Consumption groups and cooperatives in Barcelona (article)
Ricard Espelt, Núria Vega and I have just published an article at on consumption cooperatives: Plataformas digitales: grupos y cooperativas de consumo versus La Colmena que dice sí, el caso de Barcelona (Digital platforms: consumption groups and cooperatives vs. The Food Assembly in the case of Barcelona).
The article compares the emergence of agroconsumption groups and cooperatives in Barcelona since the mid 1990s with the most recent appearance of (presumably) platform cooperativism-based initiatives such as The Food Assembly.
The main conclusions are that while agroconsumption groups and cooperatives are deeply rooted in the social and solidarity economy, and most of the times in the sharing economy, some platform-based initiatives not only do not share this principles but, as it is the case of The Food Assembly, they do not even match in what we understand by platform cooperativism.
The article is in Spanish. An abstract in English follows and then the link for downloading the full paper.
The cooperative tradition around the consumption of agro-food products has a strong historical background in the city of Barcelona. Even if we refer to the first modern consumer cooperatives, we realize that their task has twenty-five years of permanence (Espelt et al, 2015). More recently —in July 2014— appears in the city another initiative of consumption to facilitate direct sales between local producers and communities of consumers, called food assemblies. Although the origins and differences between models are evident, they both share some common aspects in their approaches —willingness to self-manage, disintermediation of production and building a community—, articulated as part of the so-called “Collaborative Economy”. For their part, both types of initiatives, although with a very different approach, have in technology an important backbone for their activity. In this article, we analyze the points of encounter and discrepancy between the two actors as a model, placing the research framework in the city of Barcelona, where —in March 2017— we located some sixty groups and consumer cooperatives (Espelt et al., 2015) And thirteen food assemblies, six in operation and seven under construction. Emphasizing as differential factors, economic, technical, legal aspects, type of governance, values associated with the model or linked to the relationship between people, producers, final product or space.
Open social innovation is defined as “the creative destruction that aims at making up new processes that can be appropriated by the whole of civil society” (Peña-López, 2014).
One common denominator that can be found in successful initiatives that deal about political participation and engagement is that they use ICTs to remove barriers and/or equal the ground of participation (leaping the knowledge gap), create new platforms and projects shared by broad and multi-stakeholder communities (new processes phase) whose outputs and outcomes positively impact on the community and, at the same time, achieve reasonable levels of economical and especially social (self)sustainability (leveraging quadruple helix).
In the figure below we have drawn a scheme that aims to synthesise the common points that we have found in our review of cases and that are also pointed at in the literature. In the following sections we will explain how the initiatives we analyzed address each of the four layers into which we schematized their operational design and why addressing every layer is crucial for the final success of the project.
Government as a platform for open social innovation
The point of departure: socio-economic status and the knowledge gap hypothesis
In 1970, Tichenor et al. showed how mass media consumption did not necessarily had an evenly distributed positive impact on people’s knowledge. On the contrary, the impact depended on the point of departure, being much more significant on more highly educated segments of society. Thus, exposition to information depended on socio-economic status and did not add up to the pre-existing knowledge levels of the population, but had a multiplier effect: educated people will do better, uneducated people will do worse.
This “knowledge gap hypothesis” has proven true not only related to information coming from mass media, but from other knowledge devices such as public libraries (Neuman & Celano, 2006), the Internet in general (Bonfadelli, 2002; Selwyn et al., 2005; Van Deursen & van Dijk, 2013), instructional technology (Warschauer et al., 2004; Warschauer, 2008; Warschauer & Matuchniak, 2010; Horrigan, 2016; Patterson & Patterson; 2017) or social media and e-participation platforms (Yang & Zhiyong Lan, 2010; Anduiza et al., 2012; Robles et al, 2012; Schlozman, 2012; Gainous et al., 2013).
Successful participation usually address as a first stance this situation. When addressing inequalities is not their first stance —such as in the case of projects explicitly addressed to employment— most projects include accompanying measures that aim at leveling the ground so that, according to their means, all players can engage in equal conditions.
At this level, which we call the point of departure, it is important that there are instruments that contribute to leap the knowledge gap by providing basic and operational resources that enable objective choice (Welzel et al, 2003).
In general, this stage is especially suitable for policies and programmes that address basic needs of the youth in particular and the citizenry in general. Beyond the obvious fact that individual development and progress is good per se, we want keep on stressing the fact that we have already stated: further measures to empower citizens will only work as desired if there are former leveling initiatives. Thus, formal education initiatives or employment programmes should be thought as a pre-requisite of higher level measures so that these can act as appropriate multipliers.
The micro level: enabling the social tissue
Once individuals are in (more or less) good conditions to be actual and active citizens, what naturally comes is that they coordinate to collectively promote initiatives. The more intertwined these citizens and their respective collectives are, the more resilient, sustainable, scalable and replicable their initiatives are. If basic conditions are a requisite for leveling participation and thus avoiding the unwanted outcomes of the knowledge gap, a tight social tissue increases the possibilities of success of a given social initiative.
Projects that plan ahead in this train of thought, design devices to enable social tissue creation or to strengthen the existing one. Financial resources, facilitators (such as social workers), members of the Administration or researchers that bring in background and context, etc. contribute to this goal.
Not surprisingly, face to face initiatives are more common at this stage, as they are welcome as better weavers of this social tissue. On the other hand, at this stage it is also worth noting that local leaders easily emerge when grassroots movements are fostered.
Being crucial the strengthening of the social tissue, local leaders and grassroots movements, the role of the government has to be stealth: the government thus becomes a platform that provides context, facilitates and fosters interaction while staying in the background. Attempts of the government to move to the forefront are usually perceived as patronizing or intrusive, and thus have a discouraging effect.
At this stage, Internet and social media initiatives should be addressed towards access to information and knowledge management, especially in knowledge-intensive sectors of both the productive economy and the civil society. But not only, digital skills on building digital personae or digital identities are key at this level so that the weaving of the social tissue can go beyond the local arena and, as we will see below, overcome barriers of time and space and enter the field of networking.
The meso level: weaving the networks
Citizens are usually part of different collectives and collectives usually operate at different levels or layers. Networks contribute to the exchange of knowledge between scattered individuals and collectives which would otherwise act as isolated nodes.
But not only networks contribute to the articulation of collectives of collectives, but also contribute to the diversification of the typology of individuals and collectives involved in a given initiative. Networks become useful instruments to articulate multi-stakeholder partnerships —formally or tacitly— and, if well balanced in their nature, these networks can promote interactions and exchanges between governments, higher education and research organizations, the industry and civil society organizations. The Quadruple helix model of innovation posits (European Commission, 2016) that only such kinds of interactions between these four types of actors can really produce innovations that do respond to the needs of the society at large.
We have found that the synchronization of layers is achieved by successful projects by means of networks. And that this synchronization is most of the times achieved by means of online platforms and other digital constructs.
At this point, digital literacy (information literacy and media literacy) become a key aspect for further developments. On the one hand, because networks (either facilitated by digital means or not) have a logic that is much different from industrial hierarchical models. On the other hand, because, when powered by digital platforms, its mere operation does require capacitation in a broad range of digital skills.
Networks, in a knowledge society, heavily rely on the gift economy and the ability to concentrate and distribute information that can be applied locally as knowledge. It is thus worth bearing in mind the complex constellation of literacies and competences that can be labelled as digital skills: technological literacy, informational literacy, media literacy, digital identity or e-awareness are just some of the names and concepts that are part of a set of skills that enable or foster other ones like creativity, teamworking, leadership or critical solving – or, in other words, XXIst-century skills (Ananiadou & Claro, 2006; OECD 2016a, 2016b).
The macro level: mainstreaming and institutionalization
If weaving the social tissue was the way to leverage the potential of now equal and individual citizens, institutionalization is the way to leverage the potential of quadruple helix-like networks.
Many projects aim at raising their goals at the upmost level and seeing them going mainstream. Only institutions, through regulation and policy-making can realize this aspiration.
Of course, most projects do not get to see their designs mainstreamed, especially during their limited time-spans. Thus, their proxy goal to mainstreaming and institutionalization is visibility. Successful projects are strong in advocacy and awareness rising, and they do it in two opposite directions. Firstly, as we just stated, by looking “up” towards the institutions, by showcasing and modelling, by comparing with other related projects. Secondly, by looking “down” to their communities, by assessing and evaluating their impacts, providing feedback to their citizens.
This double aim —mainstreaming by “looking up” and laying strong foundations for social sustainability— are typical of successful projects.
It is interesting to note how this stage is both the end of the process but also the beginning of a virtuous circle.
On the one hand, it aims at creating social infrastructures —policy, regulation, institutions— so that the benefits of the projects can become structural and not temporary, as embedding them in established and stable social structures are the best bet for replication, scalability and sustainability at large.
On the other hand, by establishing a dialogue with the citizens and looking for the individual impact, they address —this time with a top-down approach— the socio-economic layer where the whole process began in the first place.
(note: paper prepared after the fieldwork of Alexandra Theben on the Impact of the Internet and Social Media on Youth Participation and Youth work.)
Ananiadou, K. & Claro, M. (2009). 21st Century Skills and Competences for New Millennium Learners in OECD Countries. OECD Education Working Papers, No. 41. Paris: OECD Publishing.
OECD (2016a). Skills for a Digital World. 2016 Ministerial Meeting on the Digital Economy Background Report. Paris: OECD.
OECD (2016b). New Skills for the Digital Economy. Paris: OECD.
Chair: Prof Melissa Leach, IDS
Deus Rweyemamu, independent
Governments are especially receptive to new proposals in times of crisis: Wait for a crisis to bring your solution to the government.
Before scaling up, think of scaling down: can it be done more effectively? Can it be done more efficiently? Etc.
Technology is a pain-killer, but it is not the cure.
Adi Eyal, Open Up
Specific technologies require specific methodologies and specific environments.
Same for people: you need to find the right people for any given scenario. Do not choose the technology: choose the technologist.
Edwin Huizing, Hivos, Making All Voices Count;
Projects have not to become too technical or too institutional if we expect people to own them.
Civil society space is shrinking. We need to create space, and this is done by building trust in civil society actions and with citizenry at large.
Judith Herbertson, DFID;
There is an interesting negotiation between civil society organizations, which want to push an issue forward, and governments, which should represent all citizens. This negotiation can be — and should be — a creative effort to achieve consensus around common lines of action.
Let’s stop talking about “failure” and let’s talk instead about what worked, what did not work and what can be done differently.
Joe Powell, OGP Support Unit
Civil servants have to be considered part of civil society, actors that have to be included in projects about governance and democracy. Governments are part of society too. We need a coalition of leadership from civil servants, subnational leaders and civil society organizations.
Opening spaces in governments should bring dividends for politicians, so that they have incentives to do it.
Making All Voics Count: Appropriating Technology for Accountability (2017)
Lessons about supporting work in this field
Chairs: Ellen Pieterse
How could you the work in this field be better supported?
Ideally, research should provide ground for the design of intervention projects, and then come back to these projects and, more than assess them (which is OK), do more research after them. Constraints (time, money, convenience) make that, sometimes, research and practice, though related, are not intertwined and enriching one each other.
Pre-grants, to design better projects, provide some evidence, etc. could be an option to have better designed and better grounded projects.
In knowledge intensive projects, creating a community to exchange knowledge between different people involved in different projects can be a way to support each other, identify best practices, develop capacity, identify trends and core issues in the field, etc.
It is usually said that an organization that learns, an organization that adapts to the context, is better. But have we measured this improved performance? We should. We should measure the relationship between learning organizations and successful organizations.
The cycle of projects, beginning and ending every three or four years make it more difficult to apply what you learned in either the same or the next project. How do we continue to learn and build knowledge in the long run.
How can programmes like MAVC enable, capture and use internal learning to be more adaptive?
The best way to encourage learning is to incentivize it. There has to be an experiencing of an issue to learn from it, and then a period of reflection to settle knowledge. This should be included in the design (funds, resources, etc.) of the project.
Fostering communities of practice also helps in building knowledge together.
When there are synergies in sharing knowledge, in the sense that the collective can achieve higher grounds than acting individually, then collaboration makes sense and is a sufficient incentive to learn together. E.g. in qualitative research, where results might be difficult to compare, sharing methodologies, sharing approaches, working together may imply that the individual results can be compared and thus produce an “extra” piece of knowledge, which is the comparison itself.
Making All Voics Count: Appropriating Technology for Accountability (2017)
What has MAVC learnt about supporting work in this field?
Framer: Fletcher Tembo, Programme Director, MAVC
How you actualize your theory of change as a project deploys? Can you? Should you? Testing is fundamental, and adjusting your assumptions the most clever thing to do. But not only the “theory” has to adapt, but also program management.
In such a flexible, liquid environment, trust and relationships play an important role, as they let you move quickly and with confidence. It is important to include an adequate inception phase for building an appropriate consortium.
Host: Walter Flores, CEGSS (Centre for Equity in Health Systems Governance), Guatemala
Panellists: Helena Bjuremalm, Sida; Debby Byrne, MAVC; David Sasaki, William & Flora Hewlett Foundation; Lu Ecclestone, Department for International Development; Michael Canares, Web Foundation/Open Data Lab Jakarta
How do we turn the new knowledge that we have into new practices?
How do we select people? According to the challenges? Their experience? Their capacity? Choosing is a matter of who you exclude from your project, which is hard. The usual suspects may be good, because they have proven their value in the past, but also bad, just because they are “usual”, meaning that maybe not new people or new approaches will come from them.
Are donors comfortable with experimentation? Sometimes donors find a “window of opportunity” due to some political will to foster a specific issues, and then they take the chance to try something new, with new people. The problem is that these windows of opportunity sometimes remain open for very limited time, and hence programs are designed in a rush, without taking into account all the variables that matter. On the other hand, sometimes there is a sense of urgency to foster a field and when the opportunity comes one feels like it is now or never.
New landscapes come with new approaches and tools: innovative governance work requires innovative monitoring, evaluation and learning.
Having a flexible, multilayer/multistakeholder network can be very handy. Each organization/layer can concentrate on what they do best (draw the general strategy, find the partners, develop the projects, etc.). Rigid and hierarchical structures, who want to have control over the whole program, may not be the best option. E.g. donors should commit the money and get out of the way, after participating in identifying what success looks like. In this new scenario, fostering collaboration instead of competition is the way, especially complementary collaboration.
Grant making architecture should be inclusive by design and more prone to assume risks.
Keys to design proposals: think big, think of the partners, think about the problems to be solved, think about your liaison with other civic organizations and/or individual citizens at large.
Making All Voics Count: Appropriating Technology for Accountability (2017)