Digital Labor

Stories

International Labor Office Releases Report on Future of Work

March 16th, 2017

The International Labor Office has released a proposal for “a three-stage implementation plan” for a cooperative future of work. You can find the summary of their report on The Future of Work Centenary Initiative here, and the report in full here.

Cooperative responses to technological changes
Technological change is recognized as a major driver of growth and development. It is a dynamic process involving both job destruction and creation, as well as transformation of existing jobs (ILO, 2016f). The ‘sharing’ or ‘online platform’ economy, 4 characterized by peer-to-peer exchanges of goods and services and tasks completed through online platforms or mobile applications, is identified for its dynamics of participation and growth for the future of work (De Stefano, 2016). It is estimated that in the USA alone, more than 10 million people have earned incomes through online platforms (JPMorgan Chase & Co., 2016).

While some see the platform economy as an economic opportunity, there is also growing evidence that it creates unregulated marketplaces with non-standard forms of employment, eroding employment relationships and increased self-employment, resulting in worker insecurity, deteriorating working conditions, and suppressed social protection entitlements (ILO, 2016a). One potential response to the eroding employment relationship in the platform economy is the development of cooperatives, which strengthens workers’ voice and representation.

Platform cooperatives are digital platforms collectively owned and governed by the workers who depend on, participate in, and, derive livelihoods from them (Sutton, 2016). They organize emerging technologies through online applications that support production, digital labour brokering, collectively-owned and democratically-controlled web-based marketplaces, and other activities that directly support this economic model. Worker-owners in platform cooperatives share risks and benefits and negotiate better contracts, while participating in decision-making on how the platform is organised and managed.

Although they are still at early stages of development, with a number of interrelated legal, financial and organizational challenges to overcome, platform cooperatives are attracting interest from segments of the population who may not have had previous exposure to the model (Gorenflo, 2015). A growing number of taxi driver cooperatives set up their own online applications to eliminate the intermediation of ride-hailing companies which withhold rights and benefits from the drivers (Scholz, 2014). The Green Taxi Cooperative in Denver, USA, is a unionized worker cooperative that dominates the local marketplace through its successful use of a smartphone taxi-hailing service collectively owned by its members (Peck, 2016).


Boston Collaboratory School - Mentoring Horizontally, Up, Down and Sideways

March 14th, 2017

By Micky Metts

Plans for a new way of connecting students with their community

Problem: Schools and students are traditionally disconnected from their community and seldom do they work on interrelated projects that will benefit both the school and the people of the community.

Solution: Mentoring students to develop free software, such as the Drupal content management system, will introduce students to the myriad of careers and skills necessary to build a successful web presence - cooperatively. A web presence is more than just a website and also includes items like video, audio, and content that is compelling. No longer are we limited to a brochure online type of approach. Engaging people is the name of the game now. Beyond a web presence, students will also be mentored in ways to engage their community in building platform tools owned by the community.

How to: The Boston Collaboratory School will use the free software Drupal as the framework for a curriculum to mentor students in relevant technical and non-technical skills which can be applied at local and global scales. Mentors will connect students’ interests and community needs, with Drupal serving as a gateway to introduce students to the many different career paths they might take. The focus of the Boston Collaboratory School on projects which benefit communities will also give these students practical experience creating ethical businesses in the form of platform cooperatives and participating in the free software movement via the Drupal framework.

Background

The plans for The Boston Collaboratory School started with a team of founders comprised of Boston Public School Teachers, a local youth program leader, and me, as the technologist. The team has submitted a detailed prospectus to the Boston School Administration for a proposed new public high school, and we have passed through the hurdles and requirements with flying colors along with receiving two grants for implementation. As the technology leader, I will assemble the team that will build the foundation for the school administration software using the model of Penn Manor School set up by a teacher, Charlie Reisinger, that is detailed in his book “The Open Schoolhouse”. As Charlie writes, trust is at the core of all projects and trusting students while teaching them to trust their teachers will be a key component to our success. This brings me back to that old adage - truth in advertising, something that has been lost in the glut of sales madness that goes on online. How does one spot extractive technologies and business practices? One intent of the school is to identify and end extractive business policies employed by many corporations that devastate communities and remove value from people at an alarming rate. By teaching cooperative principles and giving voice to alternative business models, we will enlighten students to be more inclusive of their communities when building things that they will use. The development projects within the school will be based on the 7 Cooperative Principles.

The planned curriculum is influenced by three projects:

The first is a course, civic media: collaborative design studio, led by Associate Professor Sasha Costanza-Chock and facilitated by Evan (Rabble) Henshaw-Plath, at M.I.T.. Agaric, a worker-owned web development cooperative which I belong to, was a part of this course in 2016. The course was comprised of four local cooperatives that were each matched with a group of students to make a plan that would get them to the next level - whatever that was determined to be by the groups. Their chosen projects had to benefit the local community in some way, and so venturing out and getting real feedback from people in the area was key to the success of each group. The next level for each cooperative was different and was defined by their outreach and interviews with community members. It could mean a better website, a mobile APP, a business plan or a marketing strategy. Once the goal was determined, each group went about planning their path with gentle guidance from the instructors. The outcome of the 2016 course and the course for 2017 can be seen here - http://codesign.mit.edu

Platform Cooperativism is the second project at work in building the school’s foundational curriculum. It is a movement that has been building for the past four years, starting at the New School in NYC and spreading around the globe. The term, “Platform Cooperativism” was coined by Trebor Scholz and, with his partner Nathan Schneider, they have built a movement around the theory that platforms we use daily should be owned by the people that build them and that use them. Out of this movement Trebor and Nathan have published a book with several authors defining what Platform Cooperativism means on the ground - in the real world. The book Ours to Hack and to Own was recently published as a handbook for the Platform Cooperativism movement and is a great resource unto itself. It gives the reader a foothold on what this movement is all about and suggests some ways to actually get involved. My chapter is about the day to day workings of my cooperative and how we fit into the community as leaders and experts, guiding people to form and grow their own coops. The word “Platform” also relates to Software as a Service (SaaS) and networks, from communication to logistics, which can have huge impact on the people relying on them. This movement is international and includes many different platforms that are needed and are now in process of being built that you can see at The Internet of Ownership, a site maintained by Nathan Schneider and Devin Balkind. The Platform Cooperativism Consortium was formed to gather resources, inter-connect and promote the values of the movement. The Consortium is made up of several higher learning institutes along with groups and individuals that play a role in the movement and have access to a wider range of contacts, experience and information that is vital to the movement.

The capstone project of the Boston Collaboratory School that will bring students and community together will be constructed around Drutopia, a Drupal distribution with the ability to level the playing field for small companies needing customized features and interactivity. Drutopia is built with Drupal. Drupal is a content management system (CMS) that is freely available to anyone for downloading. Tutorials are online and available for free also. As free software, Drupal is licensed as GPVL-3 and code contributions are released back into the development ecosystem for use by others. It is used world-wide on larger enterprise websites as well as individual blogging sites or online shops. It has a vibrant community of developers and enthusiasts that work to build the software on a volunteer basis. Drutopia is an initiative to help Drupal meet the needs of small, low-resourced groups using the CMS to bring about positive change in their communities and societies. The value of Drutopia as a platform cooperative is that the members will own the cooperative and will all be involved in discussing and voting on new and advanced features to either be installed or built by the Drutopia development team - any developer may become a part of this team. This is a work in progress that you can join at https://drutopia.org, a distribution being built with free Drupal software that will be capable of hosting several websites using the same lean codebase.

Curriculum

The students of the Boston Collaboratory School and mentors from the local development community will build a platform together using Drutopia. As a platform, Drutopia drastically lowers the cost of building complex website features such as a shopping cart or setting up an advanced publishing workflow for several contributing editors, writers, bloggers and media producers. As a cooperative the group will vote on what features to add, build or customize. Instead of paying $30,000 for a shopping cart with donation capabilities, the cost would be met by the monthly hosting fees on the Drutopia platform. Depending on the number of members or the vote to determine what the monthly fees should be, the group can more easily afford the upgrades and drastically reduce the price tag.

The students will engage the community in a short series of discussions to define a platform that would be beneficial to the school and to the community. I will use a recycling platform as an example. This platform website could be run as a business to manage the collection of recyclables locally and to sell the materials to a recycling facility. In Boston where the school is located, there is a local cooperative, CERO, which is a coop that is made up of worker-owners from the neighborhood. CERO owners could work with the students to advise on what are the specific inner working needs of a recycling coop. The community members would be invited to get involved at any level they desire, from being a full coop member to actually being an active developer on the project, or just being a user of the service. There is no obligation to become involved. This one project encompasses a lot of different skills from accounting to perhaps designing an actual garbage bin - mapping, planning, logistics and writing about the project are just a few that come to mind. Most of this knowledge and experience can be transferred to other areas in the students’ lives or other work that they do.

This school will use a mentoring down system which means that when the first class is mentored through the basics of Drupal and meeting with the community to find out what is needed, along with learning about the seven cooperative principles, they will mentor younger students in the disciplines they have just learned, while they are mentored through modifying the program to be age appropriate - so the younger students may or may not build a website, but they may work with the community on a different level, providing something that is needed and beneficial to both.

The knowledge and techniques learned will be applied to build a viable cooperative business.

The students will learn the basics of Drupal, which in itself is valuable knowledge and addition to a resume and by becoming actively involved in the local Drupal meetings that happen monthly in Boston, they will both learn and meet people that are on the ground and “doing it”. Everyone is encouraged to set up local Drupal events wherever there is a space, at places such as coffee shops, libraries and, yes - schools. So, students will set up their own Drupal events to spread the knowledge that they will be learning. After school meetings and events to engage the community and students from other neighboring towns and schools is another way to spread the knowledge and techniques they are learning in school. Students will also mentor down to the grades below them, teaching basic Drupal skills and cooperative practices, leading the way to take the younger students through the path they took - always taking the time to meet with the community to find out what is needed.

So far I have mostly talked about programming, learning Drupal as a coder. Everyone is not a coder and there will be plenty for non technical people to do inside the sphere of a Drupal based web presence. A website could use just about any skill you can think of to support the things you will encounter when perusing the site or interacting with the technology. Media is a vast area that provides opportunities for even the casual photo buff or fledgling video producer to take command of an important part of the project. A real estate website, for example, would need a plethora of videos to showoff and display the properties and engage the viewer in a virtual trip through their new home or office space. A news site would obviously need different media types to cast their content into a browser. The written copy on a website is no doubt curated by more than one person, with not only a writer, but also an editor and a graphic designer to place images within the content making it relevant and visual.


California Assembly Bill 626: The Platform Cooperativism Consortium Calls for a People-Centered Approach to Local Regulation

March 12th, 2017

Portland Farmers Market in the South Park Blocks at Portland State University

As the platform cooperative ecosystem continues to grow internationally, with participants sharing ideas, tools, and know-how, it is important that we remember that local grassroots activism begins is a powerful mechanism of change. Already, we have seen how local laws and regulations can radically alter the economy on a municipal level. Residents of Austin, Texas voted last year to regulate basic safety measures into their ride-hail economy, despite a hard-fought opposition campaign by mega-platforms Uber and Lyft. When the two platforms opted to leave the city in protest, numerous alternative platforms emerged. Among these new platforms, driver-owned ATX Coop Taxi has become a dominant player, now controlling one-third of the city’s taxi permits. Following the “one-worker/one-share/one-vote” rule, ATX Coop Taxi has become the third largest worker cooperative in the country. In Austin, its 400 drivers showed that self-governance, higher wages, profit sharing, and fairer work can become a reality for workers in the digital economy. 

The fact that a local victory for drivers turned out to be perhaps the biggest victory yet for a platform cooperative in the United States must be seen as a breakthrough in the tactical orientation of the platform cooperativism movement. This means advocating for legislation that slows the unchecked spread of oligarchical platforms, with the particular focus on regulation that provides meaningful protections for workers and consumers. 

At the same time, policymakers need to focus on emerging markets for which legislation is only just being crafted. There is an acute need to “bake in” protections against the harm that accompanies tendencies of the digital economy, namely a winner-takes-economy with unfair, unethical, inequitable work.

California Assembly Bill 626

The California Assembly Bill 626 is a good example. Recently introduced, the bill aims to decriminalize the homemade food economy in the Golden State further. The ‘cottage food’ industry was partially legalized in 2012 after the passage of the California Homemade Food Act. Under current regulation, however, only certain “non-potentially hazardous” foods including breads, pies, fruit jams, and dried goods are legally permitted to be made in a home kitchen and then offered for sale. This new bill seeks to expand the range of saleable foods to all but the most risky foods and processing practices. Its proponents rightfully argue that such a bill would be a boon to entrepreneurs and eaters alike, bringing a clandestine market into the light and subjecting it to those sensible health and safety regulations that already apply to commercial homemade-food preparation.

As the bill is currently in “spot bill” format, with many of its key details yet to be defined, it is important that we consider how these regulations might best be structured to serve the community. There is a distinct possibility that, if care is not taken to defend it, the new market this bill would be quickly overrun by a handful of Uber-like platforms. 

As with other markets subjected to the logic of platform capitalism, this would mean the consolidation of workers under the platforms with whom they contract. 

We have seen time and again how that plays out: low wages coupled with extractive fees and the reduction if not the elimination of competing small businesses. If legislation can prevent it, it is important that control over products and profits not be taken from those cooks, consumers, and local organizations whom AB 626 is meant to benefit.The Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC), a key advocate of the 2012 bill, has proposed that AB 626 adopt a position similar to California’s farmers’ market legislation, which led to the recent flourishing of a direct farmer-to-consumer economy in the state. Under California law, certified farmers’ markets may only be operated by farmers, nonprofit organizations, or local government agencies. This measure has managed to facilitate the frictionless exchange of goods by preventing for-profit businesses from taking over and exacting a rent on farmer-to-consumer transactions.

The SELC has thus proposed that this new legislation mandate that any web platform in the homemade food market be organized as a worker cooperative, a consumer cooperative, or a nonprofit. The inclusion of such rules would be a boon for the homemade food industry and platform cooperatives both, as such the Platform Cooperativism Consortium fully supports the SELC’s proposal.


The SELC’s proposal can be found here.

The PCC’s supporting proposal can be found here.

If you would like to take action in support of the SELC’s proposal, more information can be found here. You can also contact Christina Oatfield, Policy Director for the SELC, by email.

You can also contact Trebor Scholz, founding-director of the Platform Cooperativism Consortium, by email.


Reflections on platform cooperativism and open source

March 3rd, 2017

By Juho Makkonen

Originally published here on Sharetribe’s Medium page.

Last week, I attended the open:2017 conference in London and came away feeling optimistic. I continue to believe that platform cooperativism — a model where users own and govern the online platforms that mediate their life and work — can offer a path to a more equitable society. My goal, both personally and with Sharetribe, is to build a future where people have more control over their own lives.

From a practical standpoint, I believe the biggest short-term potential of platform cooperativism lies in moving the offerings of existing worker cooperatives online, and the creation of member platforms for the support networks of independent freelancers.

Many worker cooperatives already exist through which independent professionals — from a wide variety of industries — earn their living. The cooperative structure typically helps freelancers with a variety of things: contract negotiation, invoicing, accounting, legal, and so on. Such cooperatives often guarantee that the freelancers have a support network in case they get sick or when they retire. Similar support structures are sometimes organized as NGOs, associations, or unions instead of cooperatives, but they share many of the same principles.

The increased “unionization” of independent workers is an obvious reaction to the “uberization” of work in our modern society. Where traditional labor unions are failing and legislation is lagging behind, new, agile structures are emerging to replace them. From a workers’ point of view, it’s simply common sense to get organized — there are plenty of benefits and few downsides.

A great example of such a support structure is the nonprofit SMart from Belgium. SMart offers tools to handle invoicing, accounting, and taxes for independent workers from different industries. It guarantees they get paid and helps them set up contracts with their customers. SMart currently has 75,000 freelancers from several countries in its network. It also employs multiple people to create services for the network, including several software developers.

There are lots of organizations like SMart out there. This list has close to 100 similar support networks.

As these support structures continue to grow, they will likely increase the gamut of software offered for their members. To me, building a marketplace platform seems like a logical choice for many of these networks. Using such marketplaces, they would be able to easily connect their workers with customer demand. This is something that most support networks currently seem to lack: a good way to market the offerings of their members to potential new customers. Such a service has a great value proposition for their members; everyone wants to get more job opportunities.

The key difference that separates such marketplaces from VC-owned platforms like Upwork, Fiverr, or TaskRabbit is their reason for being. The sole reason for the existence of the support networks is to improve the lives of their workers, whereas VC-funded marketplaces ultimately strive to enrich their shareholders — most of whom are not their workers. In many cases, this means the for-profits will try to extract as much value as possible from the transactions they facilitate. Creating support structures or pension funds for workers is not in their interest since it leads to a less profitable business — at least in the short term. They are also not likely to give their workers the option of democratic governance or ownership of their data. Support networks are heavily incentivised to do all of this, and I think that’s a great value proposition for the workers.

The great thing about support networks like SMart is that they’ve already solved the chicken and egg problem that plagues many marketplace upstarts. They already have a large existing pool of freelancers, which solves the supply side of the equation. Disintermediation is also not a problem: workers will not want to avoid the transaction fees of a platform they own themselves.

I had a chat with people from SMart at the open:2017 conference, and they told me that they’d love to offer such a platform. However, the technology challenges seemed daunting. This is exactly the problem we at Sharetribe are focused on solving. We believe that by creating an open source marketplace platform that all these support networks can easily utilize and adapt to their needs, we can provide a piece that is currently missing from the platform cooperativism equation, and take one more step towards our goal of democratizing platform ownership.


Study Shows European Co-op Associations Welcome Platform Cooperativism (But National Differences Exist)

March 3rd, 2017

Image credit: April Showers - Variations On A Theme

This paper examines the challenges and opportunities of platform cooperativism from the perspective and experience of established cooperatives in Europe. Currently, there are around 180,000 cooperatives in the EU, forming an extensive network articulated at local and national level through long established representative associations. The study, realized by LAMA Agency in collaboration with Cooperatives Europe, argues that the platform cooperative approach could provide a valuable stimulus to evolve and strengthen the business and organizational models of existing co-ops. This approach could enhance their economic resilience in the face of socio-economic challenges. While there is a growing interest of cooperatives in experimenting with new organizational models and digital tools, the pioneers in this area are still in the initial stages of innovation. This paper engaged a sample of 38 cooperative platforms in Europe, mapping the broad variety of models and sectors involved. It is evident that the interviewed cooperative associations are willing to play a role and are starting to implement programs and initiatives to support platform cooperativism. To grow this movement and reach a larger numbers of co-ops, it will be necessary to develop broader strategies to foster institutional advocacy and support innovation. This paper emphasizes the need to consider the distinct types of European co-ops and their local histories and particular challenges.

This study was originally posted on the Cooperatives Europe website.


COOPERATIVE PLATFORMS IN A EUROPEAN LANDSCAPE: AN EXPLORATORY STUDY

Elena Como, Agnès Mathis, Marco Tognetti, Andrea Rapisardi
ISIRC Conference, Glasgow, September 2016


Elena Como is Research and Innovation Area manager at LAMA. She has worked in Italy, Europe, and in a number of developing countries and emerging economies, including India, Mongolia, South Africa, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Bolivia, Tanzania, Albania, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the past two years Elena carried out researches, analysis and benchmarkings on the role of cooperatives into the Sharing Economy at a national and international level. She has extensive experience in the evaluation of public-private partnerships and projects in the field of health and welfare.
Agnès Mathis has worked in the cooperative movement for more than 20 years. After being responsible for European Affairs at Febecoop (the Belgian federation of co-operatives), in 2006 she joined Cooperative Europe as deputy director, in charge of advocacy and institutional relations. Agnès took over the position of Cooperatives Europe Director in June 2016.
Marco Tognetti is a co-founder of the cooperative consulting agency LAMA where he is Executive Director since 2012. He is also a co-founder of the Impact Hub Florence coworking space and the research lab ARCO based at the University of Florence. He carried out external Evaluations, Feasibility studies and consultancies (business modeling/planning) in Italy, Europe and a number of developing countries where he supported private, public bodies and cooperatives to carry out innovative projects.
Andrea Rapisardi is a co-founder of LAMA and of the social research platform ARCO jointly promoted by LAMA and the PIN Centre - University of Florence. Presently, Andrea is the President of LAMA and the reference expert of the company in the area of health, welfare and cooperatives. In this role, he is responsible for developing the company’s external relations with relevant national and international institutions, networks, organizations, and professionals. In his daily practice, he carries out consultancy work for local administrations, private companies, cooperatives, health institutions, scientific associations and nonprofit organizations.

1. Introduction

In the past few years we have assisted to the rapid spread and growth of what is now commonly called the “sharing” or “collaborative economy”. These terms are usually used to refer to a broad and varied group of experiences that, in different ways and sectors, promote the use of digital platforms to connect distributed groups of people and enable them to exchange, share resources, or collaborate in different ways. New collaborative economy platforms are continuously being launched by companies, nonprofits, informal groups, or even public actors, and operate sometimes locally, sometimes at a national or even global scale. The underlying idea is that many existing resources are underutilised by their owners, and they could be better valorized if shared or exchanged with others who may be in need of them. This may be applied to material resources (a spare room in the apartment, or a car that is underutilised by its owner), as well as immaterial resources (time, specific knowledge, etc). The collaborative economy is usually based on digital platforms because these makes it easier, faster, and less expensive to share and exchange, but we are also assisting to the emergence of other forms of “sharing” and “collaboration”, which take for example place in physical spaces (co-working) or through different organizational forms.

The emergence of the collaborative economy comes with the spread and revitalization in the past years of powerful discourses about “collaboration”, “participation”, “sharing”, and so on, which are of course not new in human history, but are taking momentum also due to the economic crisis and the need of people to feel connected and access resources in convenient ways.

We find particularly interesting to investigate the potential interaction between the collaborative economy and cooperative companies. Born in the XIXth century, cooperatives are a large movement counting in 2015 almost 180,000 enterprises in the world, over 140 million members, more than 4,5 billion employees and more than €1,000 billion turnover. Only in Europe, there are 127 million members, meaning that 1 out of 5 people in the EU is a cooperative member, and these numbers are constantly increasing (Cooperatives Europe, 2015).[1]

Despite their continuous growth and territorial presence, like any other social and economic actor cooperatives need constant evolution to maintain and enhance their social and economic role. The underlying hypothesis of the reflections proposed in this paper is that the collaborative economy, with its capacity to design new forms of social interaction and to use digital technologies in smart ways, can be one of the drivers for the innovation of cooperatives companies. On the other hand, we believe that cooperatives as well could provide valuable examples and inputs to the collaborative economy sustainable and positive development, especially by proposing their ownership and governance model and by valorizing their long history and capacity to keep together social and economic objectives in a unique project of local development.

Following this intuition, in 2015 the Unipolis Foundation in Italy promoted together with Generazioni - Legacoop a research titled “From the Sharing Economy to the Collaborative Economy: impacts and opportunities for the cooperative movement” (Como et al., 2015)[2], which explored the possibilities for a convergence between cooperatives and collaborative economy practices. The study, coordinated by LAMA Agency[3] and carried out in collaboration with Social Seed,[4] highlighted a number of possible innovation paths and challenges for the cooperative
movement.

Based on this study, LAMA Agency and Cooperatives Europe[5] decided to develop a similar reflection at European level, and to involve cooperative associations from a broad range of countries.

Through a number of interviews with representatives of national cooperative associations, and through an online mapping survey aimed at identifying existing cases of cooperatives that are already experimenting with collaborative economy logics, this study allowed us to draw an initial picture of the state of the art. More research needs to be done to better understand, especially from an empirical point of view, the dynamics that are developing on the ground between cooperation and collaborative economy and the future challenges and opportunities; however, this constitutes an important first step in an interesting and promising direction.

2. Background and theoretical framework

a. What is the collaborative economy? Concepts, key empirical features, and trends

When we talk about “collaborative economy” we are actually referring to a broad variety of empirical experience that can be very different from one another, and for this reason are sometimes named in different ways (sharing economy, peer economy[6], crowd economy, access economy[7], gig economy, the mesh[8], etc), although the term “collaborative economy” seems to be one of the most used at least in Europe.[9]

In a well known publication on this topics, the organization NESTA gives the following definition:

The collaborative economy as we define it involves using internet technologies to connect distributed groups of people to make better use of goods, skills and other useful things. It allows people to communicate in a peer–to–peer way” (Stokes et al., 2014).

An alternative way to define it is:

a broad and varied group of practices and innovative models that use digital technologies to facilitate collaboration and exchange between peers, and to maximise the use of underutilised resources”.[10]

The collaborative economy is spreading in almost every sector. Although it is not easy to provide an exact taxonomy of such a young and rapidly evolving phenomenon, we can refer to the conceptualization started by Botsman and Rogers (2010) and subsequently elaborated by Stokes et al. (2014), who identified 5 main groups of collaborative economy practices.

The first group, including the large majority of known empirical cases, is defined “collaborative consumption”, and includes all those platforms that allow people to exchange goods and services in a horizontal way. Exchange can be for free, paying or with alternative arrangements; in the case of goods the forms can be diverse including sale, rent, lending, barter, depending on the case. The second group is called “collaborative production”, and refers to the new practices of horizontal collaboration between people and groups that share knowledge and tools for fast prototyping and decentralised production. The third group is “collaborative learning” and refers to the practices of shared knowledge production and diffusion enabled by the web and digital technologies. A fourth group is called “collaborative finance” and includes mainly crowdfunding (debt or equity), peer-to-peer lending, and alternative currency systems. Lastly, “collaborative governance” refers to the emergence of new tools and systems to manage horizontal and decentralised governance (for example through blockchain technologies) and systems of participatory governance at city and community level.

In many cases, the common element is the use of a “platform model”,[11] which takes however a different form in each of the categories and “groups” described above. In particular, the specific rationale and functioning of the platform model as used in collaborative consumption has been described by the European Business Observatory publication “The Sharing Economy: accessibility based business models for peer-to-peer markets” (Dervojeda et. al., 2013). Such accessibility-based business model consists of the creation of an enabling platform that facilitates the matching between supply and demand of goods and services between peers. The company that runs the platform does not own means of production, does not deliver the specific services, does not even select the worker that will deliver the service; rather, it provides the enabling infrastructure for the market transaction between peers. Since trust between users is a prerequisite for peer-to-peer markets, the platform provides a reputational rating-driven mechanism. The platform usually takes a commission for each transaction, gets paid in the form of subscriptions, or finds other sources of income streams such as sponsorships.

Collaborative consumption, considered its potential for the creation of monetary exchanges and for the generation of real (peer-to-peer) markets, tends to be a ground of development for enterprises with a commercial nature, which find in them a proper and profitable business opportunity. Thanks to the scaling potential of such platforms, they are able to attract big investments from venture capitalists, and some are emerging as proper global actors. The commercial nature of collaborative platforms generates some criticism concerning their governance and the way value is generated and appropriated. Indeed, there is an issue emerging from the fact that while users bring to the platforms the fundamental assets that create value, the deriving profits are appropriated by the restricted group of platform owners. Moreover, the large multinational platforms are criticised because of their “unfair” competition with existing businesses, which is made possible by regulation gaps. Other issues concern the lacking protection of consumers and workers in these new and still unregulated platforms.

However, as we have already recalled, there are many more types of peer-to-peer platforms that promote exchange, barter, and even peer-to-peer services on a small scale and in a fairer way, qualifying themselves as possible new forms of social businesses.

In general, it seems evident that the broad diversity of actors behind different collaborative economy experiences (in terms of legal form, mission, etc) brings with it important differences in terms of social impact. Indeed, bottom-up initiatives promoted by nonprofit organizations, differently from the cases discussed above, aim to promote exchanges that are more based on solidarity (gift, volunteering, etc), reciprocity and a desire to promote strong ties between people. We may speak of a form of “collaboration” that is “cooperative” rather than “competitive”, because the peer-to-peer relation is inspired by shared values and an idea of positive impact on the community.[12]

b. The policy context at European and member States level

The interest of the European Commission on the phenomenon is very recent. Only in June 2016 (European Commission, 2016c) it released an official position about the Collaborative Economy, focusing mainly on the collaborative consumption and peer-to-peer markets due to three main reasons:

a) Economic potential: in 2015 the aggregate turnover reached by these type of businesses was € 28 billion;

b) Consumers’ opportunities: the European consumer’s interest, in terms of prices reduction and savings, is solid and high (European Union: European Commission, 2016b);

c) New markets generation: it’s likely the emergence of new side-businesses able to capture the potential of these fast growing markets (indirect employment impact).

The debate around the collaborative economy impact on traditional businesses and on existing legal frameworks moves the Commission to consider the correlated risks of “blurring the lines between consumer and provider, employee and self-employed, or the professional and non-professional provision of services” in terms of quality and quantity of employment generated, labour protection and safety and labour rights, consumer behaviour, safety and protection in a highly fragmented legal framework among the different EU countries and risks of democracy and access to markets opportunities.

Considering “bans and quantitative restriction of an activity normally constituted a measure of last resort”, the EC and Member States attest on a “normalizing approach”, based on the introduction of new rules to reduce national gaps in terms of regulation while avoid threatening the innovative potential of these businesses. As mentioned in the document, “when reassessing the justification and proportionality of legislation applicable to the collaborative economy, national authorities should generally take into consideration the specific features of collaborative economy business models and the tools they may put in place to address public policy concerns, for instance in relation to access, quality or safety. For example, rating and reputational systems or other mechanisms to discourage harmful behaviour by market participants may in some cases reduce risks for consumers stemming from information asymmetries.” (European Union: European Commission, 2016c:4). Following this “prudential” regulatory approach, few are the documents advocating for direct support measures to the collaborative economy.

The DG Growth, is entitled to treat both the cooperative movement and the collaborative economy topic (European Union: European Commission, 2016a). Between July 2013 and November 2014, the former Commissioner Antonio Tajani promoted a dedicated working group with the aim to “assess the specific needs of cooperative enterprises with regard to a wide variety of issues such as the appropriate EU regulatory framework, the identification of barriers at national level, the internationalization of cooperatives, financial and business support mechanisms, entrepreneurship education and the general promotion of the cooperative model among young people as well as the potential of business transfers into cooperatives to avoid business close downs.” (European Union: European Commission, 2015). However, even though Collaborative Economy and Cooperatives live at the same EC’s floor, no official document has yet started to explore the opportunities of interactions between the two. Recent EU publications (e.g. Centre for European Policy Studies “The Impact of the collaborative Economy on the Labour Market”[13], “The Cost of Non-Europe in the Sharing Economy”[14] and “The Future of Work in the Sharing Economy”[15]), still never mention the cooperative form as an option to mitigate the risks related to the collaborative economy.

Thus, as we will see later, our initial empirical investigation found that many cases are already emerging on the ground.

c. Collaborative economy and cooperatives: why?

The first interest in the relationship between cooperatives and collaborative economy comes from the United States. The USA are indeed the motherland of some large global platforms that were the first to show the risks and downsides of a commercial and uncontrolled exploitation of so-called peer-to-peer markets.

In 2014, Trebor Scholz, Associate Professor for Culture & Media at The New School in New York City, proposed his analysis where he criticised these platforms for their deceptive use of collaborative economy discourses, and explained how they actually realize profits by operating in unregulated markets and extracting value from people’s work, time, capacity, and assets (Scholz, 2014). Indeed, these platforms push for the emergence of large masses of precarious on-demand workers, who are not formally recognized as employees and have no rights or say in the company they depend on. At the same time, the platforms do not take any responsibility in relation to the quality and safety of the services provided by their on-demand “freelance” workers, and on the socio-economic or environmental impacts on the local communities. In order to regain control over the platforms and tackle these issues, Scholz proposed the idea of “Platform Cooperativism” (Scholz, 2016) suggesting that if platforms were controlled by their users – organized in the form of a cooperative – most of the governance and social responsibility issues would be solved. Moreover, the shared ownership of the platform would also allow for a fairer distribution of the value produced to the people who actually created it, instead of handing it over to a restricted group of venture capital investors. Lastly, if the platform were a cooperative, it would also be an opportunity for strengthening solidarity and social ties among workers, fighting the tendency towards new forms of alienated on-demand employment.

Despite at present little practical evidence exists, the idea of platforms cooperatives is now spreading in Europe through the dissemination work carried out by Scholz (2014, 2015a, 2016) and Nathan Schneider (2015b), and has had in the past 2 years a certain degree of success, stimulating some debate among researchers and observers of the collaborative economy phenomenon.

Moreover, the platform cooperative debate seems for now to be focusing mainly on the need to democratize existing collaborative economy platforms, or fostering the birth of new “more democratic” ones. Less attention seems to be paid, instead, to the issue of how the collaborative economy could transform existing cooperative businesses, or how existing cooperatives could develop their brand new collaborative models driven by their specific innovation needs. This perspective, which focuses on the birth of collaborative innovations from within the cooperative movement, raises a number of important questions as to how cooperatives could incorporate new elements from the collaborative economy model, without losing their distinctive features and principles, and valorizing instead their acquired strengths in view of a better capacity to adapt to the changing socio-economic systems.

To our knowledge, except from the already mentioned research promoted by Unipolis Foundation in Italy, no other analysis has been proposed so far under this specific perspective. In order to verify the validity and potential of such an approach, there is need to better understand to what extents (and where, how, with what results, under what specific circumstance, etc.) cooperatives are already applying and adapting the collaborative economy on the ground. This is what we aimed to start with this first European exploratory study.

Finally, in order to avoid any confusion, we will only refer here to formally established cooperatives. This specification is, according to us, necessary at least at an initial stage of analysis, since the cooperative ownership model is indeed the focal point of the platform cooperative concept (i.e. cooperatives are an interesting option because they imply shared property and governance). Moreover, cooperatives show also other distinctive features (related to their peculiar history, the codification of their shared values and principles) that deserve specific attention in a reflection that considers cooperatives holistically.[16]

3. Exploring the state of the art and potential of the collaborative economy for cooperatives in the EU

Against the background explained above, the objective of this study is to highlight the challenges and potential of the collaborative economy for European cooperatives, and in particular to collect the direct voice of their representative associations on this topic.

This paper represents to our knowledge the first attempt of this kind, despite the fact that, as we have recalled in the previous sections, the interest is growing and some debate around the relationship between cooperativism and collaborative economy is starting to take momentum especially in the collaborative economy circles.

For the empirical part of the study we engaged the representatives of national cooperative associations in 9 different EU member states, realizing semi-structured interviews to explore the research topic from an initial comparative and multi-country perspective.

In addition to this, we developed and launched an international online mapping survey in 3 languages to identify European cooperatives that are implementing innovations in the collaborative economy field. The survey, together with an accompanying desk review and a mobilization of territorial networks, provided a valuable tool to identify a broad range of collaborative economy initiatives born inside the cooperative movement, providing the basis for future research and innovation actions.[17]

In the following paragraphs, we present the main finding from the interviews with cooperative associations and the review of the first mapping results.

a. How the collaborative economy is perceived and approached by cooperatives organisations in EU members States

The study was open to the participation of all national cooperative associations present in Europe, focusing in particular on Cooperatives Europe’s members. Top representatives (presidents and directors) of the associations were contacted and invited for an in-depth exchange on the topic, and 10 of them (representing 8 European countries), gave their availability. The countries represented (and corresponding associations involved) are: Austria (association: Österreichischer Genossenschaftsverband, ÖGV), Belgium (association: Febecoop), Czech Republic (association: Družstevní Asociace České republiky, DACR),[18] France (associations: CoopFR and CG Scop), Italy (associations: Legacoop and Confcooperative), Netherlands (association: NCR), Poland (association: KRS), and the UK (association: Co-operatives UK).[19]

The interviews addressed 5 broad research questions:[20]

1.What is the understanding of the collaborative economy on the part of the national cooperative movements, and their general attitudes towards this emerging phenomenon?

2. What are the levels of awareness and knowledge of the collaborative economy among individual cooperatives at the ground level, and their degree of interest in terms of innovation potential?

3. What is the actual spread of innovative practices among the cooperatives? What key sectors and types of cooperative innovations are directly or indirectly being inspired by the collaborative economy?

4. What is the role of cooperative umbrella associations, in terms of promoting awareness, debate, and experimentation?

5. What are the key challenges, opportunities, and future paths for cooperatives in the collaborative economy field?

The study highlighted a very diverse situation in the different participating countries. Indeed, each country presents a different socio-economic context, a different history and configuration of the cooperative movement, and a different present landscape in terms of sectors, innovation trends, priorities, and attitudes of cooperatives towards the new forms of collaboration. Countries such as the UK, France, and Italy for example, have a long and renowned cooperative tradition and present a high number of cooperatives that are developed also in mature markets. In these countries, some cooperatives have reached a significant size (in terms of membership, turnover, employess), and their innovation dynamics are influenced by the conditions of the different markets in which they operate. The situation is different in the former socialist countries, such as Poland and the Czech Republic, which have been confronted to structural challenges since the collapse of USSR. In these latter countries, cooperatives are struggling to retrieve a bigger role in society and in the national economic system, and the collaborative economy is perceived as an additional potential opportunity to foster social trust and promote a new collaborative culture, although the movement is not yet strong enough to embrace it immediately.

In the middle between these two opposite poles, stand other European countries with their diverse cooperative traditions and their specific challenges and opportunities. Moreover, in all countries analysed, there is also a clear difference between long established historical cooperatives, and younger cooperative startups, that are created by younger people who tend to have a higher capacity to exploit digital technologies and to be closer to the collaborative economy culture.

The high diversity that characterises the country contexts and the cooperative movements in the different member countries points to the need to avoid any generalizations when looking at how the collaborative economy concepts and practices are being received and eventually incorporated within existing systems at country level.

Overall, across the different countries, the interviews found a prevailing (though not universal) positive attitude of the interviewed associations towards the idea of developing innovation with the collaborative economy.

In the UK and France in particular, and then increasingly also in Belgium and in Austria, there is a growing awareness of the potential of the collaborative economy for cooperative companies, and a desire of representative associations to see cooperatives take the lead of this emerging phenomenon. In France, the debate on the collaborative economy is growing fast as part of a broader debate on the social economy, a debate that is trying to redefine the borders of these concepts in a more open and inclusive way. As Jean-Louis Bancel, President of CoopFR, put it: “Collaboration and cooperation can take many forms, but we are all part of the same family and we should not fear the differences, rather we should include them and offer our distinctive (cooperative) solutions to tackle the critical issues of the collaborative platforms”. Similarly and even stronger approache was expressed by E. Mayo Co-operatives UK Secretary General: “It is a matter of survival”, “cooperatives will have to explore new paths of innovation if they want to be always competitive and continuously regenerate their model, to promote their values and principles, and play a leading role in the changed socio-economic context”.

The collaborative economy is seen in these countries as an interesting novelty and an opportunity to develop much needed innovations in the cooperative sector. Indeed, even in the field of collaboration, which cooperatives have championed for long time (cooperatives have been the first type of enterprise to develop a specific model based on the principles of collaboration, participation, valorization of people and community assets, etc.) the collaborative economy is bringing about important transformations. As a consequence, according to these representatives, cooperatives should renew their models to adapt to changing times, and prevent a risk of losing ground and missing important opportunities. They stress an urgent need for cooperatives to catch up in particular with the new digital technologies and forms of sharing.

Put in these terms, the cooperative associations of these countries see a synergy between cooperatives and collaborative economy as not only possible but also highly desirable and almost inevitable. They further think that cooperative associations should act quickly to stimulate and support their members in this direction.

Interviewed cooperative associations from France and the UK are working actively on this topic. The French association CG Scop following the release of a report from the French Conseil National du Numérique-CNNum, which highlighted the potential of cooperative platforms to address collaborative economy’s challenges (2016), gave birth to a specific work group with the aim to work on the practical promotion of innovative hybrid projects that apply the collaborative economy to cooperatives. The work group is now planning to build an accelerator of collaborative economy projects for cooperatives, and will eventually establish a first experimental project to create a prototype of platform cooperative that keeps together the key elements of the collaborative economy and the 7 principles of cooperation adopted by the International Cooperative Alliance.[21] Similarly, Co-operatives UK is using its existing infrastructure to support the birth of platform cooperatives (for example through the Microgenius crowdfunding platform), and experimenting directly the use collaborative governance tools such as Loomio.[22] In both countries, the associations feel the urgency to raise awareness among their members cooperatives in relation to this important matter, and are making an effort in this direction.[23]

In Austria and Belgium the interviewed associations have started more recently but are being proactive on the topic. The Austrian cooperative association ÖVG reported that they are making important efforts to raise the interest of cooperative companies and is supporting the birth of new platforms in the cooperative form through the Crowdcoopfunding platform. The priority, according to the association, is to avoid that new platforms are born only in the limited company form, therefore there is need to make the cooperative option more known and appealing especially for young entrepreneurs. In Belgium as well there have been some initiatives promoted by the association Febecoop to communicate and promote collaborative practices among cooperatives, for example through the creation of a specific coworking space.

In other countries, such as Italy and the Netherlands, perceptions and attitudes of the cooperative associations towards the collaborative economy are more mixed, and the associations seem to be more cautious about some aspects of this phenomenon.

In Italy, for example, the association Legacoop interviewed for this study suggests that the cooperative movement should take a careful approach when considering the collaborative economy topic, in order to make a distinction between real sharing practices and disruptive on-demand markets. Considered the many controversial issues raised by the latter, the representative of Legacoop suggested that cooperatives should distance themselves from any platforms and practices that are found to be incompatible with cooperative principles, and prefer a dialogue with the most genuinely sharing experiences, which can also offer inspiration with regards to digital innovation. Similarly, the association Confcooperative with reference again to the Italian context, raises similar criticism in relation to the risks of large capitalistic on-demand platforms, and wishes for the birth of smaller, local, cooperative platforms from within the cooperative movement. To encourage this, Confcooperative started promoting some debate and training on the collaborative economy topic within its Coop Up project, which promotes cooperative startups across Italy. Some attempts to identify specific opportunities and raise interest among cooperatives have been made also in Italy also through the dissemination of the already mentioned pioneering study promoted in 2015 by the Unipolis Foundation and the youth group of Legacoop Generazioni. The research, titled “From the Sharing Economy to the Collaborative Economy: Impact and opportunities for the cooperative movement” (Como et al., 2015) raised awareness among cooperatives and started stimulating a debate that however has not yet become mainstream in the country.

In the Netherlands, the reasons for a cautious approach to the collaborative economy are different if not totally opposite from the Italian ones. The Association NCR, interviewed for this research, expressed appreciation for the collaborative economy phenomenon and for the birth of new social innovation initiatives, but expressed also some concern about the fact that many of the small, local platforms that are choosing to become cooperatives in the country, seem to be approaching the cooperative model mainly for ideological and value reasons, failing to understand the economic dimension of being a cooperative in a competitive context. By focusing predominantly on the social aspects of cooperation, they tend to underestimate the importance of a sustainable business model, and therefore face a high risk of failure. The spread of these cooperative platforms, which certainly represent a positive sign of civic activation in the Netherlands, is a concern for the cooperative association interviewed as it may undermine the economic role of cooperatives and push them towards purely civic initiatives.

Lastly, in Poland and the Czech Republic, the debate on the collaborative economy is still starting to emerge. This is mainly due to the contextual factors that derive from the history and current transformations of these countries. In Poland, the interviewed association, KRS observed that the communist legacy left a generalised distrust of the population in the cooperative concept (which is still linked to the memory of past communist collectives); the predominant culture in the country seems to be individualistic, and the idea of private ownership of goods and assets is generally preferred over sharing or direct exchange with other citizens. He nonetheless also reported that the main global platforms (Airbnb and Uber in particular) are used by a growing number of younger people in Poland, who find them smart and convenient, without however identifying them with a “sharing” or “collaborative” concept. According to the perception of the interviewee, the country in general does not experience a debate, neither in positive nor in negative terms, about the collaborative economy, but he believes that a higher diffusion of these practices would be desirable, as it would bring a positive cultural change and contrast individualism and social distrust.

In the Czech Republic, on the other hand, after a period of social atomization following the end of the communist period, our interviewee observes that some forms of civic organization and collective action are now starting to gain ground again in the country, and there is some evidence of collaborative economy initiatives born on the ground. However, the debate on this topic is reported to be almost inexistent, and the collaborative economy tends to be overlooked by policymakers and academics. Despite the interest of some bottom-up collaborative economy experiences in embracing the cooperative form, these are still small both in economic terms and in terms of membership, and the cooperative association is yet to take proactive actions in this field.

b. An overall picture of existing experiences and trends in the countries

Through our online mapping survey, and through the activation of relevant European cooperative networks, we collected empirical data on the emergence of these experiences on the ground. As mentioned, in order to focus on the dynamics that concern the cooperative movement, we decided to include in this mapping only established and formally recognized cooperative companies. Indeed, the aim here is to identify innovations taking place within the cooperative movement, or new initiatives that opt for a cooperative ownership model.[24] We have also included few projects that are developed by cooperative consortia, networks, or associations, and that act as internal instruments of the cooperative movement to promote innovation and startups that make use of the the collaborative economy model through a cooperative form.

To date, after screening for these characteristics, we have identified 38 cases that correspond to the requirements in 11 European countries,[25] plus 3 international initiatives that filled our survey from outside the EU.[26] The mapping has just started and we aim to reach more and more cooperatives in the future, across the EU, and potentially beyond.

The types of experiences found are very diverse and confirm the different ways in which cooperatives can use and adapt the collaborative economy principles to develop their own projects and businesses, in a distinctive cooperative form. Below we present a synthesis of the cases.

First of all, we should observe that over 80% (31 out of 38) of the collaborative economy initiatives done by cooperatives rely heavily on digital technology as a key enabling factor. This confirms the strong relationship between the collaborative economy and digital innovation. However, not all of these “digital coops” (as we may call them) are digital platforms stricto sensu, meaning that they have created an online space where their members (or users, because most times the platforms are used also by non-coop members) can exchange resources or realise some form of horizontal collaboration. Only in 60% of the total cases technology is used to realise such peer-to-peer collaboration, in line with the platform model.[27]

Proper cooperative platforms are of different types. A common type arethe car sharing platforms (for example the Belgian Partago, the Spanish Som Mobilitat, etc.). Another type are the cooperative platforms that facilitate matching for peer-to-peer support and services (examples are Wehelpen in Austria and La Spesa Social in Italy). One (Piacere Milano) matches hosts and guests and promotes forms of experiential tourism. Another one matches people who offer food in excess with people who may consume it (S-cambia), and so on we may continue with similar experiences in different sectors. These are generally very small platforms, which operate at local level and have a small number of users, nothing comparable with well-known giants such as Uber or Airbnb. Another area in which we found a few cases are the cooperative crowdfunding platforms, born to support the birth of new coops with digital engagement strategies; these are promoted directly by cooperatives (an example is the French Jefinanceunprojetcoopératif) or by cooperative consortia and representative associations (eg. Microgenius in the UK).

The collaborative economy projects that are “digital” but do not take the form of proper platforms, on the other hand, tend to make different uses of technology. Some use it to reach and engage people in social projects that entail different forms of sharing, but cannot be described as peer-to-peer collaboration. For example, the project Vesta developed by the Italian cooperative Camelot uses a digital platform to recruit families that want to host refugees in their houses, “sharing” their spare rooms with those who need them. The project is definitely “sharing”, and digital as well, but cannot be defined “peer-to-peer” between families and refugees, because of the role that the cooperative still plays through the delivery of its professional services. Indeed, the cooperative remains in charge of providing all the integration services to the refugee, of monitoring the results, training the families and so on, and (fortunately, in this case) we cannot at all talk about “disintermediation”.

Another way in which cooperatives can use technology to implement collaborative practices is by applying it to their internal governance systems, for strengthening and innovating participation of members and communities. It is the example of cooperatives using Loomio, or Backfeed, but also the example of the Community Platform of the Flora Royal Holland cooperative in the Netherlands. Moreover, there are cooperatives that thanks to the use of new technologies are innovating the experience of collective purchasing groups, and promoting new forms of solidarity and collective action.

Lastly, we referred to the existence of a number of initiatives that are not technological in their nature (around 20% of the cases mapped). These are mainly coworking and collaborative spaces promoted by cooperatives in different contexts, which confirm the importance of this kind of experiences and the interest of cooperatives in the creation of opportunities to be “physically together”. These are initiatives that meet the idea of collaboration and sharing but do not have technology at their core, although of course they may use technology in other ways.

Another interesting result of the mapping is that we could identify more than one example of collaborative economy projects developed by cooperatives to improve B2B relationships and sharing. This is particularly interesting if we think at cooperatives as a movement, as emphasised also by the 6th cooperative principle stated by the International Cooperative Alliance (cooperation among cooperatives). An example of a B2B platform for cooperatives is the France Barter.

The high diversity of these experiences demonstrates once again the power of the collaborative economy concept as an inspiration for cooperative innovation. Most of the mapped cases correspond, however, to new cooperatives (start-ups) that are born within the collaborative economy movement. Only in a minority of the cases, pre-existing cooperatives have developed collaborative economy projects, although this is happening in some cases, especially among consumer cooperatives and social cooperatives.

In terms of industrial sectors, the most touched by the collaborative economy initiatives mapped are mobility, energy, tourism, finance, and food, although there are also other sectors and multisectoral initiatives, and many more may be identified by our mapping in the future.

Another interesting element that emerges from the mapping survey[28] is that only in 16% of the cases the cooperatives developed collaborative projects specifically for their members, while in 16% of the cases projects aimed also at members of other cooperatives, and in 68% collaborative services were meant for the broaderpublic, open to everyone irrespective of their being or not being cooperative members.

Lastly, a significant number of cooperatives (32%) developed initiatives at the local level, 20% at the regional level, 24% aim to cover the national level, and 24%
that aim at an international level. Overall, numbers of people actually reached so far are quite low. According to the numbers declared by the cooperatives involved, in 40% of the initiatives fewer than 100 people participated, in 30% of cases the users have been between 100 and 1000, in 9% of the cases between 1000 and 5000, and in 9% of the cases over 5000 (reaching the peak of 100,000). This of course depends also on the type of initiatives (eg. coworking vs digital platform), and on their geographical ambition.

Although the mapping methodology[29] does not allow, especially on such limited numbers, to produce an objective picture of the phenomenon in Europe, we may already find in this empirical evidence some interesting elements for future analysis and continuous data collection.

c. Barriers, opportunities and open questions for the future

From this exploratory study we can highlight a number opportunities that may emerge from the application of the collaborative economy principles and tools to cooperative companies. These have been suggested by the exchange with the interviewees from different cooperative associations. They partly overlap and confirm the results emerged from the previous research carried out in Italy already mentioned at the beginning of this paper (Como et al, 2015), and partly add new elements that we deserve attention in future research.

First of all, cooperatives could develop their own collaborative platforms to enable different types of collaboration and exchange between peers. This research suggests that currently cooperatives prefer to create platforms that can be used by anyone and not just by coop members (which means that there is no actual correspondence between users and owners, as sometimes is assumed when we talk about “platform cooperatives”), but this would probably depend also on the type of platform and on the sectors in which it operates. A specific suggestion raised by cooperative representative is to develop platforms for freelance workers, to facilitate and mutualise work in this growing but challenging sector. Other suggestions concerned the possibility to promote platforms based on non-monetary exchange and alternative currencies.

Secondly, cooperatives could use the new collaborative governance tools to improve their internal processes and to increase/improve participation and empowerment of their members. Indeed, although cooperative ownership gives people the formal right to participate to decision-making processes, in medium and large-sized cooperatives this is not as easy in practice. We have seen the cases of Loomio or Backfeed as examples of how digital technologies can propose new ways to tackle this challenge and facilitate the participation of large and distributed communities of members as well as stakeholders. Having the right e-governance tools would become particularly important in the case of platforms and digital cooperatives with high numbers of distributed members.

Thirdly, cooperatives could develop new models for managing the commons, which exploit the potential of digital technologies as suggested also by the “open cooperativism” movement. This would be an opportunity for cooperatives to play a bigger role in this area where they have already experimented with success in the past, and to pioneer new viable solutions to manage collective resources in an open and at the same time economically sustainable way.

Fourthly, cooperatives could look at the collaborative production and open manufacturing movements as an inspiration to think of new ways to mobilize distributed creativity. Moreover, in history a great number of agricultural cooperatives started enabling small producers to gather by sharing common facilities (olive-press, tractors and trucks, etc.etc.). Collaborative production in the manufacturing field has then a lot in common with the traditional cooperative DNA.

Lastly, they could develop new platforms for collaboration and exchange among cooperatives. These could be used to facilitate knowledge sharing, enable inter-cooperative exchange of resources and services, realize common projects and build national and international networks, ultimately valorizing cooperatives’ potential as a movement that counts over 130,000 enterprises in Europe (Ica.coop, 2016), in basically all economic sectors, with 127 million members, more than 4 million employees, and nearly €990 billion annual turnover (Cooperatives Europe, 2015). Inter-cooperative collaboration can largely benefit from the use of technologies, and from a “platform approach” that is now enabled by the use of digital technologies.

In all the possibilities mentioned above, the key element that generates the shift from current cooperative practices towards the new, so-called “collaborative” models is digital innovation. As one of the interviewees pointed out “digital innovation gives power to cooperatives’ mission”, because it allows to do more, better, and at a larger scale what cooperatives have been doing for along time: mobilizing community resources, fostering people’s collaboration, promoting democratic governance and control.

However, there are a number of barriers that make these innovations and shift particularly challenging to implement.

One is the difficulty of established cooperatives to develop and incorporate this type of innovation. This is due to obvious difficulties in converting existing businesses. As we have already highlighted, digital innovation and collaborative economy models tend to be more easily incorporated by younger cooperatives, therefore if we are to promote collaborative economy innovations there is a need to promote the birth of brand new cooperatives, born under this innovative logic. This requires that the cooperative model be better communicated and made more appealing to the youth, who will otherwise find their collaborative economy ventures under a different legal form.

Another barrier to the birth of new cooperatives is the lack of appropriate financial instruments to attract equity capital and long-term investments, which slows down innovation and creates a disadvantage compared to capitalistic competitors.

Another limit is the tendency of recently created cooperatives to remain local, small in size, and insufficiently interconnected. Technology would allow them as any other operator to work on a larger scale and to overcome the barriers of space and time, but cooperatives are attached to their territory (which is in many ways a strength and distinctive feature) and sometimes remain small and marginal on the market.[30] In the face of globalised collaborative economy markets this can become a weakness as it may become impossible for local cooperative platforms to resist the competition of large multinational platforms. Cooperatives would therefore need to scale up their size or build trans-local networks of interconnected cooperatives that can challenge the capacity of international competitors to penetrate their territories.

Another challenge concerns the difficulty to “copy” ideas and models from the collaborative economy platforms without making the mistake of exactly replicating what they are doing. There is a risk of copying the same mistakes and weakening the cooperative model if cooperatives are not able to preserve their distinctive features, such as indeed the bonding with local territories, the capacity to mutualise risks and benefits, the capacity to promote shared growth and long-term local development. For example, it has been observed that cooperatives could develop new platforms for freelance workers but they should on the other hand avoid to push all people to become freelancers, and on the contrary fight against the polarization and precarization of work which is a tendency of the on-demand economy. The  preservation of democratic governance in potentially large scale cooperative platforms is also a complex challenge, as we should not assume that technology alone can be the answer.

Overall, the biggest challenge is to apply cooperative values online, and to operationalise cooperative principles (as defined by the International Cooperative Alliance) through new forms of cooperation that may be quite different from those used for the past couple of centuries.

4. Conclusions and implications for future research and policy

This exploratory research intended to propose a new perspective on the relationship between the cooperatives and the collaborative economy in Europe, by gathering the perceptions and opinions of representatives of the cooperative movement in different countries, and by collecting some initial evidence of how cooperatives on the ground are actually engaging with collaborative economy innovations. The final aim of this reflection is to identify any potential opportunities and challenges deriving from the application and adaptation of collaborative economy models in cooperatives, and from the development of new “collaborative practices” from within the cooperative  movement.

The conclusions that we present here are based on the first ideas collected from our interviewees and review of empirical cases. They are not to be considered as official positions of Cooperatives Europe nor of the cooperative associations involved. Nor they are to be considered as the arrival point of a research process that has just started. The suggestions we present will necessarily need to be analysed more in detail, and supported by sound research to be assessed for their actual feasibility and desirability in practice; nonetheless, we believe they can provide a first interesting stimulus on this topic for the European research and policy community.

Overall, the considerations raised by this study suggest that cooperatives may potentially benefit from engaging with the collaborative economy phenomenon. In particular, by exploring its innovation potential, it was suggested that cooperatives may discover new interesting ways to update and transform some of their established features, to better fit the emerging developments at societal, market, and technological level.

As some cooperative leaders highlighted in this research, cooperatives would first of all benefit from a deeper understanding and reflection on the collaborative economy topic. In general terms, it seems important that cooperatives approach this topic soon, and in an open and proactive way. It was highlighted that cooperatives should look at the positive potential of the collaborative economy phenomenon, and not fear it the even when it leads to the emergence of new, global competitors that use a “collaborative” language mainly for commercial purposes. Cooperatives have internal histories and resources which might allow them to build alternative models challenging such competitors, developing their new distinctive solutions that are in line with cooperative principles and fundamental values.

The cooperative movement, it was observed, has demonstrated the capacity to combine economic growth and impact with the capacity to promote significant forms of empowerment, participation, and social interconnectedness. These are an important asset in the collaborative economy model, and if cooperatives are able to valorise them also in digital ways, they may become their distinctive added value into this emerging movement. Cooperatives can indeed contribute to the collaborative economy with a new (new for the collaborative economy, not for cooperatives) idea of community that is based on membership rather than usership. Moreover, by valorising their widespread presence across Europe and beyond, it was suggested that cooperatives might also use the collaborative economy model to build large interconnected networks across the territories that challenge the collaborative economy incumbents.

Another area of opportunity and idea which emerged from the research is that cooperatives might also benefit from exploring more and deeper the potential of new concepts such as “collaborative production”, “collaborative learning and knowledge”, and new fields of development such as the area of the commons, where they can play an important role and contribute to sustainable social and economic development.

However, this preliminary study suggests also that a cooperative movement willing to fully invest the collaborative economy potentials may be confronted to a number challenges, for example:

  • to raise awareness of the collaborative economy models and features and to understand the reasons and structural basic conditions for its success;
  • to encourage existing cooperatives to exploit the potential of digital and web technologies to update and upgrade their internal participation patterns;
  • to support the development of new cooperatives setting up financial, technical and strategic support schemes at national and EU level;
  • to set up relevant frameworks to pilot solutions, evaluate results and replicate successes fostering at the same time an open and distributed discussion aimed at balancing the presence of the sole “capitalist-based collaborative economy” narrative.

The relevance of the opportunities that seem to emerge from this initial scoping of the topic, and the complexity of the challenges that accompany them, suggest that more research is needed in this area, to better understand emerging dynamics and possible ways forward.

At the same time, this study suggests that there would also be room to stimulate the EU at institutional level, to consider the possible role of the cooperative legal form into peer-to-peer commercial markets. Cooperatives can match democracy, transparency, local and global impact, employment regulation, consumer safety and redistribution “by form”, with the power of a digital, user friendly, attractive and effective environment typical of the collaborative economy business models. Moreover, from governance to learning platforms, and considering the wide world of non-commercial sharing activities in many way based on – or fostered by – digital social platforms, an even bigger space of opportunities could be opened up by looking at the possible contribution of cooperatives.

Lastly, the promotion of a collaborative-cooperative economy, deeply enrooted in local territories and combining economic opportunities with social and democratic values, may possibly represent also a valuable path for the EU institutions to strengthen reputation among citizens, and to effectively pursue the objective of a smart, sustainable, and inclusive growth, ultimately improving wellbeing, social cohesion and security in Europe.

5. Acknowledgements

We acknowledge for the contributions to the research:

  • Jean-Louis Bancel – President, CoopFR (France)
  • Matteo Bettoli – In charge of Cooperative Promotion and Development, Confcooperative (Italy)
  • Stéphane Boulanger – Director, Febecoop (Belgium)
  • Louis Cousin – Project Officer, Cooperatives Europe (Belgium)
  • Catherine Friedrich – Research Director, CG Scop (France)
  • Mauro Lusetti – President, Legacoop (Italy)
  • Ed Mayo – Secretary General, Co-operatives UK (United Kingdom)
  • Adam Piechowski – Director, KRS (Poland)
  • Christian Pomper – Board Member, Österreichischer Genossenschaftsverband (ÖGV) (Austria)
  • Ilona Švihlíková – Expert, economist, Alternativa Zdola, collaborator of Družstevní Asociace České republiky (DACR) (Czech Republic)
  • Arjen Van Nuland – Director, NCR (Netherlands)

6. Bibliography

7. Notes

[1] Since 2009, cooperative enterprises in Europe have increased by 12% and members have increased by 14%. For more statistics and information on cooperatives in Europe see www.coopseurope.coop.

[2] Original title: “Dalla sharing economy all’economia collaborativa: l’impatto e le opportunità per il movimento cooperativo”.

[3] LAMA Agency is a cooperative consultancy company that carries out research and strategic consulting activities in different fields, including digital, organizational, and social innovation. LAMA works with a broad range of partners and clients including companies, nonprofits, public administrations, international organizations. In particular, LAMA has 10 years of experience supporting innovation of cooperative companies in Italy and abroad (www.agenzialama.eu).

[4] Social Seed in an Italian consulting company working in the area of social innovation (www.socialseed.eu)

[5] Cooperatives Europe is the umbrella organisation bringing together cooperative organizations from 33 European countries (https://coopseurope.coop).

[6] P2P Foundation Wiki (2016), Category: Collaborative Economy, [online]. Available at: https://wiki.peer-to-peerfoundation.net/Category:Collaborative_Economy [Accessed 25 Aug. 2016].

[7] See also:

- Triple Pundit (2016), Access Economy, [online]. Available at: http://www.triplepundit.com/topic/access-economy/ [Accessed 18 Aug. 2016]

- Rifkin, J. (2000). The age of access. New York: J.P. Tarcher/Putnam

- Etheridge, E. (2016). The end of ownership culture. The New York Times, [online] p.The Opinion Pages. Available at: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/22/the-end-of-ownership-culture/?_r=0 [Accessed 6 Aug. 2016]

[8] See: Meshing.it (2016). Mesh - the pulse of the sharing economy. [online] Available at: http://meshing.it/about [Accessed 5 Aug. 2016]

[9] The term “collaborative economy” has been used for example by the organization Ouishare, which is one of the leading networks on this topic (www.ouishare.net).

[10] Translated from Como et al. (2015).

[11] For more insights into platform business models see Accenture (2016). Platform Economy: Technology-driven business model innovation from the outside in. Technology Vision 2016 [online]. Available at: https://www.accenture.com/fr-fr/_acnmedia/PDF-2/Accenture-Platform-Economy-Technology-Vision-2016-france.pdf [Accessed 22 Jul. 2016].

[12] Pais. I. and Provasi G. (2015) propose an interesting analysis of collaborative economy practices based on the application of Karl Polanyi’s concepts of exchange, reciprocity, and redistribution. In particular these authors propose to focus on the social innovation potential of certain forms of collaborative economy that emphasise reciprocity.

[13] De Groen, W. P. and Maselli, I. (2016). The Impact of the Collaborative Economy on the Labour Makert. CEPS Special Report (35) N° 138. Available at: https://www.ceps.eu/publications/impact-collaborative-economy-labour-market [Accessed 20 Aug. 2016].

[14] Goudin, P. (2016). The Cost of Non-Europe in the Sharing Economy – Economic Social and Legal Challenges and Opportunities. European Parliamentary Research Service. Available at: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2016/558777/EPRS_STU(2016)558777_EN.pdf [Accessed 22 Aug. 2016].

[15] Codagnone C., Abadie F., Biagi F. (2016); The Future of Work in the ‘Sharing Economy’. Market Efficiency and Equitable Opportunities or Unfair Precarisation? Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, JRC Science for Policy Report EUR 27913 EN, doi:10.2791/431485

[16] This issue has already been raised, as we have noted, by a recent article wrote by Joseph Davies Coats (2016) in response to a previous article appeared on the online journale “Shareable”, which reported 11 cases of platform cooperatives including organizations that are not formally coops (Johnson, 2016).

[17] The survey is an ongoing tool for mapping and gathering empirical data, and will remain open in the future.

[18] DACR created a connection with the association Alternativa Zdola specialised on cooperatives and collaborative economy.

[19] In addition to these, a representative from the German association DGRV - Deutscher Genossenschafts - und Raiffaisenverband e. V. responded with a written questionnaire in view of a future deeper exchange.

[20] The interviews aimed at collecting the perspective and opinion and cannot be considered the official positions of the associations as a whole.

[21] These are: Voluntary and Open Membership, Democratic Member Control, member Economic Participation, Autonomy and Independence, Education, Training and Information, Cooperation Among Cooperatives, and Concern for Community. The 7 principles, based on the historical Rochdale Principles set in 1844 by the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, have been officially adopted by the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) in 1937, and the current version reported here derives from the last revision adopted by the ICA in 1995. They can be found on the website at http://ica.coop/en/whats-co-op/co-operative-identity-values-principles

[22] Loomio is used by the Solid Fund, UK Workers’ Cooperatives Solidarity Fund.

[23] The high participation achieved by a Platform Cooperatives session organised at the last Annual Cooperative Congress seems to prove the effectiveness of these efforts. According to our interviews, the UK is the country in which the collaborative economy topic is most known by cooperatives, and where the debate is more developed.

[24] This does not mean that other initiatives, and in particular those in the broader social economy sector, may not be of interest, also in terms of possible interactions with cooperatives and their collaborative economy projects.

[25] Italy, France, Spain, Belgium, Austria, Germany, UK, Portugal, Greece, Netherlands, Finland.

[26] North America (Canada and United States), Israel, international.

[27] This represents 75% of the 31 cases that we have already defined as “digital”.

[28] The survey was filled by 23 cases, 60%.

[29] The survey was disseminated online through Cooperatives Europe and LAMA’s networks, also with the support of the cooperative associations involved.

[30] This is of course not the case of all cooperatives, indeed some cooperatives become national leaders in their respective markets.


We Stand In Solidarity with Striking Ride-hail Drivers in India

February 26th, 2017

Uber has frequently been in the news for its abuses of its employees and customers, from the recent documentation of the omnipresent sexual harassment at the company’s San Francisco offices by Susan Fowler to the tracking of passengers by Uber employees — ex-girlfriends, celebrities, and politicians. After CEO Travis Kalanick made a public statement in defense of the company’s relationship with the Trump administration, over 200,000 users mobilized under the slogan #DeleteUber and uninstalled the app.

What has been less documented in the news, however, are Uber and other ride-hailing platforms’ persistent abuse of their workforces. Drivers are classified as independent contractors, not employees, such that they are denied basic protections such as a guaranteed minimum wage, health care and other benefits, and the right to collectively bargain. This power asymmetry allows transport network companies like Uber to attract drivers with high wages, only to slash them without warning once a hold on a market is established. Last December, drivers in Paris struck in response to falling wages, blockading access to Paris’ airports. U.S. based drivers have struck a number of times, including a nation-wide strike last November. U.K. drivers, among others, have also begun to fight back, going on several strikes and ultimately winning a landmark court case which redefined them as workers — rather than “self-employed” — entitling them to holiday pay, paid rest breaks, and minimum wage.

Since late December, drivers for the ride-hailing apps Uber and Ola have been engaged in on-again off-again strikes across India. Strikes began on December 31st in Hyderabad in response to falling earnings, unfavorable incentive restructurings, and the continued onboarding of new drivers which has increased competition for passengers. While that strike ended on January 4th due to the intervention of the court, agitation across the country continued until earlier this month when drivers went on strike in the National Capital Region of Delhi, and the cities Hyderabad and Bengaluru.

Over 100,000 drivers have refused to log into their apps in Delhi-NCR since February 10th, with wait times for commuters reaching up to an hour. The Sarvodaya Drivers Association of Delhi (SDAD) — sarvodaya, “universal uplift” or “progress of all” — served as an informal organizing body for the strike, representing 150,000 Delhi-NCR drivers in lieu of a traditional union. An estimated 95% of drivers in Bengaluru joined the strike on the 21st, while drivers in Hyderabad have been gathering in public protest around the city for months. The strikes have exerted an immense amount of pressure on Ola and Uber, the former of which appears ready to come to the bargaining table, as well as various regulatory bodies which appear to be at wit’s end with the transport network companies. “We have met with them thrice now, but they haven’t addressed even a single demand by the drivers. All they do is buy more time on every occasion,” said Karnataka State Transport Commissioner MK Aiyappa.

The Delhi strike was halted after 13 days last Thursday, February 23rd, as drivers prepare to present their grievances to the High Court on February 28th. The strike will continue the day before, building momentum going into these negotiations. Lovkesh Sharma, a driver for Uber and Ola, discussed the impetus for the strike:

The company had earlier promised us a minimum income of Rs 100,000 per month. Though we never achieved that target, we still made a decent income till six months ago. But with time, the companies kept changing their incentive pattern for every driver and with that our incomes have reduced to such an extent that we fail to save anything after paying all the dues, including installment for the car loans.

These strikes center around falling wages for drivers on the Uber and Ola platforms, caused by a number of changes made by the ride-hailing companies, with some workers seeing their earnings reduced by up to 50%. Most frequently discussed is the pay-per-kilometer earned by ride-hail service drivers: while autorickshaws make Rs 9/km and licensed radio cabs make Rs 23/km, drivers for Uber and Ola make only Rs 6/km. With the addition of ride-sharing features such as uberPOOL, drivers can make as little as Rs 3/km, just 15% of the Rs 19.50/km mandated by local legislation in the state of Karnataka.

Though pay-per-kilometer has long been low, drivers are offered incentives based on number of rides they give in a day and the time they spend idling on a platform while waiting for their next fare. However, these incentives were restructured early this year to revolve around “earnings targets” which must be met in a specific period of time to qualify for the bonus. This new system forces drivers to work for long stretches and does not compensate them for the time they spend logged into an app. In addition, a 25% commission has been introduced by both platforms, 5% of which goes to the state. One driver, Amit Kumar, was frustrated by these changes: “I worked for 22 hours and achieved the target. But they cut commission from that too.”

As Uber and Ola fight for market-share, they have been hiring new drivers at an unprecedented rate, further reducing drivers’ earnings. Insofar as many drivers on these platforms do not own their cars, but rather lease them from Uber or Ola, this increased competition has proven untenable. “First, they induced us to buy cars under their schemes now they are adding so many new cars that it has become difficult for us to pay off our monthly installments.”

The drivers’ primary demands are thus an increase in pay-per-kilometer, the elimination of the 25% commission, the end of ridesharing (the government of Karnataka has given Uber and Ola two weeks to remove these features from their apps), a moratorium on new driver registrations, and an idling pay of Rs 3/min. The drivers’ other demands, however, are equally pressing. They are calling for a relaxation of working hours, with drivers currently spending 18 hours or more on the road, the creation of 24/7 call centers to increase these companies’ accountability, and the elimination of the Rs 1,000 fee that drivers are charged when they receive negative customer feedback, often for “offenses” like refusing to let passengers smoke in their vehicles. Drivers are also seeking health and accident insurance, spurred by the January 22nd death of an Uber driver, Nazrul Islam, when his vehicle was struck by a speeding BMW; drivers were outraged when Uber refused to offer financial assistance to Islam’s family.

The 13-day strike has seen drivers engaged in a number of direct actions, including demonstrations, hunger-strikes, an attempted suicide outside of the Ola offices, the ransacking of the Ola and Uber offices, and the vandalization of cabs which have continued operating. Though many drivers say that they will continue to strike indefinitely, nearly two weeks without pay has put pressure on them to return to work. “At the end of the day, we have to feed our families, manage school fees for the children and pay installments on our car loan,” said one driver. The financial pressures felt by drivers have been exacerbated by Ola and Uber, which have sent repeated text messages to drivers reminding them that their lease payments are coming due, in hopes of breaking the strike. Shortly after the strike began, Ola informed them that it would reduce their lease payments only to rescind that offer, blaming the ongoing strikes. “I had no option but to start driving again, so that I can earn and pay,” said Arun Shah, who bought his car through Ola’s financing service.

It is clear that the long days, low pay, and horrendous working conditions are untenable for India’s on-demand drivers. They labor, as do other ride-hail drivers worldwide, under what can only be described as a modern-day system of indentured servitude; drivers are stuck working for these platforms due to leases taken out on cars under the false promise of high earnings. Uber and Ola and other TNCs have externalized risk to their drivers, in standard platform-capitalist fashion, by failing to offer even a basic safety net for drivers and their livelihoods. As the concurrent abuses by Uber and Ola show, this is not a problem that will be solved by switching from Uber to Lyft, substituting one exploitative firm for another. There is a pressing need for worker-owned apps that treat workers fairly and pay them an ethical living wage. Platform cooperatives like Green Taxi Coop, Union Taxi, People’s Taxi, and LaZooz have already proven the viability of this model, even in market-competition with dominant TNCs.

With the strike in Delhi-NCR resuming on Monday, the Platform Cooperativism Consortium stands in solidarity with those bravely declaring that enough is enough. Across the world, we will not let the gains of 100 years of labor struggle vanish without a fight.


MiData: Toward Cooperative Data Ownership

February 22nd, 2017

We recently had the chance to speak with Ernst Hafen and Ulrich Genick of MiData (pronounced my-data), a Swiss cooperative that aims to restore users’ data privacy through an innovative market solution.

Presently, the use of user data is mostly unregulated in the EU, with varying rights and privacy protections across EU member states which mostly stop at the requirement for consent and, thanks to “right to be forgotten” legislation, the deletion of collected personal data. In the United States, a patchwork of federal and state regulations safeguard various categories of data, e.g. financial data and video rentals, with a distinct lack of protections for personal data at large. As a result, personal data is collected by innumerable parties and ultimately used without the knowledge or (active) consent of exploited ‘data subjects.’ From the tracking cookies which document our movements across the Web to the flows of information generated by FitBits and other devices associated with the “quantified self” movement, personal data about our on- and offline activities is collected, bundled, and sold for massive profits. The emerging ‘asset class’ of personal data is estimated to reach $1.4 trillion by 2020 for European citizens alone.

With MiData, set to launch in Q3 2017, the citizens of the world may have a chance to take back this value which they generate through cooperative action and improve their own healthcare in the process.

MiData has termed itself a “health data cooperative,” offering a platform on which user-members can upload copies of their medical data, as well as alternative streams of information such as diet, exercise, and sleep metrics which have become more easily accessible through the rise of mobile devices (so-called “mHealth” data). Hafen and Genick were also very interested in genome data, insofar as it represents a category of information that currently does not exist in aggregate. The collection of these diverse streams of information into a single source, they said, could very well bring about a new age of “precision medicine” whereby treatments become highly targeted to individuals and their habits and all the more effective because of it.

MiData’s cooperative structure allows users to engage with the platform without becoming cooperative members and offers membership for a small fee. Members will govern the cooperative through a general assembly based on the principle of one-member-one-vote, including electing a governing board of directors and choosing where the cooperative will invest its profits. Though MiData will be a cooperative specifically for Swiss citizens, the software it has produced is open-source and will be freely licensed to any other data cooperative that meets their guidelines. Talks are underway to begin a German health data cooperative. MiData’s next challenge in its pursuit of a global federation of data cooperatives is developing software which will facilitate the secure sharing of data between these national instances.

By becoming a dominant health data repository, MiData hopes to become something of a gatekeeper for this data, attracting non- and for-profit researchers while allowing users a high degree of control over who can access their personal data. For example, one’s physician might be given access to all personal data through the platform, while a non-profit cancer research institute could be given access to only medical and dietary information; users could deny access to an exploitative for-profit drug company, or even for-profit researchers in general.

Those companies who do seek out the information held by MiData cooperative will serve as the cooperative’s source of funding, paying a fee to use the data in their research. Revenues collected will be used to pay for administrative overhead, and any leftover profits will be invested under the guiding hand of the cooperative’s general assembly made up of its user-members. Interesting to note is that, in the cooperative’s bylaws, these profits cannot be paid back to user-members as dividends but must rather be invested in projects and research of some benefit to the public. Hafen compared this strategy to that of blood donations which find more success when they do not offer a financial incentive to donate.

Alongside this use of data for research, MiData will also support a native app economy not unlike that of Apple and Google’s mobile-app marketplaces. With these apps, carefully vetted by a Data Ethics Committee, users will be able to make use of their own data; a marathon training app, for example, might combine a user’s sleep habits, BMI, and diet to generate a fine-tuned exercise regimen to shave a few minutes off of their mile time. Hafen and Genick were particularly excited about the possibilities of this app economy, going so far as to suggest that by its free-market forces the world might even see a standardization of health data markup which is now irregular not only between countries but even hospital to hospital. Were users to require their data in some particular format to make use of a popular app, they might very well incentivize their local healthcare provider to provide them this data in such an emerging standard.

Though MiData has not yet launched, they have already found major success. The cooperative has funded much of its own development via paid research trials which provide not only users for the platform — for example, one study asked post-bariatric surgery patients to use the app to monitor their recovery — but also proofs of concept that have attracted the attentions of additional researchers. The platform has also engaged in “citizen science” projects, led by Genick, which seek to demonstrate its capabilities by providing a fun space for user engagement. In one such trial, users were sent samples of compounds which they ingested. They were then asked to note whether or not their urine smelled of asparagus, the result of which was compared to their genome data in order to locate the gene which causes this effect. Genick noted that the cost of such trials are usually in the millions, while MiData was able to successfully run them for tens-of-thousands.

While much of our conversation centered around health data, it was clear that the ideological ambitions of Hafen and Genick are grand: they hope that MiData might set a model by which all personal data can be defended from lawless exploitation, with its value returned to the publics who create it. MiData’s immediate goal, however, must remain the protection and cooperative monetization of personal health data. This is because, at its core, the MiData platform relies on users voluntarily uploading their data, and thus these users require access to the data which they are to upload. Presently, personal health data is one of the few kinds of data to which citizens of the world have the “right of access,” a right to a copy of the data collected about them. While enhanced EU data protections legislation will come into effect in 2018, requiring that all data collected about EU citizens by companies across the world to be accessible to the data subjects who generate it, for now the scope of the MiData cooperative will be pragmatically limited.

We are absolutely taken by MiData’s early successes, and wish them well with their upcoming launch. We all ought to be reminded by their innovative model that platform cooperativism is not only about a one-to-one replacement of sharing economy apps with cooperatively owned solutions. The cooperative seizure of yet-exploited markets represents a meaningful avenue of struggle.


An Introduction to Reciproka

February 22nd, 2017

Reciproka facilitates the development of a co-owned network of open co-operatives through ownership transfer, network building and co-operative accumulation.”

(http://www.reciproka.cc/)

All over the world, inequalities are reaching alarming levels. The structural reproduction of economic inequality lies in the unequal ownership of productive assets as it maintains a distributive mechanism in which owners accumulate ever more wealth while the majority of salaried workers remain in precarious positions of dependence. At the same time, the current growth-dependent, extractive economic model is bringing us to the brink of socio-ecological collapse.

By facilitating the transfer of ownership from privately owned corporations to their employees, we can provide an opportunity for employees to accumulate more wealth through their newly acquired ownership (hence reducing inequalities) and provide greater opportunities for workers to participate in decision-making process (hence allowing for a more democratic culture). Simultaneously, local owners gain access to a mechanism to “cash out” when they want to retire, while resting assured that that their enterprises remain active and anchored in their local community, managed by the very people who have built it up over their lifetimes. Since this transition of ownership already involves an organisational restructuring, why not simultaneously rethink the organisation’s business model to make it work not only for the people who create the wealth, but also for the planet from which all wealth ultimately originates?!

A TIMELY OPPORTUNITY

The coming retirement of millions of baby boom entrepreneurs around the world represents an enormous opportunity to grow worker ownership. In the US alone, an estimate states that 671,000 middle market businesses (worth an estimated US$ 2.47 trillion) will have to be sold, closed, or otherwise disposed of between 2011 and 2029, by baby boomers[1]. This generational transfer ahead can prove to be a once in a lifetime historic opportunity to catalyse a transition towards a sustainable and community-empowering economy by providing mechanisms to transform these private enterprises into sustainable open co-operatives. The conversion of these businesses into democratic ownership models would mean a tremendous reduction of inequality and the dawn of a new co-operative and democratic era.

To achieve scale, new forms of co-operative lending coupled with technical and process support are necessary. While several organisations are already working to provide that type of service, we believe that a more systematic approach is required if we are to create an ethical and federated counter-economy able to perpetuate itself on its own.

ISOLATED TRANSFERS OF OWNERSHIPS ARE NOT ENOUGH

Unless co-operatives can be federated as a unified, ethical, entrepreneurial coalition organised around the shared goal of sustaining the commons and the commoners, we believe that isolated transfers of ownership will not be enough for the open co-operative movement to gain sufficient traction to become autonomous, therefore leaving the issue of livelihoods and social reproduction unresolved and the movement dependent on the capitalist economy (i.e. fragmented, exposed to exploitation and overall highly precarious).

In a similar vein, isolated transfers of ownership do not guarantee nor encourage the weaving of links among newly-formed open co-operatives, leaving essential features to accomplish a comprehensive economic transition – such as co-operation and solidarity – outside of their strategic scheme.

RECIPROKA

Inspired by Mondragon’s internal capital account (ICA) and Dmytri Kleiner`s concept of “commons-based venture funding[2]”, Reciproka holds in its core an innovative co-operative accumulation mechanism which allows for the self-propelling build-up of an ethical counter-economy while gradually providing each of its members with increasing cash transfers, representing a new kind of basic income.

Instead of assisting working people to acquire their enterprise (as most financial services organisations that invest in worker- and community-owned operations currently do), Reciproka acquires the SMEs in transition for a commons (i.e. a trusteeship legal structure) in which both consumers (i.e. citizens) and producers (i.e. co-operative workers) become members.

In addition to assuming 100% of the financial risks linked to the operation, Reciproka assists traditional privately-owned enterprise in their organisational conversion to open co-operatives, while leaving managerial autonomy to the workers. A network of experts and mentors provide the technical and process support necessary to assist with the organisational transition both from a legal, social and sustainability point of view. The enterprises in transition gain thus access to the necessary facilitation, education and mentoring resources to ensure that their newly formed co-operatives are well equipped with the governance and business models that suit their particular needs and desires.

Reciproka will look to ensure the viability of each project as well as its commitment to a low-carbon future where the well-being of people and planet are primary. Reciproka has thus written into its DNA to effectively address the core challenge of our time: the transition to an equitable society that meets everyone’s needs while living within the limits of one earth.

The result is an integrated network of mutually co-owned open-co-operatives working towards that goal, where each co-operative is at the same time autonomous while being co-owned by all other members of the Reciproka common.

This type of structure offers several benefits:

  • The system gives citizens the opportunity as well as financial and socialincentives to play an active part in the transition to a co-operative, ethical and sustainable economy (see www.reciproka.cc for further information on the incentives and benefits for the various stakeholders).
  • The mutual ownership structure aligns the interests of the newly formed co-operatives to collaborate with each other for their own interests and the greater good of the overall coalition.
  • By holding the assets in a trusteeship legal structure, Reciproka protects the ethical entrepreneurial coalition from external investors, as its assets can never be sold out.

Last but not least, Reciproka also contemplates the creation of a co-operative incubation centre for the development of new products and services and the integral support of young open co-operative entrepreneurs.

We are currently in the early stages of designing Reciproka and building up alliances for collaboration once we start operating. If you are an experienced facilitator of co-operative ownership transfer, organisational transition, interested in funding Reciproka and/or want to discuss further possibilities to collaborate, please contact us at jerome@reciproka.cc and janosch@reciproka.cc.

Notes:

[1] Dennis Roberts, “Middle market investment banking offers opportunity for trained valuators, accountants,” Accounting Web, May 10, 2010, http://www.accountingweb.com/aa/auditing/middle-market-investment-banking-offers-opportunity-for-trained-valuators-accountants

[2] A system in which co-operatives needing capital for machinery, post a bond, and the other co-ops in the system would fund the bond, and buy the machine for a commons in which both funders and users would be members. The interest paid on these loans create a fund that would gradually be able to pay an increasing income to their members, constituting a new kind of basic income.


El año que hablamos de cooperativas de plataforma o #platformcoops

January 11th, 2017

Imagen de la campaña #BuyTwitter

Artículo de Marcela Basch, publicado aquí con permiso

El mismo año en que la economía colaborativa se hizo mainstream y las críticas fueron cobrando volumen y consistencia, empezó a escucharse más fuerte la prédica de las #platformcoops, o cooperativas de plataforma. En el plan C nos la presentó Neal Gorenflo en la previa de Comunes, cuando nos decía “necesitamos construir cooperativas de plataforma cuanto antes”. En uno de sus artículos sostiene que solo las cooperativas de plataforma pueden “vencer a estrellas de la muerte como Uber o Airbnb”.

¿Qué son? Plataformas online de servicios de particulares a demanda, como las del capitalismo de plataforma, pero organizadas como cooperativas, ergo verdaderamente descentralizadas. Algo así como un Airbnb -o Uber, o TaskRabbit, o IguanaFix, o Freelancer, la que más les guste- pero poseída, manejada y gobernada por sus trabajadores y usuarios. Lo mejor de ambos mundos.

Apenas un mes después de Comunes tuve el gusto de conocer a Trebor Scholz, uno de los principales difusores del concepto, autor del libro electrónico Platform Cooperativism y coorganizador junto a Nathan Schneider de los encuentros PlatformCoop (el primero, en noviembre de 2015 en Nueva York).  En el marco del Kultursymposium Weimar, pude escucharlo presentar la idea de las platform coops, basada en un concepto bastante simple y clásico: “No hay por qué admitir plusvalía en el siglo XXI”. Vi los debates en torno a ella (por ejemplo, Rachel Botsman desestimó las cooperativas de plataforma con un “creo que simplemente no funcionan, la gente necesita confiar en una marca”). Finalmente pude entrevistar a Scholz; le pregunté, entre otras cosas, por qué los ejemplos reales de cooperativas de plataforma son tan escasos todavía, y por qué las cooperativas -las tradicionales, siglo XX- tienen tan mala prensa. Dijo que “no se trata de tecnología, se trata de cambiar la mente de las personas, de la organización social del trabajo”.

Si bien todavía no ha crecido mucho en terreno práctico, el concepto de platform coops está levantando algunas -pequeñas- olas. En septiembre, OuiShare México organizó el taller “Cooperativas Digitales: la experiencia alemana”, con la participación de Félix Weth (CEO de Fairmondo) y Thomas Döennenbrink (Conector de OuiShare en Alemania), y de la mano del evento publicó un volumen con artículos sobre Cooperativas digitales.

El texto fundante de Trebor Scholz fue traducido al castellano con el título de Cooperativismo de plataforma, primero por Dimmons (versión ibérica) y luego por En Defensa del Software Libre (versión latinoamericana). En octubre, Scholz y Nathan Schneider publicaron juntos Ours to hack and to own (“Nuestra para hackear y poseer”), que lleva como subtítulo “El ascenso del cooperativismo de plataforma, una nueva visión para el futuro del trabajo y una internet más justa”.

La utopía de las plataformas de usuarios: #BuyTwitter

Apenas unos días antes, el 30 de septiembre, Nathan Schneider había lanzado la campaña #BuyTwitter (“Compremos Twitter”) a partir de un artículo publicado en el periódico británico The Guardian: “Este es mi plan para salvar Twitter: comprémoslo”. La propuesta es la “propiedad compartida”. Es una idea provocativa, que sigue a un artículo fundacional publicado por Schneider en Shareable en diciembre de 2014, Owning is the new sharing (“Poseer es el nuevo compartir”, burlándose de las fórmulas de la sharing economy de compartir en lugar de poseer).

En cuanto a Twitter, la campaña, apoyada también en el hashtag #WeareTwitter, se apoya en la idea de que la red de microposteos es un servicio público y no debería estar amenazada por la falta de fondos. Por supuesto, de la campaña a la organización real hay un largo trecho. Algo de la organización incipiente puede verse en esta guía para comprar Twitter (en inglés).

En Argentina, un país con larga tradición en cooperativas y con la mayor cantidad de cooperativas de tecnología del mundo, hay un interés incipiente en la idea de las platform coops. Todavía estamos lejos de concretarla; entre otras cosas, porque tampoco estamos todavía tan familiarizados con el capitalismo de plataforma. La idea de que puedan existir plataformas de servicios descentralizados recién se está instalando aquí, generalmente motorizada por grandes compañías globales como Airbnb. Hay algunos intentos de pensarlo, por ejemplo en el sitio LinkedCode, donde se ofrecen a programar la base técnica para cualquier cooperativa de plataforma. Como decía Trebor Scholz, el punto central no es la tecnología, sino la organización social.

Si te gusta, compartilo

Happy 17

January 9th, 2017

Amidst misogyny, racism & political hostility, networks of economic alternatives in 2017. Happy new year!

Last week, we kicked around ideas for concrete projects that the Platform Cooperativism Consortium should realize this coming year. In the second part of this article, we’ll devote ourselves to just that: pragmatic objectives for the next twelve months. But for our project to have legs to stand on, we — the people involved in this movement— also need to think through the bigger picture and situate platform cooperativism historically. With that in mind, we went back and listened again to the contributions at the “Building the Cooperative Internet” event last year at The New School.

Yochai Benkler’s talk, in particular, stood out. In his Saturday-morning lecture, he presented platform cooperativism as an attempt to “build a coherent intellectual framework to offer an alternative to the failed ideology of the past forty years.” He is clear: “platform cooperatives will neither kill nor be killed by investor firms,” but there is sufficient room in the current market situation so that platform co-ops can strive. Benkler, a professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies, situates platform cooperativism as a “core location for the development of new ideas in the pursuit of an open social economy.” For those less steeped in social economy studies, the term “social economy” refers to economic activities amongst the community. It is located between the economies of the private and public sectors.

Yochai Benkler begins with an account of two ideological periods in politico-economic history — that of managerial capitalism, beginning around World War II and ending during the inflation crisis of the early 1970s, and that of oligarchical capitalism, the period in which neoliberal thought and the Washington Consensus were central. The actuality of a Washington Consensus represents the claim that there is an optimal organizational form such as the investor-owned firm, which upstarts are then called upon to adopt to succeed “in the teeth of the market.” Benkler foregrounded that, ideologically, the actuality of the Washington Consensus depended on ideas such as the reduction of the economy to the self-motivated individual, the reality of predictable, calculable risk, and the importance of planned, controlled, and ultimately stable ventures. For Benkler, however, the victory of the Trump and Brexit campaigns is indicative of a general collapse of the neoliberal model and thus an opening which will be filled by a new economic understanding. He relates these political wins in part to the inequality caused by the extreme and unmatched extraction of wealth by the top 10% in the U.S. and the UK.

Benkler is skeptical about two particular visions of what might replace neoliberalism. First, there are the likes of Peter Thiel who argue for a new age of techno-libertarianism wherein technological development can run its course unimpeded by the state, with deregulation allowing markets to reward talent and accelerate us into a fully-automated Star Trek economy. Benkler did not name Thiel, but Peter Thiel does illustrate this point in his book Zero to One. Here, he argues that only through deregulation, monopolistic genius can be free to innovate us into a post-scarcity future. Second, there are proponents for what Benkler calls “nudge progressivism,” a return to the managerial capitalism of the mid-20th century, only updated and made more efficient by big data analysis.

For Benkler, these two imaginary successors fail to take into consideration the social embeddedness of systems, which is becoming central to all sorts of academic disciplines including sociology, economics, and management science. This “social embeddedness” indicates that we can no longer reduce the motivations of economic actors to rational self-interest, but must also acknowledge the existence of varying, socially-constructed drives and desires. There is a need to look beyond homo economicus to homo socialis, as Benkler puts it.

What Benkler proposes as an alternative future is a network pragmatism which seizes the space for experimentation. Rather than believing ourselves unfailing, he claims we must embrace our fallibilism, understanding that our success will come not from the perfect execution of a pre-planned attempt, but rather a rapid iteration which utilizes the knowledge generated by our applied inquiries to drive us forward and upward.

He stresses that local communities do know best about their needs if only given the chance for reflection through practical experience: trial and error and trial again. It is, he says, precisely this experience which is denied to these communities when they engage with investor capital, which immediately subjects any attempt to the logic of the “tyranny of the margin,” the need to compete in the market, to maximize profits. To produce flexible organizations which can continually adapt and innovate as circumstances change and our knowledge grows, Benkler suggests that we look to methodologies that have already proved successful. These could include institutional analysis and development framework developed by political economist Elinor Ostrom, as well as tech-sector models like commons-based peer production, free and open source software development, and even lean startup models. One challenge will be to determine how platform co-ops can exist as what Scholz calls “soft enclosures” that insulate populations from economically and politically hostile surroundings while also contributing to the commons. Platform co-ops like Fairmondo and Loconomics Cooperative are already sharing their code base and by-laws.

For Benkler, network pragmatism is fundamentally about the embrace of the diversity of organizational forms. This pursuit of an “organizational bricolage” resonates with our understanding that platform cooperatives are but one practical near-term alternative. They are part of this bricolage of the solidarity economy, the pro-commons movement, and various other successful organizational forms including B-corps, non-profits engaged in economic production, philanthropic LLCs, and, central to our community, platform co-ops.

In sum, we should first of all be a sounding board for the needs of the platform co-op community. We are no lone star heroes but instead, strive for solidarity and collaboration with other projects and organizational forms. We aim for economic experimentation, building playful, intellectual and practical incubators.

Before we get to our goals for 2017, we are pleased to report that the PCC managed to hire Samuel Tannert who is helping us to cope with day-to-day communications and our ongoing research. We started a draft of a Wikipedia in-depth article about platform cooperativism, for example. It should be live in a week or two. With Samuel, we are also working on streamlining the onboarding process for all who’d like to join and contribute to the PCC. See profiles of some of our researchers on the Consortium website at http://platformcoop.newschool.edu/index.php/about/. If you are one of them but have not added your profile yet, please contact Samuel.

Out of the working document that we generated together in 2016, we extracted a set of activities for the PCC, but it should be obvious that we need to focus on a small number of projects. With that in mind, for 2017, the Platform Cooperativism Consortium is focusing on the following projects.

1) A mooc about the cooperative platform economy. We are immediately moving to fundraise and create a free, massively open online course on the subject of the cooperative platform economy. This course will be for motivated individuals and groups worldwide who would like to start a platform co-op or reflect more on its the implications of an open social economy. It will also serve as a resource for those in the academy, providing teachable segments which instructors can use in their classes. If the task at hand is, as Benkler argues, the seizure of this unique historical moment to reframe the way politico-economic processes are understood, the availability of this courseware will be a vital tool in the dissemination of this new understanding which we are building together.

2) Templates. We plan to work on legal templates to help the community to launch platform co-ops, at least in the U.S.

3) Design. A design team already started a design overhaul of the platform.coop website. It will be rolled out in February. Send us your input or requests for features, please.

4) Fundraising. We are about to launch a donation channel and are looking for first donations to support I) the operation of the PCC, II) the massively open online course about the cooperative platform economy, and III) our work on legal templates that make it easier to start up platform co-ops.

5) The Platform Cooperativism Consortium will continue to interview different platform co-ops about their ethical commitments, lessons learned, ownership models, and systems of self-governance and publish articles, which make the community aware of projects within the ecosystem. The goal of these stories is to bring people within the ecosystem closer together. Our network will be as potent as the relationships of the people within it. You can keep abreast of this effort by following the stories we post here, on http://platform.coop/stories. A list of articles appears at the end of this article. We are open to review your platform co-op story. Submit it to us! 

6) We will also our project of mapping the growing landscape of platform cooperatives and related democratically-run projects by promoting the excellent work by the team at Internet of Ownership who have produced a comprehensive directory of platform cooperatives, many articles, and are keeping a running calendar of events related to platform cooperativism.

7) In the fall of 2017, we will convene the next event at the New School. Write us your wish list for the event.

8) We are planning on launching a European sister organization of the Platform Cooperativism Consortium. 

9) Platform cooperativism events are coming up in many cities including London, Brussels, Melbourne, and Berlin.

What are your priorities?

* * *

Stories on platform.coop

Some People Are So Poor, All They Have is Money
By Ela Kagel and Thomas Doennebrink

Commune 🚕 🚌 🚙 : a Taxi Co-op Owned by Passengers and Drivers. A Proposal from Berlin.
By Arthur Röing Baer

Reflections on Platform Cooperativism
By Jonas Algers

Platform Cooperativism: Building the Cooperative Internet” Link Mega-List

How to Connect the Platform Ecosystem? A Report from Mexico City.
By Sebastian Romero

Own the Next Generation of Streaming Music
By Peter Harris 

The User Experience in Platform Cooperativism
By Enric Senabre and Ricard Espelt

Twitter kaufen, Demokratie erweitern (in Deutsch)
By Ute Scheub und Thomas Dönnebrink

Sci-Fi Imagines the Cooperative Platform Economy as a Victor
By Trebor Scholz

In Brussels, Online Food Couriers Launch Their Own Platform Co-op
By Matthieu Lietaert

How to Set Up a Platform Co-op for Refugees in Europe
By RefugeesWork 


Some people are so poor, all they have is money

January 4th, 2017

https://platformcoopsgermany.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/platformcoop-rot_small_mini2.jpg


Originally published here on Platform Coops in Germany, a website documenting the PLATFORM COOPS — START YOUR OWN! event.

This quote was brought up by Christophe Guené, founder of the financial self-help platform Unite!, during his presentation. In many ways, this characterized the overall theme of the PLATFORM COOP – START YOUR OWN!-event from December 9-10, 2016 at Supermarkt and Agora.

A group of around 70 people, most of them representing coops and networks, got together to explore the potential of cooperative businesses, democratic ownership and self-organization. A lot of them based in Berlin, but more than 30 people traveled from Leipzig, Hannover, Munich, Hamburg, Vienna, Barcelona, Finnland or Italy to attend this special meeting. The underlying theme of this conference was not money – but rather the wish to help create what Trebor Scholz calls a “humane alternative to the free market model”. This touches down to many aspects that are usually excluded from the classic economic debate: equality, ownership, governance, sustainability, care and fairness.

If you would ask people in the streets whether or not they have heard of the term “platform coop” most people would probably deny. On the other hand, a growing number of initiatives, striving for better life- and work conditions, keep emerging worldwide. Freelancers, artists, farmers, drivers, caretakers – more and more people from various backgrounds start to unite in order to create value and share what they create. This movement is no longer a niche – it starts to reach out to all sectors of traditional economy, care or education. Yet, many of those that represent these movements wouldn’t necessarily associate themselves as part of the platform cooperativism-movement.

So why do we, the organizers of this event, think that platform cooperativism matters at all? Mainly because this is a great chance for all those activists advocating for fair work conditions, workers rights, privacy, healthcare and governance to get together, share knowledge and help strengthening the platform coop ecosystem beyond their own field of practice.

Especially here in Germany, the term platform cooperativism doesn’t translate very well. That’s also why we tried to include both German and English sessions, as well as local and international initiatives in this event. Luckily, this amazing program wasn’t the result of an outstanding curatorial effort, but rather based on people’s suggestions and interventions. Like that, we managed to present a scope of speakers and projects that would have made up for a major conference setting as well.

This was another indicator that the platform coop-movement is on the rise, also here in Germany. Its members don’t join workshops with the expectation to get entertained or to consume knowledge – they are rather eager to take the initiative, present their own projects or ideas and interact with others. We really appreciated to have so many pro-active people around us.

The first day of PLATFORM COOPS – START YOUR OWN! was mainly dedicated to learning from platform coops and to getting a deeper understanding of who is out there, what are the commonalities, the obstacles that many of us face and what are the chances for a unified voice that might also represent the movement on a political level?

We were lucky enough to not only hosting the founders of coops and other cooperative businesses (please see the list of participants here), but also people from ver.di, some journalists or representatives of the Academy of Union Banks. And since the topic of platform coops cannot be discussed outside the digital realm we have been extra happy that Shermin Voshmgir, the founder of Blockchain Hub in Berlin, volunteered to give us an excellent presentation of the role of blockchain technologies for platform coops. The evening of the first day was rounded off by the festive launch of the FAIRO, a community currency initiative in Berlin.

The second day was all about the design of platforms and the question of interoperability. In one panel, we have discussed the question of how to adapt the platform coop-model to neighbourhood economies. In another panel, we discussed the notion of the decentralized platform as opposed to many interconnected, local nodes.

Gabi Masfarré-Pinto and Georgina Campins from Ideas for Change introduced people to the Pentagrowth model, which is an excellent tool to design social change.

In the afternoon, we had three parallel workshops: the team of Tesserae Urban Social research offered a practical exercise by guiding people through the micor-economic structures of Mehringplatz in Kreuzberg, Eugenio Battaglia presented the platform design toolkit, a strategy to motivate your ecosystem to create real values. And last but not least, Joy Lohmann and Anna Blume gathered a team of developers in order to create a prototype for a digital cooperativism platform in Germany. This website here is the minimal viable outcome of this session and we hope that there will be more to follow.

What remains of this event on December 9-10, 2106? The realisation that there is a need for regular meetups, first and foremost. If any of you is interested in hosting a meet-up, please go ahead. We are glad to help organizing.
Over the course of this event it also became clear that there are many issues that need to be discussed in the future: the design of cooperative businesses, questions such as scaling, governance, collective decision-making or implementation / adaptation of new technologies in order to make these platforms more viable.

Coming back to this quote from the beginning: Yes, many people still can live off their jobs and have enough money to cover their living. Yet, this doesn’t exclude them from being poor – in relation to their health, their time, their rights. This is exactly what we tried to explore during our event: how can we bring the humane factor back into the economic debate? How will our societies and environments profit from it?


Reflections on Platform Cooperativism

December 16th, 2016

http://www.perc.org.uk/perc/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/7987099139_0071024625_b-1024x679.jpg

By Jonas Algers

Originally published here on the blog of the Political Economy Research Center at Goldsmiths University of London.

In the wake of the Trump election victory, I found myself in New York City at a conference on Platform Cooperativism. It was opened by the organiser with this statement: “After the election I thought that I should cancel the conference and instead hold another on what to do now. But then I realised that platform cooperativism is part of it; to come up with cooperative solutions to the crises we face.”

Platform cooperativism explores how cooperatives and commons can function as anti-enclosures of the digital sphere. In the age of companies such as Uber, Airbnb, Facebook, Google, Amazon and Microsoft, platform cooperativism has become part of a movement to make the Internet more participatory, common and non-corporate. The idea of platform cooperativism is that the people who make the success of the Internet platforms possible should own them themselves. The profits of an exchange taking place in Barcelona should stay in Barcelona and not be extracted to companies in Silicon Valley.

Key issues to emerge from the conference was how platforms have consequences for labour, and the relationship between cooperatives and commons. Where commons want open and free access commercial coops are about facilitating enclosure to facilitate for-profit enterprise.

Local Labor

Platforms create new tensions for paid labour. Uber, Deliveroo and other similar platforms do not have employees but “self-employed contractors” performing the labour upon which the platforms depend. Typically, this is used to avoid regulation and taxation related to employing staff, profits are contingent on keeping employee costs to almost nothing. In turn, this leads to increased forms of worker exploitation; batch work that is more intense, longer and for lower pay. Therefore, platforms outcompete other businesses in the respective sectors.

Jack Qiu presented his research on how the frequency of increasingly militant strikes has trebled following the appearance of ride-sharing platforms in China. Now China sees a platform-related strike every other day. In this era of what he calls “algorithm-based class struggle” workers have had to come up with new ways of organising picket-lines, often through ratings of individual workers. As platform workers are sensitive to ratings of their performance, striking workers would give low ratings to those who didn’t strike.

Global Labor

Other platforms make labour boundless by making it possible for a person in Malaysia to instantly perform work for a company based in Silicon Valley with no higher transaction costs than had the person been sitting at a laptop in San Francisco. No higher transaction costs for the company that is, because the employee has to align work hours with working hours in California causing widespread sleep deprivation among digital workers in the global South.

Platforms offer a supply-side revolution for business that can harm wage earners because tasks can now be outsourced even more easily to lower-income countries. This boundless labour is more difficult to organise for collective bargaining as it is geographically dispersed and varies in its dependency on the digital work (for some it is the main source of income and a full-time job and for others it is a temporary second job). Platforms offer workers more exploitation to lower wages or outsourcing. Thus platforms become a tool for capital to harm the bargaining position of labour.

Coops and Commons

There is a substantial difference between platform cooperatives and digital commons. Where a common is a resource not owned by anyone and which no one can be denied access to, a cooperative is owned and governed by the members of the cooperative. Wikipedia is a digital common to which everyone has access and is funded through voluntary contributions. If Twitter was to be turned into a cooperative it would exclude people who are not ready to pay the fee for membership.

Another element of the conflict is regarding the licence of the code a coop develops, should it be open and free to others to use or should it be restricted so that the coop in particular can be in control of its own product? It is restated again and again at the conference that coops need to collaborate more in order to be collectively successful but with openness comes the risk of corporations using the same product to cut their own costs.

Cooperativism in Barcelona

Another key dynamic of platform cooperativism is the relationship between cities and platforms. Barcelona is hailed as a model city for platform cooperativism due to attempts made by its radical mayor Ada Colau and her team. Francesca Bria is the Chief Technology and Digital Innovation Officer of the City of Barcelona and she stressed the importance of an alliance between the platform cooperative movement, labour organisations and cities if platform cooperativism is going to grow.

Barcelona is also an example of how platform cooperativism is more than platform cooperatives. Cooperativism is about finding cooperative solutions to not only businesses and economic exploitation but also democratic participation. This is why the City of Barcelona has developed https://decidim.barcelona which is a platform where citizens can directly participate in decision making.

Challenges

Listening to some speakers, it seemed platform cooperativism could solve any societal issue regarding redistribution, recognition or representation if only it could overcome its own inherent problems like funding, scaling and governance. But even though it was admitted that these endogenous problems are difficult to solve, little attention was paid to exogenous problems like competing with VC funded platforms. Uber is constantly making losses, but it gets vast amounts of cash through finance. How can a cooperative compete with a company that is supported to such an extent by finance? Yes, some cooperatives have been successful locally (like Green Taxi Coop in Denver) but if Platform Cooperativism is going to fulfil its ambitions then local successes have to become global successes.

It came across to me that many attending the conference held the position that the labour movement should become good entrepreneurs in order to overcome the challenge of platforms. Apart from the initial discussion on “algorithm-based class struggle”, “fairness” and entrepreneurship were proposed as central values but not the importance of unionism and politics outside of cooperatives. I think such an analysis will be unhelpful and I hope that there will be more showcases of platforms used to unionise and organise people outside of cooperatives and businesses (Like the app Zetkin used for organising activism) at future Platform Cooperativism conferences.

It would do the platform cooperative movement well to develop an analysis of who has the time and capital to develop a platform or engage in a coop and who’s problems the platforms address. Otherwise it risks falling into a trap of charity, where some people are helping others, or that it does not address the problems of people most dependent on the platforms. It must understand its own limits; that without change beyond platforms or cooperatives (for example a reduction in working hours, ownership of real capital and reduced environmental impact by economic activity overall) the success of platform cooperativism will be limited.


Commune 🚕 🚌 🚙 : a Taxi Co-op Owned by Passengers and Drivers. A Proposal from Berlin.

December 16th, 2016

by Arthur Röing Baer (@ArthurRoingBaer)

Global taxi networks have undergone monumental changes. Legacy taxi companies are being replaced by digital labor platforms like Uber, Didi Xiao, Lyft, Gett, and Ola. These platforms expand their reach into ever more logistical infrastructures. As a designer who has followed the controversial practices of some of these extractive enterprises, I will introduce the Commune model and discuss how platform cooperativism can offer a viable, near future alternative. 

Exploitation of drivers

Initial enthusiasm on Uber has continuously faded with each additional article on driver exploitation and each misuse of power reported. It is clear now that Uber and its clones follow a predatory model of circumventing local regulations to undermine worker rights, exploiting drivers with the goal of finally replacing them with self-driving cars. The first semi-self-driving cars are already on the streets of Pittsburgh and San Francisco. We need to work on models to provide increasingly precarious drivers with higher income and mutualize the risks they take. The distribution of capital and risk is at the core of platform cooperativism. Fair distribution of ownership would allow (1) self-governance and (2) distribution of capital to all that contribute to the network.

Replacement of public transportation

Annually, Uber is dedicating $2 billion of its venture-capital funding to taking over infrastructure. Passengers currently only pay 41% of real costs when traveling with Uber. It should not surprise us that the legacy taxi companies cannot compete. Increasingly, these new transportation companies have also entered into sectors other than the taxi industry. Uber, for example, has expanded into: 1) food delivery with UberEats, 2) package delivery with UberRush, and 3) commuting/ride-sharing with UberPool, and UberHop. Uber understands that their new transportation networks benefit from the network effect. If something moves from A to B, why not take another package/hamburger/person going in the same direction with you in the car? With each added node in the network, the value of that network grows exponentially, resulting in market dominance.

And with automation around the corner and drivers thus far still at the wheel, we have a closing window to instill an alternative model of ownership.

Inside an UberHop in Manila, Philippines. UberHop is a shared ride with other passengers, following predefined stops, similar to a public bus. Photo: Arthur Röing Baer

Inside an UberHop in Manila, Philippines. UberHop is a shared ride with other passengers, following predefined stops, similar to a public bus. Photo: Arthur Röing Baer

As these networks start moving into the area traditionally covered by public transportation, they risk to undermine the principle they are based on: a shared responsibility to provide mobility to citizens, which is also linked to job opportunities. A platform co-op that counts passengers among its owners would keep citizens in control of their logistical infrastructures. Giving passengers themselves the possibility to govern the future algorithms that structure their daily movement.


COMMUNE

Commune is a proposal for a logistical infrastructure that is organized as a platform cooperative. The main proposed model consists of three parts: 1) shared movement as model for ownership distribution, 2) partial ride-fee distribution and 3) share-decay as guarantee of relevant representation.

Shared movement as model for ownership distribution

When two or more users move together (initially driver and passenger), their location data can be mutually validated. Mutually validated location data and the energy cost associated with movement between points acts as proof of use which is then employed to distribute non-transferable ownership-shares to both passengers and drivers. This results in a network that will automatically promote shared movement by its contributors and reward them in financial ownership and voting rights. Shared movement becomes a distribution mechanism for a new platform cooperative, where both the driver and the user are recognized as legitimate contributors. And as the distribution of ownership is based on the movement of its users, it also creates a flat distribution. Because differences in individual movement have a natural cap.

Partial ride-fee redistribution

All ride-fees in the network get forked into two parts; one part going directly to the driver and the other distributed to all users through ownership-shares. This means that use of network results in financial kickback, where users effectively ‘mine’ shares of future income through their use (and thereby support) of the service. This gives guaranteed income for taxi drivers and for financial kickback similar to air miles to passengers. For drivers this is a revenue stream that can be used to pay off fixed costs like car insurance and health insurance.

Share decay as guarantee of relevant representation

Ownership-shares have a time-based decay mechanism. This is one of the only fixed values that can not be changed by the shareholders (as they would have perverse incentive to extend the lifetime of their own shares). This devaluation is beneficial for the network as it negates the possibility of control by inactive users.

The result is Commune, a platform cooperative model where ownership is distributed to active drivers and passengers via their shared movement. Through distribution of governance and capital it gives agency and mitigates individual risk. Above all it proposes an infrastructure where value is distributed to the people that contribute to and take advantage of it by–and through — their shared movement.


“Platform Cooperativism: Building the Cooperative Internet” Link Mega-List

December 14th, 2016

With November’s event come and gone, we have assembled a list of some of the articles and media resulting from “ Platform Cooperativism: Building the Cooperative Internet.” We want to thank everyone in attendance — in person and watching via live stream — for their dedication and passion. For those of you who did not get a chance to attend, we encourage you to check out the materials linked below which include post-conference write-ups, live coverage, image galleries, and archived recordings of every lecture given at the event.

Articles

Media

Selected Presentations

Green Taxi

Jason Weiner of Colorado Cooperative Developers discusses the success of Green Taxi Cooperative, a new union taxicab cooperative in the Denver/Boulder metro area. The company’s app has the convenience and functionality of its venture-capital backed competitors, shares 100% ownership among its members, and is now the second largest worker cooperative in the country.

The Union-Coop Model

This panel, moderated by Trebor Scholz, featured speakers from a number of different unions: Palak Shah of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Dawn Gearhart of Teamsters Local 117, Lieza Dessein and Frisia Donders of SMart Coop, Annette Mühlberg of United Services Union in Berlin, Michael Peck of 1worker1vote.org and Mondragon, and Christian Sweeney of the AFL-CIO. They discussed the union-coop model and the challenges it will have to overcome to succeed.


Towards an Open Social Economy

In this talk, Yochai Benkler elaborates the economic conditions that have resulted in a crisis for democratic capitalism. Arguing that recent far-right populism is a response to an oligarchic capitalism which was born in the 1970s, Benkler claims that platform cooperatives have the potential to be a core component of an alternative, left-wing trajectory into a market economy re-embedded with social relations. He stresses the importance of winning an ideological war in this time of uncertainty, not on paper but through real-world organizations engaging in cooperative social production.


The Digital Democracy Manifesto

A cheeky and informative talk by Richard Barbrook discussing the path to the inclusion of platform cooperatives as a key point in the Digital Democracy Manifesto proposed by UK Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

MIDATA.coop
In his short presentation Ulrich Genicke introduced MIDATA.coop, a project that enables citizens to securely store, manage and control access to their personal data by helping them to establish and own national/regional not-for-profit MIDATA cooperatives. MIDATA’s initial focus will be on health related data since these are most sensitive and valuable for one’s personal health. MIDATA cooperatives act as the fiduciaries of their members’ data. As MIDATA members, citizens can visualize and analyze their personal data.

There were so many remarkable talks; these is merely a small selection. Here are a few more talks 

Thomas Doennebrink’s report from Berlin and Mexico City
Nathan Schneider Interviews Professor Esther N. Gicheru
Mayo Forell Fuster 

 

 

  


How to Connect the Platform Ecosystem? A Report from Mexico City.

December 12th, 2016

vientos


by Sebastian Romero


Mexico City is a sprawling metropolis with over 21 million inhabitants. Devising solutions to sustainably meet the needs of us all requires smart collaboration rather than isolated efforts. This is where Vientos comes in.

Vientos (vientos.org.mx/en) is an open source platform co-op that for the past year and a half has been designing ways to facilitate collaboration between social projects, the solidarity economy, and individuals.

Taking their needs, interests, skills, and location into account, Vientos is an online platform where organizations, local businesses, and individuals can participate to find opportunities to work together.

Through mapping co-ops, civic society, sustainability projects, and local businesses, we’ve encountered a multitude of untapped energies and resources across the city. The sheer volume of initiatives makes it difficult not to find projects and people with similar interests in your area.

A bird’s eye view of needs and available resources in Mexico City facilitates the coordination of those resources with collective wellbeing and a more equitable economy in mind.

We chose the platform co-op model because it allows us to create an open, decentralized organization in which anyone can cooperate and share ownership. We engage with contributors and stakeholders to democratically decide how to lead the platform, the coop, and the ecosystem which aim to strengthen our web of mutual support. It is, ultimately, a community building effort.

“Together we have everything,” as United Diversity co-op puts it. But in order to have it all, we need to organize opportunities for collaboration.

The platform coop model is not just a tech hack but an opportunity to create businesses that reflect the ways in which cooperative principles can fundamentally restructure our economy. Reformulating how platforms distribute ownership and control among stakeholders of society defies the workings of the old economy.

To ensure the democratic administration, transparency, and fair distribution of ownership among stakeholders we are experimenting with Loomio, Open Value Network, Fairshares model, the Open Bank Project, Co-budget, Time Founder, the dynamic equity split system, and the open coop model.

We want to show that the solidarity economy can be powerful if expressed and supported by a collective effort. We built a platform to activate this network, this symbiosis, the conscious flow of resources. Big data, open data, awareness of patterns can all help us identify the intersections in which we can work together, in which alliances can be made, in which resources can be shared or exchanged.

Creating a platform for collective action and smart interdependency allows us to study the flow of resources, geographical patterns, collective intelligence behaviors, cultural dynamics, and how to optimize and reformulate these.

What kinds of collaborations do we support on the platform? There are for example, sharing tools, a calendar of events/workshops/markets, bartering materials, crowdfunding, buying or selling products and services, skill-exchanges, volunteering, cooking, teaching/learning, and jobs.

Types of projects are situated in many different sectors include art and culture, human rights, delicious food, environment, gender, education, transportation, technology, and housing.

We have been running the beta version for the past two months with 40 projects/businesses in Mexico City.

We plan to launch the international platform soon. Let’s collaborate. 


Own the Next Generation of Streaming Music

November 29th, 2016

Resonate is based on a simple premise – that artists will continue to be taken advantage of in the current system unless they own the platforms that distribute their content.

The digital revolution was a major boon to recording artists because it used to be hideously expensive to record an album. With the arrival of home studio recording, artists were suddenly empowered to fully realize their creative visions for fractions of the previous cost, no longer requiring them to sign away most of their rights for a major label record deal.

While this revolution in recording technology coincided with the advent of the web itself, owning the means of distribution wasn’t such a simple affair. Yes, artists now have numerous means to build websites, self-distribute and create their unique social feeds, but usually these personal sites and channels are the online equivalent of having a store front on a dirt road in the middle of the desert… a vast wasteland where no one goes.

Secondly, building the infrastructure to stream and sell your work is outside the scope for most musicians today. They simply don’t have the ability to build these tools on their own. While Bandcamp is a very ethical solution for many musicians to self-distribute, for fans it lacks the ease of use of other big platforms like Spotify, SoundCloud and Apple, which are much more consumer friendly.

Enter Resonate.

An attempt to deliver an all-encompassing experience to fans, while empowering musicians to be fully in control over how their music is consumed. Operating as a cooperative to ensure everyone has a voice and that everyone can benefit should we succeed.

We’ve been fairly successful recruiting musicians and indie labels. As of this writing, over 800 musicians and 100 labels have joined our efforts to create a new paradigm for streaming music. Crowd campaign is happening now – we thank you in advance for your support!

Peter Harris (@resonatecoop)


The User Experience in Platform Cooperativism

November 29th, 2016

Men of an RAF Repair and Salvage Unit working on a damaged Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX of No 403 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force, at a forward airstrip in Normandy, 19 June 1944. | Imperial War Museums | Public Domain

Some thoughts on the design of collaborative platforms and reputation systems that make it possible to build trust and solidarity networks.

Enric Senabre Ricard Espelt

Platform Cooperativism” is a fairly recent concept coined by Trebor Scholz and Nathan Schneider to disrupt the collaborative economy scenario, which is currently dominated by a few “unicorn” corporations and by what many people consider a neo-capitalist perspective. The concept is particularly timely because it coincides with the emergence of new proposals linked to the Social and Solidarity Economy that review the links between the economy, society and democracy, both inside and outside organizations. The concept of platform cooperativism can connect the tradition of free software (from a digital Commons perspective) with the current demands of “crowd-workers” affected by extractive versions of the Sharing Economy.

In light of the recently published guidebook Ours to Hack and to Own, edited by Trebor Scholz and Nathan Schneider, and the Platform Cooperativism 2016: Building the Cooperative Internet conference held recently in New York, this article aims to summarize a few approaches related to the design, user experience and co-creation of digital cooperative platforms. It focuses on an explorative research session that we facilitated during the accompanying “unconference”, which gave rise to a series of potential lines of action related to online reputation systems for platform coops.

From crowd-workers & followers, to cooperativists & owners

As Scholz and Schneider point out in Ours to Hack and to Own, platform cooperativism emerges at the intersection of shared governance and shared ownership. Technology should be an opportunity to broaden the scope of organizations based on the Rochdale Principles (which were first set out in 1844 to boost the social and economic impact of these organizations). Similarly, Scholz argues, modern digital platforms should be inspired by the cooperative movement and based on the principles of democracy and self-management. These new technological structures should embed their values and support local economies. Thus, platform cooperativism should be a response to the “new industrial renaissance” —to quote Douglas Ruskoff—, which is currently controlled and centralized by small number of companies, generating a new digital capitalism in which workers and users are merely followers.

Platform Cooperativism 2016: Building the Cooperative Internet. New York, 2016 | Trebor Scholz | CC BY-NC-SA

In Ours to Hack and to Own, Mckenzie Wark discusses the vectoral political economy, in which most information is private property, and which is in many respects worse than the capitalist political economy. It is what Steven Hill calls a “freelance society” made up of “crowd-workers” threatened by an “un-sharing economy”. According to labour organizer Kati Sipp, labour assessment of people who work in the cooperative platform and reputation-based economy should incorporate the best practices of the collaborative economy. Digital technology based on cooperativism should contribute to eliminating inequities for the people involved. In the book, after analyzing three types of cases (time banks, food swaps and makerspaces) close to platform cooperativism, Juliet B. Schor stresses the key issue of inequalities related to race, class, education and gender. To prevent this, she suggests that there should ideally be a diverse group of founders and early participants.

Another important perspective – which is discussed in the collection of essays in the book and was also highlighted at the conference – can be found in the current political and economic context of Barcelona. The papers by speakers like Mayo Fuster and Francesca Bria brought up critical issues such as technological sovereignty, gender balance, transparent governance and other challenges in the co-creation of public policies, at this crossroad between the social economy and the sharing economy.

Community-centered design, lean platform co-development and open source

Along similar lines, during the “How to Build Platform Coops” panel organized by Sasha Constanza-Chok (Civic Media MIT & rad.cat), Una Lee spoke about community-centered design processes and the concept of “design justice”: how to design with and within communities in such a way as to advance social justice. This tactical approach to developing platforms and interfaces connects design practitioners with people who have been historically marginalized by design, in order to radically collaborate with them in building relationships leading to the creation of platforms, processes, and systems that will ultimately have an impact on their lives. An example: the action research and facilitation work carried out by the team behind contratados.org to uncover the actors and processes in low-wage labour recruitment along the Mexico-U.S. migrant stream.

Another key element discussed in the same panel focused on the need to adopt and incorporate strategies from the lean startup approach (on which the majority of big, extractive “sharing economy” platforms such as Uber and AirBnB are based). An important aspect of the ”lean” methodology is the fact that it also represents a learning process, as Evan Henshaw-Plath explains. Similarly, new platform cooperatives should also incorporate early feedback in their learning and development loops and base their growth on “minimum viable platforms” modularly built around user experience. This approach is similar to the analysis set out in the foreword of this review of methodologies carried out by Dimmons for the design and incubation of collaborative platforms, which also points out the need to identify and scale up new ways of funding platform coops (other than aggressive “business angels” and other highly speculative formulas).

Another key element discussed by this panel was the importance of the open source philosophy: when platforms based on cooperativism appropriate the strategic “lean development” used by their “extractive” competitors, open source and the ethos of the Free Software movement seems to be the right approach and the way forward. At the conference, Drutopia activist Micky Metts remembered how Richard Stallman harnessed the hacker culture tradition of the 1970s to launch the GNU Project. As Paola Villareal pointed out, open standards (such as oHail, an API standard for ride-hailing services) are a basic element for engaging more people in building truly open cooperative technology platforms.

What if the “cooperativist UX” adopts open badges for a fair reputation system?


Following this panel at the conference, both of the authors (Enric Senabre and Ricard Espelt) were interested in further exploring the critical issue of co-design, the user experience (UX) approach and requirements of platform coops, which we had discussed with other people from the “cooperativist UX” point of view. So we organized a short explorative session on the third day of the PlatformCoop unconference at Civic Hall, with participants from the fields of digital media and software development, social justice, community organizations and unions, all interested in the approach.

We organized a dynamic session based on a process of modularly building new user stories for platform coops in general, following a process that is often used by agile developers to identify new requirements for software. In our case, this interaction allowed us to document the discussions around different issues from the perspective of the needs and expectations of cooperativism (related to user stories and platform interfaces in general) following the research through design approach.

The results were interesting, although the session did not work exactly as we expected, given that we had intended to brainstorm and generate as many user stories as possible on different types of requirements. Instead, we began with a reflection on which specific functionalities and features (other than those available on existing online platforms and social web interfaces in general), if any, could be explored. It blocked up the session for a while, but after coming up with some missing elements that could help to generate trust in online communities related to cooperatives and unions, we finally arrived at the key element of online reputation systems for every social web application.

As we started to specify some basic definitions of a user story for cooperativist-led reputation and feedback systems, some of the examples that had been shared over the previous days at the PlatformCoop conference resonated in the discussion. Examples include the case of crowd-workers not wanting to have their photo on their online profiles, or the other side of online trust systems: when sharing economy platforms are rated by users “outside the platforms”, as on FairCrowdWork Watch; or when users can blacklist unfair requesters on microtask platforms like MTurk via the CrowdWorkers browser extension; or the example of Contratados’ employer and recruiter reviews.

But what about the positive side: building trust among platform cooperativists by transparently connecting to each other online and mutually recognising value? And what about adding openness and transparency? At this point, trying to move further, we discussed open source examples like the Wikipedia barnstars awarded to contributors for hard work and due diligence, or the digital self-assessment of an organization’s social impact used in the social and solidarity economy in Catalonia, as well as the interesting and relevant example of Mozilla’s open badges, which usually operate under the umbrella of digital learning but could also be adapted and adopted….

After drawing inspiration from imagining possible new positive rating icons (beyond the classic, limited and even pernicious standard of star rating features), we went on to discuss variations of a user story, which can be summarized in the following formula: “user + action + component + goal” (as expressed in co-design workshops by the Platoniq facilitation model):

What if as a platform cooperativist + I could mutually and independently rate and be rated + with a distributed and generative badges-like system + so I can contribute to build networked solidarity and trust.

That leads to interesting variations around user stories of this kind, which can be seen as a pattern that grows with the addition of other actions or goals related to equitable models, and can be modular and allow user control of the levels and types of personal information displayed. Although we didn’t have time to move to different potential requirements, the story allowed the group to address other key elements like:

  • The importance of avoiding long and tedious forms (if the reputation system is to embrace meaningful indicators beyond stars or “likes” and “dislikes”).
  • The adoption of effective peer-to-peer mechanisms at the technical level, to ensure that mutual feedback is solid and coherent.
  • The need for UX design to pay attention to ensuring attractive icons and symbols to reinforce motivation.
  • The fact that aggregation (and, of course. critical mass) means that individual open rating in given platforms could also be a way to dynamically rate the platforms themselves.
  • The interesting issue of mutual mentoring and skills for adopting and generating these kinds of badges, as a channel for deeper understanding of the internal logic of digital platforms and how to build or improve them.

Questions for future research, and development

As a follow-up to the session, apart from this written report, we consider it important to highlight the fact that the output resonates with the research work of the Stanford Crowd Research Collective, especially in relation to the centralization and decentralization of reputation systems in “crowd guild” platforms, and the importance of considering the social dimension of sustainability when building technological systems, as set out in the KarlsKrona Manifesto.

The next steps in addressing “platform cooperativism UX” should continue along these lines: new user stories that generate both potential platform coop requirements and design-driven research outputs. In the short term, there is the upcoming Platform Coop event in London, where we believe that co-design discussions can keep contributing to advancing this new digital economic paradigm. We also hope to bring this methodology and the same questions to our local context in Barcelona, especially in relation to existing and new coops that are developing digital platforms and strategies in the emerging field of cooperative agricultural food products and possibly others.


​Twitter kaufen, Demokratie erweitern

November 28th, 2016

Zwei konkrete Vorschläge, wie wir Rechtspopulismus eindämmen können. Von Ute Scheub und Thomas Dönnebrink

Wird der Trumphalismus von 9/11 weite politische Landschaften in demagogische Brüllfelder verwandeln? Diese Gefahr droht bekanntlich nicht nur in den USA, sondern auch in Deutschland, Europa und weltweit. Trumps Triumph beruhte unter anderem auf Meinungs-Robotern, mit denen Stimmungen erzeugt und manipuliert wurden. Sein Team hat im Wahlkampf massiv „Social Bots“ eingesetzt, die über Twitter & Co massenhaft Botschaften versandten und so eine viel größere Unterstützermasse vortäuschten als tatsächlich existiert. Ein riesiger Anteil der Wahldebatten auf Twitter wurde von Maschinen geführt, wie eine Kurzstudie des „Oxford University’s Project on Computational Propaganda“ herausfand (www.politicalbots.org). #TrumpWon wurde dadurch zum Selbstläufer, zur selbsterfüllenden Prophezeiung. Werden Wahlkämpfe demnächst von selbsttätigen Computerarmeen ausgeführt? Eine beängstigende Vorstellung. Kanzlerin Merkel setzt im Wahljahr 2017 zwar auf einen freiwilligen Verzicht aller Parteien auf Social Bots, aber die AfD wird wohl nicht mitmachen.

Besser also, man bekämpft das Problem an der Wurzel. Take the toys from the boys, nehmt den Rechtspopulisten ihr liebstes Spielzeug zur Verbreitung von Hasspropaganda weg! Bereits im September schlug der US-Autor Nathan Schneider im britischen „Guardian“ vor, Twitter durch die User zu kaufen und in eine genossenschaftsähnliche Medienplattform umzuwandeln (die taz berichtete). Der Medienwissenschaftler an der Bolder University propagiert seit längerem den Aufbau eines gemeinwohlorientierten „Plattform-Kooperativismus“ als Alternative zum profitorientierten „Plattform-Kapitalismus“ der Internetkonzerne. Er war Mitorganisator einer internationalen Konferenz im November 2015 in New York, auf der ein breites Publikum das Thema begeistert aufnahm.

Die Idee fand international Anklang, unter anderem bei der deutschen Internetinitiative www.netzpolitik.org. Wenn man Twitter zu einer Mediengenossenschaft umwandelt, könnten sich User und Miteigentümerinnen auf ein Set moralischer Regeln einigen. Massenmanipulationen in Wahlkämpfen und das Verbreiten von Hasspropaganda könnte verboten oder zumindest eingeschränkt werden. Dass Medienkooperativen heute aus vielen Gründen zukunftsfähiger sind als profitorientierte Medien, das weiß niemand besser als die taz-Leserschaft.

Verschiedene Gruppen in den USA, Kanada, Deutschland und anderswo arbeiten derzeit an der Verbreiterung der Kampagne „WeAreTwitter“. Zwar wurde ihre gleichnamige Petition bisher nur von gut 3.000 Menschen unterzeichnet, aber das heißt nicht so viel. Die angesichts der Größe der Aufgabe komplexen Vorarbeiten laufen im Hintergrund, etwa auf den Kooperations-Plattformen loomio und slag channel. Einer von mehreren Vorschlägen zur Realisierung lautet folgendermaßen: Ein Prozent der User – ungefähr drei Millionen Leute – kaufen den Zwitscherdienst, verwandeln ihn in eine Kooperative und lassen sich durch eine geringe Nutzergebühr wieder ausbezahlen. So könnte Twitter am Ende allen gehören.

Zu den deutschen Vorarbeitern der Kampagne gehört der Münchner Internetspezialist Thomas Euler. Auch er verweist er darauf, dass man 12 bis 17 Milliarden Dollar für den Kauf der Aktiengesellschaft Twitter nicht per Crowdfunding aufbringen kann. Deshalb schlägt er vor, Anteile auf verschiedenen Wegen zu kaufen und Investoren zu begeistern, um auf der nächsten Aktionärsversammlung ein ausgearbeitetes Übernahmeangebot vorzulegen. Laut Euler gibt es bereits Kontakte zu Gründern und Investoren im Silicon Valley. Der junge IT-Berater zeigt sich überzeugt, dass der ständig rote Zahlen schreibende Internetdienst nicht nur aus ökonomischen, sondern auch aus technologischen Gründen von diesem neuen Geschäftsmodell profitieren könnte. Möglichst viel organisatorische und finanzielle Unterstützung aus Deutschland wäre großartig.

Unser zweiter Vorschlag dient ebenfalls dem Schutz und der Weiterentwicklung von Demokratie. In einer Hinsicht haben die „angry white men“, die Trump gewählt haben, ja recht: Das Band zwischen Regierenden und Regierten ist zerrissen, weil Konzerne und Lobbyisten hinter den Kulissen die Geschicke bestimmen. Das Gerechtigkeitsproblem Nr.1 von heute, dass sich Finanzindustrie und Superreiche auf Kosten der Allgemeinheit schamlos bereichern, ist spätestens seit der Bankenkrise von 2008 Allgemeinwissen, wird aber von den meisten Regierungsparteien einfach totgeschwiegen. Auch dieser zum Himmel schreiende Mangel an Veränderungswillen der politischen Elite macht Menschen anfällig für das rechtspopulistische Narrativ des „verratenen Volkes“.

In letzter Zeit sind mehrere kluge Bücher erschienen, die empfehlen, die Demokratie zu retten, indem man sie zur partizipativen und deliberativen Demokratie weiterentwickelt. Claus Leggewie und Patricia Nanz schlagen in ihrem Büchlein „Die Konsultative“ die Bildung von Bürger- oder Zukunftsräten vor, die ähnlich wie Laienrichter per Losverfahren und zusätzlich nach demografischen Kriterien wie Alter, Geschlecht, Herkunft und Bildungsgrad bestimmt werden. Diese divers zusammengesetzten Gremien können dann vollkommen frei von Lobbyinteressen über Probleme beraten und Lösungsvorschläge ausarbeiten – von der Dorfebene bis in die EU. Damit der Prozess nicht ins Leere läuft, muss den politisch Zuständigen im Vorfeld allerdings abgerungen werden, dass sie auf die Vorschläge verbindlich reagieren.

Ähnlich argumentiert der belgische Historiker David Van Reybrouck. In seinem brillanten Buch, das leider den irreführenden Titel „Gegen Wahlen“ trägt, zeigt er auf, dass Losverfahren das entscheidende Element vieler Demokratien waren und sind, angefangen vom antiken Griechenland. „Gegen Wahlen“ hat er nichts, aber „gegen Wahlfundamentalismus“, also die uns allen kopfwäschenmäßig beigebrachte Reduzierung der wunderbaren Idee von „Volksherrschaft“ auf das bloße Wählen alle paar Jahre.

In beiden Büchern wimmelt es von Erfolgsbeispielen für diese inklusiven Modelle, die sich besonders gut für die Aushandlung zentraler Zukunftsfragen eignen. Wer es nicht glaubt, möge sich die Arbeit von „Zukunftsräten“ im österreichischen Vorarlberg etwa zum Umgang mit Flüchtlingen ansehen. Oder die Empfehlungen für die Umsetzung der UN-Nachhaltigkeitsziele lesen, die Bürgerräte für das Bundesumweltministerium formuliert haben. Oder den Entwurf für eine neue Verfassung in Island, der nach der Bankenkrise per „crowdthinking“ erarbeitet wurde. Man stelle sich nur mal vor, Klimaschutzpläne würden hier und weltweit nicht von Ministerien entworfen, sondern von lobbyfreien Zukunftsräten.

Es geht, man muss sich nur trauen. Jede Gemeinde, jede Straße, jede Stadt, jede Region kann einen Anfang machen. Im Wahljahr 2017 können wir zeigen, dass wir kollektiv zu wesentlich mehr fähig sind, als Zettel in der Urne zu versenken.

Mehr zur Twitter-Kampagne


Sci-Fi Imagines the Cooperative Platform Economy as a Victor

November 23rd, 2016

In mid-November on a Floridian island, Six Silberman, a researcher for a German union, offered a retrospective of the platform co-op movement to a full room at the ACM GROUP 2016 conference.

Though Silberman’s speech was based on a work of design-fiction, “Reading Elinor Ostrom in Silicon Valley,” and told from the standpoint of a speaker at the conference’s 2025 installment, the future that Silberman elaborated made tangible the changes that our movement demands. He spoke not through the abstract lens of a theory but the concreteness of the assertion of their already-being.

Directing his attention first to social platforms, Six Silberman walked his audience through the successful 2017 purchase of Twitter by its user base, a reference to the #WeAreTwitter campaign, before discussing the rise of the stakeholder-owned competitor to Facebook, Boopnode.

Following Six’s timeline, in 2016, with Twitter facing financial uncertainty, a campaign proposed to collectively buy Twitter and turn it into a platform co-op; in late 2017, the campaign succeeded. Twitter almost failed a few times in its first five years as a cooperative, but that’s when researchers from the Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) stepped in! They played a major role in developing the governance mechanisms that dramatically reduced harassment on Twitter, which stabilized the cooperative’s finances and user base by the year 2023.

In parallel, Facebook-alternative Boopnode was founded in 2018 and had taken a quarter of Facebook’s market share within five years. Academic research into Boopnode would play a role in its success, shaping both the product and the multi-stakeholder organization. Silberman: “In terms of the depth, breadth, robustness, and responsiveness of its democratic governance, Boopnode is by far the most successful cooperatively governed digital platform.”

Boopnode also impacted those platforms which refused to adopt cooperative ownership models:

2021 was a good year for democracy at Facebook: we saw the formation of the User Advisory Board there and the reservation of two spots on the board of directors for elected representatives of users. And in 2023 shareholders pressured the board of directors to give the User Advisory Board the power to issue binding recommendations to the product and operations teams.

Continuing, Six Silberman discussed “contemporary” research into the structures and behaviors of digital labor platforms, (“now”) understood to function simultaneously as markets and governments. The researchers of Silberman’s timeline were said to have made great strides in both mapping the governmental structures and practices of these platforms, improving their efficiency and equity via policy recommendations made to platform owners. When these recommendations were ignored, successes were achieved when motivated researchers engaged in political interventions through the development of tools for users and the creation of cooperatively-owned alternatives to obstinate platforms. (One might think of Silberman’s own project, Turkopticon, which has helped innumerable workers on the Amazon Mechanical Turk platform avoid wage theft and other workplace abuses.)

The crowning achievement of these researchers, however, was nothing less than a radical reversal of traditional conceptions of the market:

Perhaps the most striking intellectual development in this work has been the emergence of the notion that a market is best thought of as a commons — a shared resource with many stakeholders whose diverse interests ought, for sustainable, equitable operation, all be taken into account. Indeed this idea has begun to be applied not just to markets but to digital infrastructures broadly, not just in design and operation but also in policy.

Though Silberman cautioned his audience that there is still much work to be done, in his concluding remarks he noted that the aforementioned successes were only realized by the efforts of “designers and technologists who see the connections between design and justice, design and democracy, design and compassion, design and the meaning of our inescapable being human together.” Though design-fiction, this holds up to scrutiny: now, more than ever, the world will benefit from the impassioned labors of those who recognize the political nature of design. We look forward to the year 2025 and hope to make good on the future which Silberman has promised already exists.

You can read the full transcript of Silberman’s talk here. Or, you can listen to an audio recording.


​In Brussels, Online Food Couriers Launch Their Own Platform Co-op

October 13th, 2016

This photo was purchased at Stocksy.comThe sector of online food delivery is booming in many cities in the economically developed world. It’s a promising market and many corporations like Deliveroo or UberEATS are pedaling fast to move in and win the race. The recent strikes of couriers’ have shown that despite all the millions of dollars in venture capital, the human factor is often forgotten. The recent bankruptcy of Take Eat Easy in Europe, for example, turned into a real opportunity for couriers to start their own co-op.

About 3 years ago, a new rising star entered the landscape of upstarts in Belgium. The media called it “a revolutionary app” for online food delivery, operated by bicycle couriers. Take Eat Easy went from an idea - connecting couriers with restaurants and hungry clients - to 6 million Euros in funding in April 2015 and 10 million more by August of the same year. In some cities, the company even became a challenger to Deliveroo.

One year later, an all-too-familiar story unfolded. On July 26, 2016, the company announced by email that they would cease their activities. The startup would not pay its 4500 couriers and more than 3000 restaurants for the entire month of July. Adrien Roose, CEO of Take Eat Easy, wrote an article on Medium thanking all who worked for them and who “made this adventure possible.” The bankruptcy was not especially surprising for Sacha, one of the couriers who is now actively setting up a new couriers co-op: “Working conditions had changed suddenly. Relations with the management of the company became more tense and we could feel that bankruptcy was in the air.

When Adrien Roose talked about an adventure, he must have referred to the artificial funding that boosted his enterprise for some 15 months. It was an expensive game that he lost. The story of Take Eat Easy was simply picture-book Silicon Valley: 

(1) sketch up a business idea and make it shine,
(2) raise as much capital as possible,
(3) heavily invest in marketing,
(4) be there first and dominate the national or even international market, and then
(5) lobby governments to change the rules of the game. 

Does this traditional approach benefit the greater good? If the answer is at least a partial “no,” then the question to ask is: what can we do about it? Well, the story of the former Take Eat Easy couriers in Brussels can inspire couriers in other cities.

It all started with an article by the Hackistan collective in August 2016. Next, a few messages circulated on the Facebook group of the couriers. 50 cyclists were curious about the idea of a cooperative. Here, they could be both workers and owners!!! Two weeks later, in the headquarters of the SMart co-op, 15 of the couriers met to draft their business model.

It became to us that we were not natural-born-entrepreneurs”, says Arnaud, one of the co-op’s spokespersons, smiling. “Initially,” Arnaud quipped, “we met to build an innovative delivery service taking into account a green environment, urban congestion, sustainable mobility, and fair working conditions. … Now, we are no longer just atomized individual couriers working for a company that considered us not much more than ‘legs-on-bikes-without-brains.’ We are convinced that with sufficient human investment, there is space for such co-op of couriers in Brussels.”

The couriers have created working groups focusing on their business model, web development, and a legal structure. Most of the couriers are specialized in one or sometimes even two of these areas. They sent a proposal to enter the CoopCity incubator for social entrepreneurs, a new program funded by the Region of Brussels and the European Union. The CoopCity incubator for social entrepreneurs is a first in Belgium; it’s an 8 month-long program, led by professional coaches from the best business schools and co-ops in the city. 

As another courier, Sacha, puts it: “at Take Eat Easy, we only had to resign ourselves to hierarchy … The ultimate grievance was the introduction of an internal competition among couriers … We definitely want to avoid these kinds of management glitches with our co-op. We want a kind of governance that improves collective well-being.

There are many obstacles: from web development to the survival on small profit margins. “We are ready to face these tough questions,” Sacha insists. But the couriers already learned one thing: if they work together, they can build their own platform co-op. 

Arnaud stresses that “thanks to this experience, we see already immediate positive results: we’ve built stronger partnerships and bonds in our local community, and we’ve strengthened our identity as a group of couriers.” It’s also encouraging to see that similar groups are now also emerging in Paris and London. Couriers of the world, (keep pedaling but), and unite! 


Matthieu Lietaert, author 
of the book Homo Cooperans 2.0., is an investigative journalist. He is also director of the film The Brussels Business about corporate lobbying in the EU. He holds a Ph.D. from the European University Institute.


How to set up a platform co-op for refugees in Europe

July 28th, 2016

In Germany, our project RefugeesWork connects these newcomers who are looking for work with locals who want to hire them on a freelance basis.

We started because we saw that refugees had skills: some were translators, designers, cooks, journalists, or programmers and we wanted to help them to quickly find freelance and volunteering opportunities. Our platform provides information that makes refugees aware of their rights while also connecting them to residents, local firms, and other organizations.

It all began with our dear friend A. who had escaped Syria only to end up in a small village near Osnabrück where he found himself without Internet access, preventing him from working as a digital designer. We wanted to help. Bi-weekly, CodingAmigos, a group of developers with an activist streak met in the co-working & hacker space Co-Up. There, we designed the RefugeesWorkapp as an open source project with the help of refugees.

To date, we have over 300 registrations on the site and the Facebook page was liked by over 1100 people. We believe that freelance work has the potential to shield these professionals from all kinds of discrimination that they might otherwise experience. It shields them, for example from the usual politicking among corporate employees who might tend to put such newcomers into a fairly low place.

Currently, we are also exploring collaborations with Sensorica in Canada and Enspiral in New Zealand. Right now, our biggest challenge is to develop the rules for voting and sharing. We at RefugeesWork are very interested in the platform co-op model but we are not sure yet how to do this in Germany. How would you start a co-op and what are the legal issues in this country when taking such a cooperative online?