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" (redistributed or circulated) 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 or terms of use. The term sharing is used somewhat abusively, not necessarily as a reciprocal relation. In this context, sharing can be a transfer (gift or barter, monetary exchange), or rent (payment for use). The use someone makes of these assets is, for the most part, irrelevant, as long as the integrity of the asset is preserved (when it is rented), and the transfer respects the basic rules of engagement. The use can be personal or part of a commercial activity and the provider can be an individual or an organization. Some applications/platforms that facilitate the access and transactions can be agnostic to that, some of them use strict rules to enforce p2p, b2b or a combination. Critics of the sharing economy propose alternative terms such as access economy or rental economy. These critics focus on the lack of reciprocity as well as on the lack of social externalities that are normally created through reciprocal sharing.

When we speak about the collaborative economy, the focus is mostly on the allocation of 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. There is a lot of cooperation in a traditional company setting, but everyone involved engages in an exchange process, trading skills/time for money. For this reason, this is not a collaborative economy example. 
There can be rules about how the output of a collaborative process can be leveraged by others to generate wealth. A good example is RedHat that offers consultancy, installation, and maintenance of IT systems built on 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 (sharing a 3D printer with a group to prototype something). In this case, the use of these tangible and material forms of contributions is directly related to the common activity, it is project specific, unlike in the case of the sharing/access economy where the use someone makes of the "shared" asset is most of the time irrelevant. Moreover, these tangible resources used as contributions don’t necessarily exchange hands in the process, there is no transfer of ownership and they are not rented, these resources are shared within the group for common use, and are accounted for as contribution to the project. There can be rules related to the redistribution of potential 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. This process is open, i.e. it has very low or no barriers to entry (ex. the Bitcoin open permissionless network). This is proper to the Open Value Network model developed and implemented within
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. Co ops are not open or permissionless networks. 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

1 comment:

  1. I wrote this post as part of a study about block chain applications to physical assets management. The very first phase of this project is documented here, which should provide more context.