When considering peer production, the first thought for many goes to the usual suspects: Wikipedia, Flickr, Digg, etc. But, when I was reading Benkler’s A Modality of Collective Intelligence, it reminded me some things I had been reading for work about the new top cities in the world. These cities thrive on innovation, creativity and… collaboration. Cities like Austin or Boston, in the United States, are growing at a rapid pace for a number of reasons that centre around the innovative ways that they are working across sectors to ensure growth. Austin, for example, is on the third version of its very successful Opportunity Austin plan, which bridges the gaps between business, government and academia to bring new companies to the city, encourage job growth, better quality of living, and higher wages for the citizens. By identifying the factors that make these sectors together, they are, in my opinion, taking the tenets of peer production to bigger things than just websites (not that Wikipedia is just anything, but you get my drift). Benkler describes peer production as a “form of open creation and sharing performed by groups online that: (1) sets and executes goals in a decentralized manner; (2) harnesses a diverse range of participant motivations, particularly non-monetary motivations; and (3) separates governance and management relations from exclusive forms of property and relational contracts (i.e., projects are governed as open commons or common property regimes and organizational governance utilizes combinations of participatory, meritocratic and charismatic, rather than proprietary or contractual, models)” (Benkler et al, 1).
Now, to address the clear contradictions here. Obviously these cities are not working entirely in Benkler’s model: they aren’t doing it just for the good of the people but also for the economic payoff, votes in the next election and higher profit returns in the next quarter. They are not creating open commons in the sense that the city will become just for the people – but the city is pubic property so it’s not too far off. And I know, I know, these goals were likely not set out in a decentralized manner, though it has been shown that in a lot of these cities it is the work of one leader who sets the fire burning among a variety of leaders in the other sectors, who come together to work on a common goal. So, perhaps I have just argued myself out of this thought.
But, the more I think about peer production, the more I think that cities could work in this manner, even if they have monetary goals or a hierarchy. Forbes published an article early this year on the “Collaborative Economy” – which are also called “Sharing Economy,” “Mesh Economy,” and “Collaborative Consumption.” From Forbes: “Individuals and organizations are finding ways to make better use of valuable resources that have remained idle during tough economic times. Access is being made affordable to those who previously could not pay for hotel rooms, a rented car, a vacation yacht, one-of-a-kind jewelry, a gourmet meal served in a private room, or industrial or commercial space for a nascent company. In all these cases sharing or collaboration is involved. So is modern technology such as mobile, social media, sensor, data and location.” AirBnB, Car2Go, and Etsy are all collaborative communities that use versions of peer production while also making money and while likely having some sort of a formal network to guide the organization.
So, where that does bring me? To the thought that perhaps a blended model of Kadushin’s more formal network theory, with a chain of command and structure, and Benkler’s Three Muskateers peer production is the Holy Grail for our future. Wouldn’t it be great if we used new technology and theories, along with some formal structure, to make our cities more responsive, collaborative and innovative? We can open certain doors and keep others closed; it does not have to be an all-or-nothing approach that leaves us lost. It can be a bit of Column Kadushin and a bit of Column Benkler, for a city or company that takes feedback, innovates for new policies, collaborates to bridge gaps across sectors… in the end, we would all benefit from something like that.