Sub-theme 8. Opportunities and challenges of digital commons
New digital tools and data sciences for managing the commons
Technology is at the core of the study of the commons. The ability to effectively exclude others from a resource is what defines a commons against other types of public goods. As a simple example, the invention of barb wire was pivotal in the privatization of rangelands around the world. The pace of technical change is more rapid today than ever and emerging digital technologies have profound implications for how we interact with and manage commons. This session explores how digital technologies interact with commons, not only as a means of exclusion, but also in expanding the sharing of resources, lowering transaction cost to gather and share information, and in the development of new relationships with natural resource and environmental change. Presentations will examine how digital technologies impact community formation, managing risk commons, and facilitating collective action across different action arenas and levels of governance.
1. A Unified Framework for the Governance of the Commons with Blockchain-Based Tools: An Application to Customary Land Commons in Ghana
1Universite Paris 2, France, 2Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Spain
In this paper, we present an unified framework for the governance of the commons with a help of Blockchain-Based Tools. Our research builds upon the relatively recent field of literature linking the work of Elinor Ostrom with blockchain-based governance. Our aim is to identify the conditions where blockchain-based tools could help tackle governance challenges, empower local communities, or ease dispute resolution. To do so, the paper first provides a conceptual analysis and a theoretical framework for using blockchain-enabled tools for governing the Commons. We show that they are formal resemblance between blockchain-based systems and the Institutional Development Framework and building upon these similarities we provide analytical tools to practitioners. To illustrate our analysis and demonstrate how our evaluative framework can be used, we then propose a fictitious case study on customary land Commons in Ghana. Building on the work of experts, we propose a Proof of Concept (PoC) for a blockchain-based tool to address the enclosures threatening customary tenure. We show how the successful adoption of a blockchain-based tool requires careful co-development with the commoners, suitability to the local context, and wide-spread adoption. Bearing this in mind, we propose a DAO prototype to record and mirror the customary continuum of rights over different plots of land. Harnessing the flexibility, the transparency, and the resilience of distributed ledgers, we show that it is possible to record the rights of all users including those who are most at a risk of being stripped of their rights in a context of legal pluralism.
2. Institutional similarity drives cultural similarity among online communities
UC Davis, USA
Human organizations are driven by their rules and cultures. But the effects of rules and cultures on organizational development cannot be understood without untangling their effects on each other. People’s values are contingent on how they have been enculturated within organizations. Conversely, their values may influence the organizations they join, particularly in online community settings, where users have thousands of organizations to choose from and exert selection pressure in favor of communities with favorable rules. Using longitudinal data on the rules systems of thousands of online communities, as well as the traffic of millions of users between them, we use techniques from network science to disentangle the relationship between cultural assimilation and institutional assimilation. We find that institutional similarities in administrative rules and informational rules drive cultural similarities. We discuss implications of these findings for research on organizational evolution, institution and culture, and the use of tracking data in organizational studies.
3. Towards a Collaborative Commons Platform for Informal Workers
Independent Researcher, India
The paper discusses desirable aspects of digital platforms that can enable communities to manage common pool resources. By no means, comprehensive, it offer some thumb rules/insights, based on the experience of ongoing software development effort.
Firstly, since prior programming or technical knowledge cannot be assumed, the platform needs to be “no code”, indicating that no code needs to be written to make it operational.
A good starting point is to get a deeper of understanding of how specific informal communities use mobile devices. In other words, translating Karl Polanyi’s notion of “embeddedness”, albeit in the context of technologies, so that “social” imperatives and objectives shape technologies rather than the other way around.
Further, each area of informal work has (its own) distinct communities, objects of interest and relationships therein, making it difficult to develop a generic framework that can apply to all.
The broad guidelines of Activity Theory, a “social/psychological theory of technology” that shifts the focus from understanding objects and their relationships (normative way of developing software models) to looking at the Activities being performed, provides a mechanism for addressing both the above. Within the Activity Theory framework, Communities may be defined a group of people performing the same activity, with communities aggregating or overlapping with other communities.
Building on the pioneering work of Elinor Ostrom on the commons, an important aspect that encourages the success of a collaborative/commons approach is the translation/incorporation of Ostroms’s “Design Principles” into the system.
4. Using emerging technologies to incorporate local knowledge into climate adaptation planning: examples from the ISeeChange platform
ISeeChange, USA and Desert Research Institute, USA
Local knowledge systems are critical for the design of effective responses to climate change. Decades of research have illustrated that the knowledge residents on the ground have of how local systems, both ecological and built, function under conditions of stress is important for understanding the effect of dynamic change and what kinds of policy interventions are likely to have the desired outcomes. However, the collection of local knowledge faces several barriers and information from users of a system is costly to gather. The standard format of public meetings and stakeholder engagement are subject to an array of problems; including biasing information toward those with the resources to participate, over-representation of in-network participants, power dynamic of public meetings between large funding agencies and recipients, and community representation via self-appointed organizations, among others. Additionally, for local knowledge to be incorporated into adaptation design it involves a process of coproduction and exchange of knowledge. This requires the translation of observational and experiential information across epistemological systems, from community members to engineers of built systems and policy makers who often value information and data differently. This presentation examines at how the ISeeChange platform has been used to gather and translate local information on community flooding, extreme heat, and green infrastructure projects into critical information for adaptation design and planning. It addresses how the costs of collection have been lowered, the value of incorporating new technologies into community participation, and how backend data analytics can translate community knowledge into effective data for adaptation design.
5. Blockchain as a tool for commons governance: when the commons exceed geographical boundaries
University of British Columbia, Canada
Since Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom brings the commons to the economic spotlights, much advance has been made to enrich the discourse of the commons. The management of the commons, however, remains its reliance on either traditional digital platforms or interpersonal relationships. Less consideration is paid to the emerging blockchain technology as a platform to govern the commons. Blockchain is a decentralized technology that shares many similar characteristics with self-governing commons, including its self-governance mechanism and distributed power structure. Blockchain will enable the commons to exceed its geographical boundaries and reduce its monitoring and sanctioning cost. Using critical analysis of the literature and case studies, this paper will discuss the potential and challenges of applying blockchain technology in managing the commons.