Welcome to our annual overview! 2016 has been widely acknowledged as a difficult year, and although we’ve had our share of hardship, it turned to be a very productive period for the P2P Foundation and the wider P2P/Commons community. Before we outline our context and progress in 2016, we’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the life and work of a dear friend, Jean Lievens, who tragically passed away in September 2016. It is impossible to overstate how vital Jean was for the P2P Foundation on a professional and personal level, especially as a longterm friend of Michel Bauwens. Jean, we miss you!
The Context for the Commons in 2016
The year 2016 presented us with the following situation: the rapid deterioration of the global geopolitical situation has provoked a strong reaction from the P2P/Commons movement, which has expanded and matured to meet the challenge.
The major geopolitical events of the year were, of course, the Brexit decision in the UK, followed by Donald Trump’s election victory in the US. The latter in particular opened the gate for radical and authoritarian plans, as well as antisocial and anti-ecological policies which can only bolster the social confidence of the radical right. What this means for the Commons and P2P movements is that we can’t hope for a long and smooth transition in which we will be at full liberty to experiment with the new. The harsh reality is that those spaces of freedom we held as secure to “build the new within the shell of old” will likely shrink.
Encouragingly, these somber perspectives are already stimulating a purposeful sense of urgency amongst a commons movement that refuses to be a passive actor in an “end of history” gone wrong. As such, we’re witnessing a bevy of counter-actions to alleviate the local systemic crises that affect us. In Belgium, the Flemish ecological think thank Oikos found a tenfold increase in civic initiatives in the Flanders area over the last decade, confirming the contents of ‘Homo Cooperans’, an earlier study by Tine de Moor describing a similar rapid expansion in the Netherlands. This expansion has been mirrored in many other Western European locations. To give an example, Christian Iaione and Sheila Foster of Lab Gov — with the help of the P2P Foundation— have been analyzing 40 case studies on urban commons, half of them from the Global South, indicating a global shift towards more commons projects. Assemblies of the Commons, which we called for in 2013, have now been established in more than half a dozen French cities, with Lille leading the pack with very sophistical political and civic commons work. Meanwhile in Melbourne, a Commons Transition Coalition network encompassing Australia and New Zealand has been created.
In November 2016, 300 European commoners congregated in Brussels for the first time to tell EU politicians that ‘we exist’, and to put forth around 20 policy proposals. The European Commons Assembly event reinforced the awareness that the commons is alive, well and most important, ready to come to the fore. One of the particular effects of this meeting was to stimulate connections between urban commoners and the underestimated amount of rural commons that still exist in Europe (for example, one third of Galicia is common land). Both the EU Parliamentary Group on Common Goods and the Diem25 movement agreed to open channels for political proposals centered around the commons. Other important highlights include the electoral victory of the Icelandic Pirate Party, and the continuing operation of the commons-oriented municipal coalitions in Barcelona, Madrid and other Spanish cities.
One of the things the Trump victory invites us to do is to work more passionately on broadening the social basis of the commons towards the needs of disenfranchised workers and the mass of the precariat. We need to develop commons proposals that also create employment in physical production. In 2017, Michel Bauwens, Yurek Onzia and Vasilis Niaros will coordinate a commons inquiry for the city of Ghent, in which the issue of relocalization of physical production will also be tackled. In addition, the P2P Foundation and P2P Lab have joined the Fab City coalition to collaborate on research projects around the potential for urban-based relocalization efforts. Let there be no doubt: the commons is becoming a political issue and, in order to tackle it while keeping our values we need to develop coherent commons-based policy proposals.
It is in the context of this broad systemic crisis of the world-system, and the increasingly commons-oriented civic reactions to these combined market and state failures, that our activities of this year should be interpreted.
What are Our Strategic Priorities?
The P2P Foundation is a research and advocacy organization and network dedicated to the solidification of the P2P/Commons movement worldwide. This year, we’ve progressed significantly in the three strategic priorities we’ve worked with for the last several years. First is “P2P Cultures and Politics”, designed to help build a relatable identity and culture for the Commons, with a special focus on improving inclusivity, gender equality and diversity. These are the values informing our policy work to transform progressive politics in a commons way, inside and outside the institutions. Our second priority, “Open Cooperativism and Sustainable Livelihoods”, guides our examination of issues of labor, carework, well-being and emancipation for commoners, and the creation of durable, transnational networks to construct ethical markets. The third is “Building the Open Source Circular Economy”. Here, we research and build upon the idea of global, open-access design repositories working in conjunction with on-demand, locally grounded and community-oriented micro-factories. The goal is a more sensible mode of production that is respectful of people and planet. Beyond manufacturing, we also analyze design-oriented regenerative practices to restore depleted environments.
Individually, these key projects have specific end goals and unique needs, yet they reinforce each other to produce a solidly researched, empirically demonstrated narrative for the Commons. But we know that research is not enough. We need to create attractive, inclusive messages, images and memes that engage the attention and creativity of emergent communities. We want to help inspire them to take generative action; accessible communication is essential to engage with communities, disenfranchised citizens and policymakers. This is the heart of our communications strategy.
Below, we describe our progress in several key areas:
We have strengthened our organizational resilience and intergroup workflow by holding four in-person team meetings, where we set and assessed measurable goals, and brainstormed future plans and strategies. With Michel Bauwens as founder, visionary and lead representative, the day-to-day work of the Foundation is conducted by a small core team who, apart from their areas of specialty, also discuss and plan future directions and activities. This full-time team consists of Stacco Troncoso as strategic director and general coordinator, Ann Marie Utratel as communications lead, and Vasilis Niaros as project developer and research liaison. They have been supported by James Burke, Javier Arturo Rodriguez and Vasilis Kostakis in operations, systems administration and research/organizational strategy, respectively.
The P2P Lab, based in Ioannina, Greece, continues to lead our research efforts under the supervision of Vasilis Kostakis. A notable organizational development has been the creation of the P2P Foundation Stakeholder board, with a gender-balanced panel of experts to give feedback on our progress. The board members are well-known figures in the Commons and associated movements: David Bollier, Primavera De Filippi, Alnoor Ladha, Janelle Orsi, Douglas Rushkoff, and Hilary Wainwright. During this year, we also published our finances, and it is our ongoing goal to increase our transparency while supporting across the board participation in Foundation activities. In these sense, one of 2016’s most encouraging development has been the consolidation of P2P Foundation-affiliated initiatives, starting in France, through the guidance of Maïa Dereva, and Australia with the Commons Transition Coalition, led by José Ramos, Elsie L’Huillier, Darren Sharp and others. We have included more details on our international close associates in the sections below.
Finally, as a working and developing organization, we were delighted to be the winners of the Prix Ars 2016 Golden Nica “Digital Communities” award. Prix Ars is the world’s most important and widely respected competition of digital media and art. We have dedicated the award to our dear friend and collaborator, Jean Lievens.
We’ve made major strides in upgrading our communications, starting with the long-awaited redesign of our blog and a new landing page. The blog now includes more accessible video and audio material, the serialization of select books and topic-specific articles, and a host of new authors and contributors.
We serialized a number of books and campaigns this year. Highlights include Connecting the Dots (with a contribution by Michel Bauwens) and Seeing Wetiko by The Rules; Techno-Utopianism Counterfeit and Real by Kevin Carson; The Communard Manifesto by Las Indias; and Patterns of Commoning by The Commons Strategies Group.
We have also published a considerable amount of our own original material for the P2P Foundation blog and the more narrative-focused Commons Transition Stories. Highlights include a series of mini-essays on P2P theory authored by Michel Bauwens, original material for our interview series, “Commoners in Transition” and “The 100 women co-creating P2P Society”, well-received and re-published original articles on a variety of commons-related events such as Procomuns in Barcelona, the Commonspolis event in Paris, and an interview with members of the groundbreaking new Madrid city council.
Readers may have noticed that we added some thematic series such as Finding Common Ground, our community’s reactions to the Trump victory, the current work of Post-Occupy Movements, what comes after consumer society, and Designing Regenerative Cultures.
Our long-standing P2P Foundation Wiki was expanded with the addition of new collaborators. Meanwhile, the Commons Transition Wiki, our specialized repository for changemakers, is undergoing a major revamp to be more accessible and mobile-friendly. Guerrilla Translation, a P2P Foundation project, successfully crowdfunded the Think Global, Print Local campaign, translating David Bollier’s book Think Like a Commoner to Spanish and pioneering a new mode of distributed global-local method of book publishing utilizing CopyFair licences.
As we’ve said, one of our priorities is to produce more accessible and inclusive materials. A first example of this would be our widely shared article, “10 Ways to Accelerate the Peer to Peer and Commons Economy”. Expect to see a lot more material like this in the coming year.
Research and Publications
The stronger strategic focus for our activities in 2016 is evident in a wealth of research, publications and intellectual productions. Chief amongst these is a major treatise on the post-capitalist transition written by Vasilis Kostakis and Michel Bauwens for Erik Olin Wright’s Real Utopias Project. We believe this is the first coherent and systematic proposal on how to strategize such a transition. A draft is available in English, for publication in early 2018. It is also being translated in French with the help of FPH, planned for publication ahead of the presidential election in May, 2017.
We have also produced an equally important but shorter manuscript, co-written by Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Niaros with the support of the Heinrich Böll Foundation. It describes the emergence of open contributory value accounting, commons-based, ethical entrepreneurial coalitions, and ‘transvestment’ strategies to divert funding streams from the system in crisis to the system in development. Additionally, José Ramos of the Commons Transition Coalition in Melbourne produced a policy book for the urban commons, while Christian Iaione and Sheila Foster of LabGov, co-written and assisted by Vasilis Niaros and Michel Bauwens, prepared a report featuring 40 case studies on the urban commons, half of them from the Global South. Moreover, a research paper plus a policy brief for the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) on the implications for labor and unions of emerging forms of work associated with distributed networks as forms of organization, were co-authored by Alex Pazaitis, Michel Bauwens, Vasilis Kostakis and Vasilis Niaros. Finally, we have produced several scholarly publications on commons-related topics in major scientific journals and collective books, such as the Journal of Cleaner Production, Futures, Environmental Innovation & Societal Transitions and the Ours to Hack and to Own collective book.
Other research highlights include our ongoing investigation into the Thermodynamic Efficiencies of Peer Production, in collaboration with Xavier Rizos and Celine Trefle. This project explores whether a transition to open and shared models can result in significant savings in the amount of matter and energy needed for a civilized and comfortable infrastructure. The aim is to calculate the potentially drastic reduction of resource use, if all elements of the peer production stack were used concurrently and integratively. The Thermodynamic Efficiencies project is supported and augmented by ongoing research on the Design Global/Manufacture Local model — as mentioned in our strategic priorities above — undertaken by the P2P Lab in collaboration with José Ramos and his work on Cosmo-Localization. 2016 also marked the culmination of a 3 year research effort around P2P Value, undertaken by a EU-funded research consortium that included the P2P Foundation, examining 300+ peer production communities. The findings were critical to the understanding of value transition and confirm some of the early intuitions of the P2P Foundation.
Events and Public Appearances
Michel Bauwens travelled for nine months in 2016 giving lectures and workshops on five continents. Highlights include a lecture at Berkman Klein Center at Harvard hosted by Yochai Benkler; an Australian tour in the fall; a lecture and participation in ETUC/ETUI European Union conference on digital labor; and attending Green Academy 2020 in Croatia.
The team also represented the Foundation in a wide variety events. Stacco Troncoso accepted the Prix Ars award on Austrian national television, and gave a presentation at the event. Team members co-organized and attended the following events: Procomuns (Barcelona), and PeerValue (Amsterdam), as part of the P2Pvalue project, and “Towards a fair sharing economy: The role and place of cooperative platforms” in Brussels with Confrontations Europe, Smart.be, La Coop des Communs, CECOP and others. Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel attended the Commonspolis event in Paris and the Seville Activists Encounter, and together with James Burke attended OuiShare Fest in Paris. Troncoso participated in the Commons Strategies Group “Deep Dives” on the State and Commons and Value. Burke attended the second Platform Cooperativism gathering in New York. Among other events, Vasilis Niaros attended the initial European Commons Assembly meeting in Villarceaux. Alex Pazaitis attended the CAPS community meeting in Berlin, and Vasilis Kostakis presented our work to the Research & Degrowth group in Barcelona.
Partnerships and Projects
Our organization is focused on the productive potential of communities and networks. Nurturing partnerships is at the core of the P2P Foundation’s work. We contributed to the coordination and preparation of the European Commons Assembly in communications, technology, web presence, strategy and organization. As an affiliate organization to the Commons Strategies Group, we designed, built, and continue to host the CSG site, attended their deep dives and formatted their reports. As a key partnership, we became founding members of the Platform Cooperativism Consortium. We also developed a strong alliance with Greenpeace International who, thanks to our efforts, now intend to incorporate the lexicon of the Commons into their message, with our input as consultants.
We function as a conduit among key organizations such as Shareable, Remix the Commons, Commons Network, the Rules, the Post Growth Institute and others, providing a supportive, caretaking relationship to our peers. Acknowledging our global and growing network of individuals, we would like to offer a special thanks for their support this year to: Sharon Ede, Irma Wilson, Barb Jacobson, Jose Luis Vivero Pol, Sophie Jerram, Pat Conaty, Elena Martínez, Danny Sptizberg, Simon Grant, Vanessa D. Fisher, Josef Davies-Coates and many others.
P2P Foundation International
P2P Foundation France
The activity of the P2P Foundation has developed immensely in France in 2016, thanks to the ceaseless commitment of Maia Dereva. The French language wiki was greatly improved – 140 pages were created or otherwise modified – and a French language blog was created, with 125 articles published (including 41 in the bibliography). The French team participated in various conferences, and an audition at the Council of State (the highest French legislative body) to present peer-to-peer, as well as in the “Assembly of the Commons” experiment in Lille. They also drafted a meta-analysis on peer-to-peer economic efficiency (to be published in 2017), and prepared for the creation of the “P2P Foundation France” association (scheduled for early 2017).
The Commons Transition Coalition
The Commons Transition Coalition formed in Melbourne, Australia in December 2015. Their aim is to connect leaders of groups, organisations and enterprises that support commons-based initiatives, amplify its members work, support local endeavours, and build capacity for the transition to a just and environmentally sustainable Commons Economy.
The Coalition convened two Platform Cooperativism events in 2016, including a workshop with Nathan Schneider during his visit to Melbourne in June – ‘Sharing Value and Ownership for the Common Good: Building the Commons Economy’ – and another with Michel Bauwens in October ‘From the New Economy, to New Ways to Work’. The Coalition also published ‘The City as Commons: a Policy Reader’, edited by José Ramos, which brings together 34 contributions to explore policy options and strategies for creating cities as commons for urban development and transformation. Each contribution explores a different aspect of city commoning and proposes strategies and policy recommendations based on existing projects from around the world.
Darren Sharp presented on Platform Cooperativism in Australia at the second Platform Cooperativism conference in New York. Like the P2P Foundation, the Commons Transition Coalition also became a founding member of the recently launched Platform Cooperativism Consortium. Their aim is to:
- Act as ambassadors for Platform Cooperativism and the Commons Economy in the Asia-Pacific region;
- Host events with local exemplars and visiting thought leaders to raise platform co-ops and pro-commons literacy in the startup, sharing economy and social enterprise sectors; and
- Achieve the above goals in solidarity with other aligned organisations in the region and globally.
The Coalition is planning to co-convene additional platform co-op events in Australia including a PC symposium with Trebor Scholz in mid-2017.
Looking forward to 2017
As a team, we plan to make 2017 the year of our greatest breakthroughs yet, building on our strong relationships, vision, and body of work. We will broaden our strategic partnerships to anchor the Commons as the constructive counterpoint to the threats facing our world. We will redouble our efforts in supporting commoners worldwide through our work in policy and advocacy. We will continue improving communications by creating widely appealing messages, and sharing our insightful and inspiring research studies. Ensuring the long-term sustainability of the Foundation is a fundamental goal, in order to increase our organizational resilience, transparency, and capacity for action. Plans for 2017-2018 are documented in detail, and we will soon share these on a separate post.
The ongoing support of our community if what keeps us going. Consider this a big “thank you” from all of us at the P2P Foundation to the wider network. Our gratitude cannot be measured. Only together will we succeed in bringing commons-oriented, P2P cultures to the fore. And a very heartfelt thanks to our friends Heike Löschmann of the Böll Foundation, and Nicolas Krausz of the Charles Leopold Mayer Foundation for the Progress of Humankind (FPH) for their ongoing support and friendship.
This article was collectively written by Michel Bauwens, Maïa Dereva, Vasilis Kostakis, Vasilis Niaros, José Ramos, Darren Sharp, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel
Lead image by Michael Roberson