What if so-called sharing economy and gig work platforms like Uber and AirBnB, or even social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter were owned by their employees and users who maintain the platform, deliver the services and create the content that leads to the astounding valuations of the platform economy? The result would be the orientation of emerging technologies toward community-wealth and participatory, democratic control – a vision which the cooperative movement pursues already for centuries, and which is now being picked up in its 21st century version by the Platform Cooperativism movement.
From 16th to 17th of February 2017, scientists, politicians, programmers, activists and representatives from business and civil society met in the halls of Goldsmiths, University of London, to bring together developers of the digital world with practitioners of cooperative business models. The container for this get-together was the two-day conference on the collaborative economy Open 2017: Platform Cooperatives.
I had the opportunity to discuss MAKE-IT with the participants of the conference with the particular focus on sustainability scenarios for the Maker movement. To connect the principles of open source design – on which the Maker movement is built upon – with platform cooperatives – which can be understood as a business form of Collective Awareness Platforms – appears to be a promising approach for a sustainable development of the Maker movement. Platform cooperatives can ease the Maker movement’s dilemma to aspire to the free sharing of open source designs on the one hand, while at the same time wanting to meet financial needs through Maker activities. The development of a platform cooperative where makers can offer their products for sale and free sharing depending on the use of their products could, for example, be modeled on the platform cooperative Stocksy United, which offers royalty-free stock photography and videos. This way, Makers would have the option to offer the same product with different licenses (i.e. open source and commercial licenses) to the respective audiences while parts of their revenues are automatically reinvested into the Maker movement through the platform cooperative.
From 27 to 30 December 2016, about 10.000 hackers, scientists, activists and interested citizens met for the 33rd Chaos Communication Congress (33C3) in the sold-out CCH trade fair in Hamburg. I was given the chance to present MAKE-IT with some first findings from our empirical case studies there to lead into a discussion about similarities, differences, and interactions between the Hacker scene and the Maker movement.
After providing an initial input on selected findings from MAKE-IT’s ten case studies that capture the diversity of the Maker movement, and an introduction to MAKE-IT’s three analytical pillars organisation and governance, peer and collaborative behaviour, and value creation and impact, I moderated a discussion with about 20 participants who were mostly members and/or researchers of hacker-/makerspaces themselves. The discussion elucidated how the Maker movement has its roots in the hacker scene and how the first German makerspaces were founded as secessions from established hackerspaces. Both movements share tools and machinery as well as the mentality to open, reconstruct and modify things to understand them and make them accessible in the spirit you don’t own it if you can’t open it. Decentralization, sharing, social inclusion and practicing a hands-on imperative are core topics of both sub-cultures which became apparent throughout all aspects of the congress, including its organizational infrastructure. All tasks of the congress, from the recording and translation of lectures to ticket inspections and medical support were impressively executed by self-organised volunteer networks.
It emerged from the discussion that the Maker movement consciously tries to set itself apart from the hacker scene through language and public imagery in order to resist the negative stigmata that surround Hackers in the media discourse and to be more accessible to the wider public. The Maker movement has, therefore, rebranded itself by giving itself a new name, adopted a cleaner aesthetics and established its own media outlets. While hacker ethics strongly inform the current maker ethos, makers tend to be much more pragmatic when it comes to acquiring external funding and collaborating with established institutions. This enables Maker initiatives to enter into cooperation with public institutions like schools and libraries and to carry the culture of hacking items and production processes into wider society. For a further insight on the topic, check the Analytical Report below.
It seems to me that fairs are an omnipresent component of the MAKE-IT project. Obviously, Maker Faires are one of the most important opportunities for makers worldwide to showcase their project to a wide community and meet fellow makers and potential investors and consumers in an offline environment. Yet, MAKE-IT through its transdisciplinary approach is not only part of the Maker movement, but, as a CAPS project, MAKE-IT has one foot in the world of social innovation as well. Just like Makers, social innovators display their ideas and meet other like-minded individuals at fairs.
One of these fairs is the Digital Social Innovation Fair, which took place on the 1st and 2nd of February in the pre-digital historic buildings of the Protomoteca Hall on Campidoglio in Rome. The MAKE-IT consortium was well represented with Tomas Diez’s keynote giving a comprehensive overview of the Maker movement’s vast spread including the rise of fab cities and the opportunities of the smart citizen project and Jeremy Millard’s keynote which focused on how acknowledging nature as a fifth additional actor to the quadruple helix model can inform the design of social organisations and substantially alter visions of future societies.
The keynotes given on both days of the fair covered a vast array of topics reaching from practical issues of how e.g. open data management can become a tool for municipal public administration to ethical considerations touching upon the prevailing conflict of online power being in the hands of big corporations instead of citizens. In the evening, Janosch Sbeih and I took part in a side event which led us to FabLab Rome located on the outskirts of the city. We explored the FabLab’s two neighbouring facilities of which one was decorated in neat colours to spur creativity, while the other resembled a garage stuffed with drilling and printing machinery. Leonardo Zaccone who founded the FabLab Rome focusses on introducing kids at an early age to the possibilities of digital fabrication. To enhance the outreach of his Fablabs he developed specialized courses for teachers who can then include digital fabrication into their curriculum.
On day 2 of the Digital Social Innovation Fair 2017 Janosch Sbeih presented MAKE-IT’s preliminary results during a workshop called Collaborative Making, Art and Creativity. Since many of the other presenters and people attending our workshop are quite active in the Maker movement, we used our time slot to discuss the question of what the Maker movement needs to sustainably tackle societal challenges such as environmental degradation, social inclusion, and employment.
The audience agreed that a lot of makers pursue projects that have the potential to tackle these challenges sustainably. While they do not lack creativity, ideas and a sense of societal responsibility, they by and large lack public recognition. This, in turn, makes it more difficult for initiatives to receive funding or guide policy in a favorable direction. So one consequent action to be pursued by the Maker movement would be to voice their values and showcase their activities to a wider public. Hence, our presentation, as well as the other ideas and projects exhibited at the Digital Social Innovation Fair 2017, provide valuable insights for MAKE-IT’s sustainability scenarios developed as part of Work Package 6. To collect further input, the results of the discussion are presented here and will remain open for further comments by the online community. Furthermore, Janosch Sbeih wrote an analytical report of the DSI Fair 2017 you can check below.