P Development, Peer Property, Sharing | 1 Comment »

Movement of the Day: The Australian Sharing Law Network

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
24th November 2015

The Australian Sharing Law Network is “an informal network of organisations and individuals interested in using the law to support the collaborative economy and the sharing of resources in our community”.

Organisations participating in the network include AELA, UNSW Australia, and Melbourne Law School’s Sustainability Business Clinic.

AELA is interested in building the role of law to support Earth friendly practices such as: sharing resources, reducing material consumption and creating community based and democratically managed enterprises such as co-operatives.”

For more information about the Australian Sharing Law Network, please contact sharinglaw@earthlaws.org.au .


Posted in Featured Movement, P2P Legal Dev., Sharing | No Comments »

Platform Cooperativism Conference Disrupts Silicon Valley’s Disruptions

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
24th November 2015

Platform Cooperativism Conference

Reposted from our friends at Shareable, Jay Casano reports from the recent Platform Cooperativism Conference in NYC.

“Silicon Valley loves a good disruption. So let’s give them one.”

Thus Trebor Scholz kicked off the first-ever conference on platform cooperativism to a packed auditorium of technologists, students, academics, co-op developers, and activists at The New School last Friday morning. So-called “sharing economy” digital platforms like Uber, TaskRabbit, and Airbnb have taken control of our work and our homes, making labor even more contingent and precarious than it already has been historically under capitalism.

Such apps have received widepsread attention and adoption due to their ability to deliver goods and services on demand to consumers. The conference explored how we might utilize recent technological developments toward truly democratic ends. In Scholz’s words: “Platform cooperativism embraces the technology, but wants to replace the ownership model.”

The idea of “platform cooperativism” came from the title of an essay Scholz wrote late last year. Nathan Schneider, Scholz’s collaborator and co-organizer of the conference, further expounded on similar concepts in reporting for Shareable. A panel discussion bearing the name, featuring both Scholz and Schneider alongside others, was also held in March at Civic Hall.

In Silicon Valley’s version of the sharing economy, “digital workers remain invisible, tucked in between algorithms,” says Scholz. Schneider said on Friday that what we need are “algorithms for the 99 percent.”

Janelle Orsi, co-founder of the Sustainable Economies Law Center and one of Friday’s plenary speakers, likened the power of these new companies with their massive market (over-)valuations and aggressive legal teams to the Wizard of Oz: Once you pull back the curtain, all that is there are a few algorithms and the network effects that come from first-mover advantage. But the vulnerability of a platform like Uber is precisely the contingency of its workforce that it relies on to maximize profits. Because those workers own their own assets and are not tied to the platform, they can very easily leave it for another.

“The history of the Internet is full of hope and disappointment,” says Schneider. “Free-and-open-source software, the ‘personal’ computer, the ‘sharing’ economy — each of these aroused hope for empowerment for people, only to become tools for monopoly and extraction.”

Silicon Valley, for its part, was busy the same weekend with the O’Reilly Media “Next:Economy” summit on the future of work. That conference is succinctly summarized by Tim O’Reilly’s declaration on the conference website that “Every industry and every organization will have to transform itself in the next few years.” It is this Silicon Valley mindset of transformation as an end unto itself that platform cooperativism is thinking outside of and against. While tech entrepreneurs look to disrupt in order to profit and see adoption on platforms as a bigger bottom line, platform cooperativists are focused on creating democratic ownership and governance structures and seek to adapt technology toward those ends.

“When people in Internet culture talk about ‘democratizing’ something, they normally just mean expanding access to something,” says Schneider. “This is a pretty gross misuse of the word. A core challenge of platform cooperativism is to make sure that the need for democratic ownership and access of online platforms never gets watered down again into mere access for the sake of capital extraction.”

This past weekend’s conference was unique because it achieved the rare feat of bringing together labor organizers and technologists in the same room and putting them in conversation with each other.

One panel on co-op development was lead by “old school” brick-and-mortar worker cooperative developers, but drew a crowd of developers interested in learning more about the ins and outs of the co-op world. Esteban Kelly, a co-executive director of the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives, emphasized that platforms are really just another means of accessing markets for existing co-ops. That comment spawned a provocative hallway conversation about whether Marxism needs to be reworked in light of the platform economy given that an Uber driver and a TaskRabbit handyman both own their means of production, but what they lack are means of accessing markets.

In contrast, a session on Saturday was about the most technical of technorati topics: the blockchain — the decentralized architecture that powers Bitcoin — and how it might be used toward democratic ends. Another panel session explored the role of the state as a potential partner for the solidarity economy, while also reckoning with its role as purveyor of surveillance and repression of activists in the U.S. and around the world.

Some of the most exciting developments came from the self-organized breakout sessions, such as one on where@ — a proposal for a secure location-sharing app for activists. Other workshops focused on alternative currencies, ethical user interface design, and data science.

The most contentious moments of the gathering were around platform cooperativism’s relationship to capitalism. Cindy Milstein, author of Anarchism and Its Aspirations, and Scott Heiferman, the founder and CEO of MeetUp, passionately debated the merits of a reformed capitalism. Heiferman said that he wanted to “save a certain kind of capitalism” and defended taking money from venture capitalists as a necessary precondition for making platforms that scale. Milstein, on the other hand, argued that even if MeetUp’s goal is laudable, it is part of the Silicon Valley startup culture that is raising rents to exorbitant heights and displacing ordinary people in the San Francisco Bay Area. She said we need to “start with the ethics, not the technology; determine what it is we want to produce, create, and share.”

New York City Council Member Ben Kallos said that he sees his role as a policymaker as working to restore the free market. He was quickly met with a round of criticisms from the audience. Kallos later clarified to me that what he meant by restoring the “free market” was to end corporate welfare and public-private partnerships that equate to “the government handing out monopolies.” But the incident nonetheless highlights these tensions within the formative stages of this movement.

But these disagreements will seem familiar to anyone who has spent time in the U.S. cooperative movement. On the one hand are those who consider cooperatives a kind of “ethical capitalism” and, on the other, are those who see cooperatives a form of dual power: alternative institutions that can exist within capitalism but simultaneously act as a bridge out of it toward a new economy.

At times, panelists and audience members both questioned the premise of the conference, expressing concerns about technology replacing human-to-human interaction and even doubting that a digital platform can ever foster true solidarity. At other times, the conference seemed to meander from its topical focus. Despite the emphasis on governance and ownership at the outset of the conference, there was a lack of nuanced discussion about the finer points of ownership models and what scaling up democratic ownership structures would look like with multi-stakeholder models. There also seemed to be an assumption that someone born into service work will always do service work. A discussion of how to prevent on-demand service jobs (such as those on Uber, TaskRabbit, and Handy) — even democratically controlled ones — from remaining a permanent economic underclass was absent. Perhaps that is outside the scope of the conference, but it seems important to consider. The conference participants were, also, overhwelmingly white and male. Though it is apparent that the organizers worked hard to achieve gender parity among panelists.

Still, these are the kinds of questions and debates that should be happening at the nascent stage of this movement. The incredible turnout and robust discussions that took place, combined with actually existing projects and emerging collaborations suggest that this new movement could pose a real threat to the self-aggrandizing Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

“We’re drawing on decades of critical scholarship on the political economy of the Internet,” says Schneider. We’re trying to offer an intervention that might help end the cycle that turns all our of great hopes and ideas for a truly democratic Internet into new tools for monopolies to exploit.”

All photos by Kenneth Ho

Didn’t make it to NYC? Sessions from the Platform Cooperative Conference can be viewed here: http://platformcoop.net/video-stream


Posted in Collective Intelligence, Commons, Commons Transition, Conferences, Cooperatives, Economy and Business, Ethical Economy, Guest Post, Open Content, P2P Action Items, P2P Business Models, P2P Development, P2P Labor | No Comments »

TPP and TTIP-Free Zones are being created by communities across the US and EU

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
23rd November 2015


Reposted from Citizen Action Monitor, TPP-Free Zones are being created by communities across the US and EU.

Why aren’t Canada’s political, social, labour and environmental NGOs jumping all over this initiative?

Margaret Flowers“You can join communities that are rejecting these rigged corporate ‘trade’ deals that are being negotiated in secret and will undermine our ability to pass laws that protect public health and safety and the planet by organizing to create a TPP/TTIP-Free Zone. Details below.”Margaret Flowers

On a related note, The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a Pennsylvania-based NGO has, since 1995, been doing magnificent work with communities to establish Community Rights – such that communities are empowered to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their residents and the natural environment, and establish environmental and economic sustainability. They have worked at the local municipal level to establish Community Rights. Communities that have established Community Rights ordinances have faced legal challenges from corporate and states. In response, CELDF has recently begun building on grassroots organizing to drive change to the state level, bringing together communities from across states to build State Community Rights Networks. For more information, visit the CELDF website by clicking on the about linked name.

Returning to TPP-Free Zones, so far no Canadian communities appear on the world map of TPP-Free Zones. To access this map, click on the following linked title. The repost below includes a link to this map as well as all the other details and links to affiliated information sources.


Communities Reject Rigged Trade, Create TPP/TTIP-Free Zones by Margaret Flowers, Popular Resistance, October 4, 2015

Note: You can join communities that are rejecting these rigged corporate ‘trade’ deals that are being negotiated in secret and will undermine our ability to pass laws that protect public health and safety and the planet by organizing to create a TPP/TTIP-Free Zone. Details below.

As negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) inch toward completion, resistance to it and the other rigged corporate international treaties, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and Trade-in-Services Agreement (TiSA), is escalating.

  • A transAtlantic week of protests against the TPP and TTIP are planned from October 10 to 17. Visit Trade4People.org to learn more. Actions will be posted on Flush the TPP.
  • There will be protests in Miami at the end of October during the next round of TTIP negotiations. Details are not yet confirmed, but they will be posted on the Flush the TPP “Actions” page.
  • And during the APEC meetings in the Philippines in November, there will be protests in Manila and Washington, DC. Click here for information about the DC mobilization.

A powerful form of resistance is underway in communities across the United States and the European Union – people are passing resolutions opposing these ‘trade agreements,’ which are actually international treaties that should not be allowed to fast track through Congress, to create TPP and TTIP-free zones.

In the European Union, activists are working to pass 10,000 such resolutions. In collaboration with the public service union, Unison, Global Justice Now, is providing helpful materials. Global Justice Now reports:

“It’s not just the UK. In Austria, Germany, France and Belgium there are significant numbers of TTIP Free Zones being declared by local authorities. When EU and US negotiators in Brussels leave their meetings they immediately walk out into the Brussels municipality which is itself a TTIP Free Zone.

There are 39 ‘no TTIP’ councils in Spain and a good covering in Northern Italy. This is a Europe-wide movement of local resistance to the corporate power grab that TTIP represents.”

During the fight to stop Congress from passing Fast Track legislation that will be used to rush these agreements through Congress, cities from Seattle, WA to Madison, WI to New York, NY passed resolutions against Fast Track. Labor played a big part in making these successful. Now, new resolutions are underway in more cities with the goal of 100.

On October 8, a resolution will be voted upon in Miami, FL, potentially making it a TPP/TTIP-Free Zone before the next round of TTIP negotiations there. Click here for details.

Organizing a TPP/TTIP-Free Zone is a great way to raise awareness of the ways that these secret rigged corporate deals will directly impact our communities. From the prohibition of “Buy America” practices to the new powers for corporations to sue over public health and safety laws that interfere with their profits to the outsourcing of jobs, lowering of wages, reduction of food safety and raising the costs of health care, the TPP and TTIP place corporate profits over protection of people and the planet.

Here is more information on how to create a TPP/TTIP-Free Zone from the Alliance for Democracy:

“If you, our un-elected representatives, create this corporate-driven monstrosity and then go to Congress for a rubber stamp, WE WILL NOT OBEY.”

Which cities have gone TPP/TTIP/TiSA Free?

This map shows which US cities and counties have passed TPP Free Zone ordinances or resolutions against Fast Track, TPP or other pending trade pacts like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA).

It is time to make our municipalities “TPP Free Zones,” following in the footsteps of the successful resistance to an earlier trade agreement, the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, which was defeated in 1998 thanks to a global grassroots campaign.

  • Click here to download a .pdf of our TPP Free Zone pamphlet. Print it on legal-size paper, or read the text online here.
  • Click here for a model municipal law to make your community a TPP Free Zone.
  • Click here for some pointers in getting a TPP Free Zone law passed.

What is a TPP-Free Zone?

AfD Co-Chair Ruth Caplan explains how local organizing for “TPP-Free Zone” laws can help defeat this so-called “free trade” agreement while supporting global civil society movements for economic and environmental justice and local democracy.

Educate for action: Our Fall 2012 issue of Justice Rising focused on international resistance to corporate global trade agreements, including the TPP. To read it online, click here. If you’d like to a copy, contact us at afd, The Alliance for Democracy or call 781-894-1179.

There’s more information, videos and resources on our TPP page.

Questions? Ideas? Resources? We’d like to hear from you. Contact the Alliance for Democracy office at afd (at) thealliancefordemocracy (dot) org, or 781-894-1179.

Lead image by Backbone Campaign


Posted in Activism, Anti-P2P, Cognitive Capitalism, Collective Intelligence, Culture & Ideas, Empire, Featured Movement, P2P Rights, Politics | No Comments »

The Shift from Open Platforms to Digital Commons

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
23rd November 2015


Universitat de Oberta Catalunya — Open University of Catalonia — just published the following essay of mine as part of its “Open Thoughts” series.  The UOC blog explores the benefits and limitations of various forms of peer production: well worth a look!

From open access platforms to managed digital commons: that is one of the chief challenges that network-based peer production must meet if we are going to unleash the enormous value that distributed, autonomous production can

From open access platforms to managed digital commons: that is one of the chief challenges that network-based peer production must meet if we are going to unleash the enormous value that distributed, autonomous production can create.

The open platform delusion

We are accustomed to regarding open platforms as synonymous with greater freedom and innovation. But as we have seen with the rise of Google, Facebook and other tech giants, open platforms that are dominated by large corporations are only “free” within the boundaries of market norms and the given business models. Yes, open platforms provide many valuable services at no (monetary) cost to users. But when some good or service is offered for at no cost, it really means that the user is the product. In this case, our personal data, attention, social attitudes lifestyle behavior, and even our digital identities, are the commodity that platform owners are seeking to “own.”

In this sense, many open platforms are not so benign. Many of them are techno-economic fortresses, bolstered by the structural dynamics of the “power law,” which enable dominant corporate players to monopolize and monetize a given sector of online activity. Market power based on such platforms can then be used to carry out surveillance of users’ lives; erect barriers to open interoperability and sharing, sometimes in anticompetitive ways; and quietly manipulate the content and “experience” that users may have on such platforms.

Such outcomes on “open platforms” should not be entirely surprising; they represent the familiar quest of capitalist markets to engineer the acquisition of exclusive assets and monetize them. The quarry in this case is our consciousness, creativity and culture. The more forward-looking segments of capital realize that “owning a platform” (with stipulated terms of participation) can be far more lucrative than owning exclusive intellectual property rights for content.

So for those of us who care about freedom in an elemental human and civic sense — beyond the narrow mercantilist “freedoms” offered by capitalist markets — the critical question is how to preserve certain inalienable human freedoms and shared cultural spaces. Can our free speech, freedom of association and freedom to interconnect with each other and innovate flourish if the dominant network venues must first satisfy the demands of investors, corporate boards and market metrics?

« Open platforms that are dominated by large corporations are only “free” within the boundaries of market norms and the given business models »

If we are serious about protecting human freedoms that have a life beyond markets, I believe we must begin to develop new modes of “platform co-operativism” that go beyond standard forms of “private” corporate control. We need to pioneer technical, organizational and financial forms that enable users to mutualize the benefits of their own online sharing. We must be able to avoid the coerced and undisclosed surrender of personal information and digital identity to third-parties who may or may not be reliable stewards of such information.

There are other reasons to move to commons-based platforms. As David P. Reed showed in a seminal 1999 paper,1 the value generated by networks increases exponentially as interactions move from a broadcasting model based on “best content” (in which value is described by n, the number of viewers), to a network of peer-to-peer transactions (where the network’s value is based on “most members” and mathematically described by n2).

But by far the most valuable networks are those that facilitate group affiliations to pursue shared goals. (I call such groups commons). Reed found that the value of “group forming networks,” in which people have the tools for “free and responsible association for common purposes,” to be 2n, a fantastically large number. His analysis suggests that the value generated by Facebook, Twitter, and other proprietary network platforms remain highly rudimentary because participants have only limited tools for developing trust and confidence in each other (open source tools would subvert the business model). In short, the value potential of the commons has been deliberately stifled.

For all of these reasons, our imaginations and aspirations must begin to shift their focus from open platforms to digital commons. Self-organized commoners must be able to control the terms of their interactions and governance, and to reap the fruits of their own collaboration and sharing.

Towards the CopyFair license

A variety of legal and technological innovations are now starting to address the structural limits of (market-financed) open platforms as vehicles for commoning. These initiatives remain somewhat emergent, yet they are filled with great promise. They aspire to empower digital commoners in resisting market capture and enclosure of their collectively created content, community norms and identity. Corporate platforms privilege the social monoculture of producer/consumer relationships and only those social behaviors that comport with the host-company’s business model (or more generally, with market relationships). By contrast, self-organized commons enable richer, more diverse and meaningful types of freedom and culture.

The basic problem, however, is that digital commons tend to have trouble growing and sustaining themselves. They do not have adequate organizational and governance structures nor adequate financial support. However, a new generation of innovations may help address these problems.

One possibility now being explored, for example, is “commons-based reciprocity licenses,” sometimes known as CopyFair. These proposed licenses based on copyright ownership would allow no-cost sharing among members of a commons, but require payment by any commercial users of the community’s work. The idea is now being developed by Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation and open-agriculture hardware developers, among others. Unlike the Creative Commons NonCommercial license, which absolutely stops commercial development of a line of information or creative work, the CopyFair license would allow commercialization, but on the basis of mandatory (monetized) reciprocity.

The potential of the blockchain

Another instrument for converting open platforms into digital commons is the blockchain ledger, the software innovation that lies at the heart of Bitcoin. Although Bitcoin itself has been designed to serve familiar capitalist functions (tax avoidance, private accumulation through speculation), the blockchain ledger is significant because it can enable highly reliable, versatile forms of collective action on open networks. It does this by validating the authenticity of a digital object (for now, a bitcoin) without the need for a third-party guarantor such as a bank or government body.

This solves a particularly difficult collective-action problem in an open network context: How do you know that a given digital object — a bitcoin, a legal document, digital certificate, dataset, a vote or digital identity asserted by an individual — is the “real thing” and not a forgery? By using a searchable online “ledger” that keeps track of all transactions (i.e., bitcoins), blockchain technology solves this problem by acting as a kind of permanent record maintained by a vast distributed peer network. This makes it far more secure than data kept at a centralized location because the authenticity of a bitcoin registered among so many nodes in the network is virtually impossible to corrupt.

« We need to pioneer technical, organizational and financial forms that enable users to mutualize the benefits of their own online sharing »

Because of these capabilities, a recently released report suggests that blockchain technology could provide a critical infrastructure for building what are called “distributed collaborative organizations” (DCO, and sometimes “distributed autonomous organizations”).2 These are essentially self-organized online commons. A DCO could use blockchain technology to give its members specified rights within the organization, which could be managed and guaranteed by the blockchain. These rights, in turn, could be linked to the conventional legal system to make the rights legally cognizable and enforceable.

One rudimentary example of how the blockchain might be used to facilitate a commons: In the US, former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Reed Hundt has proposed using blockchain technology to create distributed networks of solar power on residential houses coordinated as commons. The ledger would keep track of how much energy a given homeowner generates and shares with others, and consumes. In effect the system would enable the efficient organization of decentralized solar grids and a “green currency” that could serve as a medium of exchange within solar microgrids or networks, helping to propel adoption of solar panels. The blockchain amounts to a network-based architecture for enabling commons-based governance.

Smart transactions

This field of experimentation may yield another breakthrough tool for forging digital commons: smart contracts. These are dynamic software modules operating in an architecture of shared protocols (much like TCP/IP or http) that could enable new types of group governance, decision-making and rules-enforcement on open network platforms.

We are already familiar with rudimentary — and corporate-oriented versions — of this idea, such as Digital Rights Management (DRM), an encryption/authentication system that gives companies the ability to constrain how users may use their legally purchased technologies (DVDs, CDs, etc.). As the power of networked collaboration has become clear, however, many tech innovators now recognize that the real challenge is not how to lock up and privatize digital artifacts, but how to assure that they can be reliably shared on open platforms in legally enforceable ways, for the benefit of a defined group of contributors or for everyone.

« A realm of software innovation is trying to blend familiar co-operative structures with open network platforms to enable collective deliberation and governance through online systems »

There are now many active efforts underway to devise technical systems for deploying “smart” legal agents whose transactions would also be enforceable under conventional law. The “transactions” could, of course, be used to invent new types of markets, but they also could be used to create new types of commons. Ultimately, the two realms may bleed into each other and create social hybrids that conjoin community commitments and market activity.

A related realm of software innovation is trying to blend familiar co-operative structures with open network platforms to enable collective deliberation and governance — “commoning” — through online systems. Some of the more notable experiments include Loomio, DemocracyOS and LiquidFeedback. Each of these seeks to enable members of online networks to carry on direct, sustained and somewhat complicated discussions, and then to clarify group sentiment and reach decisions that participants see as binding, legitimate and meaningful.

Networks of peer producers

In a natural extension of such capacities, “open value networks” (OVN) are attempts to enable bounded networks of participants to carry out crowdfunding, crowdsourcing of knowledge, co-budgeting among its identifiable members. “Open value networks” such as Enspiral and Sensorica have been described as an “operating system for a new kind of organization” and a “pilot project for the new economy.” OVNs consist of digital platforms that facilitate new modes of decentralized and self-organized social governance, production and livelihoods among members of distinct communities. The networks are organized in ways that let anyone to contribute to the project, and be rewarded based on their contributions, as measured by actual contributions, experience and other collectively determined criteria.

Unlike “conventional commons” that tend to eschew market-based activity, open value networks have no reservations about engaging with markets; OVNs simply wish to maintain their organizational and cultural integrity as commons-based peer producers. This means open, horizontal and large-scale cooperation and coordination; responsible stewardship of the shared wealth and assets while allowing individual access, use, authorship and ownership of resources “where appropriate”; careful accounting of individual “inputs and outcomes” via a common ledger system; and the distribution of fair rewards based on individual contributions to the project. Some notable keywords for describing OVNs: equipotentiality, anti-credentialism, self-selection, communal validation and holoptism.

As mentioned earlier, these initiatives to create new technical, organizational and financing for platform cooperativism are still emerging and debated in meetings as the one taking place soon in New York City. They will require further experimentation and development to make them fully functional and scalable. Yet they promise to provide attractive, potentially breakthrough alternatives to business-driven platforms that stipulate the terms of participation and do not facilitate the mutualized benefit among commoners. By providing more trustworthy systems for genuine commoning and user sovereignty and control, these new forms could soon enable digital commons — and hybrid forms of user-driven markets — to surpass the value-creating capacities of conventional open platforms.

1. See also David Bollier and John H. Clippinger, The Next Great Internet Disruption: Authority and Governance.
2. See the report Distributed Collaborative Organizations: Distributed Networks & Regulatory Frameworks, written by people associated with Swarm, the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, New York Law School and the MIT Media Lab. See also Rachel O’Dwyer, The Revolution Will (Not) Be Decentralized; and Morgen E. Peck, The Future of the Web Looks a Lot Like Bitcoin. The blockchain and related legal issues are being actively discussed in a series of global workshops known as “Blockchain (R)evolution,” convened by Primavera De Filippi, Constance Choi and John Clippinger. For a broader introduction to this general topic, see John H. Clippinger and David Bollier, From Bitcoin to Burning Man and Beyond: The Quest for Identity and Autonomy in a Digital Society (ID3, 2014).

Lead image by OpenSource.com


Posted in Activism, Commons, Commons Transition, Cooperatives, Culture & Ideas, Ethical Economy, Open Models, Original Content, P2P Collaboration, P2P Development, P2P Labor, P2P Legal Dev., Peer Property, Sharing | No Comments »

The City as Commons: The Conference

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
20th November 2015


To judge from the fascinating crowd of 200-plus commoners who converged on Bologna, Italy, last week, it is safe to declare that a major new front in commons advocacy has come into focus – the city.  The event was the conference, “The City as a Commons:  Reconceiving Urban Space, Common Goods and City Governance,” hosted by LabGov (LABoratory for the GOVernance of the Commons), the International Association for the Study of the Commons, the Fordham Law School’s Urban Law Center and the Roman law school LUISS.

While there have been a number of noteworthy urban commons initiatives over the years, this event had a creative energy, diversity of ideas and people, and a sense of enthusiasm and purpose.

The City of Bologna was a perfect host for this event; it has long been a pioneer in this area, most notably through its Regulation on Collaboration for the Urban Commons, which invites neighborhoods and citizens to propose their own projects for city spaces (gardens, parks, kindergartens, graffiti cleanup).

What made this conference so lively was the sheer variety of commons-innovators from around the world.  There was an urban permaculture farmer…..a researcher who has studied the conversion of old airports into metropolitan commons….an expert on “tiny home eco-villages” as a model for urban development…..Creative Commons leaders from the collaborative city of Seoul, Korea….an expert describing “nomadic commons” that use social media to help Syrian migrants find refuge with host families in Italy.

We heard from a city official in Barcelona about Barcelona en Comú, a citizen platform that is attempting to remake the ways that city government works, with an accent on social justice and citizen participation. As part of this new vision of the city, the Barcelona government has banned Airbnb after it drove up rents and hollowed out robust neighborhoods into dead zones for overnight tourists.

The Brooklyn-based project, 596 Acres, has mapped a large inventory of vacant public land and is actively helping neighborhoods convert parcels of land into functioning commons for community gardens, recreation and learning.

The Ubiquitous Commons project is a prototype legal/technological toolkit designed to help people control how the personal data they generate from countless devices may be used, especially in urban contexts.

Because the conference was the first thematic conference of the IASC on the urban commons, there were quite a few academics at the conference, especially younger ones.  So there were quite a few academic paper presented that applied the conventional principles about commons as resources

Two notable keynote talks included commons activist Silke Helfrich and Italian design strategist Ezio Manzini. Helfrich’s talk, “Imagining the (R)Urban Commons in 2040,” set forth her vision of what a city as a commons would look like in the year 2040.

In another thoughtful talk, Manzini, founder of the DESIS (Design for Social Innovation for Sustainability), a network of university-based design labs, stressed that cities must be seen as a world of relationships.  Urban commons must be “conceived as fluid forms,” he said. “To enact them we should focus on enabling conditions, not on fixed designs.”

For those inclined to some serious reading about law, theory and urban governance, check out Sheila Foster and Christian Iaione’s forthcoming essay in the Yale Law and Policy Review, which lays out a systemic and detailed overview of the idea of the city as commons.  The essay proposes a range of collaborative and polycentric governance strategies for cities.

Michel Bauwens and I shared an onstage conversation about “open cooperativism,” and especially the new efforts to devise “platform cooperativist” models to challenge Uber, Airbnb and other “death star” platforms that exploit social communities without reinvesting in them or sharing the benefits.

There was so much energy unleashed by this conference that I expect many more initiatives on urban commons in the future — and a new, more focused dialogue on what it means to manage a city as a commons. Fortunately, a second IASC thematic conference on urban commons is already being planned, for 2017.

Lead image by Michela Mauriello


Posted in Collective Intelligence, Commons, Commons Transition, Conferences, Ethical Economy, Open Government, Open Models, Original Content, P2P Art and Culture, P2P Development, P2P Public Policy, Sharing | 1 Comment »