Helene Finidori on FLOK Society and the Commons

Here’s an excellent summary, written by our good friend Helene Finidori from the Commons Abundance Network, on FLOK Society’s historical significance for the Commons and P2P movements. The article was originally published in STIR magazine and Helene has kindly given us permission to republish it here.


This column was published in STIR’s spring issue and is available to buy here

With the Free Libre Open Knowledge (FLOK) Society project, peer-to-peer commons-based economics have a good chance of being institutionalised in Ecuador, or in other words, of entering at a nation-state level through the front door. This would be a world first.

Ecuador may not be particularly advanced as far as urban P2P dynamics are concerned, but its indigenous and rural communities have a long history of sharing knowledge. And since the election of a progressive government in 2007, the country is politically ahead in its determination to continue developing an economy based on the creativity of its citizens and on the sustainable leverage of its internal resources.

The focus here is to transition away from cognitive capitalism where value is commonly extracted via technology transfers through intellectual property rights mostly held by large foreign companies, generating dependencies on the global north and increasing the internal social divide. The goal is to shift towards a ‘social knowledge economy’ where knowledge is freely accessible, produced and shared through co-operative and open processes, and where the resulting knowledge commons can be built upon to accelerate innovation and the distribution of wealth.

Integrated commons-based initiatives exist around the world. Co-operative systems such as Cooperativa Integral Catalana and Las Indias in Spain, or local and regional partnerships such as Villes en Biens Communs and Territoires Collaboratifs in France are examples. But nothing has ever been done at the national level. The challenge is to scale microeconomic initiatives into systems that can operate at a macroeconomic level as well. Such transformations require an institutional framework supported by political and social infrastructure, in particular to bridge new structures with existing ones during the transition phase.

The FLOK Society thrives on the interactions between a civil society empowered by peer learning and open education, a partner state that provides the institutional support and infrastructures required, and a commons based ethical market. This is a model developed by FLOK Society’s research team lead by P2P foundation founder Michel Bauwens.

The process is under way. A policy framework will be presented to the Ecuadorian people for national debate in May. Proposals are derived from existing and new research as well as participatory input collected from commoners around the world and from Ecuadorians both in urban and rural contexts through informal workshops where needs and challenges are discussed.

The key element of the framework is the introduction of the Peer Production License, a copyfarleft type of reciprocity-based license by which commons are freely accessible to those who contribute to create them, while companies generating profits from them without contributing are charged license fees. Revenues returned to value creators allow co-operative accumulation and the constitution of community-managed commons funds and community investment funds.

This empowers a counter-hegemonic reciprocal economy, where commoners can develop their commons for wider use including the creation of market value on top of them, encouraged by legal frameworks that support the organisation and operations of co-operative entities.

The expected outcome is the creation of a distributed network of microfactories using open hardware designs available from the internet to produce machinery and tools for local domestic industry, sustainable community farms or science labs at fractions of the cost of licensed equipment, enabling more resources to be allocated for further investment. Arduino electronic boards, RepRap 3D printers, and Motorola’s Ara smartphone project are examples of such open designs for ‘connected’ manufacturing. Farm Hack, Slowtools, Open Source Ecology provide blueprints for small industry and farming machinery.

These new forms of production, which create converging peer innovation networks where people customise solutions to specific needs at various levels and scales, are intended to transform Ecuador’s productive matrix. Further learning and the development of new capacities and know-how are supported by an infrastructure of hacker spaces, media labs and coworking spaces, complemented by the release of all publicly funded research and innovation under GPL license in formats adequate to a generalisation of open education.

The reciprocal Peer Production License provides means to protect natural and biological resources such as seeds and plants as well against the danger of private enclosure also known as biopiracy, while enabling their wider use. In particular, indigenous communities who have historically been reluctant to share their knowledge on plants and cures, after they witnessed multinationals generating significant amounts of income by patenting and exploiting existing knowledge and plants with nothing coming back to them, will be able to benefit from the development of a bioeconomy and sustainable agriculture that serves them, supported by community seed banks and open source seed sharing networks.

We are looking at large scale systemic change here that can set a precedent and revolutionise economic and social policy. Whichever the outcome of the political process in Ecuador, the FLOK Society project will provide the building blocks for other places in the world to develop autonomy and resilience while getting rid of enclosures as well as extractive and dependence-generating practices, whereever they may originate from.

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