Here’s a development that could have enormous global implications for the search for a new commons-based economic paradigm. Working with an academic partner, the Government of Ecuador has launched a major strategic research project to “fundamentally re-imagine Ecuador” based on the principles of open networks, peer production and commoning.
I am thrilled to learn that my dear friend Michel Bauwens, founder of the P2P Foundation and my colleague in the Commons Strategies Group, will be leading the research team for the next ten months. The project seeks to “remake the roots of Ecuador’s economy, setting off a transition into a society of free and open knowledge.”
The announcement of the project and Bauwens’ appointment was made on Wednesday by the Free/Libre Open Knowledge Society, or FLOK Society, a project at the IAEN national university that has the support of the Ministry of Human Resource and Knowledge in Ecuador. The FLOK Society bills its mission as “designing a world for the commons.”
The research project will focus on many interrelated themes, including open education; open innovation and science; “arts and meaning-making activities”; open design commons; distributed manufacturing; and sustainable agriculture; and open machining. The research will also explore enabling legal and institutional frameworks to support open productive capacities; new sorts of open technical infrastructures and systems for privacy, security, data ownership and digital rights; and ways to mutualize the physical infrastructures of collective life and promote collaborative consumption.
The FLOK Society project builds on a larger, preexisting national development vision that Ecuador has been pursuing. You should check out the impressive government report, National Plan for Good Living, 2009-2013 (pdf file). (A new plan for 2014 and beyond has recently been released, but only in Spanish.) If you browse through this amazing document you will find a penetrating critique of the neoliberal trade vision and its skewed ideas about development -- a refreshing alternative to the usual prescriptions peddled by the World Bank.
The Ecuador development report does not focus on juicing up economic growth, exploiting nature and privatizing public resources, but on the idea of bien vivir, or “good living.” The nation is self-consciously seeking to develop a paradigm change that focuses on a different “cosmovision” for “living life to the fullest.” It’s worth quoting a few paragraphs from the report to get a sense of how far advanced and innovative this small country really is. Below is a passage from the chapter, “Change of Paradigm: From Development to Good Living”:
“The prevalent concept of ‘development’ is undergoing a profound crisis. In part this is only due to the colonial perspective from which the concept is derived. But it is also a result of its failure throughout the world. The present global crisis has demonstrated that it is impossible to maintain the current patterns of accumulation. For the South, it has meant an extractivist and devastating path to development, with unequal relations of power and trade with the North. Moreover the unlimited consumption patterns derived from this model are leading the entire plant to collapse, given that the biosphere is unable to ensure its capacity for regeneration. It is essential, therefore, to promote new modes of production, consumption and organization of life and coexistence.”
The report goes on to explain the concept of “Good Living” and how it differs from the worldview implicit in the standard development vision:
“The Andean indigenous peoples have contributed to this debate [about development] by applying other epistemologies and cosmovisions. One of their greatest contributions is the notion of sumac kawsay, ‘life to the fullest.’ The notion of development is inexistent in these people’s cosmovision since the future is behind us because the concept implies something we do not look at or know. In the Andean vosmovision, the past is in front of us; we see it, we know it, it is ours and we walk with it….
The concept of Good Living necessarily resorts to the idea of ‘us.’ The community shelters, protects, demands; it is the basis for the reproduction of that collective subject that each and every one of us is. That is why humans are conceived as one part of a whole that cannot be understood only as a sum of its parts. The whole is present in each being and each being in the whole. ‘The universe is permanent; it has always existed and will always be here; it is born and dies in itself and only time can change it’ (Kichwa saying). This is why harm to nature is to harm ourselves. Sumak kawsay, or life to the fullest, transmits this cosmosvision…..”
This is taking “development” back to basics. It does not simply assume – as the “developed world” does -- that more iPhones and microwave ovens will bring about prosperity, modernity and happiness. The report goes on to critique the philosophical errors of neoliberal political philosophy and to set forth specific objects for fostering “social and territorial equality, cohesion, and integration with diversity.”
I mention all this as a context to Michel Bauwens’ research project. Here is the official announcement released by the FLOK Society earlier this week:
In the first semester of 2014, Bauwens will assist in setting up a global network of transition researchers. The P2P Foundation is a global network of researchers that is documenting the shift towards open, participatory and commons-oriented practices in every domain of human activity, but especially also the shift from collaboration on open knowledge and code, towards cooperation in open design, open hardware, open science, open government, and the shift towards open agricultural and open machining practices that have great potential for increasing the productivity and sustainability of farming and industrial processes.
Ecuador is the first country in the world which is committing itself to the creation of a open commons knowledge based society. In order to achieve the transition to a buen saber, or 'good knowledge' society, which is an extension of the official strategy towards a buen vivir-based society, the Advanced Studies Institute (IAEN by its Spanish initials) in Quito, Ecuador, led by the rector Carlos Prieto, has initiated a strategic process, called the FLOK Society Project, which aims to organize a major international conference in March 2013, and will produce 10 strategic documents proposing transition policies towards the good knowledge society, which will be presented to the Ecuadorian citizens through intensive participatory processes, similar to those that took place for the establishment of the new Constitution and the ambitious National Plans, which set the guidelines for government policy.
While Buen Vivir aims to replace mindless accumulative economic growth to a form of growth that directly benefits the well-being of the Ecuadorian people, Buen Saber aims to create the open knowledge commons which will facilitate such a transition. FLOK stands for 'Free Libre and Open Knowledge. In order to establish these transition policies and documents, IAEN has connected itself with the global hacker and free software movement, but also with its extension in the many peer to peer initiatives that directly aim to create a body of knowledge for physical production in agriculture and industry.
The P2P Foundation knowledge base has also focused on documenting new policy and legal frameworks being set up by sharing cities such as Seoul, San Francisco, and Naples; and regions such as Bordeaux, Open Commons Region Linz in Austria, South Sudan, the Cabineto Digital of Rio del Sur, and more. Its database of 22,000 global commons initiatives has been viewed nearly 25 million times and attracts 25,000 researchers, activists, users and readers on a daily basis.
In March, the P2P Foundation organized a ‘global hispanic wikisprint,’ with the help of Spanish-Brazilian activist Bernardo Gutierrez, in which more than registered 500 individuals and collectives, in more than 60 cities and 23 countries, mapped the open, p2p, sharing and commons initiatives in their region and areas of activities, resulting in a Latin American network of connected activists and scholars.
IAEN believes that the connection between the hacktivism communities, the FLOK Society, and the global and Hispanic networks active in constructing open commons will be vital to create a synergy with the local actors of Ecuadorian society, and will help us accomplish the mayor goal we have set for ourselves as a country.
Update: Here is blog post by Bethany Horne about joining the FLOK Society effort to provide communications support in Spanish and English.