The good and the bad of mainstreaming an open source maker economy

Summary of an expert discussion about the future of the maker movement. Specifically one scenario: The Maker movement mainstreams into wider society as an open source, commons-based, decentralised P2P manufacturing economy.


Three Fablab managers, two Maker Faire organizers, social innovation researchers, technology developers, business strategy experts, and others.

Open source ethics and commons-based peer-to-peer production have a long-standing tradition as they form the ethical basis of the hacker movement. The Maker movement is influenced by the hacker culture and carries their legacy with them in their sharing practices of open source designs and practices (see also the blog post “Similarities, differences and interactions between the Hacker scene and the Maker movement” from 2nd March 2017).  

In this expert discussion, carried out in three rounds at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia, Barcelona, Spain, around 15 experts discussed the possible scenario that the Maker movement mainstreams these values into wider society by developing into an open source, commons-based, decentralised P2P manufacturing economy. Features of this scenario are:

  • Common shift of attitudes: “social”, “sustainable”, “alternative” and “cooperative” approaches prevail over “conservative”, “individualistic” and “capitalistic” ideas and practices
  • A paradigm shift towards the commons rather than governance through the state or market
  • New Currency models for exchange
  • “Clash of cultures”: P2P/commons culture vs. traditional economy
  • Many self-employed workers -> different culture of work and sharing
  • Diffusion: maker technology in many spaces
  • Diffusion of media competence and internet participation of persons

What are the experts’ thoughts on this scenario? Can they suggest refinements to it, or suggest likely ways this could develop?

How likely is this scenario?  Does it align with other social or economic developments?

If this scenario does come about, what do they think the impact will be? Can they develop recommendations for stakeholders?

Here is a selection of some highlights of the discussion.

Non-monetary value creation…

As this scenario presents the picture of a society in which post-capitalist methods of production and distribution play a large role, one of the major points of discussion revolved around monetised and non-monetised forms of work and value-creation; a topic that is paid attention to in the whole of the CAPS EU research programme which aims to look “beyond GDP” in its analysis of value creation. Complementary currencies can play a role as social technologies to facilitate the non-monetary exchange of goods and services. To install such alternative currencies, piloting and cooperation with public institutions are crucial. Piloting the currency is highly recommended to find out whether it is accepted in the community, how it is being used and what its effects are, while cooperation with public institutions safeguards that the implementation of complementary currencies is legal and condoned by the authorities. To reward contributors to commons structures with such non-monetary credits can have several benefits. First, the credits serve as tokens of social recognition from the community a person is contributing to. Second, it was argued that the state should recognise the earning of such credits as a sign for a person’s contributions to society and ensure that the person’s material needs are being met without requiring the person to enter into paid employment. This could happen through a guarantee of unemployment benefits in the case of earned credits (a conditional model) or through the payment of a universal basic income that enables everybody to contribute to the commons without also having a paid job on the side (an unconditional model). The widespread contribution to the commons at the expense of spending less time in paid employment is contingent on a cultural change towards a culture of sufficiency (having enough), rather than desiring to become financially rich. Wealth might thus be conceived very differently in this scenario than the accumulation of financial riches.

… leading to monetary income (for some)

Nonetheless, complementary currency schemes could also support the earning of monetary income as the earned credits can also represent a person’s positive reputation which can then lead to paid work. If employers recognise credits earned in commons structures as a feature of qualification, then this would become an institutionalised pathway from ‘commoning’ to paid employment. With the commons playing a bigger role in society and increasingly meeting also people’s material needs, it is important to pay attention to possibly existing structures of exclusion that might crop into this sphere. Who can access the networks of P2P production and who can’t? Does the contribution to and benefiting from commons possibly depend on levels of education, social capital or early involvement? A danger of this scenario is that it could play into an already observable split of the labour force where educated workers with a high degree of social capital are able to benefit from the commons and P2P-networks and are able to freely design their work-portfolios based on their skills and interest, while low-skilled workers work very precariously with little job- and income-security through unstable freelancing, zero-hour contracts and the like. For the latter group, it is therefore crucial to have strong labour protection and social security policies in place, as well as training schemes that educate people how to participate and make use of the new production networks.

Trust mechanisms

Another strand of discussion revolved around the question which kind of trust mechanisms need to be in place for people to embrace P2P production in the societal mainstream. Does it suffice if individual producers’ reputation becomes their ‘brand’ in P2P-networks? How is the quality of products such as motorbike helmets being assured? Do such products need special regulation to ensure adequate customer protection? What role do warranty and returns play in this scenario? Apart from quality assurance and customer protection, it is possible that the repairing and upcycling culture gets strengthened in this scenario, something that can also be fostered institutionally, as Sweden shows with their recent policy of providing tax incentives to repair broken products instead of buying new ones. This repairing culture would likely take place offline in local neighbourhoods where people are also embedded in sharing networks for goods of their everyday use. In the offline realm, it was mentioned that also non-digital crafts should not be forgotten as they have lower entry barriers and people also share their techniques and skills online, as is currently being done for example through Youtube videos on knitting techniques.

The dark sides of the scenario

Finally, there were still several calls for attention in this scenario, ranging from the very fundamental (“Where does the material for the increased personal production come from?”) to the very specific (“Can you make and distribute everything, also weapons?”). As a cautionary comment, it was noted that personal production might not always be the better option, as some products can probably be more sustainably be mass-produced and then transported to the end-customer. It is also questionable whether the new open source economy will necessarily clash with the old capitalist economy, as it might also just be integrated and create added value for established structures and organisations. The commons culture might thus be hijacked by capitalist structures, just as the sharing economy was by the types of Uber and AirBnB.


The experts agreed: out of the three scenarios discussed, this one represented the most significant shift away from the current societal model of production, distribution and organisation of work. It thus carries also the highest impact potential for society as a whole and while it promises a more open, well-distributed and freely accessible creation of goods than the current economic model does, it also encompasses the danger of reproducing current dynamics of exclusion and precarisation while introducing new challenges for worker- and customer-protection. In order to bring about a more widespread production for the commons and to ensure the material security of workers and customers alike, policy structures need to be put into place that foster and protect the commons and commoners.

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