Sunday, May 29, 2016

The sharing, collaborative and participatory economy: what are we talking about?

There is a lot of confusion between the sharing, the collaborative and the participatory economy. In fact, you can see it on this Wikipedia page. I will propose some distinctions from my experience with and from my knowledge about other peer production systems.

I conclude, from my informal analysis of currently used language, that the semantic separation between the terms sharing economy and the other two is greater than the semantic separation between collaborative economy and participatory economy. In other words, people tend to use the terms collaborative economy and participatory economy interchangeably, but sometimes in opposition to the current use of the term sharing economy. I also agree with this Harvard review, which states that sharing economy is a misnomer, and with their conclusion to replace it with the term access economy.

When we speak about the sharing economy we put the emphasis on assets (material or immaterial) that are shared among individuals and/or organizations, which in turn share information among themselves about needs and offers, about the location (physical or virtual) of these assets and about rules of engagement. This sharing is done through a transfer (gift or barter, monetary exchange), or rent (payment for use). The use someone makes of these assets are, for the most part, irrelevant, as long as the integrity of the asset is preserved, and use or the exchange respects the basic rules of engagement. In other words, the use can be personal or part of a commercial activity. The applications that manage the access are, in general oblivious to that.

When we speak about the collaborative economy, the focus is mostly on allocating time for a common output. More concretely, we think about people producing something together through a process that minimizes exchanges. In other words, in its purest form, no one is paying anyone else to do something, and usually no one can monopolize the output. Classical examples are Linux, Wikipedia, open source hardware development, etc. In a classical company setting, we can find a lot of collaboration and cooperation, but everyone involved engages in an exchange process, skills/time for money. For this reason, this is not a collaborative economy example. 
There can be rules about how the output can be leveraged by others to generate wealth, such as RedHat and thousands of other small organizations and independent contractors that offer consultancy, installation, and maintenance services around Linux. These rules come in the form of licenses, which range from no restrictions at all, to non-commercial usage. 
This concept of the collaborative economy can be extended to other forms of contributions, which can range from financial (crowdfunding for example), to material (putting a 3D printer at the disposal of a group to do some proof of concept prototyping of an open hardware design). In this case, the use of these tangible and material forms of contributions is directly related to the common activity, unlike in the case of the sharing/access economy where the use someone makes of the shared asset is mostly irrelevant for the system. Moreover, these resources don’t necessarily exchange hands (no transfer of ownership) and are not rented. There can be rules related to potential redistribution of benefits based on these tangible and material contributions, which can take the form of public recognition (ex: “a big thank to such and such for having contributed with the physical space and the 3D printer”), or equity - monetary compensations at a later point in time.  

The way I use the term participatory economy is by putting more emphasis on the process through which something is collaboratively created. The emphasis here is put on openness, meaning very low, or no barriers to entry. This is proper to the Open Value Network model developed and implemented within the environment. A classical co op can be the locus of collaborative production, making open source artifacts (material or immaterial), but access to participation in the process can still be invitation-based or conditioned by a strict filter. This is how the Enspiral network and las Indias operate. I see the participatory economy as a set of relations that grant access to collaborative production processes to anyone that can deliver, no other questions asked.

By Tiberius Brastaviceanu   AllOfUs