Commons

Theoretical contribution to commons theory

Mayo Fuster Morell dedicated her PhD thesis to analyzingthe conditions of possibility and success of digital common-pool resources (digital commons), analyzing which governance conditions characterize collective action as a commons frame in contrast to corporates enterprises in the digital environment, and how governance shapes the communities. In this thesis, Fuster Morell provided an empirically based definition of digital commons, and a conceptualization and framework to analyze governance of collective action in the digital environment. She developed an adaptation of the Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) framework to the digital commons.1

Previous research of the governance of digital commons had been based on analyzing specific aspects of the governance. Most of the analysis focused on the policies and the decisions around the roles in the community interaction. However, there was a gap in the literature, lacking a comprehensive and holistic view of what governance means in collective action online. Building upon the literature of democratic quality (mainly Morlino) and Internet and politics studies, Fuster Morell developed a definition and operationalization of dimensions of democratic quality in online collective action. Additionally, building upon commons theory and cyberlaw (mainly Yochai Benkler work on common-based peer production (CBPP)), she developed a conceptualization of governance of the digital commons, and provided an empirically grounded description of several governance models present in digital commons. Most of previous work did not consider infrastructure provision in their analysis. Her research challenges previous literature by questioning the neutrality of infrastructure for collective action and demonstrating that infrastructure governance shapes collective action. Importantly, her empirical research provides an empirical explanation of the organizational strategies most likely to succeed in creating large-scale collective action in terms of the size of participation and complexity of collaboration.2In hypothesizing that the emerging forms of collective action are able to increase in terms of both participation and complexity while maintaining democratic principles, her research challenges Olson’s assertion that formal organizations tend to overcome collective action dilemmas more easily, and challenges the classical statements of Weber and Michels that as organizations grow in size and complexity, they tend to create bureaucratic forms and oligarchies. Additionally, her work provides an empirically grounded characterization of two conflicting logics present in the conditions for collective action in the digital era: a commons versus a corporate logic of collective action. The research sheds lights on the emerging free culture and access to knowledge movement in defence of the digital commons as a sign of this conflict.

In contrast to other communities around natural resources, communities around digital common pool-resources are open to participation, which makes it difficult to establish community boundaries. Additionally, empirical analysis of most online communities investigated show a tendency towards a very unequal distribution of the contributions, or 90/9/1 power law, where around 90% of participants lurk or act as an audience, around 9% make minor contributions and around 1% are very active contributors. Fuster Morell moved beyond the mere recognition of the 90/9/1 principle in the literature, to analyses of the functioning of online communities which result in the unequal distribution of participation. By introducing the interdependency of 90, 9, and 1 degrees of contribution into the analysis, she suggested the concept of ecosystemic participation to explain the power law. The term ecosystemic participation highlights the co-dependency and mutual adaptation of the different forms and degrees of contribution (each playing a role), in order to strike an equilibrium between them for the sustainability and effectiveness of the common mission. Additionally, Fuster Morell investigated the conceptions of democracy and the explanations of the communities of the power law present at the communities around digital commons.3

At a theoretical level, she engaged on the debate on the defining of the digital commons. While law scholarship tradition (with scholars such as Rose, Lessig and Benkler) points to open access as the defining condition to define a digital commons, Fuster Morell argues that open access is not a sufficient condition. To the open access of the common-pool resource, she argues must add a governance design that maintains community control over the collaborative process of building the common-pool resource. In this regard, both open access resources provision and community governance (incorporating Ostrom school tradition) should be considered.4

Methodological and theoretical angles

In her PhD thesis, Fuster Morell built upon, and engaged in dialogue with and connected several theoretical bodies of literature. In this regard, her research formed a node between previously dispersed bodies of literature. Three bodies of literature are particularly significant in this regard. The debate on the Internet and democratic organizing within the frame of political sociology and social science, and the commons governance of commons theory, contribute to the formation of the framework of analysis for online communities governance and democratic quality. The debate on collaborative knowledge-making processes in digital settings in organizational and communication studies and cyberlaw contributed to the conceptualization and empirical analyses of online communities organizational characteristics. Finally, social movement theory and public policies studies contributed to the focus on the conflict between the main governance logics present in online communities.

Beyond the nodular focus of her PhD research, the governance of digital commons, Fuster Morell has developed postdoctoral research in a series of derivative angles.

She has developed cross-time analysis of the digital commons (looking to cases emerging in the 80s to now a days) and analyzed the historical emergence and evolution of digital commons as well as suggesting some possible horizons of future development.5

From a political science perspective, one of these angles is the investigation of the digital commons as an inspirational organizational form and metaphor for political organizing and mobilization.6 She investigated the development of a free culture movement for the defense of the digital commons.7 Then, in her work “From digital commons to society commons”, she investigated the role of the digital commons movement in the emergence and shaping of the Indignados mobilization in Spain.8 A second angle of analysis is investigating the external context as a dependent variable to explain the growth of commons practices. In this regard, she – as part of the research “Crisis of the representative system and new forms of protagonism at the civil society” at the Networked Politics program analyzed the relationship between the crisis of the State in several European countries (Italy and Spain) with the growth of commons practices.9 Additionally, together with Joan Subirats, she analyzed the implications for public policy-making and the new requirements for the public administrations of the growth of commons practices in Spain.10

From a more economical innovation perspective, building upon the literature on commons theory, managerial studies, and social economy studies, she analyzed (together with Ruben Martinez, Marco Berlinguer and Joan Subirats) the emerging models of monetarian and non-monetarian forms of sustainability of audiovisual commons.11 Finally, she has investigated the process of enclousement of the commons though the expansion of the new economy of information sharing. She suggested the concept of wiki-washing, to characterize a similar phenomenon to the green-washing in the media corporations characterized by the re-appropriation by corporation of sustainability and social values connected to the commons.12 In a major project submitted it to the European Commission 7th Program of which she is one of the six leading members, named P2Pvalue, a research designed on the analysis of value creation and metric in CBPP was developed. Furthermore, the ultimate goal of the extended research on CBPP of the project is to inform the design and deliver of a technological platform to support CBPP sustainability. 13

Finally, Fuster Morell has developed research on gender and the commons. Very high gender inequality is characteristic of collaborative communities, such as the free and open software communities and Wikipedia (with a gender rate of 1,5% of women engagement the first and around 13% of the second). Together with D. Laniado, C. Castillo, and A. Kaltenbrunner,14 Fuster Morell developed sentiment analysis and the role of emotions in order to investigate possible explanations ofthe “gender gap.”

Diverse cases and types of commons comparative perspective

Fuster Morell thesis is innovative also in terms of its comparative character. Most of the research on CBPP has been developed only for the case of free and open sources software. The empirical research was then expanded to the case of Wikipedia. However, this research has failed to take into account the diversity of types of CBPP, concentrating mainly on FLOSS and, on Wikipedia. Fuster Morell pioneeredthe mapping of a larger sample of diverse CBPP cases, analyzing the conditions of success in 50 cases. In addition, previous research tended to focus on single success case analysis. In contrast, Fuster Morell developed a case comparison (both quantitative and qualitative case studies comparison), including failed cases in the analysis. In her sampling, she also considered informal as well as failure cases, that even if more difficult to identify, were allowed to enrich the analysis on the conditions of success in the digital commons and in concrete to analyses of the level of formalization.15

Fuster Morell engaged with a plurality of typologies of commons and communities from diverse regions and disciplines. Fuster Morell has developed research both on the local commons (such as wireless sharing community network in the Catalonia pirineus)16, as well as global ones, such as Wikipedia. She has also developed case comparisons between cases based in United States and Spain.17 She just started a collaboration with a project based on comparing cases in India, Russia, Brazil and Russia.18 Additionally, Fuster Morell has not only investigated the commons with a mainly online base, but also the role of ICT in supporting local communities.

Commons studies field building

Fuster Morell has been very active and collaborative in developing a field of studies around the digital commons in various forms. Fuster Morell is the promoter and coordinator of a research group on the Internet, public policies and common as part of the Institute of Government and Public Policies (IGOP) at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (www.IGOPnet.cc). IGOP is a pioneering and leading institute in Spain researching on public policies.As part of this group, she has been in the leading group of two major project submissions to the European Commission 7th program, as well as a project to organize a iberoamerican network studying the commons to the Spanish Agency of Cooperation, in which a large network of institutions connected to the commons, such as the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC), have been co-involved in several forms. Additionally, in order to contribute to building bridges between research and practitioners, she has developed extended work as a member of the Research Committee of the Wikimedia Foundation (linked to Wikipedia) and the Open Knowledge Foundation, both leading institutions promoting the digital commons.

Impact on public policy and society at large

Fuster Morell was co-founder and organizer of the 2009 and 2010 edition of the international forum on free culture, digital rights and access to knowledge (Fcforum), an international encounter of civic society actors and policy-makers, who are engaged in reflecting on the social and economic challenges of the dissemination of culture and knowledge. The first edition of the Fcforum ended up with the definition of the “Charter for innovation, creativity and access to knowledge”. A broad coalition of 200 civic society organizations from 20 countries signed the charter. The 2010 edition of FCForum focused on economical models, and it resulted in a “Declaration and How to Manual on sostenibility” of creativity on the digital era, which was also widely supported. In 2011, Fuster Morell co-organized a first international conference of digital commons, specific to digital commons actors and which resulted in the building of a digital commons alliance.19 Additionally, she is one of the co-organizers of the School of the Commons, a monthly seminar of scholars and practitioners around commons issues in Barcelona.20 She has also promoted the organization of the Sharing commons sprint at Barcelona (March 2013) as part of a iberoamerican collaborative mapping of the commons.

 

References:

1 See Fuster Morell, M. (2013). Online creation communities viewed through the analyticalframework of the institutional analysis and development. Madison, M. J., Strandburg, K., & Frischmann, B. (2013). Convening Cultural Commons. Oxford University Press. (Forthcoming).

2 See Fuster Morell, M. (2010). Governance of online creation communities. Provision of infrastructure for the building of digital commons. Social and Political Science Department. (PhD thesis). European University Institute (Florence). Retrieved from http://www.onlinecreation.info/http://www.onlinecreation.info/outline_design

3 See Fuster Morell, M. (2010). Governance of online creation communities. Provision of infrastructure for the building of digital commons. Social and Political Science Department. (PhD thesis). European University Institute (Florence). Retrieved from http://www.onlinecreation.info/http://www.onlinecreation.info/outline_design

4 See Fuster Morell, M. (2013). Online creation communities viewed through the analyticalframework of the institutional analysis and development. Madison, M. J., Strandburg, K., & Frischmann, B. (2013). Convening Cultural Commons. Oxford University Press. (Forthcoming).

5Fuster Morell, M. (2011). An introductory historical contextualization of online creation communities for the building of digital commons: The emergence of a free culture movement. Proceedings 7th International Conference on Internet, Law & Politics (IDP 2011): Net Neutrality and other challenges for the future of the Internet. Retrieved from http://edcp.uoc.edu/symposia/idp2011/proceedings/

Fuster Morell, M. (2013). Horizontes del procomun digital. Revista documentacion social.

6 See Fuster Morell, M. (2011, October). Rethinking government in the light of the emerging organisational principles of online collective action. In E. Aibar (Ed.) European Journal of ePractice. No 12. ISSN: 1988-625X. (pp. 81-93) Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/bslp3o7

7Fuster Morell, M. (2011). An introductory historical contextualization of online creation communities for the building of digital commons: The emergence of a free culture movement. Proceedings 7th International Conference on Internet, Law & Politics (IDP 2011): Net Neutrality and other challenges for the future of the Internet. http://edcp.uoc.edu/symposia/idp2011/proceedings/

8See an article of this work in English Fuster Morell, M. (2012). Composition of 15M Mobilization in Spain: FreeCulture Movement a layer of 15M ecosystem movement. ‘Occupy’ special edition. Social Movement Studies,Volume 11, Issue 3-4. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14742837.2012.710323

9See the book, Fuster Morell, M, Wainwright, H. & Berlinguer, M. (2007). Rethinking political organisation in an age of movements and networks. Rome: XL edizioni.

10

See Fuster Morell, M. & Subirats, J. (2012). Crisis de representación y de participación. ¿Son las comunidades virtuales nuevas formas de agregación y participación ciudadana?. En J. M. Robles (Coord). Practicas políticas y nuevas tecnologías: Participación política digital en España. Arbor. Ciencia, Pensamiento y Cultura. CSIC. Vol. 188 – N 756. julio-agosto (2012). (pp.641-656). Madrid. Retrieved from http://arbor.revistas.csic.es/index.php/arbor/article/viewArticle/1491

11Berlinguer, M., Martinez, R., Fuster Morell, M. J. Subirats. (2013) Modelos emergentes de sostenibilidad de procomunes audiovisuales. Teknokultura. Revista de Cultura Digi tal y Movimientos Sociales. Retrieved from http://teknokultura.net/index.php/tk/article/view/82

12Fuster Morell, M. (2011). The Unethics of Sharing: Wikiwashing. In W. Sützl & F. Stalder (Ed.). International Review of Information Ethics: Special issue: Ethics of Sharing. Vol. 15 September 2011. Retrieved from http://www.i-r-i-e.net/inhalt/015/015-Morell.pdf

13 Project: Techno-social platform for sustainable models and value generation incommons-based peer production in the Future Internet. Presented at ICT Call 10 FP7-ICT-2013-10

14 Laniado, D. Castillo, C., Kaltenbrunner, A., and Fuster Morell, M. (2012) Emotions and dialogue in a peer-production community: the case of Wikipedia. In: Proceedings of the 8th International Symposium on Wikis and Open Collaboration, WikiSym’12. Linz. Retrieved from http://airwiki.ws.dei.polimi.it/images/b/b7/Emotions_and_dialogue_in_Wikipedia_2012.pdf

15 See Fuster Morell, M. (2010). Governance of online creation communities. Provision of infrastructure for the building of digital commons. Social and Political Science Department. (PhD thesis). European University Institute (Florence). Retrieved from http://www.onlinecreation.info/http://www.onlinecreation.info/outline_design

16Principal investigator. Financial entities: France Telecom Recherche & développement. Project: Wireless technology: Neighbors collaborative uses at the Spain. From April to November 2005.

17Principal investigator. Institute of Government and Public Policy. Autonomous University of Barcelona. Funding entity: Call 2012 of the National Program of Fundamental Research of the VI National Plan I+D+i. Spain. Project: Information,cultureandknowledge:Newcitizenspractices,newpublicpolicies.AcasecomparisonofSpainandUnitedStates(SindeLawversusSOPALaw). From January 2013 to 2015.

18 Research project: Civic engagement and ICTs. Bangalore center for Internet & society.

19See www.fcforum.net and www.digital-commons.net

20See http://p2pfoundation.net/Pro_Commons_Cat_Hub

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