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Gathering Storms: Forecasting the Future of Cities

The prognosis for our planet, now widely accepted, is shattering our vision of a bright future for our cities, characterised by abundance and technological expansion. As a result, we urgently need to envision and confront the scenarios that are likely to become our reality, in the hope that this work of imagination can help us to adapt effectively and perhaps steer a different course.

This post is part of our series of articles on the Urban Commons sourced from the Green European Journal Editorial Board. These were published as part of Volume 16 “Talk of the Town: Exploring the City in Europe”. In this instalment, Pablo Servigne, an agronomist and expert in ecology, behaviour and evolution of social insects, examines the role of the city on the midst of a convergence of ecological and social crises.

Cities around the world today face a whole host of grave threats: from pollution to climate change, resource scarcity to overpopulation, and many more. Growing awareness of this has led to a proliferation of ‘solutions’ such as ‘green’, ‘sustainable’, ‘smart’, ‘resilient’, ‘zero-carbon’ projects, as well as ‘eco-neighbourhoods’. But how effective can these initiatives hope to be, in light of the scale of the problems faced? Our vision of the future is in dire need of being injected with a good dose of realism. The vision of a ‘linear’ urban future is in effect fed by the imagery of abundance forged during post-war reconstruction. Yet the conditions of such prosperity are no longer in place. A closer look at the principal threats facing cities can serve as a base from which to devise potential future scenarios. By stimulating our imagination, it is hoped that this conceptual framework will help us design urban policies which are more credible and less unsustainable than those we have witnessed so far.

Continue Reading at the Source: Gathering Storms: Forecasting the Future of Cities | P2P Foundation

Cities under threat

The risks of global warming are well known. According to the UN, more than 60 per cent of cities with populations of over 750,000 are exposed to at least one major risk. One of the latest reports from the IPCC describes one major risk, amongst others – of climate and environmental shocks breaking down the industrial food systems that feed most European towns. [1]

Resource shortages (metals, water, wood, energy, etc) also fall within these major threats. In fact, there is nothing simpler than seriously disrupting a city: it’s merely a matter of blocking its food and energy supplies. These are amongst the worst threats a city can face, because the social, economic and then political effects are felt almost immediately (within a matter of days). Hence the prioritisation of food security by all governments over the centuries.

Serious threats are also posed by certain types of pollution. As well as the heavy metals and organic compounds polluting the soil, and aerosols already rendering certain towns unliveable, there is the risk of major industrial accidents forcing entire urban populations to be evacuated. Cities must learn to anticipate all this, to absorb the shocks, to recover, and to learn from these events, most of which are already happening in certain parts of the world. Simply to achieve this, they need resources, energy and a degree of social order, which are increasingly hard to guarantee.

In fact, all these threats can be considered to come from outside the city (external threats). But there is another equally serious, and less well known, type of threat: internal threats. These arise mainly from vulnerable infrastructure and social conflict. It is well-known to historians and archaeologists that a town’s capacity to grow and thrive depends on its capacity to safeguard good communication, transport, and distribution networks. Today, much of the transport, electricity, and water infrastructure in OECD countries is over 50 years old (over 100 years old, in some cases), and is already operating well beyond maximum capacity. [2] The extent of its interconnection, complexity, and homogeneity, and the speed of movement of the components of city life, have also increased the vulnerability of this infrastructure. It is thus also easily destabilised by one-off events such as floods, hurricanes, and terrorist attacks.

When, following the rise in the price of diesel in the year 2000, 150 striking lorry drivers blocked major fuel depots in the UK, the consequences rapidly made themselves felt: “Just four days after the start of the strike, most of the country’s refineries had ceased operation, forcing the government to take steps to protect the remaining reserves. The following day, people rushed into shops and supermarkets to stock up on food. One day later, 90% of filling stations had stopped serving, and the NHS [National Health Service] started to cancel elective surgery. Royal Mail deliveries stopped, and schools in many towns and villages closed their doors. Major supermarkets such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s introduced rationing, and the government called in the army to escort convoys of vital goods. In the end, public pressure led the strikers to end their action”. [3]

In the cities of industrialised countries – including, need we add, Europe – it is highly likely that we will reach ‘peak urbanisation’ over the next decade.

The social order of a city can falter rapidly, even when networks don’t break down. All it takes is an economic or political crisis, leading to a collapse of industrial activity, massive job losses, housing crises, the bursting of a speculation bubble, riots, community or class conflicts, terrorist acts, and so on. These events have become frequent because of the significant increase in economic and social inequality within countries, [4] and even within cities. [5] This is nothing new, but seems to have been forgotten; archaeology shows us that the economic and political elites of great civilisations have often caused the inexorable degradation of their environment, due to the pressure they put on people and natural ecosystems. [6]

Last, but not least, all these threats are interdependent, and nowadays operate at a globalised level. Large, homogeneous, fast-moving, deeply interconnected international networks have – paradoxically – become more resistant to small disturbances, but more vulnerable to major disruptions, which, when they occur, can trigger a domino effect throughout the system, leading to collapse. [7] Scientists speak of a new kind of risk: the ‘systemic global risk’ inherent in these extensive complex networks, and, as major nodes in these global networks, cities are very exposed to these risks.

Scenarios for the Future: Forwarned is forearmed

With that in mind, four scenarios can be envisaged. The aim is not to alarm, nor to predict the future, but to stimulate the imagination and test the effects of these threats against possible futures. These scenarios are to be taken as signposts, pathways or stages, like the points of a compass. They are archetypes for the future, to help illustrate trends and provide insight into what might lie ahead. The division into four scenarios arises from two forward-looking works: Future Scenarios by David Holmgren, [8] and Resilient Cities, by architects and planners Newman, Beatley and Boyer. [9] The first work describes the possible trajectories in relation to peak oil and climate change.

If climate change has a gradual effect (providing enough room for manoeuvre to transform society), there are two possible scenarios: a ‘green tech’ transition, which, if resources decline slowly, could be relatively comfortable, or a radical and rapid change, known as ‘earth stewardship’, in the case of a brutally rapid decline in energy resources. By contrast, if climate change has rapid and violent effects, society will tip into a ‘brown tech’ future, where the powers that be would muster all their force to maintain ‘business as usual’. Or, even worse, society could completely collapse – the ‘lifeboat’ scenario – if these catastrophes coincided with a rapid loss of resources.

The second publication focuses exclusively on the end of oil, and analysing its effects on cities. It explores the following question: knowing that cities are completely dependent on oil, and have a massive carbon footprint, what would be the consequences for modern industrial cities of the end of the oil age? Two areas in particular are explored: transport and food security. The authors describe four scenarios, similar to those of Holmgren: the resilient city (corresponding to the ‘green tech’ scenario), the divided city (‘brown tech’ scenario), the ruralised city (‘earth stewardship’ scenario), and the collapsed city (‘lifeboat’ scenario).

However, both of these forward-looking publications only consider scenarios based on external threats (climate and oil), without taking account of internal threats. The latter have been explicitely included in the following proposed synthesis. [10]

The ecotechnical city

If the impact of global warming turns out to be gradual, and an ‘energy descent’ [11] can be managed, society can adopt ‘green’ technologies, ensure a successful transition, and work towards distributed renewable energy systems, without conflict or disasters. This would lead to a resurgence in regional, rural economies, more sustainable agriculture, more horizontal political systems, and more compact cities that prioritise public transport and the local economy. A balance would be found between reducing consumption and slowing economic growth, thanks to energy efficiency technology and a relocalisation of the economy. However, it is only possible for a city to take this route if it already has a resilient, well-maintained infrastructure, and if it avoids major political, economic and social upheavals. This is clearly the most desirable scenario in terms of maintaining the living standards and security that our democratic societies rely on. To sum up, in the absence of significant obstacles, even in the context of an energy descent, an efficient transition is still possible. The city can prepare, slowly but surely, for the ‘storms’ ahead.

The ecovillage city

A rapid decline in resources, including oil and natural gas, could trigger a crisis that would bring the world economy to its knees. This global collapse could create political instability, which would in turn lead to serious social problems, but also, paradoxically, to an end of greenhouse gas emissions. Local resilient communities would then emerge in some rural areas (following a massive rural exodus). This would be achieved through agro-ecology and permaculture techniques, and above all by sustaining their capacity for local democracy. It is possible that the major megalopolises would still contain rich, private, gated neighbourhoods, by developing urban agriculture within suburban gardens. In this scenario, no-one believes civilisation can be preserved as it stands; people will have moved on, to work for something radically different. Cities would return to being semi-rural, meeting many of their food and energy needs very locally, along the lines of self-sufficient medieval towns. Peri-urban belts would be made up of ecovillages, supplying the town and recycling waste, much like the Parisian market gardeners of the 19th century. However, this ‘radical resilience’ policy will only be practicable if massive disasters (hurricanes, uprisings, revolutions, etc.), that could destabilise the political and social order are neither too intense nor too frequent. If they do occur, the organisation of the city could change radically, whilst retaining a chance of avoiding breakdown and chaos, and maintaining a semblance of democracy, albeit at increasingly local levels. In this scenario, the city is instantly transformed, yet without being wiped out by the ‘storms’.

The enclave city

A slow decline in energy supply could leave influential power structures in place, thus thwarting any chance of real transformation. The combination of an authoritarian state and greedy private business would foster an extraction industry rush for non-renewable resources, with predictably catastrophic consequences. But then the climate and environmental crises would be so overwhelming that all of society’s energy and resources would be needed to keep the ship afloat, due to policies that are centralised, securitised, militarised, and inegalitarian. The city would splinter; the rich, cocooned in their safe neighbourhoods, would maintain access to increasingly expensive supplies, protecting themselves from climatic variations with new technology. The poorest in society would be left to their own devices in semi-rural areas (with survival vegetable plots providing resilience), or even shanty towns, with less and less reliable access to resources. In this scenario, the economic elite (the rich) and political elite (the government), in their opulent enclaves, would use violence and fear to maintain their privilege. These elites would have no choice than to bring in ever more oppressive laws. Those in the most precarious situations would gradually lose the means to protect themselves from environmental and social disasters, and certain districts (crowded with arriving migrants) would become shanty towns, and police no-go areas. Political cohesion, and thus democracy, would be the first victims, leaving the field open for the expansion of the private sector and its irresistible machine for generating ever more privilege and social division – in other words, social chaos. The city crumbles, the rich ‘manage’ the crisis, everyone else endures it, and the former control the latter by increasingly undemocratic means.

The collapsed city

If rapid economic and political collapse (the Ecovillage scenario) is compounded by severe environmental and climate crises, it is too late to take the resilience route; collapse is inevitable. History shows that a lack of preparation combined with a succession of various disasters will end up getting the better of any city. There is no lack of examples of dead cities, such as Ephesus, the port and second largest town in the Roman Empire, abandoned in around the year 1,000 when the river dried up after all the trees on the surrounding hills had been felled. War, illness, and famine have always cleared cities of their inhabitants, and this can still happen. In Syria and Libya, armed conflict has devastated entire towns, which have still not recovered. When the shock is too brutal, some of the urban population flee, and those who cannot, stay, prey to shortages and chaos. Epidemics and/or conflict can reduce social life to clans controlled by local warlords. Some small population clusters would survive in exceptionally favourable conditions (such as a healthy river, stable damn, fertile fields, or an isolated monastery). These small islands (Holmgren’s ‘lifeboats’) would be humanity’s only chance to find a way through a dark period and retain the hope of renaissance in a few decades, or centuries. In this scenario, unpredictable and irreversible domino effects lead to the rapid breakdown of the city.

A rupture in our imagination

This four-scenario compass provides us with a new way of looking at the future. It enables us to see more clearly what is at stake: from a hardening of class relations, de-industrialisation of towns, urban exodus, and infrastructure collapse to the development of green technologies. Even if the details of these trajectories are not specified, global trends are clear: towards catastrophes, or what some might term collapse. These narratives differ from the more common forecasts, based on myths around technological progress, and luring us with a future ever more connected to the virtual, and thus in the end disconnected from the natural. But we have clearly run up against the limits of this approach (and of earth-system science), and now we must prepare for a future of rupture and interruption.

In the cities of industrialised countries – including, need we add, Europe – it is highly likely that we will reach ‘peak urbanisation’ over the next decade. In other words, we cannot carry on in this ultra-urban direction. The future of industrial towns will more likely be one of depopulation, reconnection with green belts and the countryside, an overdue reduction in social inequality, and the re-localisation of the economy. It is up to us to tip the balance in favour of a particular scenario.

Even if the precise nature of these scenarios is not clear, we can be sure that the urban future has to be resilient. [12] Cities will have to weather various kinds of ‘storms’, some with more ease than others, and this will radically transform how Europeans design and inhabit their cities. Anticipating these ‘storms’ today, feeling and imagining them, equips us to be prepared, and thus avert disaster.

This is a revised version of an article that was first published on

1. P. Servigne (2017). Nourrir l’Europe en temps de crise. Vers de systèmes alimentaires résilients, Babel.
2. I. Goldin & M. Mariathasan, (2014). The butterfly defect: How globalization creates systemic risks, and what to do about it. Princeton University Press, p.101.
3. P. Servigne & R. Stevens (2015), Comment tout peut s’effondrer. Petit manuel de collapsologie à l’usage des générations présentes, Seuil, p. 116.
4. R. Wilkinson, & K. Pickett (2009). The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone, Allen Lane.
5. O. Razemon (2016) Comment la France a tué ses villes, Rue de l’échiquier.
6. For example, the salinisation of land during the third millennium BCE in Mesapotamia, or, today, the living stands of rich Europeans destroying
tropical forests. See N. B. Grimm, et al. (2008). Global change and the ecology of cities, Science, n°319, pp. 756-760.
7. P. Servigne & R. Stevens (2015), op. cit.
8. D. Holmgren (2009), Future scenarios, How communities can adapt to peak oil and climate change, Green Books
9. P. Newman et al. (2009) Resilient cities. Responding to peak oil and climate change, Island Press.
10. Here, armed conflict is not included in external threats, and civil war not included in internal threats.
11. In the context of a post-peak oil transition, this refers to the shift away from an increasing use of energy to a reduction.

What is ‘Energy Descent’?

12. A. Sinaï et al. Petit traité de résilience locale, 2015, Éditions Charles Léopold Mayer.

The post Gathering Storms: Forecasting the Future of Cities appeared first on P2P Foundation.

Clues for building the bridge to a Networked Democracy

The advent of the Internet, the ICTs and the collective intelligence enabled by them point to the rise of a networked democracy that promises, among other things, the protagonism of the common citizen in relation to the State and to the distribution of power. In recent years, there have been a number of initiatives in this area that, somehow, advanced towards this goal, but the promise remains unanswered.

Article: Clues for building the bridge to a Networked Democracy by Cidade Democrática via P2P Foundation

One reason may be the fact that, advocating for a leading role to the ordinary citizen and the distribution of power, one is severely threatening the interests of politicians, political parties and companies that have been benefiting from an autocratic and centralized paradigm for hundreds or maybe thousands of years. So, we are aware that the mission we have before us is one that will take some time and effort to be accomplished, as it is inscribed in the great transition we are all going through.

Believing in the digital culture statement that “technology is everywhere, the people is what matters” seems adequate to avoid the fetish of technology itself and the creation of solutions that do not realize the potential of a distributed network, responding to the challenge of consolidating autonomous collective action processes that would ultimately lead to the distribution of power.

It was the promise of common citizen protagonism and distribution of power that, in 2008, sparkled the development of Instituto Cidade Democrática’s free software. Four years latter, new functions were added to the digital platform to respond to the human dynamics of autonomous collective action, modeling unique experiences such as the challenges: Amazonian Webcidadania Xingu (2013), São Paulo state city Jundiaí Cidadonos focused on social accountability (2015), Brazilian National Youth Conference digital process (2015) and São Paulo city Free Laboratories of Social Participation(2016), which promotes the appropriation of open source applications by cultural social movements for autonomous political action.

Still, in our perspective, the social participation ecosystem as a whole is far from delivering initiatives that significantly advance into the construction of this networked democracy. In this post, some of the lessons learned in recent years are presented to help us understand the complexity of obtaining some of the necessary elements for this answer: scale without intermediation, financial sustainability for ICD from a hard to measure value created, debate quality without exclusion, permanent changes in state institutions and building commons.

The answer to the above issues seems to reside between softwares’ interaction architectures, initiatives’ business models and projects’ impact and the likelihood of social participation technology ecosystem initiatives to engage in collective impact. Below are some of our latter reflections. We hope that you enjoy and that our learnings will help you work better and make the promise to come true.

1) Audience success is good for democracy?

The widespread use of social media platforms brought the promise of horizontal communication from many to many and the possibility of mobilization without media control. Groups organized around communications and campaigning tools would be able to spread their messages, becoming strong actors to influence the course of action towards their interests.

This promise has given rise to initiatives that select ‘relevant’ agendas through content curation to be offered to the ordinary citizens, producing incidence masses that act via automated systems (e-mail, phone calls or social media publications) to urge decision makers to act towards these initiatives intermediaries’ interests. Together with leading social media algorithms, this strategy only strengthens the logic of audience competition, increasing the chances of the chosen agendas to get attention and be adopted by decision makers.

The above-mentioned initiatives, almost always based on proprietary software and nontransparent algorithms, have shown to be effective at putting messages through targeted audiences, sometimes achieving positive political results and, most often, producing promising return on advertising investment. Products’ campaigns (political or non-political) are benefiting from new and effective tools to influence the public, allowing new combinations of feelings and emotions with products and messages. On the other hand, those tools are definitely not suited for the political debate. For this purpose, the strategy must include interaction architectures and algorithms that value cultural and democratic dynamics, are transparent and efficient in identifying noise and establishing minimum consensus.

That is why we keep wondering: where will this audience success lead us in the long run? Must we conform to a refashioned logic, able to mobilize ordinary citizens through impactful messages, as the next step towards a networked democracy?

Our answer is no and, therefore, we have been working on a more adequate change theory to respond to common citizen protagonism and distribution of power, stimulating autonomous collective action to surpass the limits of audience oriented social participation and enabling arrangements that strengthen each one willing to participate in the decisions on the common good. We will talk about this in the end of this post.

2) Qualifying the debate leads to exclusion?

As summarized in the previous section, this issue is not new. Several organizations, governments and open source communities have been developing and using applications based on interaction architectures and algorithms that foster informed and autonomous debate between different ideas. Some examples are: Liquid Feedback (Pirate Party), collaborative public consultations based on Dialoga and Delibera (Marco Civil da InternetPensando o, Cidade Democrática (contests of ideas, Webcidadania Xingu), Decide Madrid (Cónsul), Decidim Barcelona(Dedicim), DemocracIT (Greece). Our close analysis of those initiatives shows that there is a clear desire of governmental and civil society organizations to offer alternatives for democratic dialogue based on the collective intelligence and network intelligence, but these experiences have been having difficulty in scaling or generating the desired impact.

Why, to date were these initiatives unable to scale or impact? Our opinion is that it is because of the engagement limit represented by architectures that required the user-activist to have cognitive resources, time, motivation and training to be able to use these platforms properly. In other words, the unfitted way these solutions were developed requires empowered citizens — a social ‘category’ that has grown very slowly in times when politics and consumer markets still operate in the old autocratic logic of media and political power centralization. These citizens must be able to jump on a discussion with resources and willingness to hold long conversations, often requiring a lot of prior knowledge that are not widely distributed in society. It’s possible to say that we are reaching a kind of “participation elite”, ie people who already have pre-disposition and time to participate.

Moreover, even for those who have mobilized themselves to participate in the traditional tree process, the incentives (proposals/ discussions resulting on improvements in their lives) are far from encouraging: often there is no clear decision-making process that takes advantage of all that information made available by the participants leading participants to feel disempowered. Some examples of tree or mixed mode architectures that present clearer processes of deliberation (Loomio, Cidade Democrática, Decide Madrid, Application of Brazilian Youth Conference, Liquid Feedbackor even the proprietary ConsiderIT) do so at the cost of significant increase to the process complexity, setting stages, rules and obligations which ultimately reduce the engagement potential, despite of the increased effectiveness for those who pass the barrier.

To respond to this barrier that prevents more people to participate, we believe that the design of collective deliberation should take into consideration the pedagogical aspect of interaction. A good example of digital tool with minimalistic and dynamic interface is the one of collective deliberation that we will name here as ‘crowdsourced discussion’ architectures — able to gradually increase the amount of energy that participants need to offer at every step of the engagement process. These kind of applications are able to gather data from different ways in which people participate, almost no information is lost and all is put to good use in the final result.

This research of architectures that allow mass participation in a pedagogical way and facilitate the generation of autonomous collective action motivated us to choose the open source software for the challenges of collective deliberation. In the current state, this application can provide a simple interaction architecture and uses advanced machine learning algorithms to foster the creation of groups of people based on how they participate in the proposals. Though is very good at identifying these affinity groups, currently it only shows this information and do not progress towards helping these people to organize around autonomous collective action. In our opinion, there are improvements to be made in the application precisely to carry out this type of action.

Media-Lab Prado (Madrid, Spain) selected our proposal for a prototype that incorporates the feature mentioned above in the call for Collective Intelligence for Democracy to be developed together with the creators and main developers of this community in November 2016.

3) Autonomous collective action is enough to change policies?

In the previous reflections we have presented some of the pitfalls of opting for interaction algorithms and architectures that bet on audience as a mean to scale and that operate through events, maintaining broadcast standards, reinforcing a passive form of participation, with strong intermediation structures, maintaining the dominant political culture and stimulating content and agenda consumption instead of autonomous collective action.

To build an effective networked democracy, we must be able to encourage autonomous collective actions as the ones that express singular interests and hyperlocal contexts, stimulating the role of agenda promoter that each one can perform. In the current context, however, there are few chances for these proposals to be highlighted and outreach because they end up being overwhelmed by strong intermediation structures or, also, they do not prevail against evidence brought by social indicators and the inescapable finitude of resources.

So, besides being limited by the small audience provided only by the singularly qualified citizens, proposals created through autonomous processes have an additional risk to be taken off from the agenda setting process as they are the expression of interests of small groups with little chances of being highlighted in the deliberation, planning and prioritizing processes of political institutions. Thus it seems necessary to have some kind of ‘magnet’ for societal agendas arising from autonomous collective action to adhere to State agendas for which there are available public resources (public budget) and which respond to the most critical demands (weak social indicators). When the autonomous collective action consider these two diagnoses in its strategy, it increases the likelihood of its actions to have greater impact and it also leads the State to better plan and execute the public budget and policies in the areas where it is most needed.

To our knowledge, to date, there are no social participation processes implemented by the State or civil society taking into account such evidences. That could be one of the reasons why social participation initiatives have been lacking impact. Designing participatory processes to foster autonomous collective action around the intersection between popular needs/ desires, existing public resources and deficient social indicators seem to be the way to address this problem. This also provides a strong incentive for participants to engage around proposals that, besides of being critical, have better chances of being implemented.

For this to happen, that is, for the autonomous processes of participation to join (magnet) the issues where there is public funds (and also private as far as there are records of the availability of companies and private foundations resources for public affairs) and weak social indicators, we argue towards the articulation of current social participation initiatives with initiatives that map public resources and social indicators (e.g. IPS Amazônia) and present them through data visualization and open data. Thus, open and accessible provision of information on public resources and social indicators will increase the effectiveness of autonomous collective social participation actions.

4) Are society and State ready for joint efforts to build common digital resources?

Another barrier for the common citizen to play a protagonist role and the distribution of power is the dispute between public and societal parties to command the way through which social participation should occur, a matter that can be translated as: who decides which process and application will be adopted. And the quality and effectiveness of the process, as said before, depend on the characteristics (architecture, implicit process and features) of the applications used.

We believe that a plausible way out of this impasse is to join efforts from State and civil society to build common digital resources, with the State participating by adherence to the work of open source software development communities. This has happened to a part of the governmental social participation policies in Brazil, over the last 7 years, benefiting from the efforts invested by Brazilian civil society to build technologies for collaborative social participation on the Internet.

The first of these experiences took place in Marco Civil da Internet consultation that had its technology based on the work of an open source community from digital culture agenda, led by the Ministry of Culture. As an extension of this experience, a number of other public consultations used the same technology or articulated other open source communities developing collective deliberation technologies. This was the case of and Pensando o Direito who adhered to at least three different open source communities: Noosfero, Delibera (WordPress) and Allourideas (Pairwise). The common trace of these initiatives is that they were all based on the use and adherence to open source software development communities who had already been working on the creation of innovative technologies for collective deliberation.

Beyond bringing innovative technology into the governmental processes, State’s relationship with those open source communities was also an opportunity for State and society to work together in the construction of shared common digital resources. We believe that the knowledge to build and maintain relationships with open source communities and manage the development and use of software as a common good is a capacity for the State to acquire and incorporate into its formal processes.

This would be a way for the State to develop public policies from the standpoint of the common goods (technologies/ digital resources), ensuring State’s sovereignty (often dependent on isolated processes and proprietary technologies) and, at the same time, preserving the autonomy of society. These institutional changes would significantly reduce the information asymmetry and produce sustainable and democratic policies’ designs. We see this as a clear way of building the bridge to a networked democracy.

5) Conclusions

In this post we have tried to present a synthesis of our recent reflections on the limits faced by the social participation technologies ecosystem. We have analyzed event based advocacy models and other models of qualified deliberation in terms of advantages and disadvantages of each kind. We have put both models on stage starting from a discussion that has, as the background, the promise of achieving a networked democracy that enables autonomous collective actions and distributes power.

Designing engagement processes aiming at the building of a networked democracy seems like the most promising strategy to be taken on days strongly marked by transitions in politics, economy, climate, health, education and other systems that governs our lives. In our perspective, these engagement processes will derive from open source commons arrangements capable of building crowdsourced and easy to use interaction architectures, connected with state resources mapping and public indicators dataviz solutions.

This is a fairly good description of Instituto Cidade Democrática’s change theory, built from our project’s experience in the recent years. This is the result of a wide-ranging reflection, motivated by the burden of perceiving the social participation technologies ecosystem to have low capacity to scale and impact towards a networked democracy. This theory was the basis for the shaping of our next products and prototypes, and sharing it with all of you who follow us and other stakeholders as an invitation to jointly address the challenges posed here, is a contribution that we are proud to offer to the our field of work. We hope that you enjoy it and we encourage you to share your thoughts with us.

The post Clues for building the bridge to a Networked Democracy appeared first on P2P Foundation.

Article: Clues for building the bridge to a Networked Democracy by Cidade Democrática via P2P Foundation

John Restakis on Civil Power and the Partner State

This July 10 – 21, 2017 the Synergia Institute will gather in Tuscany, Italy for an intensive program exploring practical pathways to social change.

The first course of it’s kind developed by Synergia offers a unique opportunity bringing together tutors to share their experience in implementing a range of approaches inspired by movements for social change including P2P, Commons, Solidarity Economy, Municipalism.

Article: John Restakis on Civil Power and the Partner State by  March 30, 2017

Places on the Synergia Summer Institute’s 2 week intensive program are now open. For details download the course brochure. You can also follow Synergia Institute on Twitter and Facebook.

As a partner in the upcoming Synergia Summer Institute the P2P Foundation is reposting and featuring interviews, articles and videos by and with the course’s tutors on key themes that inform the program.

Today’s featured article “Civil Power and the Partner State” is by John Restakis, Executive Director of the Community Evolution Foundation; Adjunct Professor, Simon Fraser University; Author, Humanizing the Economy – Co-operatives in the Age of Capital.

Civil Power and the Partner State

By John Restakis
– Keynote Address, Good Economy Conference, Zagreb 2015

I want to speak today about a crisis that has gripped Europe, and the western democracies, over the last 30 years.

I describe the crisis as the inability of our governments to protect the interests of their citizens. It is a crisis of legitimacy that is undermining the foundations of liberal democracy. Its most recent manifestation is the doctrine of austerity, and the rapid destruction of democratic civic life.

These realities – the imposition of austerity, the end of national sovereignty, and the destruction of democratic accountability are the inevitable consequences of the neo-liberalism that commenced with Thatcherism over 35 years ago. Neo-liberalism is the return of the free market ideology that dominated economic thought at the end of the 19th century. With it, have returned the economic attitudes, social injustices, and inequalities, of that time. Especially, the class hatred against the poor.

At the heart of neo-liberalism is the demand that government remove itself from the market. The withdrawal of governments from a regulatory role in the economy was the end of the Keynesian experiment and a return to the free market ideology of the pre war era. And, if we take the long view, we can see now that the Welfare State – and the policies of public investments that made it possible – was an exception and a temporary detour on the road to the corporate capitalism we are witnessing today.

The control of societies through debt – the imposition of austerity, the privatization of public wealth, the destruction of democratic institutions, and the criminalization of dissent to these policies are all essential aspects of the new order that has spread across Europe and, increasingly, the globe. It has not gone unchallenged.

But how effective has the challenge been?

I come to you today from Greece where I have been living since last summer. I was invited there to help develop a national strategy for strengthening the social and solidarity economy as an alternative to the neo-liberal paradigm I have been describing

Debtocracy is the name of a Greek documentary on the origins of the debt crisis in Greece. But not only Greece. Argentina, Ecuador, and all the periphery countries of the European Union such as Portugal, Ireland and Spain are infected. Debtocracy is a powerful word. It describes a situation where a nation loses its sovereignty to its creditors.

Greece is the classic example of a debtocracy. The debt crisis in Greece and the attempt by Greece to challenge the roots and the rationale of this debt is a very visible drama that is being played on the European stage – but its implications are global.

For example, what will the results of this struggle mean for the creation of alternative visions for political economy? What role does the social/solidarity economy have to play? What is the role of the State? Can State and Civil Society find common cause, or must they always be at war? Does the reality of Europe today prevent such a possibility?

Having been in Greece during this time, I have also been asking myself what does this crisis means for social change in Europe? Or rather, is progressive social change even possible today? What would this change look like? What would it take?

The social economy and a mobilized civil society are central to this process. But so is a new conception of the State. The two are necessary and essential aspects of a single process. They are also crucial for a leftist movement to have any meaning and relevance for today. I will try to describe what I mean and use Greece as an example.

With Syriza’s rise to power, everyone is wondering what the future will hold for Greece. Whether disaster or deliverance, it is hard to ignore the potential for game-changing repercussions from a Syriza government.

The international media routinely describes Syriza as a far left radical party. This is false. Syriza’s proposals for economic and social reform are moderate and rational by any previous standard. But there are reasons why it is portrayed this way. One is a deliberate distortion for propaganda purposes. This is to discredit the party.

The second is because even a moderate left-of-centre party like Syriza must be portrayed as radical because all political discourse has shifted radically to the Right. The political spectrum has narrowed. Anything that challenges free markets and neo-liberal ideology in any meaningful way must be considered radical.

Like other parties of both the Right and Left in Europe, Syriza is paying attention to the role that the social & solidarity economy can play in the current crisis. This is natural when traditional polices and resources, such as taxation and public investment, are no longer available.

Even the Conservative Cameron government in the UK, has promoted the social economy as a sector with a role to play in job creation, in improving public services, and in reforming the role of government.

It all sounds very nice, until it becomes evident how little right wing governments understand, or care about, what the social economy is and how it functions. For the Cameron government co-operatives and the social economy became a cover and a way to promote public sector privatizations, for weakening job security, and for reducing the role of government.

Thousands of public sector workers have been coerced into joining pseudo-co-operatives to save their jobs. The same was happening in Greece with the last government through Social Enterprise Co-operatives.

This is a travesty of the nature and purpose of co-operatives whose memberships must always be voluntary, whose governance is democratic, and whose purpose is to serve their members and their communities for their common benefit – not the ideological aims of government. It’s a lesson that few governments understand.

For the Right, the social economy is often viewed as a refuge for the discarded of society and the victims of the capitalist economy. It is one reason why the Right always chooses charity as the proper response for the poor. Never solidarity or justice. Charity perpetuates dependence and inequality. Solidarity promotes empowerment and equality.

More recently, the rhetoric of the social economy has been used to expand the reach of capital into civil spaces. For these reasons co-operatives and social economy organizations in the UK, and elsewhere, have condemned the distortion of social economy principles for vested political interests.
But what are these principles?

The social economy is composed of civil organizations and networks that are driven by the principles of reciprocity and mutuality in service to the common good – usually through the social control of capital. It is composed of co-operatives, non-profit organizations, foundations, voluntary groups, and a whole range of associations that operate both inside the market, as many successful co-operatives do, or in non-market provision of goods or services. These include cultural production, the provision of health or social care, and the provision of food, shelter, or other necessities to people in need.

In its essence, the social & solidarity economy is a space and a practice where economics is at the service of social ends, not the other way round.

It is not hard to see why Greece today is experiencing an unprecedented growth in the size and diversity of its social economy. Here, as elsewhere, co-operatives and social benefit enterprises have arisen as a form of social self-defense against economic recession and austerity.

The co-operatives and solidarity organizations of today are playing the same role that co-operatives and mutual aid societies played at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s when capitalism was enclosing, dispossessing, and exploiting people and communities at that time. The rise of the social economy today is in part, a self-defense against the new enclosures. These include the privatizations of public goods and services and the theft of natural resources – land, water and minerals.

With the spread of globalization, the logic of enclosure, dispossession, and exploitation that was the basis of capitalism in the 18th century has become the basis of corporate capitalism today. And societies the world over are reacting in the same way – by creating co-operatives and other forms of solidarity economics to resist this process.

As elsewhere, the social economy in Greece is growing – but compared to other European nations, it lags behind. This weakness is due to many factors. One reason is the absence of institutional supports such as sources of social investment, of professional development and training, of organizations to unite, develop, and give voice to the sector. Inadequate legislation is another reason.

A third, more complex reason, has to do with the manner in which civil society and the state have evolved in Greece. Unlike other Western European nations, Greece remained relatively untouched by the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution while under Ottoman rule.

Today, Greece is still struggling to establish a political culture that has moved beyond the autocratic clientelism that characterized the political system after the Ottoman era. Autocracy breeds hierarchy, individualism, and relations of dependence, not mutuality and social solidarity. The emergence of a healthy civil society, of democratic civil institutions and a democratic culture, has been undermined by this fact.

Clientelism has been deadly in Greece and it has been catastrophic for the healthy evolution of the social economy, as has been shown in the case of its co-operatives. Just as the Right uses the social economy as a proxy for the promotion of capital and markets, so does the Left consistently view the social economy as a vehicle for the advancement of the aims of the state.

When a culture of clientelism is added, it is a recipe for failure on a grand scale. This is what happened during the 80s when state support and subsidization of co-operatives produced a corruption that not only failed to achieve legitimate economic ends, but also destroyed the image and reputation of co-operatives among the public.

Today, the work of promoting co-operation as a viable strategy for economic and social development has to fight this false and negative public image of co-operatives as inherently corrupt.

Greece is not alone in this. This has been the case everywhere “leftist” governments have tried to use the co-operative model to pursue government aims without regard to the purpose and nature of co-operatives as autonomous civil associations whose primary role is to serve their members and their communities.

Just as in Greece, the co-operative model has had to be retrieved from a ruined reputation in the former Soviet nations, in many nations of Africa, and throughout Latin America where governments see co-ops, and the broader social economy, as instruments and extensions of government power.

Ironically it is the Left, and “socialist” governments, in their manipulative “support” for the co-operative model that have done most to ruin the image and reputation of co-operatives in the minds of millions.

The reason for this is that the Left has often viewed the state as the sole legitimate engine of social and economic reform. It is the mirror image of the Right that sees legitimacy for economic and social development only in the market. Both views make the same mistake in ignoring or manipulating the institutions of civil society that are essential to realizing the radical changes that are needed if any alternative to the present paradigm is to succeed.

And this will be the true test of the character of Syriza in power. How will it relate to the broader civil society, and to the organizations and institutions of the social economy as it tries to rebuild the economic and political complexion of Greece? Will it revert to the statism of the Old Left, or will it seek to expand and re-imagine a new kind of leftist program for change that mobilizes the institutions of civil society and the social economy as meaningful partners in nation building?

Will it understand and utilize the social and economic principles of co-operation, of mutuality and the common goo to re-build the economy and society? Will the Greek government recognize and mobilize the vast potential of civil power in realizing a new vision? If it does, it will be the first in Europe to do so.

Democracy 2

Part Two

In Greece, as everywhere else, one of the things that distinguish political parties is their relation to the social economy. That the government is taking the social economy seriously is a good sign. The social economy represents one of the very few bright spots in Greece, with hundreds of new groups being formed to provide goods and services in a way that is entirely new.

Often rejecting organizational hierarchy, promoting inclusion and democratic decision-making, focusing on service over profit, these organizations see themselves as models for a new economic and political order. And they are.

But many of these groups want little or nothing to do with political parties, or the state. This is not good news for progressive parties, both inside Greece and across Europe as they struggle to articulate a vision and a method for a new political economy. They need a new approach if they are to build a progressive vision for a new age that moves beyond statism. The old ways of party and state control have been discredited and rejected.

The rejection of representative democracy and the withdrawal from formal politics by many social activists is understandable. But it is also a tragic mistake and a delusion. The only ones who will benefit from this attitude will be the status quo, and if things get bad enough, the parties of the extreme right.

You may be sure that if progressives don’t take part in politics, the fascists will. Golden Dawn in Greece, Le Front Nationale in France, UKIP in the UK, – they are all waiting for their chance at power. If they do win power, it will not be with tanks and truncheons – it will be through the ballot box.

Our task is to fashion a political vision, and a political narrative, that is a compelling answer to neo-liberalism and the ideology of competition, free markets, and the primacy of capital. We need a political economy of co-operation, of solidarity, of mutual benefit. And we need to show that it is only an economics of co-operation and shared benefit that can save Europe from its continuing decline in the face of Asian competition and the global race to the bottom.

This must be a vision that does not pit one region against another, Europe against the world. It must be an economics of co-operation, of sustainability, of local control, and of global collaboration and responsibility. If ruthless competition and corporate greed are destroying our planet, it is only co-operation and mutual responsibility for our common fate than can save it.

For a truly effective party of the Left today, the social economy represents a crucial resource and ally. The principles of economic democracy in service to the common good are practiced here. The most innovative, entrepreneurial, and socially productive young leadership is active here. The organizational forms and practices that have the potential to reform the closed, bureaucratic, dysfunction of government services are also being developed here.

This is where communities are learning to work together to recover what has been lost in these past years – of community clinics, of food markets and mutual help between farmers and consumers, of residents collectively preventing a neighbor’s electricity or water from being cut off. And this points to an unlooked for light in the midst of this crisis – that these hard times have sparked a renewal of community and genuine human connections between people. The social economy is where these connections are flourishing.

What then, must a progressive government do with respect to the social economy?
First, it must move beyond traditional statism to develop a role for government that understands how to democratize and share power with its citizens. This means understanding that the primary role of government in a new model is the empowerment and support of civil society for the production of social value – the creation of goods and services that place social needs ahead of private profit.

A vibrant and mobilized civil society is essential for this. We must learn from the experience of so-called progressive governments that came to power through the radicalization and mobilization of civil society, only to co-opt and destroy the leadership and organizations of civil society once they had political power. This is the familiar pattern of political events in Ecuador, in Brazil, in Venezuala – in fact everywhere civil society expects representative democracy, on its own, to change the patterns of power.

For this to be avoided, it means the creation of institutions, both legal and social, that can sustain the development and growth of the social economy and civil society – independently of the party that is in power.

This means the reform of co-operative and social economy legislation, the creation of financial instruments for the social and ethical financing of social economy organizations, the establishment of educational and training institutes for the study of the theory and practice of co-operation, reciprocity, and service to the common good that are fundamental for a new political economy and the advancement of a new social contract.

Third, it means the application of these principles beyond the non-profit sector to the support and development of the wider economy, in particular for the small and medium firms that form the bedrock of most national economies. The principles that animate the social economy are a framework for the recovery and reform of the whole economy.

And fourth, it means the reform of public services through the provision of control rights, transparency, accountability, and decision-making power to the citizens that are the users of these services. The insular, autocratic power of bureaucracy must be broken.

What we are talking about is a new conception: The idea of the Partner State. At its essence, the Partner State is an enabling state. It facilitates and provides the maximum space and opportunity for civil society to generate goods and services for the fulfillment of common needs.

It is a State whose primary orientation is the promotion of the common good, not private gain. And, in contrast to a view of the citizen as a passive recipient of public services, the Partner State requires a new conception of productive citizenship. Of citizenship understood as a verb, not a noun.

What is required is generative democracy – a democracy that is re-created constantly through the everyday mechanisms and decisions that go into the design, production, monitoring, and evaluation of the goods and services that citizen’s need to construct and live a truly civic life. For this, the organizational models of the social economy – the co-operative, reciprocal, and democratic organization of relationships and decisions – are the prototypes of a new political economy.

Greece, like the other indebted nations, has no option but to try new approaches to solve its social, economic, and political problems. At the macro level, the government must do everything it can to address the questions of debt restructuring, of trade relations and export policy, of taxing capital, and of addressing the humanitarian crisis.

The social economy can help.

But it cannot be an engine of recovery on its own. It needs the support of a government that understands its strengths – and limitations. The danger here is that false expectations of the social economy will set the stage for failure and disappointment.

In the past, unrealistic expectations arising out of ignorance of how social economy organizations work, and to what ends, have provided ammunition to those who like to criticize the “inefficiency” and “utopianism” of co-ops and the social economy when they fail to do what they were never meant to do. (They conveniently ignore the fact that the survival rate of co-ops is more than twice as high as that of private companies).

What the social economy offers are the ideas, the methods, and the models by which an alternative paradigm may be built. The social economy is the experimental ground of a new political economy, and its organizations are the social antennae of a possible, and more humane, future. Today, this prefiguring of another paradigm is perhaps the most important contribution that the social economy can make in Greece and elsewhere.

The building of social and solidarity economy institutions is crucial. This is true whether the new government succeeds in re-negotiating the debt, and even more so if it does not.

There are serious doubts whether the changes that Greece needs to make toward a more humane and socially responsible economics can be developed within Europe as it is currently structured. The ideological and institutional dogmatism of neo-liberalism is suffocating any prospects for reform.

Regardless, Greece can learn from the wealth of experience that has already been accumulated in other countries where the social economy has played an important role in advancing economic and social development – particularly in times of crisis. Greece is a latecomer to this field, but that has its advantages. Greece can learn from the experience of others.

In the region of Emilia Romagna in Italy, the principles of co-operation and mutual help are the reason why its small and medium enterprises have been able to flourish in a global marketplace. It is among the top ten performing economic regions in Europe. Italy’s 40,000 social co-ops have succeeded in remaking and expanding social care in that country while working in close partnership with local municipalities. They employ over 280,000 people.

In Argentina, following an economic crisis in 2001 that was almost identical to what Greece faces now, over 300 abandoned factories were taken over by their workers to restart production. Nearly all are still in operation. Schools, day cares, clinics, libraries, and community centres were also taken over and run by the people who use them. Even in Cuba, the archetype of state socialism, the government is supporting the growth of autonomous co-operatives to breath new life into its agricultural sector and to stimulate the growth of new enterprises and new services.

The reform of government is a central theme in this movement. In Brazil, Columbia, Spain, Italy, and a growing list of countries and cities around the globe, participatory budgeting, shared policy making, and civilian monitoring of budgets and public programs is a key role that the social economy is playing in reforming the way in which governments operate – making them more transparent, more accountable, more democratic, and more responsive to the real needs of citizens.

And this is the key point. The social economy is a model of political economy in which economic democracy places capital at the service of society.

Much has been written about the origins of the debt crisis in Greece. Some point to the availability of cheap money and unethical lending that followed Greece’s entry into the Eurozone. Some point to the lack of oversight and lax regulations. Some point to the role of corruption and the huge waste of public funds. All contributed to bringing Greece to the precipice. And exactly the same pattern has been evident in the other debtocracies – in Argentina, in Ecuador, in the countries of the European periphery. But few point to the fundamental lack of democracy and public accountability that has made all this possible.

What are most needed today are the building of democratic culture and the strengthening of civil institutions that generate and expand democracy – in politics, in social life, and above all in the economy. This is the role that an enlightened state should play, in partnership with civil power. It is a delicate and difficult role to get right. But that is precisely why it is so urgently needed. It is a way forward that won’t perpetuate the negligence and wrongdoing of the past.

This is why the policies of Greece’s masters, its servile political class and the European powers that have supported it, are so tragic and shortsighted. They are destroying the very institutions that are most needed to reform and remake Greece – its public and civil institutions. This is not accidental – the regrettable casualties of austerity. Their destruction is precisely the aim of austerity.

The point is, they don’t care. The destruction of public institutions and civil power suits our elites very well. The priority of social values or the wellbeing of people over those of capital doesn’t fit into their schema. In their schema what really matters is the perpetuation of a system that is working just fine for some – just not for people like you or me, or the vast majority of the citizenry that is now paying for the sins of others.

The dysfunction of western capitalism today, and the myopia of its free market ideology may have reached a point where it is no longer able to save itself. Having lost the capacity to freely exploit the resources and labour of third world colonies, having to face the growing competition of Asian state capitalism, western capitalism is now devouring its own foundations and returning to the ideas and practices of a time we had all thought was behind us. The Third World is being recreated in the heart of Europe. We are witnessing a form of cannibalistic capitalism.

In its thirst for short term profits, in its need for cheap and defenceless labour, in its dependence on unlimited access to natural resources, the public interest – and the role of governments in protecting that interest – must be destroyed. Ultimately, this is the end result of liberal democracy – a process that while achieving the democratization of politics was unwilling to sanction the democratization of economics.

In the end, the lack of democracy in economics will always destroy democracy in politics. This is the hard lesson that liberal democracy – and the modern age – is teaching us.

Today, the task of undermining democratic institutions is nearing completion. The criminalization of dissent and the introduction of pervasive surveillance under the guise of national security and anti-terrorism are essential tools in this process. With the decline of profits in the market economy, the enclosure, annexation, and colonization of the public economy is the next logical step. Governments, in the pay of capital, have become the maidservants in this process.

Unless this is stopped, the natural, social, and political foundations of capitalism itself will be consumed. And unlike what some would prefer to believe, what follows after its demise, in the absence of a humane alternative, could be far worse. Thankfully the models and the ideas already exist for a viable alternative, for a co-operative political economy in which capital serves the common good instead of the other way round.

The time has come for a convergence of movements to unite around a common agenda for a political economy of the common good.

The dynamics of such a movement have begun in the rise of Syriza, in the success of Podemos, in the growing resistance in Portugal, Italy, Ireland, and yes, even in Germany. Austerity is fueling a new radicalism. Austerity, and the anti-social ideology that drives it, means not only the destruction of democratic institutions and civic life – liberal democracy as we have known it – but very likely the destruction of capitalism itself.

What our radicalism needs is both a vision for a new political economy, and the political movement to implement it. And, besides a political economy that is capable of serving people and their communities instead of profit, the rise of civil power is necessary for saving capitalism as well. This is the strange irony of our times.

I would like to finish my talk by reflecting on the origins of democracy.

Everyone knows that democracy was invented by the Greeks in ancient Athens. But not everyone knows the relation of debt to the origins of democracy. In the 6th Century BC, debt slavery had become the condition for many poor Athenians who had to use themselves as collateral for the credit they needed to survive and to work their small farms. These unpayable debts were owed to wealthy landowners and the oligarchy that ruled Athens. Over time, unable to pay their debts, many small farmers became debt slaves, having sold themselves and their children into bondage.

But then the people rose up. A series of debtor revolts in Athens threatened the city with revolution. Fearful for their wealth and power, the oligarchs appointed Solon to devise a new constitution for the city. Solon was an aristocrat. But he surprised them. First, he cancelled all debts and abolished the practice whereby a person can make themselves a slave to someone else. Then, he gave political rights to the poorest of Athens’ citizens. This was the beginning of democracy.

Some things don’t change. The power of a small minority to enslave the majority through the control of credit, through the creation of unpayable debt, and through the monopolization of political power is the perpetual pattern of oligarchy and plutocracy.

It was true in ancient Athens in the 6th Century and it is true today. And just as in ancient Athens, what is needed for a rebirth of democracy today is a new form of debtor’s revolt.

This is what is happening in Greece today against the oligarchs and the plutocrats at home and in the boardrooms and government ministries of the centres of capital abroad.

The debtor’s revolt and the rise of democracy in ancient Greece spread and become the foundation for a new conception of politics in which people matter more than money. Civil power became the foundation of political power.

Perhaps the same can happen today.

Part 2 image by Sara Semelka

Civil Economy and the Partner State was originally published on

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Article: John Restakis on Civil Power and the Partner State by  March 30, 2017

Patterns of Commoning: Twelve Design Principles of Permaculture

Permaculture is a type of sustainable agriculture and ecological design and engineering that self-consciously attempts to work in constructive alignment with natural dynamics. At once a philosophy and set of social practices, techniques and ethical norms, permaculture seeks to ensure that all life systems can remain healthy and flourish. This goal can only be met if human beings regard nature as a holistic system that includes human society, which in turn must reintegrate surplus production and waste back into natural ecosystems.

The essence of permaculture has been summarized by David Holmgren in his book, Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, in the following twelve principles.

Source: Patterns of Commoning: Twelve Design Principles of Permaculture

1.  Observe and interact. By taking time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.

2.  Catch and store energy. By developing systems that collect resources at peak abundance, we can use them in times of need.

3.  Obtain a yield. Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing.

4.  Apply self-regulation and accept feedback. We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.

5.  Use and value renewable resources and services. Make the best use of nature’s abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.

6.  Produce no waste. By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.

7.  Design from patterns to details. By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.

8.  Integrate rather than segregate. By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.

9.  Use small and slow solutions. Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes.

10.  Use and value diversity. Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.

11.  Use edges and value the marginal. The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.

12.  Creatively use and respond to change. We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time.

Patterns of Commoning, edited by Silke Helfrich and David Bollier, is being serialized in the P2P Foundation blog. Visit the Patterns of Commoning and Commons Strategies Group websites for more resources.

Photo by leighblackall

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Source: Patterns of Commoning: Twelve Design Principles of Permaculture

Barcelona Crowdsourced its Sharing Economy Policies. Can Other Cities Do the Same?

Anna Bergren Miller: When the City Council of Barcelona asked democracy activist and researcher Mayo Fuster Morell for policy recommendations regarding the sharing economy, she suggested that the City Council take a different approach: Rather than relying on an expert to dictate policy from the top down, why not use a collaborative process to build a sustainable set of institutions and practices that would draw strength from the grassroots?

Fuster Morell crowdsourced a sharing economy policy framework through a series of in-person and online interactions with a range of stakeholders, including city residents, representatives of sharing economy initiatives, and municipal authorities. From the 120 policy recommendations initially drafted, Barcelona’s city council has since developed a collaborative economy action plan and provided funding to specific projects. Meanwhile, the broader conversation on the sharing economy in Barcelona continues through organizations including Procomuns, which started in March 2016 as a policy brainstorming forum.

I spoke to Fuster Morell recently about the process behind and the prospects for the Barcelona policy recommendations. We talked through what Fuster Morell calls Barcelona’s collaborative economy “ecosystem,” the status of the collaborative economy plan, and the replicability of the Catalan capital’s particular approach to sharing.


Anna Bergren Miller: You were instrumental in helping craft a series of policy recommendations regarding the sharing economy in the city of Barcelona. How did the policy recommendations come to be? Specifically, how did you involve city residents in the process?

Mayo Fuster Morell: Barcelona City Council asked me to advise them about what to do regarding the collaborative economy. I suggested that we build an ecosystem of public policies involving the different stakeholders. This way, even if there is a change of government in the next election, the city will have a structure of actors and relationships already in place.

At the City Council of Barcelona there is a lack of expertise in this matter. They don’t know about the technologies, or the companies involved because it’s pretty new. We have an historical tradition of commons production in the city. But until this government, there hasn’t been an institutional interest in supporting collaboration.

We built the stakeholder ecosystem in layers. The first layer is BarCola, a coworking group between the city council and the sector. To join BarCola as an initiative, you have to be active in Barcelona. We privilege organizations that take a commons approach, which means that they are based on cooperatives, foundations, or enterprises that have a democratic government system. We prioritize projects that are based on open source or open data, that are connected to social challenges in the city, and that have socially inclusive policies.

BarCola meets every month or month and a half. We also communicate frequently on a mailing list and Telegram. Our main concern is promotion. For example, we are not so much about penalizing Airbnb, as about how we build an incubating system and funding for new initiatives, to promote the modalities that we are more in favor of. The second layer of the ecosystem is Procomuns, which started as an event in March to open the proposals for policy recommendations for the city council. Four hundred people participated, and spent three days discussing how the city council can do support a commons development, and a collaborative economy. The event resulted in the Procomuns declaration with 120 policy recommendations. We sent it to Barcelona City Council, obviously, but also to European Commission and other organizations.

Now Procomuns is a monthly Meetup. At each meeting, we address different issues. We are going to do another big event at the end of June, in Barcelona. Out of the initial 120 policy recommendations emerged the third layer of the ecosystem, which is Decidem Barcelona. Decidem Barcelona is a participatory democracy platform for citizens to provide feedback on municipal policies in every area. Using Decidem Barcelona, we selected the policies that were more supported by Barcelona residents. With that, we defined the Barcelona collaborative economy plan, which has 80 percent of the 120 policies generated by Procomuns. It doesn’t have them all, because there are some areas that are not under the competency of Barcelona City Council.

Now we have a final layer of the ecosystem. We created an inter-area body inside of the city council, which coordinates what we are doing regarding transport, housing, tourism, and labor. This layer operates solely within the municipal government.

Tell me more about the city council’s response. Was creating a collaborative economy plan something that they were encouraging you to do, or did you bring it to them? How receptive were they, and where have they taken it since?

The current Barcelona government started 18 months ago as a citizens’ candidature with many non-professional politicians. For example, our mayor Ada Colau was very active in the housing movement. All of them were very much in support the idea of injecting the citizens into the policy process. There was not resistance.

But some of the city council, when they think about the collaborative economy, they only think about Uber or Airbnb. They are not aware of the other movements. So the first step actually was a bit hard. We had to say, okay, the collaborative economy is not only the big for-profit actors.

What is the current status of the Barcelona policies?

The city now has a collaborative economy plan and budget. The plan is not available online, but to give you some examples of the measures involved: We created a program of entrepreneurship on the collaborative economy. We did a call for new initiatives, and we selected 30, to which we will provide mentorship, legal advice, and match funding. Like with BarCola, we prioritize the initiatives that are more connected to the commons. We have also been mapping the city council’s underutilized infrastructure resources, starting with computers, in order to put them to collaborative uses by the citizens. We have also begun a €100,000 match funding program, and are designing a collaborative economy incubator.

We support a lot of events. We provide funding for OuiShare; we provide funding for the local annual meeting of the social economy. We support the annual meeting of the city’s cooperatives. We also supported an event about do-it-yourself technology. We have a study underway on the level of participation in the collaborative economy within Barcelona. We are also developing a framework for understanding its impact.

What’s the timeline for the study?

The study will be ready in July.

A lot of what you’ve been able to do seems specific to Barcelona, to the political climate and the history and culture there. But have you heard from other cities that have wanted to model your process? Or were you looking at other cities as examples?

I think it’s very unique to Barcelona, this element of believing that collaborative economy policy should be built collaboratively. We also have a very clear position regarding which initiatives are the best models to promote. But we are not unique in providing some programs of support. For example, Seoul has put a lot of resources into promoting the collaborative economy. Also, Amsterdam is providing a lot of resources, but with a different perspective.

The geographer David Harvey has recently written and spoken about so-called “Rebel Cities.” Barcelona has been identified as part of a nascent network of Rebel Cities. What is a Rebel City? Why do they matter now? And what evidence is there that they are beginning to work together?

In the context of Spain, “Rebel Cities” refers to the cities that are governed by citizens’ candidatures as of the last municipal elections. In each case, a unique coalition won power — so they have their independence. But, recognizing the affinities between then, we built a network of Rebel Cities in order to exchange experiences and learn from each other. We recently suggested a similar process, building on Spain’s experience, for Rebel Cities in the United States.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Header photo of the city of Barcelona by Bert Kaufmannvia Flickr. 

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