P2P Foundation:About

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Since 2005, the P2P Foundation has been researching, cataloging and advocating for the potential of P2P and Commons-based approaches to societal and consciousness change.

Our Story

The P2P Foundation (officially, The Foundation for P2P Alternatives) is a non-profit organization and global network dedicated to advocacy and research of commons-oriented peer to peer (P2P) dynamics in society. P2P is an abbreviation of “peer to peer”, sometimes also described as “person to person” or “people to people”. The essence of P2P is this direct relationship, and its core characteristics include:

  • Creation of common goods through open, participatory production and governance processes
  • Universal access guaranteed through licenses such as Creative Commons, GPL, Peer Production Licence.

P2P is a process or dynamic that can be found in many communities and movements self-organising around the co-creation of culture and knowledge. Well known general examples include the free/open source software movement; free culture; open hardware; and open access in education and science.

The Commons is a concept and practice that has been steadily gathering increased attention and advocates. Deeply rooted in human history, it’s difficult to settle on a single definition that covers its broad potential for social, economic, cultural and political change. The Commons is now demonstrating its power as a “key ingredient” for change in diverse locations and contexts around the world.

P2P/commons-oriented communities, values and practices are now also increasingly present in the world of physical production through open design, the sharing economy and co-working in hacker/makerspaces and Fab-labs. These movements represent a cultural shift towards new kinds of democratic and economic participation that we believe are sowing the seeds for a more sustainable, egalitarian future.

The P2P Foundation, with its particular focus on the relationship of the Commons and P2P practices, is supporting this Commons transition by helping to share knowledge and develop tools to create common value and facilitate open, participatory input across society.

Our Mission

The P2P Foundation was conceived to help people, organizations and governments transition towards commons-based approaches to society through co-creating an open knowledge commons and a resilient, sustainable human network.

Between the paradigms of the network and the organization, the P2P Foundation exists as an ‘organized network’ which can facilitate the creation of networks, yet without directing them. Our primary aim is to be an incubator and catalyst for the emerging ecosystem, focusing on the ‘missing pieces’, and the interconnectedness that can lead to a wider movement.

P2P, in practice, is often invisible to those involved, for a variety of cultural reasons. We want to reveal its presence in discrete movements in order to unite them in their common ethos. To do this, a common initiative is required which:

  • gathers information
  • connects and mutually informs people
  • strives for integrative insights contributed by many sub-fields
  • organizes events for reflection and action
  • educates people about critical and creative tools for “world-making”

The P2P Foundation monitors the emergence of P2P dynamics in every field of human activity. We document these projects on our open access wiki and report and critique current events on our daily blog. Our Commons Transition website combines a platform for policy proposals with a web magazine featuring specially curated stories and interviews, with and for commoners worldwide. Our research network, led by theP2P Lab, empirically explores and expands the theoretical work produced on commons-oriented peer production, governance and property to ascertain its viability in real-world applications. Our focus on the productive potential of communities and networks inspires us to nurture partnerships with prefigurative collectives and more established players to extend our policy recommendations to those in the position to effect change. P2P Foundation members are active all over the world, with representatives in Europe, Asia, Oceania, Africa, South America, and North America. We are always looking to expand our coverage and welcome new members to our community.

Our Strategic Priorities

We are a pluralist network, actively documenting, researching, and promoting peer to peer alternatives. Our cultural and political aims include

  • Ending biosphere destruction and working towards its regeneration by abandoning dangerous conceptions of pseudo-abundance in the natural world (based on the assumption that natural resources are infinite and that technological innovation by itself will encounter all solutions needed.)
  • Promoting free cultural exchange by abandoning innovation-inhibiting conceptions of pseudo-scarcity in the cultural world (based on the assumption that the free flow of culture must be restricted through excessive patents, copyright, intellectual property, etc.)

The following broad “streams” have been identified in order to best channel our efforts and resources:

  • Stream 1: P2P Cultures and Politics is designed to help build a relatable identity and culture for the Commons, featuring inclusivity, gender equality and diversity. These values inform our policy work to transform progressive politics in a commons way, inside and outside the institutions.
  • Stream 2: Open Coops & Sustainable Livelihoods guides our examination of labor, carework, well-being and emancipation for commoners, and the creation of durable, transnational networks to construct ethical markets.
  • Stream 3: Building the Open Source Circular Economy aims to create synergies between cooperative peer production and sustainability. To do this, we attempt to show how a transition to new modes of production, governance and ownership can solve ecological and climate crises.

See also our guiding principles, how we are financed, or take a more in-depth look at our 2017-19 key projects.

The Foundation for P2P Alternatives addresses the following

(originally written by Michel Bauwens on November 29, 2005)

  • P2P currently exists in discrete separate movements and projects but these different movements are often unaware of the common P2P ethos that binds them
  • thus, there is a need for a common initiative, which
  1. brings information together;
  2. connects people and mutually informs them
  3. strives for integrative insights coming from the many subfields;
  4. can organize events for reflection and action;
  5. can educate people about critical and creative tools for world-making
  • the Foundation would be a matrix or womb which would inspire the creation and linking of other nodes active in the P2P field, organized around topics and common interests, locality, and any form of identity and organization which makes sense for the people involved
  • the zero node website, i.e. the site of the P2P Foundation, would have a website with directories, an electronic newsletter and blog, and a magazine. It aims to be one of the places where people can interconnect and strengthen each other, and discuss topics of common interest.

Structure and governance of the P2P Foundation

The P2P Foundation infrastructure of production and governance currently consists of three different aspects:

  • Legal: A formal foundation registered in the Netherlands with 4 operational hubs dedicated to organizing, advocacy, research and the facilitation of a knowledge commons.
  • People: An expanding network of activists and researchers working at different levels of engagement; a global core team handling daily operations, organizational strategy, and long-term sustainability; and numerous supporters engaging with and contributing to our information commons, including our blog, public Wiki and Loomio groups.
  • Virtual: An ecosystem producing and sharing knowledge on the commons and P2P dynamics emerging throughout society. Our widely viewed and shared research wiki and blog are updated daily by our community.

Organizational Structure

As of March 2017, the P2P Foundation’s structure has been reorganized around four interdependent operational hubs: Vision, Advocacy, Research and Infrastructure.

The Vision Stream observes, interconnects, stimulates and theorizes on knowledge production around the emergence of a commons economy and society. This work is led by Michel Bauwens through outreach, lecturing, writing, publishing and online documentation.

The Advocacy Stream acts as the main communication and advocacy hub of the P2P Foundation. Through the leadership of Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel, it produces accessible documentation to effectively spread our commons-based and -oriented ideas and experiences, appealing to civil society actors and policy makers. Advocacy also currently handles networking with other groups and collectives, such as the European Commons Assembly, Greenpeace International, The Rules and many others in order to broaden these ideas into mainstream awareness.

The Research Stream is led by the P2P Lab. Operating as a concrete lab in northern Greece and as a global research network, the P2P Lab tracks academic peer-reviewed publications around P2P and the commons (including the works of our core collaborators), and obtain grants for research. Additionally, it coordinates and participates in research projects (such as the now completedP2Pvalue) which focus on free/open source technologies and commons-based practices. Currently this work is coordinated by Vasilis Niaros with the collaboration of a network of commons-oriented researchers.

The Infrastructure Stream deals with the legal, financial, and technical aspects of the Foundation. Coordinated by Ann Marie Utratel and with Javier Arturo Rodriguez as Technical Lead, Infrastructure oversees accounting, contracts, budgeting and payments; as well as system administration, backend and server maintenance and security for our knowledge commons.

P2P Governance

Our internal governance and structure follow certain P2P values, in an effort to support both the organization and the individuals working to support it in turn. Rather than a top-down hierarchy, we use the principles of heterarchy, holoptism and equipotentiality, which serve to distribute power away from any central figures and to allow individuals to develop their roles and contributions.

Our operational hubs are interdependent but autonomous in workflow, tools and goals. Internal work distribution is managed in small groups, and resources are pooled. For debates requiring decisionmaking, we use Loomio. We operate based on trust and autonomy, allowing each other to work independently, while also meeting regularly via video call. Measurable goals are set collectively per stream (Advocacy, Research, etc.), while each stream transparently self-manages its own progress and priorities. The Global Core Team meets twice yearly in person to review and share progress, set future goals and discuss opportunities. Updates from these bi-annual reviews are shared with our advisory board for their feedback, and we publish a year-end progress report. To learn more about our recent achievements, read our 2016 review.

What Other People Are Saying about Us

  • Franz Nahrada GIVE - Global Villages Lab, Austria:
    "The Peer to Peer Foundation is the one organisation that brings toghether knowledge about the emerging cooperative economy and society from all walks of life. Be it new products based on collective imagination and testing, be it participatory forms of decisionmaking, be it good practises of strengthening the cultural commons - P2P foundation spans it all and provides us with knowledge resources essential for our daily work in harnessing the power of local community and global networking."

  • Sam Rose:
    "How will humans solve the problem of working together to create new and better working systems for technology production, energy, knowledge creation, education, conflict resolution, media production, health care, design, research and development, finance and natural resource management? If you are interested in engaging these questions, P2P Foundation is one of the few entities that gives those interested access to explore, develop, contribute and benefit from the largest knowledge base in the world of people trying to set right what is really abundant, what is really scarce, and act accordingly. Trying to help create a better world? Start here!"

  • Natalie Pang:
    "In a world dominated by market relations, the Peer to Peer (P2P) Foundation provides a solid insight on how alternative structural mechanisms i.e. peer-to-peer and collaborative production can be applied to all aspects of everyday life. This includes technological developments, the economy, cultural and social development, research and development, and the sustainability of natural resources. While grounded in theory, the P2P Foundation also offers ongoing dialogue with interdisciplinary researchers and practitioners to explore pragmatic solutions to contemporary issues and problems."

  • Kevin Carson
    "The quality of writing on the P2P Foundation blog is incomparable, and I have relied heavily on material in the P2P Wiki on peer production, open source manufacturing, and desktop manufacturing, in writing Chapters Fourteen and Fifteen of my org theory manuscript. I highly recommend Bauwens' extended essay "P2P and Human Evolution," and his shorter introductory essay "The Political Economy of Peer Production."


George Dafermos:

"In 2005, Bauwens founded the P2P Foundation (P2PF). In the beginning, this basically consisted in an online mailing list devoted to the discussion of peer production. It became very popular and attracted a lot of sympathizers and followers from all over the world. Within a short time, Bauwens added a wiki, which he and his numerous online collaborators began to develop into an all-encompassing online repository of knowledge on the topic of peer production. Bauwens’ collaborative style and his open-source approach towards the documentation and development of peer production theory appealed to many researchers and thinkers who formed, in a sense, an online research group around him and the P2PF. Much of the work of that group had an activist bent, attracting many radicals who were interested in exploring peer production as a weapon in the struggle against the capitalist system. Reflecting the aspirations of the actors in its network, the P2PF soon began to evolve into a think-tank for the theory of peer production, advocating social, economic and political change. In the context of its advocacy, it also began to get involved in the organization of events and conferences. The first one was in 2007 when Bauwens co-organized a workshop with Andreas Wittel, out of which came the inspiration for a special issue of Capital & Class titled “Parallel Visions of Peer Production.” Based on the contributions of the participants of this workshop, it was published in 2009 (Moore & Karatzogianni, 2009). This was the first time that an established scientific periodical had devoted an entire issue to peer production." (http://peerproduction.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Chapter-07_Prophets-and-Advocates-of-Peer-Production.pdf)

Evolution of the P2P Foundation

Interview of Michel Bauwens by V. Sasi Kumar:

"Michel Bauwens was in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, in December 2008, to participate in the Free Software Free Society conference and talked about the work of the Foundation. In this interview, done through email after his return to Thailand, Michel speaks about how he decided to leave his job and start the P2P Foundation, what principles the Foundation is based on, what its work is, and how the work has been progressing.

You were an information scientist and magazine editor before you started the P2P Foundation. Can you tell us about this evolution? How did it happen?

MB: My first job (but without any formal library and information science training, as I studied political science) was nine years as reference librarian and information analyst for a centre in Brussels. In 1990, I started working as strategic business information manager at the headquarters of the agribusiness wing of British Petroleum. At that time, I reformulated the role of librarian into that of ‘cybrarian’, ie managing “just in time, just for you” information streams to senior management who were not in any real sense using the physical library resources anymore.

As the animal feed businesses were divested by 1993, I moved on to creating a Flemish magazine that was a mix of Mondo 2000 and Wired, and then became one of the Internet evangelists in my home country, leading to work as a serial Internet entrepreneur.

From my very first encounter with the Internet, ie collective mailing lists combining experts from around the world, I knew this was a technology that would change the very fabric of our world. Never before had there been such real-time possibilities for human cooperation and collective intelligence on a global scale. From now on, the privileged communication infrastructures that were only in the hands of multinationals and the State, would be distributed and democratised, a shift at least as important as the effect of the printing press.

At the same time, I became increasingly dissatisfied with the corporate world, seeing how the neoliberal system not only created increased social inequality, exacted a terrible psychic cost from even its privileged managerial layers, while also creating havoc in our natural world. I started seeing the system as a giant Ponzi scheme (a scheme in which the profit of those who invest earlier comes from those who invest later), so what surprised me was not the meltdown of 2008, but why it took so long to actually manifest itself!

At the same time, there was a revival of social resistance starting in 1995, and I was noticing, as a professional trend-watcher, that there was a common template in the new forms of social organisation, the one I now call the ‘peer to peer’ dynamic, or ‘voluntary permissionless self-aggregation around the production of common value’.

Key for me was the observation of the Internet bust in April 2000, which I witnessed from a privileged position as I was working in the same sector. As the stock market imploded, pundits were predicting the end of the Internet because no more capital was available for innovation and development. In fact the opposite happened -- rather than diminishing, innovation increased, entirely driven by the social field of aggregating geeks, giving birth to the Web 2.0, the first social model based on an interrelationship between new forms of capitalism and user-generated production of value. I knew then that I would study this phenomenon more deeply, and in particular since I consider peer aggregation to be a non-alienating form of work, how it could be leveraged as a force for social change.

So in October 2002, I decided to quit my corporate engagement, take a sabbatical to think things through, and moved to Thailand to create a global cyber-collective to research and promote P2P dynamics.

Is there a basic set of hypotheses from which the Foundation starts?

Yes, I formulated the following principles when I started the Foundation:

  • That peer to peer-based technology reflects a change of consciousness towards participation, and in turn, strengthens it.
  • That the ‘distributed network’ format, expressed in the specific manner of peer to peer relations, is a new form of political organising and subjectivity, and an alternative for the current political/economic order, ie I believe that peer to peer allows for ‘permission-less’ self-organisation to create common value, in a way that is more productive than both the state and private for-profit alternatives. People can now engage in peer production that creates very complex ‘products’ that can achieve higher quality standards than pure corporate competitors.

I also believe that it creates a new public domain, an information commons, which should be protected and extended, especially in the domain of common knowledge-creation; and that this domain, where the cost of reproducing knowledge is near-zero, requires fundamental changes in the intellectual property regime, as reflected by new forms such as the free software movement; that universal common property regimes, ie modes of peer property such as the general public licence and the creative commons licences should be promoted and extended.

These principles developed by the free software movement, in particular the general public licence, and the general principles behind the open source and open access movements, provide for models that could be used in other areas of social and productive life.

If we can connect this new mode of production, pioneered by knowledge workers, with the older traditions of sharing and solidarity of workers and farmers movements, then we can build a very strong contemporary social movement that can transcend the failures of socialism.

I think it also offers youth a vision of renewal and hope, to create a world that is more in tune with their values.

I call the new peer to peer mode a ‘total social fact’, because it integratively combines subjectivity (new values), inter-subjectivity (new relations), objectivity (an enabling technology) and inter-objectivity (new forms of organisation) that mutually strengthen each other in a positive feedback loop, and it is clearly on the offensive and growing, but lacking ‘political self-consciousness’. It is this form of awareness that the P2P Foundation wants to promote.

Was this mostly your work, or were others involved in formulating these principles?

I formulated the principles on my own, but also after at least two years of reading, and of being attuned with the zeitgeist (zeitgeist describes the intellectual, cultural, ethical and political climate, ambience and morals of an era). Others were formulating similar ideas, though in different ways. So as usual we should not claim too much personal merit; we are standing on the shoulders of the giants of the past, and are simply lucky to accompany a deep shift in human consciousness that would be taking place without us just as well. At the most, we can try to put some extra grease in the machine.

What exactly does the Foundation do?

We want to be an interconnecting platform for people involved in realising the new open and free, participatory and commons-oriented paradigms in every social field. So, we are monitoring and describing real-world initiatives, theoretical efforts, creating a library of primary and secondary material, and trying to make sense of that aggregation by developing a coherent set of concepts and principles. We do this with a wiki, with nearly 8,000 pages of information, which have been viewed over 5 million times; through a blog reaching about 35,000 unique users last year, a Ning community with a few hundred members, and a number of mailing lists. The most active is the peer to peer research list, where academics and non-academics can collaboratively reach understandings. We also had two annual physical meet-ups in Belgium and the UK, and have some national groups such as in the Netherlands and Greece. There’s a lot of hidden activity acting as connectors between various initiatives, which, despite the global Internet, often don’t know they are working on very similar projects that could reinforce each other.

Peer to peer happens without us, but we want to add a little interconnecting grease to the system. My ultimate aim is to create a powerful social movement that can support the necessary reforms for social justice, sustainability of the natural world, and opening up science and culture to open and free sharing and collaboration, so that the whole weight of the collective intelligence of humanity can be brought to bear on the grave challenges we are facing.

How do you see the work that has already been done? Is it progressing according to your expectations?

I’m pleased on some levels, frustrated at others. In three years, we have constructed a sizeable amount of interrelated information and knowledge, and a ‘community of understanding’. I think we have a ‘really existing virtual community’ that cares about the ideals that we formulated. Each of these people are themselves active in their own real-world projects, some of which will be crucial change agents in the near future. Undoubtedly, the P2P Foundation is a global brand at least on the level of Internet users, as we have not crossed the boundary to mass media reporting. Our growth seems slow, but organic and rather strong, with not so much turnover and a lot of loyalty. Our internal culture of civil discourse seems very strong. On a personal level, I have a little more social and reputational capital, and have been privileged to explain P2P in several countries on four continents, which has allowed me to relate physical presence with the virtual network -- a strong combination.

My big frustration is that I failed to develop a ‘business model’ to sustain myself and my family, so I’m returning to paid employment in a few weeks, which will necessarily diminish my engagement, which has been full-time for the last three years, with the P2P Foundation’s work." (http://infochangeindia.org/200907137829/Technology/Features/Dreaming-of-a-peer-to-peer-world.html)

Key Theses on P2P Politics

Michel Bauwens:

Written in 2007:

"1. Our current world system is marked by a profoundly counterproductive logic of social organization:

a) it is based on a false concept of abundance in the limited material world; it has created a system based on infinite growth, within the confines of finite resources

b) it is based on a false concept of scarcity in the infinite immaterial world; instead of allowing continuous experimental social innovation, it purposely erects legal and technical barriers to disallow free cooperation through copyright, patents, etc ...

2. Therefore, the number one priority for a sustainable civilization is overturning these principles into their opposite:

a) we need to base our physical economy on a recognition of the finitude of natural resources, and achieve a sustainable steady-state economy

b) we need to facilitate free and creative cooperation and lower the barriers to such exchange by reforming the copyright and other restrictive regimes

3. Hierarchy, markets, and even democracy are means to allocate scarce resources through authority, pricing, and negotiation; they are not necessary in the realm of the creation and free exchange of immaterial value, which will be marked by bottom-up forms of peer governance

4. Markets, as means to to manage scarce physical resources, are but one of the means to achieve such allocation, and need to be divorced from the idea of capitalism, which is a system of infinite growth.

5. The creation of immaterial value, which again needs to become dominant in a post-material world which recognized the finiteness of the material world, will be characterized by the further emergence of non-reciprocal peer production.

6. Peer production is a more productive system for producing immaterial value than the for-profit mode, and in cases of the asymmetric competition between for-profit companies and for-benefit institutions and communities, the latter will tend to emerge

7. Peer production produces more social happiness, because 1) it is based on the highest from of individual motivation, nl. intrinsic positive motivation; 2) it is based on the highest form of collective cooperation, nl. synergistic cooperation characterized by four wins (the participants x2, the community, the universal system)

8. Peer governance, the bottom-up mode of participative decision-making (only those who participate get to decide) which emerges in peer projects is politically more productive than representative democracy, and will tend to emerge in immaterial production. However, it can only replace representative modes in the realm of non-scarcity, and will be a complementary mode in the political realm. What we need are political structures that create a convergence between individual and collective interests.

9. Peer property, the legal and institutional means for the social reproduction of peer projects, are inherently more distributive than both public property and private exclusionary property; it will tend to become the dominant form in the world of immaterial production (which includes all design of physical products).

10. Peer to peer as the relational dynamic of free agents in distributed networks will likely become the dominant mode for the production of immaterial value; however, in the realm of scarcity, the peer to peer logic will tend to reinforce peer-informed market modes, such as fair trade; and in the realm of the scarcity based politics of group negotiation, will lead to reinforce the peer-informed state forms such as multistakeholdership forms of governance.

11. The role of the state must evolve from the protector of dominant interests and arbiter between public regulation and privatized corporate modes (an eternal and improductive binary choice), towards being the arbiter between a triarchy of public regulation, private markets, and the direct social production of value. In the latter capacity, it must evolve from the welfare state model, to the partner state model, as involved in enabling and empowering the direct social creation of value.

12. The world of physical production needs to be characterized by:

a) sustainable forms of peer-informed market exchange (fair trade, etc..);

b) reinvigorated forms of reciprocity and the gift economy;

c) a world based on social innovation and open designs, available for physical production anywhere in the world.

13. The best guarantor of the spread of the peer to peer logic to the world of physical production, is the distribution of everything, i.e. of the means of production in the hands of individuals and communities, so that they can engage in social cooperation. While the immaterial world will be characterized by a peer to peer logic on non-reciprocal generalized exchange, the peer informed world of material exchange will be characterized by evolving forms of reciprocity and neutral exchange.

14. We need to move from empty and ineffective anti-capitalist rhetoric, to constructive post-capitalist construction. Peer to peer theory, as the attempt to create a theory to understand peer production, governance and property, and the attendant paradigms and value systems of the open/free, participatory, and commons oriented social movements, is in a unique position to marry the priority values of the right, individual freedom, and the priority values of the left, equality. In the peer to peer logic, one is the condition of the other, and cooperative individualism marries equipotentiality and freedom in a context of non-coercion.

15. We need to become politically sensitive to invisible architectures of power. In distributed systems, where there is no overt hierarchy, power is a function of design. One such system, perhaps the most important of all, is the monetary system, whose interest-bearing design requires the market to be linked to a system of infinite growth, and this link needs to be broken. A global reform of the monetary system, or the spread of new means of direct social production of money, are necessary conditions for such a break.

16. This is the truth of the peer to peer logical of social relationships: 1) together we have everything; 2) together we know everything. Therefore, the conditions for dignified material and spiritual living are in our hands, bound with our capacity to relate and form community. The emancipatory peer to peer theory does not offer new solutions for global problems, but most of all new means to tackle them, by relying on the collective intelligence of humankind. We are witnessing the rapid emergence of peer to peer toolboxes for the virtual world, and facilitation techniques of the physical world of face to face encounters, both are needed to assist in the necessary change of consciousness that needs to be midwifed. It is up to us to use them.

17. At present, the world of corporate production is benefiting from the positive externalities of widespread social innovation (innovation as an emerging property of the network itself, not as an internal characteristic of any entity), but there is no return mecachism, leading to the problem of precarity. Now that the productivity of the social is beyond doubt, we need solutions that allow the state and for-profit corporation to create return mechanisms, such as forms of income that are no longer directly related to the private production of wealth, but reward the social production of wealth."