Commons-Supportive Programmes in Barcelona

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Free Knowledge Insitute:

"Municipalities can do many things to foster the commons and transition to a more local-first participatory economy with less dependency from the global platform capitalist behemoths. Indeed, it’s not an easy task. Internally, municipal staff needs training to get to know the alternatives and work on pathways towards the commons, to move away from public-private partnership towards (public-civil/commons partnerships, models where participatory governance plays a key role. Rely on collective intelligence, co-creation and bottom-up initiatives is often less polished or more imperfect. It’s often harder for municipal workers than managing a few large preferred providers. Externally, it demands actively promoting those relationships with and fostering the commons oriented ecosystem, providing support, not only financially, but also in terms of visibility. It requires as well a different discourse and narrative of what we see in our city and how we imagine its future. A vision away from smart objects towards smart people, citizens who are empowered and can take initiative and hold politicians and corporations accountable.

Barcelona City has been and is a prominent actor in this field, with ambitious projects that try to steer into this direction. We can argue whether the ambitions and the power to steer away from the corporate dependencies of the past have been enough. Changing the Mobile Congress into a commons oriented initiative may not be realistic due to the sheer power of the GSMA (global mobile telecom operators alliance who owns it) and the city’s economic reliance on this type of events. But the small scale support for alternative forums like the Mobile Social Congress is clearly not enough to lift the ecosystem. We should also mention the fragile power equilibrium of the political party, BCN en Comu, which in 2015 got to govern with 25% of the votes and in 2019 with a lower percentage, therefore forced to make coalition agreements with parties used to continue with mainstream neoliberalist economics.

Public purchasing is another field where BCN has been pioneer as marketmaking customer. Apart from the cost effectiveness criteria in competitive public purchasing, social criteria have been added to the selection criteria. Bidders can earn more points if they participate in the triple bottom line “social balance” platform from the social and solidarity economy, or when they use free software and open source. The problem lies in the still fragile situation of most actors in these fields. For instance, (much) more investments are needed until they can offer the same quality service as Telefonica or Vodafone for managing a full serviced fibre optics network, hosting and training ten thousand municipal staff in ethical software solutions or repairing and putting in circulation again 3,000 reusable computers per month. Just to name a few challenges.

All in all there is an active ecosystem of mutually re-enforcing and dependent commons and cooperative actors that are building products and services aiming to be more inclusive, that are produced following shared knowledge and participatory processes, with governance models that foster participation by workers and/or users. In many cases the economy and salaries are still fragile, but participants work hard to consolidate their projects, despite the fact that most institutions and support systems are catered for a capitalist mode of production. All in all, there is an alternative vision emerging, one that tells that yes, we can do it together, without excluding others from using, reusing and participating. One that puts the people truly in the centre and builds on shared missions, on people and planet before profit. Key will be to build further institutional support and strengthen interlocal and international collaboration, replication and reuse and co-development of needed infrastructures, services and mutual support."



Free Knowledge Institute:

"In the broad domain of technopolitics and “City as Commons”, here we mention three of them that are especially involved and mention a few of their programmes in the city.

Barcelona Digital: Mid-2016 Barcelona City got its CTO, Francesca Bria, Commissioner for Digital Innovation, Barcelona Digital City. End 2019 she was succeeded by Michael Donaldson. Under Francesca’s leadership a high level strategy was set up to have the city use Ethical Digital Standards3, including Open Data, requiring platforms active in the city to share platform activity data with the city administration, the city’s development of software as Free Software, following agile development methodologies and innovative procurement policies. In terms of networks, a coalition for digital rights called the Cities for Digital Rights4 was set up. Barcelona Digital also initiated a public funding programme to support selected projects in the area of Digital Social Innovation with seed funding between 10.000 and 50.000 euro (20% cofunded by the projects themselves).

Institute for Culture of Barcelona

Has been headed by Joan Subirats in the last three years, until he become the Spanish minister for universities. Some highlights of programmes run by the Barcelona Institute for Culture include:

– prizes of Barcelona to raise visibility and provide financial support to selected projects and citizens

– Creation factories based in revamped old factory building through the city, open to citizens to create, work, expose their work, organise events

– Decidim, the online platform for citizen participation that is used for direct democracy processes in the city and has been replicated by hundreds of cities, regional governments and larger social collectives.

– Open City Biennale of Thought to reflect and give visibility to the alternative narratives

Social and Solidarity Economy

First headed by Jordi Via (2015-2017), later by Alvaro Porro. This department has the goal to support and promote an alternative economic model including social and solidarity economy (SSE) and commons-collaborative economy models. Some of the work they have been doing includes:

– Public funding to foster SSE & responsible consumption

– Barcelona Ateneus de Fabricació, a municipal fablab network

– support (Catalan Network for Social economy) and federations of coops, Pam a Pam, FESC

– social balance & smart public procurement; the social balance is a triple accounting tool where participating organisations publicly account for things like gender balance, open knowledge sharing policies, democratic procedures they have in place (Catalan explanation here). Smart public procurement includes processes to positively discriminate actors who filled out the Social Balance.

– Barcelona Activa, Alternative Economy department develops training on how to set up cooperatives, platform cooperativism, commons collaborative economy support programmes such as La Comunificadora. The most visible programme is focused on the social and solidarity economy training and accompanying of citizens with 8000 participants since 2015, ca 800 projects accompanied and 1500 citizens trained. Between 150 and 200 projects receive financing each year, investing around 4 million per year.

Some concrete support actions: La Comunificadora is a commons-collaborative support programme that has supported some 100 projects so far in its first 4 editions. It serves project (teams) in its initial phase of definition and evolution of a commons oriented sustainability model. Selected projects have evolved during the 3-4 months pogramme with training, co-creation, mentoring, peer support. Several of the projects mentioned above have participated in the programme, such as Som Mobilitat, Mensakas, Katuma.

The cooperatively self-managed 19th century factory buildings Can Batlló will house what might become the biggest social economy incubator in Europe. It is a collectively designed incubation community for social and solidarity economy projects that can find a place to work, connect with the wider ecosystem and prototype their social ventures. Though it is open already (spaces of current phase), the extension into one of the old factory buildings is forthcoming and will greatly enhance the incubation space and capacity. The reform and process has been partly funded by the regional and by the city government.

A Matchfunding programme was run at the Goteo crowdfunding platform together with BarcelonaActiva, that doubled the contributions by backers to selected project campaigns. This way the projects had to run effective marketing campaigns and captured new members and funding, for a relatively low municipal investment. Several of the mentioned projects participated: Som Mobilitat, Katuma, CommonsCloud.

In 2021 a new “hub” of support programmes has started to provide training modules, networking, support and match-crowdfunding for collectives working on the digital plataformisation of feminist, social economy and commons-collaborative projects. The MatchImpulsa series of programmes is run by the Open University Catalunya and its Dimmons research group with support from Barcelona Activa.

Various funding programmes have provided co-funding for selected projects to support the creation or strengthen of existing cooperatives, strengthen their presence and relation with the neighbourhoods and give an impulse to (digital) social innovation or to cultural projects. Many projects have received small amounts between 5 and 15 thousand Euro, while some have received funding of up to 50 thousand Euro. While dependencies from municipal funding should be avoided, these schemes have helped especially smaller actors in setting up projects in desired domains. From the above mentioned projects these have received financial support: the XOIC – the open community network for the Internet of Things, Som Mobilitat, Katuma, FoodCoopBCN, CommonsCloud, Mensakas.

Intelligent public procurement: eReuse has established collaboration to reuse and provide refurbished computer devices to BarcelonaActiva.

The municipality owns considerable property and has to put to use part of its real estate to support the commons ecosystem. Projects like FoodCoopBCN have been hosted in the collaborative economy building of Can Jaumandreu. La Lleialtat Santsenca is a municipal building managed by a citizens association that organises social activities and events for the neighbourhood . The team behind crowdfunding platform Goteo is hosted in the Creative Factory building at Fabra i Coats – one of the municipality’s 12 “creative factory” buildings.

In terms of visibility, the municipality has a wide range of tools at it disposal to show the things it wants to see. Still the dominant capitalist platforms are highly visible in the City’s spaces, especially in trade fairs like the Mobile World Congress or Smart City Expo. Positive initiatives include the albeit much smaller Social Mobile Congress, the Social and Solidarity trade fair each autumn that attracts normally over 15 thousand visitors, the solidarity Christmas market at the central square. We should also note the Sharing Cities Summit in 2018 in Barcelona, producing a Declaration of Sharing Cities signed by some 50 cities worldwide aiming for the protection of urban commons, technological sovereignty and circular economy. A particularly interesting series of conferences has been (so far) the Open City Biennal of Thought to discuss the challenges of the future of the city, democracy and technology."