Open design communities, entrepreneurial coalitions, and the partner state

To understand the reality or illusion behind projects claiming to practice co-creation or co-design, one must look at the polarities of power and control that determine the context in which the co-creative processes take place, with on the one hand the communities of external collaborators, and on the other side, the corporate entities. But before tackling this issue in particular, it may be useful to see the emerging new paradigm of production that is arising out of the new participative processes.

The new institutional reality could be described as follows:


At the core are the enabling collaborative socio-technological platforms, that allow knowledge workers, software developers and open design communities to collaborate on joint projects, outside of the direct control of corporate entities.

Interesting questions already arise here: who is the driving force behind the creation & development of such platforms? They can be initiated by developing communities, managed and maintained by a new type of non-profit institution (like the FLOSS Foundations), or they can be corporate platforms that have been opened up to external participants


– Around the corporate platform is the open design community and the knowledge/software/design commons ruled by a set of licenses which determine the particular nature of the property.

Interesting questions here are: Is it a true commons license like the GPL, a sharing license like the Creative Commons where the stress is on the individual sovereignity in determining the level of sharing that is allowed; or is it a corporate license, giving very limited rights, or even with outright digital sharecropping, i.e. the expropriation of the totality of the creative output reserved for usage by the organizing corporation?


– Around the commons are the entrepreneurial coalitions that benefit and sustain the design commons, create added value on top of it, and sell this as products or services to the market.

Important questions raised here are: how is the coalition itself organized? Do all parties have equal say, as in the Linux Foundation, or does one big party dominate, like with the Eclipse Foundation and IBM. How does the business ecology relate to the community. Is is nothing but a corporate commons?


– In addition, there is a funding infrastructure.

What is the process governing the stream of returns from the monetized market sphere, to the commons, its community, and the infrastructure of cooperation? Do businesses support the community directly, through the foundations? Is the government or a set of public authorities involved. Are there crowdfunding mechanisms?


– Finally, there is the role of public authorities and governments in orchestrating the public-private-common triad in order to benefit from the local effects of the new networked coopetition between entrepreneurial coalitions and their linked communities.

In the not so far future, wealth building or sustaining capacity will be determined to a large degree by the capacity of cities, regions and states to insert themselves within the global coopetition between different enterpreneurial coalitions (think drupal vs. joomla, but on a much larger scale).


When we look at this set interlocking triad (community – foundation – business) or quaternary structure (if public authorities are involved), we can now distinguish at least 3 main models

– In commons centered peer production, like Linux, the community is at the core, and a real commons operate, with the community strong enough to sustain its own infrastructure, and cooperating with market players

– In a sharing environment, where individuals share their creative endeavour, it is the corporate third party platform which monetizes the attention space, and may control the platform to a significant degree; the community does not control its own platform, but is not without power of influence, since quick and massive mobilizations are always possible.

– In a crowdsourced environment, participant producers are even more isolated from each other, and the corporation integrates them in the value chain which they control. Since individuals are here competing for market value themselves, solidarity is more difficult to obtain, given corporate platform owners more influence

A good illustration of the various possibilities is Lego. Lego still operates as a classical producer of toys, selling to consumer; in Lego Factory, it has its crowdsourced environment, where co-designers can take a cut of the kits they succeed in selling; the new Lego World virtual environment is a sharing environment; finally, Lugnet is true commons-oriented peer production, happening outside the control of the company altogether.

Here are ten different co-creation modalities, depending on the polarity of control between peer producers and the corporate entities:

The first five are written from the point of view of corporate entities, wanting to engage with productive communities:

1. Consumers: you make, they consume. The classic model.

2. Self-service: you make, they go get it themselves. This is where consumers start becoming prosumers, but the parameters of the cooperation are totally set by the producing corporation. It’s really not much more than a strategy of externalization of costs. Think of ATM’s and gas stations. We could call it simple externalization.

3. Do-it-yourself: you design, they make it themselves. One step further, pioneered by the likes of Ikea, where the consumers, re-assembles the product himself. Complex externalization of business processes.

4. Company-based Crowdsourcing. The company organizes a value chain which lets the wider public produce the value, but under the control of the company.

5. Co-design: you set the parameters, but you design it together For examples, see here

In the next set, the control moves towards the communities:

6. Co-creativity: you both create cooperatively. In this stage, the corporation does not even set the parameters, the prosumer is an equal partner in the development of new products. Perhaps the industrial model of the adventure sports material makers would fit here. For examples, see here

7. Sharing communities create the value, Web 2.0 proprietary platforms, attempt to monetize participation.

8. Peer production proper: communities create the value, using a Commons, with assistance from corporations who attempt to create derivative streams of value. Linux is the paradigmatic example.

9. Peer production with cooperative production: peer producers create their own vehicles for monetization. The OS Alliance is an example of this

10. Peer production communities or sharing communities place themselves explicitely outside of the monetary economy.

4 Comments Open design communities, entrepreneurial coalitions, and the partner state

  1. Marvin Brown

    This is a great list. I would like to see more reflections about it. It seems to me that many of these models exist at the current time. So how are they interconnected? I would suggest that that the platform for making the connections is a civic platform.

    A civic platform is constituted by conversations that are inclusive, deliberative, and disposed to action. Such conversations can occur in any of the different modalities, and provide bridges among all of them. Furthermore, a civic platform creates viable governing organizations that use the three strategies of persuasion, incentives, and regulation to move the whole system toward justice and sustainability.

    What do you think about that?


  2. rodney dawkins

    Sticking the actual coders at the bottom, strikes me as a great idea. We nearly have enough human devices built and assembled in Bangalore, that we will have a very wide base on which to build pyramids of social privilege. Let’s all try to avoid the word exploitation, or food chain.

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