Analytical framework of the democratic and procommons qualities of collaborative economy organizations

Text originally published at DECODE blog on 06/10/2017 

The collaborative economy (or collaborative platform economy) is used as a “floating signifier” for interactions among distributed groups of people supported by digital platforms. Such platforms  can enable people to exchange, share and collaborate on everything from power tools to work. It is growing rapidly and exponentially, creating great interest, and has become a top priority for governments around the globe.

However, the collaborative economy suffers from important challenges. From Dimmons, we would like to highlight and address two of these challenges which are relevant in the context of the DECODE project:

(1) platform collaborative economy is creating high sustainability expectations for its potential to contribute to the sustainable development of society, and the democratization of economy. However, platform collaborative economy lacks a holistic and multidisciplinary framework for assessment of these sustainability and pro democratization qualities. Furthermore, the sustainable design of platforms has considered questions of technological and economic sustainability, but has not integrated other sustainability questions, such as environmental impact, gender and inclusion, or legal implications, lacking a proper multidisciplinary perspective to platform economy.

(2) There is a confusion about the platforms which present themselves as collaborative which in reality are not; and similar uncertainties and ambiguities associated with diverse models. The disruptive impact of the best known platform economy model, that of Unicorn extractionist corporation platforms like Uber and Airbnb, is provoking huge controversy (Codagnone et al., 2016). Successful “alternative” and truly collaborative models exist, such as open commons, platform cooperativism and decentralized organizations based on a social economy and open knowledge, but these have received neither policy nor research attention. Additionally, there is a lack of a classification system that helps to establish the difference between the different models.

In order to address these challenges, with our multidisciplinary research for DECODE, we have developed a first version of a commons balance of the platform collaborative economy. The commons balance is an analytical tool that helps to characterize the platforms, differentiate between models by visualizing the commons qualities of platform collaborative economy initiatives, and provide insights of the sustainability implications of their design and performance from several perspectives. This commons balance considers the dimensions of governance, economic strategy, technology, knowledge policies, and social responsibility.

In this regard, commons collaborative economy is characterized by favouring:

1) peer to peer relations and the involvement of the community of peers generating in the governance of the platform; in contrast to traditionally hierarchical command and contractual relationships detached from social responsibility, which are  merely methods for economic exchange

2) it is based on value distribution and governance among the community of peers, and the profitability is not its main driving force;

3) it is developed over privacy aware public infrastructure, and results in the (generally) open access provision of commons resources that favour access, reproducibility and derivativeness;

4) and, finally, responsibility to respond to any negative impacts generated by the process, such as contributing to higher rental prices in the case of accommodation sharing platforms.

The design of the commons balance is informed and based on a multidisciplinary analysis of the collaborative economy from an economic, environmental, gender and inclusion, legal and policy perspective. It includes an empirical analysis of prominent examples of commons collaborative economy, as well as analysis of Barcelona’s commons collaborative economy ecosystem.

The commons balance is an analytical tool that helps to visualize the commons qualities of collaborative economy initiatives, differentiate models, and provide insights of the sustainability of their design, and to inform technological development. The commons qualities of the collaborative economy are articulate around 5 dimensions:

  • Governance: Regarding democratic enterprises and involving the community generated the value in the platform governance. Regarding decision-making model of the organization; mechanisms and political rules of the digital platform participation.
  • Economic model: Regarding whether the project financing model is based on a private capital, ethical finance, or a distributed fund (crowdfunding or match-funding); the business models; mechanisms of economical transparency;  how far the profitability is driven the whole plan; distribution of value generated; and equity payment and labour rights. To ensure equitable and timely remuneration, and access to benefits and rights for workers (maximization of income, salary predictability, safe income, protection against arbitrary actions, rejection of excessive vigilance at the workplace, and the right to disconnect).
  • Knowledge policy: Regarding the type property as established by the license used (free licenses or proprietary licenses) of the content and knowledge generated; type of data (open or not), the ability to download data (and which formats), and the promotion of the transparency of algorithms, programs and data. Privacy awareness and the protection property from personal data and prevent abuse, as well as the collection or sharing of data without consent. Guarantee the portability of data and reputation.
  • Technological policy: Regarding the mode of property and freedom associated with type of software used and its license (free or proprietary) and the model of technology architecture: distributed (using blockchain, for example) or centralized (software as a service). Key aspects of data and software sovereignty, as addressed by the technical developments of the DECODE project, are also fundamental for this dimension, as well a data commons related to the different economic models.
  • Social responsibility regarding externality impacts: These dimensions related to any source of awareness and responsibility regarding the externalities and negative impact such as social exclusion, and social inequalities, regarding the equal access of people with all kinds of income and baggage in an equitable and impartial way (without discrimination) to gain access to the platform; the inclusion of gender, compliance with health standards and safety standards that protect the public; and the environmental impact, and the impact in the policy arena, and the preservation of the right to the city of its inhabitants and the common good of the city; the protection of the general interest, public space, and basic human rights, such as access to housing.

One of the aims of this framework is to help to address, therefore to guide, the development of collaborative economy initiatives, in order to improve their own impact in society and economy, as long as it could be a helpful tool for assessing policy-making. Related to DECODE, our work aims to assist and understand the contexts and factors where sharing and collaborative economies actors relate to each other, in order to generate, share, or reuse open and commons data, for example in cases subject to become DECODE project pilots.

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