Author: Janosch Sbeih

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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MAKE-IT tests app for Maker Faires and develops scenarios for the Maker movement on Maker Faire Ruhr 2017

Dressed-up steampunkers roaming around on three meter high Jules-Verne-like vehicles on the DASA parking lot; kids grouping together in front of the LEGO stop-motion-film stand; portable DNA laboratories that can be bought from exhibiting bio-hackers; and of course various 3D printers and other exhibited maker technologies made the second edition of the Maker Faire Ruhr into a mixture of trade and fun fair of the Maker movement which was hosted on 25th and 26th March 2017 in the midst of DASA’s permanent exhibition.

Of course, MAKE-IT could not miss this international event in Dortmund and was represented with MAKE-IT partners from Technical University Dortmund (TUDO) and the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO). The Dutch partners led with selected exhibitors a pilot test of a web-based application with the goal to create lasting connections between exhibitors and visitors on maker faires.

TUDO scientist Bastian Pelka presented in a workshop insights from the MAKE-IT project and subsequently facilitated an interactive simulation game with Marthe Zirngiebl and me where participants would take on the role of policy makers, scientists, business and civil society representatives to discuss three future scenarios of the Maker movement from these particular standpoints. The first scenario described how the Maker movement shapes public institutions (e.g. schools and libraries) to form inclusive learning spaces with new potentials. The second scenario depicted a future where the Maker movement develops into a civil society-based open source, peer-to-peer manufacturing economy. In contrast, the third scenario represented the possibility of the Maker movement focusing mainly on the research and development needs of established industry. The participants discussed the presented scenarios and put forward pros, cons and recommendations for each scenario from their particular standpoints.

The Maker Faire Ruhr proved to be a successful event for the MAKE-IT project with the first pilot test of its web-app which will be implemented in a matured form on future Maker faires. The co-developed scenarios will be further elaborated on in future events like the XIX. Convention of Applied Social Sciences and eventually published in its final report at the end of this year. For a first analysis of the results from this iteration of scenario development, please view the analytical report below.
Continue reading “MAKE-IT tests app for Maker Faires and develops scenarios for the Maker movement on Maker Faire Ruhr 2017” »

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Can Platform Cooperativism help the Maker Movement to become more sustainable? MAKE-IT on the Open 2017: Platform Cooperatives conference in London

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.

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Similarities, differences and interactions between the Hacker scene and the Maker Movement. Discussion on the 33rd Chaos Communication Congress (33C3)

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.

Figure 2: Decentralised congress organisation through crowd participation

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.

Figure 3: Hacker aesthetics at 33C3

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.


Figure 4: Maker aesthetics at Happylab Vienna


TUDO Analytical Report: 33C3 2016

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