Public surpport for value creation through the commons: 4 principles and 3 institutions

David Bollier gave a great speech in April about commons-based value creation and what public authorities could do to stimulate it, by focusing on a fourfold strategy framework.

I’m excerpting his proposals below, and add my own proposals, for a three-fold infrastructure of public institutions which could support such actions and strategy.

Bollier’s speech is a call to arms: I say it’s time to explore how government can play a more active role in nurturing the commons sector and the type of value that it creates.

One of the key themes of this conference is how to develop sustainable strategies to support the emerging bodies of public knowledge. I believe our first responsibility is to recognize the commons sector as a new and significant sector of value-creation in its own right. It is a different sector than the market or government.

If you can acknowledge this fact, then it follows that we should take affirmative steps to preserve the commons and the special types of value that it produces. ”

Here are the four strategic principles that he proposes, excerpted from this speech:

1. Protect the integrity of the commons. A first principle is that the value created by the commons shall remain within the commons. Or at least, it should not be monetized or appropriated without the consent of the commoners. It has been shown that the commons can be protected through various legal innovations, technological strategies, and social norms.

The GPL, the Creative Commons licenses and the fair use doctrine in copyright law are all legal tools (of varying effectiveness) that help assure that creative contributions to the commons will stay there and be re-usable by others in the future. As Larry Lessig has shown in his book, Code and other writings, technological design can also help assure open access and use. The original TCP/IP protocols for the Internet are an example, as are open technical standards like Open Document Format and open APIs. Finally, social norms and sanctions are immensely powerful tools for protecting the commons. People respect the rules of a community in part because they have a role in making the rules.

2. Devise new models for understanding value. As I suggested earlier, the standard economic narrative is too autistic, too socially oblivious, to explain how value is created in the networked environment. If we are going to get beyond the crude calculus that money = value, we need to develop a richer set of criteria for evaluating how social communities create value. Perhaps there’s a new formula to be devised that considers the number of participants, the degree and kind of engagement they have with their peers, and the pace of their interactivity.

3. Invent new hybrids that blend the market economy with the commons. The commons and the market need not be adversaries. Nor are they entirely separate spheres. Indeed, I see them as interdependent and synergistic.

4. Government should actively support the commons, just as it supports the market. Government does all sorts of things to help markets function well. It builds infrastructure, pays for courts, provides legal protections, promotes trade, and gives out subsidies, among other benefits. Why shouldn’t government provide similar support to help the commons work well? If the commons can produce value efficiently, in a socially constructive manner, and with benefits to future generations of creators, it certainly deserves as much government support as markets.”

But how exactly can such policies be institutionalized?

Here’s my proposal, a set of 3 interlocking institutions, each with its own complementary mission and objectives:

1) Institute for the Protection and Development of the Commons

This is an institution that effectively supports the creation and maintenance of the commons,

A) by diffusing knowledge about the legal and institutional means of creating and protecting them.

B) by creating a supportive infrastructure of cooperation that facilitates the creation of commons-oriented initiatives by those who have more difficulties accessing such necessary infrastructure

Example: the policies of the French city of Brest, led by Michel Briand

C) by maintaining relations with, and supporting the operation and maintenance of the for-benefits institutions that are most often associated with commons oriented initiatives

2) Institute for Open Business

This institution supports the creation of market value in cooperation with the Commons, in ways that are compatible and do not deplete commons-based value creation. Typically, this is the kind of Institution that would support open source software businesses, open textbook publishers, etc.. and support young and starting enterpreneurs who want to engage in such.

Example: the OSBR.Ca in Toronto

3) Institute for Benefit-Sharing and Commons Recognition

This institution focuses on patronage and various forms of support that do not destroy the peer to peer logic of voluntary contributions.

A) It creates a priori prizes, awards, bounties to support individuals involved in commons-based value-creation

B) in cooperation with the companies (stimulated by previous open business institute), it stimulates benefit-sharing practices from companies that profit from commons created value. It acts as a meta-regular for such practices, identifying weak spots and stimulating solutions for them.

C) it creates a posteriori patronage arrangements for individuals with a proven record in commons-based value creation

D) it studies and proposes policies for the overall stimulation of commons-based value creation

I hope the above makes sense, and would welcome any additional suggestions and critiques.

2 Comments Public surpport for value creation through the commons: 4 principles and 3 institutions

  1. Pingback: Love, Truth, Beauty, Pluralistic Spirituality · Links for the week

  2. Pingback: P2P Foundation » Blog Archive » The Commons as a New Sector of Value-Creation

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