As I wrote in my previous post, we can build Platform Coops mainly based on thin relationships that follow maximizing individual self-interest, or based mainly on thick relationships that follow social and emotional engagement (always expect, though, a combination of the two). While governance is not the only factor that shapes relationships, it is nevertheless the most decisive to do it. Governance determines who defines the terms of peerness, or in other words, who is “peer” and who is another type of “stakeholder”, and its consequences. In the case of Platform Coops, the straightforward governance model defines an assembly of owners (peers) and an advisory board in which its members must represent the interests of the different stakeholders. Owners would be those that are investing their time and money in the Platform as its main source of income, and consequently livelihood. It is the easiest model of governance to establish, since it does not challenge the current established ideas and narratives of what a good business is. In the most interesting version, peers may develop thick relationships, as I think is the case of Fairmondo that I mentioned in my previous post. And again, do not misunderstand me: it is not that I do not prefer a Platform Coop like this to the existing regular Platforms. It could be, eventually, a way to effectively develop what Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) promised for capitalism and has miserably failed to deliver. Still, even in the case that those Platform Coops in which only the workers are owners are actually able to overcome the forces that causes CSR to fail, I consider that they would not fulfill the promises of a p2p economy. The problem, as I see it, is threefold.
Three problems of Platform Coops
Firstly, Platform Coops do not promote enough the new interesting subjectivities and relationships responsible for the emerging collaborating, sharing, commoning and p2p dynamics that are proving to be transformational. It is precisely because they are built over the already consolidated thin self-interest-driven-relationships that rule our world since the modern era. In short, they are reinforcing those relationships by giving them new ways to exist. Think, instead, about my meeting with Ana Manzanedo. She is a Ouishare Connector in Barcelona that contacted me right after I started blogging about common matters of concern. In our first meeting we shared not only our personal whereabouts but also kind of coached/mentored each other and shared specific knowledge and ideas in order to help each other to create value in the present, and also prepare the field (invitation to a community of practices, etc.) for eventually creating open value together in the near future. It is not that we were not also looking out for our own interest, but we were both ready to give more than what we were taking, now or in the future. She is not, in that sense, the average kind of relationship I have in my business activity, but sure is the one I am looking for. Building a Platform Coops that does not promote connectors, urban entrepreneurs, open makers, technopolitical citizens or technopolitical civil servants or technopolitical representatives, (and so on) will have a much narrow impact than collectives such as Enspiral, Ouishare, Las Indias Electrónicas, etc. which have this generativity of new disrupting subjectivities (Ouishare considers itself above any other thing “an incubator of people; Las Indias offer different ways to experience with them how to live in abundance as communards; etc.) Out of its members, a Platform Coop only promotes a “responsible consumer” subjectivity using more or less the same approach as their non-peer managed rival organizations. I am in favor of such Platforms Coops in the same way I am for any kind of Coop. However, it remains obscure to me in what sense they will be able to compete and outperform non Coop Platforms. Hence the call for the intervention of governments in terms of regulatory frameworks and financial support. Yet, a strong citizenship movement would be needed for that to happen… which hardly will, if new subjectivities demanding it are not promoted. Politicians only challenge existing established interests, if ever, when taking the opportunity of getting more votes. Way more.
Secondly, (and this is connected with the first problem), in this model the capture of value generated in the network is still centralized. We want that those that add value and risk something in the platform are affected by the eventual downsides or upsides. The fact that a Coop Platform does it in a more ethical way, and that it redistributes the value afterwards does not change the fact that it keeps disempowering non-owners of the cooperative. Non-owners may consider that they are, to more or less degree, in the flow of value distribution, but not in its generation nor in its governance. The straightforward approach is to use new technologies based on blockchain (or other even more interesting technologies) in order to make distribution fair, keeping the self-interest motivated actors in the game. But if we design a Platform in which every aspect of the relationship must be translated into an algorithm and coded as a smart contract, then again we are consolidating and making fresh room for the already existing subjectivities. Even more, that will erode the real face-to-face trust thick relationships that may exist. A completely different thing is to use blockchain technologies for doing boring accounting that has to be done in a p2p organization based on thick relationships, or between p2p organizations linked by thick relationships. As in the centralized case, a decentralized architecture based on thin relationships could be, in the best of the cases, a transitory step to something much more interesting, once the limitations of the model are reached and new opportunities are explored.
The third problem is that the Platform Coops, in order to compete in the market with regular platforms, may need to transfer risk or care to some of their stakeholders. The reason why most of the regular platforms thrive is because they avoid granting the usual benefits (care) that workers get in the traditional economy (pension, social security, paid vacations, etc.), and additionally, force workers to carry most of the risks (accidents, illness, etc.). Unless clients are aware and concerned about workers’ conditions — which is an emerging but not yet a game-changing trend — the market will make more competitive those platforms that cut costs that way, not to mention that most of them are fueled with big investor’s money in order to keep litigating with authorities and workers, and operating under financial losses for years. In order to survive and keep their share of the market, Coop Platforms may be tempted to practice the less aggressive practices of risk and care transfer to workers as a way of surviving.
In the second part of this post, I will explore operational responses to these problems.