Commons-Oriented Initiatives in Barcelona

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Free Knowledge Institute:

"In Barcelona, like in many cities, people have seen the irruption of delivery platforms like Deliveroo, Glovo, Amazon and so on. These capital-backed platforms have provided precarious jobs to enable cheap delivery services. Spanish riders have formed protest groups under the name of “riders por derechos” (in English, “riders for rights”).

In the domain of housing, the Anti-Eviction Platform (PAH for its initials in Spanish) is well known for convening citizens to stop evictions of precarious families. Other grassroots initiatives have emerged over the past years, like the “sindicat de llogateres2” (in English “union of renters”) which is an association of citizens that claims the right of housing and a dignified, stable and safe rent. There are several associations of homesharers that have started in the last years to defend the rights of people sharing rooms on platforms as a way of making ends meet.

In the field of online cloud services and socials networks, several collectives work for raising awareness on privacy, self-organisation and against concentration in the hands of a few global tech players. Pangea and CommonsCloud are just two of many alternatives. At city congresses like SobTec (Sovereighn Technology Congress) and the Mobile Social Congress these and many other initiatives are present, in opposition of the mainstream platforms that dominate the city which are protagonists at the Mobile World Congress – the biggest mobile phone trade fair in the world, celebrated in Barcelona every year in the last decade

In these and other fields, an active grassroots community of citizens fosters the existence of commons and cooperative actors that provide alternative services. A key question of the 2016 report was what the City could do to help promote and consolidate that ecosystem. Five years later, we can have a look at what has actually happened.

As we already observed in the 2016 report, Barcelona is home of many commons-oriented initiatives in many different domains. In this article we will walk through some of the communities and relate them to specific municipal action programmes. We will mention some cases in domains like telecommunication networks, circular economy, makers and open design, food, cloud platforms, and mobility.

First, let us start with some mappings of relevant projects. The Pam a Pam mapping project is a collaborative mapping of actors of the Social and Solidarity Economy. A group of voluntary mappers interview actors and score each initiative against a series of questions, if they pass the threshold, they get visible on the map. Currently there are more than 1,000 cases mapped in Catalonia, most of which in Barcelona. While this maybe impressive, this mapping also leaves out many initiatives that either have not been identified yet or didn’t pass the Pam a Pam score. Some years ago the P2P Value directory mapped more than 1,000 cases for Barcelona alone – this mapping includes and complements the Pam a Pam data, but maybe out of date.

Two telecom community networks are worth mentioning. The first, the community, has been building a commons-based open network infrastructure since 2004, first with wireless data connections and later adding collective fibre optic infrastructure in the ground. There are currently more than 37,000 active nodes, i.e. houses, libraries, municipal buildings, company offices and the like connected to and forming the community network. The Foundation oversee the commons, and in particular its innovative cost compensation scheme to allow the commercial service providers in the ecosystem to balance costs of maintaining their part of the network with the commercial fees they receive from their customers.

The municipality of Barcelona has hundreds of kilometers of municipal fibre optics and it would be a great opportunity to move this under a commons management regime instead of the private maintenence contract it operates under very restrictive terms. Unfortunately so far little steps have been made in this direction.

A second community network is The Things Network Catalonia, that constitutes an open sensor data network. Temperature, air quality, location, soil humidity, water or battery levels are sensored and transmitted over the Long Range (LoRa) wireless protocol to a community server where the members can decrypt and retrieve their data. This network has grown from zero to hundreds of members in Barcelona, covering a relevant part of the city with network coverage. The City has provided support through its Social Innovation co-funding programme “Impulsem El Que Fas” (in Englihs, “we impulse what you do”), through which the community was able to set up a dozen antennas and run a few dozen open workshops in different neighbourhoods and run social co-creation workshops to explore its potential with local entities. A spin-off is the XOIC, an effort to cooperativise the network with schools, municipalities and active members.

In the context of the circular economy, a project to highlight is the GRRR platform, that stands for the Management of Reuse and Redistribution of Resources. A second project is the eReuse platform, which originates from the technical university UPC and facilitates an ecosystem of actors that repair and reuse electronic devices such as computers. With a smart free software toolset the repairers help to put devices back into circulation, which are then lent out to member organisation in the community who pay a small monthly fee to support the reuse cycle. eReuse has received a project grant from the EU and has collaboration agreements with the municipality among others.

In the area of makers, open design and digital fabrication there are many projects. Of particular relevance are the FabLab Barcelona and the municipal network of FabLabs. FabLab Barcelona started in 2007 in the 22@ district to allow students of its advanced architecture programme to get handson experience with open design and digital manufacturing. It has since been an active space hosting digital social innovation projects. A few years later the municipality initiated its municipal fablab network, geared at citizens of the neighbourhood to get creative with digital manufacturing and prototyping. Using these facilities comes with a social contract: the obligation to give back. Makers can give back by maintaining the machinery, providing training or making needed parts. These facilities have empowered people to repair, (re)design products that are more sustainable and meaningful and resolve needs of people in the neighbourhoods, from glasses locally made from recycled materials to face masks for medical personnel to protect them from COVID19.

In the food sector, two projects to highlight are Katuma/Open Food Network and the FoodCoopBCN supermarket. Katuma is the Spanish chapter in the global Open Food Network, a platform that brings together ecological farmers and consumer groups. Both providers and groups are invited to join as co-owning members of the multistakeholder cooperative and make a small monthly contribution to the platform. Another model is that of FoodCoop Barcelona, which is launching a cooperative supermarket in the centre of Barcelona with 500 co-owning members. The model is a local adaptation of the first FoodCoop in New York and has received support from both the City of Barcelona and the regional government, the Generalitat of Catalonia.

In terms of digital platforms, online collaborative clouds are an important area to reclaim sovereignity. It’s an uphill battle against the titans of global capitalism. Barcelona is home to several initiatives that help people degooglify and disconnect from Zoom and the likes. We mention here two projects that were co-founded by the Free Knowledge Institute: CommonsCloud and The Online Meeting Cooperative – CommonsCloud is a cooperative cloud where members can store, edit and share their documents, manage their calendars, contacts and the like. The project is now part of the multistakeholder cooperative femProcomuns, where users can join as user members and contribute a monthly fee. In order to provide an ethical online meeting service, these organisations have joined forces with cooperatives in Sweden, Germany, the UK, Canada and US to form Providing a quality service that runs on renewable energy, the best free software, respecting people’s privacy is a challenge. Meetcoop does so by sharing the burden over many shoulders. The first 100 contributing members (including a few thousand participants) show that this is providing a positive experience in the time of social distancing and an opportunity for more intense collaboration between groups and networks.

In the mobility sector there are many interesting initiatives of which we will mention here Som Mobilitat and Mensakas. Som Mobilitat started in 2016 as a cooperative platform to share electrical vehicles with a mission towards sustainable mobility. Its members co-own currently over 50 vehicles. The online platform and app is co-developed at the international level with a dozen other carsharing cooperatives in Europe that together form The Mobility Factory. Mensakas is a bike delivery cooperative that guarantees a fair pay to its bikers while specialising in (ecological) food delivery. It originates from the riders for rights movement7. It participates in the French born CoopCycle federation that co-develops the app and platform software.

In financing there are various civil society and cooperative initiatives. Goteo Foundation provides a platform for crowdfunding open commons initiatives. As you can read below they have partnered with the municipality in several occasions for them providing matchfunding through the Goteo platform. Coop57 is a Catalan cooperative for ethical financial services where members pool their savings to fund key social and solidarity economy initiatives. Both the Catalan regional government and the city run cooperative investment programmes, but never enough to make the real transition. Funding remains a difficult challenge. Especially in an economic system designed for capitalist markets and venture capital – not for democratisation of the economy.

Online marketplace. While setting up an alternative for Amazon’s marketplace has been in the air for years – and the cooperative and replicable marketplace Fairmundo has inspired many – it was only recently that a truely cooperative platform of sorts has started in Barcelona and Catalonia for that matter. La Zona has been started under the leadership of the cooperative Opcions, with their mission to support people and organisations in moving their consumption to the social and solidarity economy. It is a cooperative online marketplace where one finds products produced in the proximity (km0), respectful with the environment and people. These principles are applied throughout the value chain. Checkout the producers to get an impression of what is already available."


More information

See also: Commons-Supportive Programmes in Barcelona