Collaborative Production in the Material and Digital World

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Proposed ongoing PhD research thesis: Collaborative production in the material and digital world. By Joon Sang Baek (Ph.D Candidate, Politecnico di Milano, [email protected]), (for?) Ezio Manzini (Full professor, Politecnico di Milano, [email protected])


Innovation at the grassroots level is pervasive in our society. In various domains, there are groups of innovative people who actively solve problems or to open new possibilities, and doing so make a positive step in the social learning process towards social and environmental sustainability (Manzini, 2005). Meroni (2006) collected the cases of communities in Europe which collaborate to develop solutions to their daily problems of housing, eating, working, socializing and commuting. Similar cases were also collected for China, India and Brazil (Manzini, Jègou, 2007). Halme et al. (2005) introduced the cases of sustainable consumer services, business solutions for household markets organized by communities, local governments, corporations and non-profit organizations in Europe. Vezzoli (2007) introduced the cases of bottom-up social innovation and analyzed their impact on sustainability from the perspective of systemic design. Meanwhile, innovation at the grassroots level is more eminent in the digital world, an environment that exhibits antirivarly and inclusiveness (Cooper, 2005). Collaborative production in the digital world is based on a peer to peer relationship where members of a community collaborate to accomplish a common task in equipotential status (Bauwens, 2005). Well-known examples include opensource software projects such as Linux, wiki-based collaborative production such as wikipedia and business platforms that utilize the creative commons such as Google or Amazon. In fact, the speed of innovation is much faster and the scale is bigger in the digital world than the material world.

The social innovation at the grassroots level in the two domains share in common that they are the signals of a paradigm shift that indicate inefficiency and inefficacy of the current production. However, they also differ in several aspects in terms of the type of resources to be shared or traded, size of a community, organizational structure, incentive mechanism, usage of toolkits, degree of involvement and penalty of failure. In this research, we define the characteristics of collaborative organizations that underpin social innovation at the grassroots level in both the material and the digital worlds. They are compared and their relationship is analyzed. We then identify the obstacles to diffusing collaborative organization in the material world and seek for the possibility of applying collaborative production in the digital world to the material world to eliminate the obstacles and thus facilitate social innovation at the grassroots level.


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  2. Cooper, M., The economics of collaborative production in the spectrum commons. IEEE, 2005: p. 379-400.
  3. Halme, M., Sustainable consumer services: Business solutions for household markets. 2005, London: Earthscan.
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